Workplace Doctor: pressured to put in extra hours by his peers

Why does this pointless culture of working late for the sake of looking productive exist?
My official working hours are from 9am to 5pm but when I pack my bags up to leave the office at 5pm, my colleagues either raise an eyebrow or make a sarcastic comment such as "leaving early today?" As a result, I often work until 7pm trying to look busy. I feel under pressure to stay late when in reality I know my colleagues are only doing so to impress the boss. So why does such a pointless culture exist? AJ, Dubai

You've either got some awfully powerful colleagues or some dwindling self-esteem - not sure which it is. I love your question: "Why does such a pointless culture exist?" Yet I wish to challenge your question by turning it around to "When a pointless culture of spending time for the purpose of wasting time exists, how can I be part of changing this perspective?"

If you don't face this dilemma, you'll certainly end up a nervous wreck living in the land of "Who's watching me for the wrong reasons?" rather than "Who's speaking about my successes?" I say that because when I first came to the Middle East, I suffered the same fate with a leader whose favourite question was "Are you on a half day?" when he saw the executives leaving after 12 hours.

So let's get into some specifics here:

. Who do you report to?

The colleagues you refer to are indeed your equals by organisational structure, or so it seems to me. They are also members of the same team as you. Yet they are not you - they have differing productivity levels, attitudes and approaches. Hence what's important is how the one who leads you treats you.

. What are the priorities of your leader?

Some people simply attend a workplace, while others produce results at work. Knowing that leaders do have accountabilities, I am guessing that your leader's priority would be the latter, and if so, how does spending two additional hours serve his best interests? Is this a question that could be asked? Working to "deliverables" is a great alternative to offer as a measurement of your input.

. What are your personal values?

Values answer the question "How will you treat others and others treat you?" People will treat you the way you, or the system, allow. So even if it is up to the system, it's ultimately your choice to accept whether wasting time for the sake of being seen to be present is acceptable.

. Realign where misalignments are evident

This fourth point is why I turned the question around at the beginning of my response. I endured my workplace dilemma far, far too long, and only when I faced it head-on, drew parameters and upped the ante on "defining myself" did it change. Until you accept this as your responsibility, it would appear to me you are happy to give your life to someone else to spend on your behalf. Does that make your choice any clearer?

Doctor's Prescription

In the words of Michael Jackson, start with the man in the mirror - if you want to make your world a better place, make a change.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. She will now feature in a new bi-weekly column on Mondays called Managing Change.

From next week, the workplace doctor's questions will be answered by Roger Delves, the director of the Ashridge Masters in Management at Ashridge Business School and co-author of The Top 50 Management Dilemmas: Fast Solutions to Everyday challenges published last year. Email him at business@thenational for the Workplace Doctor's advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague.

Follow us on Twitter @Ind_Insights

Published: May 13, 2014 04:00 AM


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