Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Don’t Let Perception Overshadow Your Productivity

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 12

My last company had a thing about slackers.  In a performance review, I was told that my career could be slowed because I was perceived as a 9 to 5er.  Five minutes earlier, my manager told me that I got more done than anyone he had ever met.

This was a cultural issue – there was a regular review process that evaluated people in two dimensions – the quality of work and suitability for promotion.  In practice, the second dimension was a proxy for who showed up the most. Yes, I left at 5:30, but why did that matter when I was getting so much done?

In hindsight, I made too big a deal out of my life outside of work.  For example, I always told my manager whatever kid activity I had done the previous weekend, and let him know that I would be leaving work early once a week to coach soccer at 3:30.  He told me that I had trained him not to expect an answer to his Saturday emails until Monday morning; he admitted that he was surprised that he was ok with that.  Yet in spite of my productivity, the company had me in the “not committed” column.

My only regret is what I said, not what I did. My highest priority was time outside of work, and I had as much as I needed.  But, I should have talked less about the kids and more about what interested my manager – how hard I was working to make the numbers.

As we saw in the last post about ROWE, revenue at Suntell went up 185% in the two years after employees were given the freedom to decide when to come to the office.  And while my company was very unROWE, the flexibility that I took for myself helped make me the most productive person there.

In the next post, I’ll tell you how to do it.

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  1. Charles says

    The perception/productivity idea is real. Many years ago I was working as kitchen/dining room help at a ski area cafeteria and one of the day managers approached me, telling me that he wasn’t sure that I was going to work out there, because it didn’t seem like I was getting much done. Part of the problem was that I was doing things ‘exactly’ or literally like managers said; ‘Clean this until it’s spotless’ instead of ‘do the best clean as fast as you can then move on’… So, I was getting less cleaned, but thought it was what they wanted. He said that it didn’t look like I would get much done, which surprised me because I watched everyone and knew that most were doing much less than I. I told him that I worked efficiently and didn’t waste movement but was always working, and if he watched carefully he’d see other workers going around the corner and gabbing at the bar window and jumping to attention when ever management came around!
    After a few days, he came up to me and said ‘yeah, you were right, now I see!’
    I’ve been reacted to before when I was being very efficient and not wasting energy looking excited and ‘busy’, as someone not getting a lot done, and had to point out that I didn’t stand around and talk among other things and after a while they would catch on and then usually never bother me again. It’s tough, though because some don’t know how to read ‘efficiency’ and don’t know how to quantify how much work someone can actually get done.

    Also, at an educational institution the professor/boss came up after a few months and told me that I was ‘making him look bad’ to the rest of the professors/grad students in that part of the building. I was confused of course and he explained that sometimes I came in 5-7 minutes late, and that made the others think that the prof. didn’t ‘have proper control over me’. I was very surprised because nobody ever said a word. Sometimes I would miss a train and be five minutes late, but then I would usually stay 15 minutes later so that it was clear that I had made up for the time. I pointed this out (since it was only a requirement that we work 8 hours a day; no more and no less) and he said yes that was true, but everyone else left at the exact working time so never saw me working late, and since people loved to talk, it gave them something to talk about. So, if I was going to miss a train I just drove to work instead to avoid the hassle and everyone was happy. I was doing slightly less work, but to everyone else I was working more because of my starting time.

    • Greg Marcus says

      Thank you Charles for sharing your stories. I find it particularly illustrative to see how you dealt with those situations. Perception management has not always been one of my strengths, so I learned something from your example.

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  1. […] As you shift your priorities to people and start to work fewer hours, there will come a point when someone starts pushing you to do more.  There is always more work to do, and if you don’t set firm boundaries around our work, no one else will.  As Jody Thompson, champion of ROWE pointed out in the youtube video in the last post, what is the point of getting your work done early if it only means that you will be given more work? […]

  2. […] in the chapter, I shared how I was productive but perceived as “not committed” at my last job before I left the corporate world.  In a way they were right: The company was […]

  3. […] ROWE is generally structured for departments or companies to adopt, but there are principles that can help individuals regain control of their time as well. <<Previous  Next>> […]