How do I start giving 150% at work?
February 18, 2013 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I recently started at a new job that's going very well, and there is tremendous room for growth here in the next year or two. In order to get where I want to be, I need to start working a lot more and a lot harder. Difficulty level: I'm in grad school part-time and have an active social life.

I've been at my job since November and I love it - the people are great, the work is challenging, and there is tons of room for growth. My boss' position is probably going to be open in the next two years, and I want that job.

Today I made a stupid misstep in asking for some time off, and the head of the organization (my boss' boss) pulled me aside and said that he thought I was doing a good job, but I need to do more in order to prove to him that I would be able to take on this higher position. Specifically: working 50 hours a week or more, working harder, and taking more of a leadership role in the agency. He said he was understanding that I had a lot to juggle with school, but I need to find a way to do more.

The problem is that I am currently in the second year of a three-year part-time grad program. Two days a week, I work eight hours and then go to class for three. This semester, I've had tons of homework and I spend all day Sunday doing that. My boyfriend and I just moved in together and I have friends who I already don't see enough. I asked for the time off today because I ended the weekend feeling just as exhausted as I did on Friday afternoon.

But that's not really a luxury I can afford anymore. I want this higher-level job badly. This is a golden opportunity and it will not come again. But I just don't know how I can do more than I'm doing without completing collapsing under the weight of work, school, and social life.

How do I do this? Should I consider taking a leave of absence from my grad program? How do I steel myself for working extra hours when I end most days exhausted now?
posted by anotheraccount to Work & Money (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure you aren't just being used?
posted by Nomyte at 10:00 AM on February 18, 2013 [13 favorites]

I think you need to be pragmatic here. Yes, education is great and everything, but unless finishing in the current time frame is going to benefit you as much as working hard in this moment, there is no reason not to take a leave from grad school. Just make sure that this is a genuine opportunity, not a way for an unscrupulous boss to string you along.

Look into sites like lifehacker to help maximize your work/life productivity. You can do anything for a short amount of time. If putting in these two years will truly change the trajectory of your career, buckle down and make it happen. Fewer nights out, work from home and put in your 10-12 hours a day.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 10:03 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm hearing alarm bells.

50 hours a week isn't normal. If a work/life balance is important to you, then you might be over-estimating how awesome this job is.

40 hours a week should be plenty to get done what needs to get done. Adding 2 hours a day only benefits your employer. Not you.

When I was young I was so eager to please and I would have done, and pretty much did do, everything anyone asked of me. I got ahead, but with each step it got harder and harder.

After a week straight of my pager going off at 3AM every night, I gave it up. And I've never been happier.

As for the promise of that job...don't bank on that. How used would you feel if you gave up grad school, sacrificed your private life AND did all that extra work, and you didn't get the job?

Unless there's a guarantee, it's just a carrot. A carrot they're dangling in front of you to get you to do more.

Is there anyone there currently who could also step into that job if and when it becomes available? Who is that. What are they doing?

I really advise you to hang in there with the job, school and your life. Just as it is right now.

You can take on more leadership within those parameters, you'll work out some processes that will streamline your work so you'll be more productive and in that way you can impress upper management.

But merely working more for the sake of doing so...that's a mug's game.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:05 AM on February 18, 2013 [17 favorites]

The line you just got from the big boss is standard American corporate boilerplate. Do more. Now do more. Still more. It's not enough...DO MOAR!!!

You're being gamed. You're probably the cheapest employee they have. They're gonna squeeze you til you bleed, dangling the carrot of vague promotion promises. Unless you get a concrete proposal that, if you perform up to a certain level, you will be rewarded with promotion and pay, anything the boss says to you is just the jockey whipping his ride.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:06 AM on February 18, 2013 [12 favorites]

Good management: supports your in mutually beneficial goals like your health and education

Bad management: Rides you hard and puts you away wet
posted by saucysault at 10:13 AM on February 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

Look at job postings to get a sense for how fantastic this opportunity really is. Is this the job you went to grad school to get? Is it what you would look for after you graduated? Is this still a sweet deal given the newly-clarified expectations? If you were working 40 hours before, you'd be making at least 20% less per hour if you do what the boss wants.

Also, maybe plan some time off regularly, like once a month, to avoid calling in same-day AND to avoid getting burnt out. If you take "sick days", don't take them on Monday or Friday.
posted by momus_window at 10:16 AM on February 18, 2013

"You just told me I needed to work harder and take a leadership role. I'm going to prove my value to you right now. Ready? Leadership means forward-thinking and execution -- so, here's the measurable metrics for my success for the next three months. Now a question gets posed to you -- nobody does something for nothing, so what tangible benefit will we both enjoy when I reach these metrics?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:17 AM on February 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

Oh, and if by any chance you are in a non-profit... this is par for the course in many non-profits that are poorly managed. That doesn't mean you have to accept it. I have seen more assertive people get ahead in non-profits and move into leadership roles by being firm on their boundaries over the many, many people that allow themselves to be walked over and stay at the cog level.
posted by saucysault at 10:18 AM on February 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Good bosses don't ask you to choose the job over your health, friends, and education. Consider that you may be getting sold a bill of goods.
posted by rhizome at 10:21 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, let's see.

There are lots of jobs where people work 50 hours a week; that may be undesirable, but it's certainly not that unusual, depending on what industry you're in. What you're saying -- that you want your boss's job in two years, that you are focused on moving up, etc. -- makes it sound like you're very career-focused and very ambitious. Which is a fine way to be.


1. I would not count chickens on a job that's supposed to be opening up in two years that you're supposed to have a shot at if you knock yourself out between now and then. Down that road lies ache. Think about what you would do if you did everything right and still didn't get it, and if the answer is that you'd be miserable, proceed differently.

2. Sure, you could take a leave from grad school. But what then? If you get your boss's job, will you be asked to work *less*? Will you suddenly have the time for grad school if you luck out and the job actually happens?

It's possible, as others have noted, that you're having your chain yanked by people who in fact have no particular plans for you. But it's also possible that you're not having your chain yanked -- it's possible that this is indeed how this company works, and that MORE MORE MORE is the only way up, and that you are just at the beginning -- not the end -- of what you'll be asked to give up along the way. That you're questioning the effect on your education and your social life now makes me terribly concerned about what this job will do to your social life/family life/education even if you advance.

It's not wrong to make tradeoffs like this, to work long hours because you passionately love what you do. But a job where they're telling you off the bat that you have to work 50 hours a week for two years to move up is a job that will eat your life, in all likelihood. If you love it so much that letting it eat your life is okay, then that's okay. Some people live happily that way. But think about how it will look in two years, five, ten, twenty. You're not just deciding what to do for the next two years; you're deciding whether you're going to step on this path, and this is a path that may be incompatible with other paths you've been considering.

Just ... be careful. Be careful before you decide that you can just gut it out for two years, unless you have excellent reason to believe that things will then get better. Gutting it out for two years is something many people have done. Gutting it out for your whole life because you've gotten on a track that's hard to get off of is not a happy way to live, it seems to me.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:23 AM on February 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Really, maybe I'm bitter but when I worked full time and did grad school part time, my social life suffered like crazy. For four years. Something has to give, you decide what that's going to be. But calling in a day off at a relatively new job because you are 'tired'- if I was your manager type person I would be concerned too.
posted by bquarters at 10:26 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Today I made a stupid misstep in asking for some time off

So wait, why is this a stupid misstep? Are you never allowed to have time off? What if your leg falls off? Or you faint from exhaustion? Was it a short thing, or a longer term issue of time off? If you've been working there for three months, I wouldn't consider it unreasonable to allow for some time off (like a day or two,) either paid or unpaid. Check your paperwork for your office's details on this.

Specifically: working 50 hours a week or more, working harder, and taking more of a leadership role in the agency.

This is really not that normal and sounds more like that scene from Glengarry Glen Ross than a normal office response. Unless you are working in a position that ordinarily demands that amount of time and fully compensates you for it, this is not the correct response to "I need some sick time" or whatever. We don't know your city, industry, or actual role, so this is a little hard to tell. If you work in a law firm, this begins to sound more fitting. If you work at a non-profit for not-a-lot-of-money, this does not.

Does your grad school program make you a better fit for this job/industry? Would getting the degree help your job prospects at all, especially if the promised promotion doesn't come through? Would it be possible to take fewer classes or work on your dissertation at a slower rate? Have you spoken to your adviser about this?

Finally, no, it won't really get better. It's totally possible to handle a full-time job and school, but something will in fact have to give. It sounds like you're currently trading your social life for this, and it's not a good balance.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:30 AM on February 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Agreed that grad school and full-time job = no social life. Working 50+ AND going to school probably is beyond the scope of what most people can manage.

I'd keep working at this job if you like it, but I'd work 40 hours a week. If they can't deal with that, start looking for another job.

The only way sacrificing or postponing grad school (and many people who do postpone school never get back to it) makes sense is if you're really sure that this is a dream job that would be the sort of job you were going to grad school hoping to get.

And what I mean is if THIS job is that dream job. Not the one they're dangling that you maybe might sorta be in line for down the road. THIS job, or at the very least a next job that is quantifiably the logical next step that most people in your present role have a decent shot at.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:35 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mr. Arnicae teaches college students, and somewhere in the midst of their first semester, after a majority of them show up to class not having done their homework after a crazy party, he writes three things on the board:

Good grades
Social Life
Enough Sleep

"You can only pick two."

I find that this is generally true in life, and a balancing act that changes depending on your priorities during your current phase of life. Good luck!
posted by arnicae at 10:41 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are being used, your management doesn't know how to plan or they know they can use your inexperience to get something for nothing out of you.

Good managers know they only get 40 or so hours out of an employee a week before either burnout sets in, or the workers start to goof off or slack in other ways.

You are being taken advantage of due to your inexperience in the work world.

Yes it true that there are sometimes "once in a lifetime" opportunities, but this doesn't sound like it. Jobs come and go, esp. when you are a recent grad. Give it time.

Frankly, I think you are being taken advantage of due to your youth, the fact you are a women and some folks with use all the stereotypes against you. By pushing you out of your education, they are removing one of the pieces of power you have in your toolbox, don't let them do that to you.

Finish your education, work during that time. See where you are when you are done. I bet you the good job will still be there.

Two years is an ETERNITY in the work work. Your organization may not even exist in two years.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:45 AM on February 18, 2013 [11 favorites]

You're being used, as others have said. Pad your resume with good work projects and school, and seek employment elsewhere as soon as possible.
posted by PCup at 10:49 AM on February 18, 2013

It's not wrong to make tradeoffs like this, to work long hours because you passionately love what you do. But a job where they're telling you off the bat that you have to work 50 hours a week for two years to move up is a job that will eat your life, in all likelihood.

Yeah, this. There are plenty of careers where 50 hours a week is indeed on the low end of normal, and if, after a cost-benefit analysis, you decide that putting in that time is worth your while, you should go for it (while keeping in mind that the utility here may be more in presenting yourself the right way rather than actually getting more done, since there's rather more empirical evidence supporting the notion that upping hours past 40 on a regular basis results in a net decrease in productivity rather than the inverse). The problem here is that you may not be weighting the benefits accurately -- a possible promotion that's two years away is honestly worth effectively nothing in the face of business realities, and anybody who's managing should know that, and so it's kind of a red flag that that's being used as an incentive. You improve your position by demanding concrete returns for the work you put in -- any other tactic leaves you in danger of having invested a whole lot of effort to no effect, and in my experience that happens more often than not when someone is laboring in the service of a vague and distant payoff like this. I know you said that this opportunity is one of a kind, but really try to think about the extent to which that's true and the extent to which a lateral move to another organization that will value you and reward you more highly might be the best solution here.
posted by invitapriore at 10:50 AM on February 18, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, all. Just to confirm a few details:
- I'm in a major city.
- I work at a nonprofit.
- I'm five years out of undergrad and in a management position. The position in question would be a leadership role.
posted by anotheraccount at 11:06 AM on February 18, 2013

Nonprofit? Yeah, the only thing 50-hour-weeks will earn you is 60-hour-weeks.
posted by griphus at 11:11 AM on February 18, 2013 [15 favorites]

anotheraccount, it might help if you explain how relevant to your current job and field your graduate program is (or isn't). Will you absolutely need the degree/certificate in order to advance, or would it be helpful but not required?

Also, is the graduate program coursework flexible? Sounds like it isn't, but part-time graduate programs sometimes set a maximum number of semesters or years in which you must finish your degree...but they expect that their students may need to take a leave or reduce their coursework.
posted by homelystar at 11:15 AM on February 18, 2013

If you are in a management position, then any sincere discussion of advancement should be done formally with a concrete commitment, and not with some vague "we need you to do more" implication that something good will come of it.

Frankly, I would also suspect that they're using you to scare your immediate superior. "Damn, Bill, just look at how great anotheraccount is performing. And she's a real leader, too."
posted by Thorzdad at 11:19 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's unreasonable for an organization considering someone for a leadership role to question whether or not you are built for a leadership role based on your capacity for work.

I think everything that you've written in your comment is on the mark, but the problem is that it sounds like there's no concrete evidence that they're considering the OP for anything, and, until such time as they are, doing things like putting in more hours on top of what sounds already like a pretty demanding schedule for the OP has no foreseeable benefit.
posted by invitapriore at 11:24 AM on February 18, 2013

Aside from the question of whether or not one needs to prove their potential to take on a higher management position, I'd find it most concerning that you wanted to take a day off for some rest, and that is the issue that triggered a discussion about your drive and commitment to the company. I'm weary of any organization that doesn't understand the value of rest and time off in terms of overall productivity. But, I might be reading too much into your interaction with your boss. Just something to keep in mind.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:29 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but to answer homelystar's question: The degree is related to my field, but it would definitely not be required for me to get this job. I would say about half of the commensurate jobs to this one in my field would require an advanced degree.
posted by anotheraccount at 11:50 AM on February 18, 2013

You're only a year away from completing your degree. I think you'd really regret it if you don't finish--and with the way work schedules seem to go in these situations, I'd imagine that putting your degree on hold is a recipe for never finishing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:59 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd hold to your schedule as is and finish your degree. You can even tell your boss:

"I've been doing some thinking about our discussion. My education is very important to me, and to add more hours would just not be a good fit for me until my degree is complete. Certainly I'll work on taking more of a leadership role, and I'll work on the existing processes in my position to insure the maximum efficiency and productivity within the confines of my currently specified work-week. I am very interested in taking over for you, if and when you move onto another position."

Then he can decide if this is actually a mentoring arrangement where he's grooming your to be his successor, in which case, he should be cool with it. (Once you finish your degree, you'll have more free time to work extra hours). If this is just some blah-blah to get you to work more, uncompensated hours, then you'll know soon enough, and you'll be well out of it.

Caution! How does your boss know that he's vacating his position in two years? Is that the only way you'll progress in this organizatino?

Let me give you a cautionary tale.

When I was hired for the job I'm in now, I was told that within two years, my manager expected to take a different position, my direct boss would be moved into the manager's position and I would then move into my boss's position.

It's nearly 2 years now. In December we were re-organized. I'm now in a different reporting structure, and while my manager and boss seemed to be taking on more and different responsibilities. MY responsibilities have doubled, yet there is no talk of me being promoted, or anything else.

So...and I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. I'm looking for a new gig.

Don't EVER rely on someone else's crystal ball, to foretell YOUR future.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:34 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dunno what everyone else said, but they're only paying you for 100%. Especially if you are salaried, don't get caught up!
posted by Max Power at 12:36 PM on February 18, 2013

Easy - just sacrifice your education and personal life
posted by thelonius at 12:41 PM on February 18, 2013

You can't. Look, I think you're getting ripped off and taken advantage of, but you haven't given enough detail to say for sure. But you definitely can't mentally steel yourself for this.

I work 50 hour weeks. Maybe more, but probably not a ton more over the course of a year. Here's the thing: it's a lot. And when you miss out on your downtime and your social life for an extended period, you resent it. It sucks. You hate it.

And, okay, 50 hours a week sucks, but it's manageable. But 50 hours a week plus school? I don't think that's manageable. You might be able to force yourself to do it, but you might not; and if you do, you will hate it and you won't be able to psych yourself up for it.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:32 PM on February 18, 2013

Going through school as a single parent I can tell you: you can NOT do it all. You are going to have to give some stuff up and for me that was my social life. It fucking sucked. I felt like a jerk. I was lonely. I also did a pretty crappy job as a parent and decided to accept Bs instead of trying for As in every class. It's just not possible to do it all. So you're going to have to prioritize and it's going to suck.

I'd sit down and write out your top 5 goals for the next 3 years. It would probably look something like this:

1) Get your boss' job.
2) Finish school successfully.
3) Maintain relationship with boyfriend.
4) Have friends.
5) ?

Not sure what 4 and 5 are for you. In any case, figure out your top 5 goals, then choose which 3 you're actually going to have time to prioritize and weed out the rest. Know you will get to them 3 years from now. My instinct is to keep school a priority, because it does make you look good to the organization to have that kind of motivation and drive. Next make another list of what you have to do on a weekly basis to achieve your top 3 goals. That list might look like:

Work 50-55 hours. Show up by 8:00 3 days a week.
Dinner with boyfriend 2x
Sundays at least X hours homework

That next list is ALL you can do over the next 3 years. I know, it sucks, but it's true. I can tell you that at the end of the 3 years you are going to feel like a fucking superhero though, because you will be one.

In terms of actual work performance, my suggestions are:
Show up for those 50 hour weeks.
Demonstrate every day that you have a positive attitude.
Be the problem solver.
Volunteer to take on projects, but choose projects that are important to the boss' boss, and then do a really good job on them.
Balance that with not being a doormat. If you act like one, you will be treated like one, and that does not help you to be seen as a leader. Be assertive. Don't get caught up doing menial stuff that isn't in your job description.
Try to find allies in higher positions than you.

Good luck. You sound pretty badass and I think you can do this.
posted by latkes at 9:46 PM on February 18, 2013

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