By Women in Secured Finance Committee Members

This is a new feature providing advice from WISF members to young professionals on a specific topic.

Dear WISF,

“What advice can you give to someone just starting out whose coworkers and supervisor work 12-hour days and weekends routinely? I am able to complete my responsibilities during normal working hours. Some of the ‘extra‘ projects assigned to me are clearly someone else’s work and some are projects that my manager feels will advance my skill set. I am happy to accept the latter projects but, how can I approach my boss to talk about work/life balance?”

From Miin Chen, Siena Lending Group: 

I think the answer depends on the person and what he or she is seeking – does this person just want to be where he or she is or is he or she looking for a promotion or salary adjustment for the work?  In either case, this individual should prepare a list of his or her general duties and how they fall into the job description. Then add on all the ad hoc projects that have been completed by him or her.  The approach would be different, obviously, depending on what he or she wants accomplished through this meeting.  If he or she is looking for a promotion, he or she should also take a look at the intangibles – i.e. process improvements, leadership opportunities, committee involvement.  If a salary increase is the goal – he or she should be prepared to identify what he or she is looking for.   However, in either case, I think being able to set a tone early is extremely important.  While I would advise against not answering emails during “off” work hours, I think establishing when you will answer is important. There’s a fine line between being respectful and answering/acknowledging quick questions or statements versus working on project when you’ve left home and its 9 p.m. on a weeknight.

From Anonymous:

This was/is me!  I have always worked quickly and efficiently so that I could maintain a strong work/life balance.  As such, other colleagues have always handed over their work to me assuming I “had the time” because I was working fewer hours (though still 40+).  When I first started, I put in the extra hours where I could to show that I was a team player and willing to help out other colleagues.  I was not comfortable speaking to my manager about this directly, but I’d occasionally ask, “What should I prioritize?” and list out all of the items people had “assigned” to me. He caught on that people were handing me their work.

As time went on, my manager realized that I was working extra time to complete work that wasn’t mine and he also began to ask me to take on special projects for the team that gave me great visibility. It was extra work, but I enjoyed it and received recognition and trust from key members of our company. 

Once I became more comfortable, I began to tell other co-workers directly that I couldn’t take on anything else.  I would ask to divide a project at the beginning so that everyone had the same expectations and could finish when it suited them.  Unfortunately, I also had to stop volunteering to help certain people as they took advantage of my time.  Eventually, after some adjusting for everyone, these coworkers realized I was not “slacking,” but rather worked very efficiently during the day so that I could finish my work.  It takes time to build trust with coworkers, and many times you simply have to put in the hours. But in the end, it pays to have coworkers who trust you and know you’re a hardworking team player who will get the job done (albeit, in fewer hours!)

From Sue Duckett, Franklin Capital:

This is a tough question, as you would hope that during the interview process this would have been discussed. This really does reflect the difference between a job and a career. Honestly, it is rare that we achieve everything by being a 9-5 worker.  Many career moves are obtained due to the amount of commitment that has been shown and if the other workers are continually over delivering, then they will be recognized accordingly.  However, just because extra hours are worked does not mean that more work is completed.  I have seen staff work until midnight and on review the work completed was unnecessary and there were more efficient ways of completing tasks.  Despite this, there are many times when our work day overlaps into our personal time, but nobody should be expected to tip the scales in a work/life balance.

Ask the manager for some time to talk alone.  Explain that you are committed to the job, talk about the elements of the job that are enjoyable and why you want to be part of the team. Recognize the hours and time that everyone else is giving, but how you are unable to provide the same extra hours.  Set the expectations between both parties and understand exactly what is required to get the job done.  Discuss procedures that provide efficiency and how you can exceed expectations without working an 80-hour week.

Once the manager explains exactly what is needed, perhaps he or she will believe the extra hours are unnecessary too!

There are also tools you can use to say no to work that is another person’s responsibility.  Most bosses are understanding, if you explain that the extra work is not viable and give valid reasons why and solutions on how it could be done.  This will be easier to do once you have had the chat with the boss regarding hours.  They will understand the limited timeframe to complete the full workload.  It may be that one of the workers who wants to work the hours will take the job from you.

I would suggest trying to prioritize and perhaps offering to complete the task at a later date.

Communication is key to a happy workplace and it is vital that this is discussed with the manager, not with co-workers.  Your boss cannot guess what is going on in your mind, so be prepared to talk about it to resolve the situation.