A reader writes:
My wife just finished interviewing for a promotion within her company and was given some unusual career advice from the vice president of her division. My wife was told that even though her working hours are 8am to 4pm, that she should not be so quick to leave work at 4pm. She was told that she should stay late once and a while to give the impression that she's a "go-getter" even if all of her work is finished.
My wife responded along the lines of, "I do my work when I'm here (as opposed to screwing around) and the company should be happy that I don't waste valuable time chatting and taking smoke breaks during the day forcing me to stay later to finish my workload."
Why should my wife stay late if her work is finished? Why should someone who works diligently during the day, hitting her goals and getting excellent scores on her reviews, be forced to stay late just to impress on someone that she's a hard worker?
The advice of her VP got me thinking...has staying late at work become mandatory for career success? Under that premise, wouldn't someone surmise that efficiency is not the key to recognition but rather dedicating more time to the job is the way to career success?
Has it become mandatory? No, of course not. But it might be unofficially mandatory at her particular company, which would be a sign that her particular company has a silly culture and/or that her manager isn't very good ... probably both, although it's possible that the manager is fine, but saddled with stupid expectations from above and is trying to clue her into those.
The best case scenario here is that the manager is trying to convey to her that she needs to find ways to make her results more evident to those who care about them. But it's more likely that your wife simply works at a company that focuses on face time over results.
If I had a manager tell me this, I'd do the following:
1. Say something like, "I have really high productivity. When I'm at work, I'm focused 100% on work and nothing else, and I'm churning out results because of it. In fact, you've commented in the past on how productive I am." (Obviously you have to tailor this to fit the situation; if you're not incredibly productive, this doesn't work as well.)
2. Then say, "Being that productive allows me to work a reasonable work week, and that's important to me. I'm not sure if you're telling me that you'd like to see higher productivity from me, or if you're more concerned about perceptions from other people. If it's just perception, let's figure out how to make perceptions match the reality of the situation."
3. If the manager then told me that she agreed I was kicking ass, but "the company" expects people to put in longer hours, then I'd say: "Has the company considered the retention implications of valuing hours worked over actual results on the job?"
4. And then I'd consider whether I wanted to stay there.
Not everything stupid or annoying is worth quitting over, of course. Finding another job is a pain, and it comes with its own risks -- the new employer might be reasonable on this issue but even more frustrating in some other area. Plus, there might be enough your wife likes about her current job (the work, the pay, the coworkers, the benefits, whatever) that that stuff trumps this.
So ultimately, your wife needs to take the results of this conversation with her manager and, if she didn't find it satisfying, decide whether she wants to (a) suck it up and put in some extra hours on occasion, even though it's ridiculous, (b) not put in those extra hours on principle and deal with whatever consequences that has for how she's perceived, including possible impact on future raises and advancement, or (c) leave. Any of those are legitimate decisions.