Back in the old days there were working hours. You went to work and
then around five p.m., you packed up your stuff and went home. If there
were an emergency you might stay until five-thirty.
Those days are gone! White-collar work, sometimes called Knowledge Work, is never done. Your immediate To Do list might have twenty items on it, but right behind the immediate To Do list is a supplemental To Do list with another forty action items on it and after that list is done, there's a third one waiting.
The old rules have changed completely. My teenagers work at retail stores and restaurants. Their workday ends when they clock out but more importantly, they don't take their work home with them. The rest of us do.
We lie in bed and wonder what to do about a billing issue or a complicated client problem. We might spend the whole weekend catching up on our business email correspondence, but we still have to be at our desk on time on Monday morning!
What does your paycheck get your employer -- what are your obligations toward your job? Sometimes it's hard to tell. Some managers are beyond demanding. They want you to pass up important family obligations, even ones you've scheduled weeks in advance, to take care of something they missed on their own To Do list.
Other leaders are more chill. They realize that you have a life outside of work. Sometimes your life at work and your happiness at home rely on the luck of the draw in the form of the manager you get. That's unacceptable! We are adults.
A new muscle all of us are growing is the muscle called Setting Boundaries.
You can't set boundaries at work until you have a clear sense of what's reasonable and what's unreasonable when it comes to your commitment to your job. To help clarify the often murky - but essential! - demarcation between your work and your life, here's our list of Five Things You Owe Your Employer and Five Things You Don't.
Five Things You Owe Your Employer
Your Best Work Every Day
If you hate your job, start a stealth job search on the side, but don't slack off on your current role. That isn't fair to your employer, its customers or your teammates. It's not fair to yourself. As long as you have the job, put your heart into it!
My motto is this: An employee's job is to give his or her best work every day. A manager's job is to give the employee a good reason to come back to work tomorrow.
Your Creative Solutions
Work is a place to solve problems, bigger and thornier problems all the time. You learn something new and grow your flame a little bit more every time you solve a problem at work.
Even though a job description might be boring, it's still in your best interest to bring your whole brain and heart to your role, as long as you have it.
You owe your employer the truth about things that happen at work -- whether anyone is dying to hear the truth, or not. When you speak up, your muscles grow.
If it feels scary to speak up, as it often does, think about this: the only way you can solve a problem is by addressing it. If you're sick of pushing a rock uphill and sharing your ideas with people who don't want to hear them, that's a sign from the universe. Don't waste your emotional energy on people who don't want to look at problems and surmount them. Start looking for a new job, instead!
If it were your company, you'd want your customers, teammates and equipment to be well-cared-for. When you take a job, it's your role and your desk -- take good care of everything that comes across the desk and everyone you work with!
When you're burned out on a job, it's a stress-reliever to tell your friends how tough you've got it. Eventually, if they're good friends, they're going to say "Dude, you have to stop talking about it and DO something."
Complaining about your employer isn't a solution to your problem, and worse than that, it tarnishes your brand as a person with integrity. Hate the job, or a client project? Don't slime them -- move on and find something that suits you better.
Five Things You DON'T Owe Your Employer
In lots of sales jobs and recruiting jobs, your contact list is part of what your employer expects to receive when you get hired. When you take a new job, clarify everybody's expectations with respect to your precious contact list. Unless it's been clearly communicated, your contacts are your own.
If your employer has an employee referral bonus program and you want to participate, go ahead and spread the news about job openings at your workplace, and with luck get paid for it. Otherwise, it's not ethical for your employer to expect you to peddle its products to your friends, or give up your networking contacts to pad its prospect list.
The tragedy of the white-collar working world is that we pretend our bodies don't exist. Your brain can't function unless your body gets rest and exercise. It's not right for your employer to expect you to trash your health for the job. Speak up if you're not feeling well.
Don't let a weenie manager browbeat you into coming to work sick and infecting your co-workers, or worsening your own health. If they won't let you work from home when you're under the weather or take a sick day, get your resume up to date.
Your Personal Life
Everyone needs to learn the script we call "It's Impossible" to deal with managers who ask you what you've got scheduled at night or on the weekend that would keep you from working extra hours.
What you have planned in your personal life is nobody's business but yours. Here's the script:
BOSS: Joe, can you stay late tonight to get those invoices out?
YOU: Not tonight, but I can do them tomorrow.
BOSS: What's going on tonight?
YOU: Unmovable plans, but don't worry -- I'll do it tomorrow.
Don't start explaining that your kid has a hockey match or your wife's barbershop chorus has a dress rehearsal that you have to attend because you can't make the concert. The minute you open that vault, you can kiss your personal priorities goodbye.
Learn to say "Wish I could! - but it's impossible" with a smile on your face.
Be wary of any employer that tells employees they should be loyal, just because they work there. Loyalty, like respect, is earned. You might be loyal to a boss who's always had your back, but that's different than being loyal to a corporation or an institution.
If you get a call from a headhunter about a job that sounds interesting, it's your right to call back and learn everything you can. You don't have to stay with a sinking ship and be the person who turns the lights out.
That's what "stay bonuses" are for.
It's appropriate and ethically correct to take care of your own and your family's interests before your employer's, and that's what anyone would do unless there is personal loyalty in place - loyalty that's been earned by past actions.
Run away from people who tell you where they think your loyalties should lie.
Your job might include unpleasant aspects, like bureaucratic processes or boring meetings, but your job shouldn't require you to pretend to be someone you're not. If you wake up at night with your heart beating too fast because you can't stand the person your job requires you to be, get out!
You have one lifetime. You get to make your mark here on our planet, and that means you get to make choices, and you must. You don't have time or energy to waste with people who don't get you and value you the way you are right now.
2015 is on top of us and the whole world is waiting to see what you'll accomplish. If your box is too small and confining, step out of it and move on!
Questions and Answers
Who draws the images in Liz Ryan's stories?
Liz draws them with markers and colored pencils.
Why did Liz draw a crawling baby for this story?
The story is about setting boundaries around your personal life, so that you can spend more time with your family. Also, we are all like the baby in the image, learning new things and growing new muscles in the new-millennium workplace.
But doesn't your boss decide what your boundaries can be?
Absolutely not. If you let your boss decide where YOUR boundaries should lie, you're saying "I have no voice in this conversation." Your boss hired you because you know how to do things that not everyone can do. Keep that in mind! If you believe you're just a cog in a machine, you will be one.
If you believe that you're a valued creator of the wonderful things your organization brings to its clients, then you will be. Your self-image is more important than what your boss thinks about your job and your personal life. If that sounds hard to believe, now is a great time to grow your muscles!
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