Workplace Doctor: executive obliged to work extra hours needs a solution

Corporate evening functions demand too much personal time for one senior executive.

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As a senior executive in my company, I have to attend several events in the evenings and after work. While I do not mind attending an event once or twice a month, it has been made clear to me that I need to be present at all company- sponsored occasions. This potentially means giving up two to three evenings of my free time a week and a half day on a weekend? How can I negotiate this order? DD, Sharjah

My first and rather unsympathetic thought is surely you knew when you took the job or the promotion that you were likely to be required to work these extra hours. If so, you took the role and the salary, and you need to deliver against it. If not, and if these are new calls on your time, then 12 to 16 hours a week in addition to your normal working hours probably represents a variance in your contract. You could involve HR and ask for a review of your responsibilities on the grounds that the demands made on you are in excess of those in your contract. This is a big step, of course, and it rarely ends up well. So what else can you do?

My second, somewhat kinder thought is that you are being poorly treated and management seems to be asking more of you than it is prepared to give itself. I don’t know if your specific presence is vital or simply a sign of management commitment. In either event, my first question to myself with these challenges is to ask if this is the ditch in which I choose to die. By which I mean, am I prepared to take this all the way, endangering my job if need be, because there is a point of principle which I cannot ignore? Almost always, the answer I give myself is no, this is not that ditch. So now the question becomes how I make this situation acceptable or less demanding.

I think I would go and ask my boss if I could come in later after the evening events, and later on the first day of the working week after the weekend events. Or I might look to be allowed to work from home some of the time, such as those days when I don’t have an evening commitment. I think given the scale of the involvement which is demanded of you, if the salary does not reflect these extra or hidden commitments, I would want to open a conversation about the package as well.

I would also engage in some succession planning. Identify people on your team with the potential to rise and seek permission for one or two of them to take your place at some of these commitments. You could present it legitimately as part of the learning curve within your succession planning. This might ease the burden on you, while also giving others a chance to shine.

If once you have explored these options it is clear that it is what it is and you just have to get on and do it, then you need to balance the rewards you get against the sacrifice you are making. Again, I don’t know if you have a family, but given you have risen to the ranks of senior executive, you may well have. How do you feel about being away from home so frequently in the evenings and at weekends? I know many executives spend a lot of time travelling, and I ask them the same question. If you resent losing this family time, and if your family resent it as well, then you are looking at a point of principle around how you live your life, and it looks like this may be your ditch. You probably need to make a change, either within the organisation or by moving to another job, if you are to avoid becoming gradually more and more demotivated. What will happen is that your attitude to your employers will change – something they may not notice until your behaviours and performance change as well. At that point you are in trouble, because you may lose your position because of underperformance.

But if the trade-off of salary for private time is acceptable to you and your family, then there is no principle at stake. This is not your ditch and you can make a pragmatic decision to work this for all it is worth but to do it anyway. That way, at least you make a decision and stop worrying about it. Your attitude to your organisation won’t harden and your performance won’t fall off, because you are accepting of the role requirements.

Doctor’s prescription:

This is an utterly personal choice: some will go one way, others another. The trick is to make that choice and not simply to allow it to happen to you.

Roger Delves is the director of the Ashridge Executive Masters in Management and an adjunct professor at the Hult International Business School. He is the co-author of the book The Top 50 Management Dilemmas: Fast Solutions to Everyday Challenges. Email him at for advice on any work issues

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