I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but hard work harms your career.
Hard work is the myth many of us have modelled for us throughout our careers. Our parents, teachers, mentors, even previous and current bosses may uphold this myth (or at the very least, they don’t dispel it). It’s done by not saying “no”, or qualifying what exactly needs to be done in the short-term, taking on inhumane levels of work. It’s glamourized by a workplace culture of “busy” (because that means you’re important, right?).
It’s even held up as a badge of honour. In a recent article published by Inc. magazine approximately 40 percent of workers believe that burnout is an inevitable part of career success. 40 percent. Where’s the “honour” in that? No one should have to experience burnout to be successful. That’s not a “badge” anyone needs to have and it certainly won’t help you get ahead when you’re in the emergency room (or otherwise sidelined by your health).
Has this has ever happened to you? You’re speaking with your boss about a persistent problem you both want to figure out, and you begin sketching out some solutions (viable, but unproven) when your boss notices the time and says, “I’ve got another meeting. Can I leave this with you?”. Then blip, your boss is gone.
Now you’re sitting there with the temptation to make this unproven solution happen but without the time, budget, resources or even the basic agreement from others on its relative priority (or their input on what needs to be thought out to make it happen without impacting something else). I call this “drive-by delegation”.
It’s confusing and leaves a lot open to interpretation. Your boss may even forget you’ve had this conversation. Or they may have subsequent conversations with others (not you), changing and re-shaping what they want done (but forgetting to feed that back to you). Or your boss may just change their mind on whether or not that solution needs to get done now (and forget to tell you).
Or, they think you’re working on it with what’s left to you after putting in 50 hours or more every week, and your boss tells their boss it’s being looked after. You haven’t even agreed to do it (or have your team do it). “Drive-by delegation” is a source of “hard work” and sets no one up for success.
It’s also an example of how hard work comes dressed as opportunity, but really, it’s a sucker punch. So, how can you turn “hard work” into something you can learn and grow from?
You qualify it. Take 5 minutes to do this in a document (don’t worry about format or even spelling, just intuitively hash it out):
Why does this work as an antidote to hard work? Hard work comes in like a freight train, fast. Often the most strategic thing you can do is to slow things down, just enough, to really look at a request (or assumption) in context with everything else that’s going on. You’re not saying “yes’ and you’re not saying “no”. You’re inviting a conversation to explore the benefits, constraints and opportunity costs of doing or not doing this work. This is difficult to do, but it’s an enormous growth challenge for you, setting you up for future success at work
You’re making it a conscious choice, and making the time for others input to qualify not just the doing or not doing of the work, but the desired impact. AND, along the way you’re helping your boss to see what’s possible, and what’s not, given the current work context. This empowers your boss to make a strategic decision about this work, resourcing it, or parking it for later – and communicating that decision to set expectations.
Doing this takes 10 minutes or less and cuts through the culture of busy. It forces everyone to take a step back and think. It supports a culture of consciousness, without jeopardizing your effectiveness, or reputation. It’s a challenge, but one that supports your career, rather than keeping you trapped in the hard work/busy cycle that stifles your growth.
Culturally, the myth of hard work is pervasive – you’re either “in” or “out”. So, I realize the enormity of what I’m asking when I say you need to re-think hard work in your career. You deserve more than fast-paced, high-volume work. You deserved to be challenged. To grow. To explore and experience new things professionally that also support your organization.
Do not let hard work culture harm your career.
When I started working with Carleen my work-life balance was out of whack, I was unsatisfied and beginning to question whether I was in the right role. Her practices helped me become more grounded, rooted in my work and I learned to source nourishment from the activities that I perform on a daily basis at work."