`You Say Late, I Say Never (Or Do I?….)

As I mentioned in my first post of the year, many of us came back to work on January 3, filled with the zippity doo dah of New Year’s resolutions only to find ourselves stymied when others didn’t seem to be experiencing the same joie de vivre.  Today, I’m going to tackle a question sent to me by a reader whose boss’s 2011 pattern of keeping her late at work appears to be filtering into her 2012:

My boss keeps asking me to work late – but I want to get home to my family! How can I cut down on these long days without jeopardizing my career?

Before you respond I recommend putting yourself in your boss’ shoes by considering the answers to the following:

Does he have a family? Do you think he’s also frustrated by not being home with them?  Or do you think he likes staying late b/c he’s single and/or is having problems at home?

What is his personality-type– and the personality type of the person he reports to? Is he passive aggressive and so, has likely never brought it up with his boss? This may inform how he responds to your bringing it up with him.

How long has he been at the firm– was he made to stay late when he was in your job, and does he now feel like it’s your turn to pay dues?

Also think it through from the point of view of the company and its culture:

What kind of pressure is the company currently under? Is this a response to the recession, so many people are wearing many hats?

Alternatively, is this kind of late-night firefighting the norm? If it’s the company culture, you need to recognize this is something you knew/signed up for.

If it’s a response to the recession, you need to factor in that it might not go on forever.

Now that you’ve thought it through, what’s the best way to have the conversation?

Set aside a specific time to have the conversation. Do not tack it onto anything else– your boss will feel ambushed.

When you do set up the time, consider your boss’s  biorhythms (yes, you read that right) For example, does he come in like hell on wheels at 8 a.m. but is mellower and more in the mood to mentor after lunch? If so, you want a post-lunch meeting, etc.

Also, beware letting your frustration build up until he asks you to stay late– yet again!– at which point you snap. This will end poorly.

OK, now that you have your answers to the above, and a designated time to speak, I would try the following script:

“Over the last month, it’s been necessary for me to stay late two to three nights out of five. Because I know the company’s been under a lot of pressure/this is the norm in our company’s culture, I have factored staying late into my schedule. As I look at the weeks ahead, I don’t see this schedule changing, however, and it concerns me because I can’t give you my best work if I can’t give you 100% of my focus– and an erratic schedule often means my focus is split between work and home. However, I know I will be able to give you 100% if I have the chance to plan ahead. Would it be possible for us to agree that I will stay late only on certain nights?”

The beauty of this response is that it doesn’t blame him. It isn’t emotional, it’s factual. It reinforces that you want to do your best, and it doesn’t bring up family (in case he doesn’t have one) just home (and we all have homes.)

After stating your point and making your request DON’T SAY ANYTHING. Don’t bring up how other boss’s are dealing with their employees. Don’t bring up specifics from your family life. Sit. Listen. As you respond, factor in what you have thought through regarding his situation/personality and the company’s situation/culture.