I have always left work on time.
Or, I have tried my best to. When there’s a genuine emergency, there is no option but to stay back.
Even at my first job, when a senior demanded I stay overtime to complete *his* work, I refused. I knew if he actually sat down to do his work, he wouldn’t require any help. He kept complaining about his age (he was in his 40s) and how he could not take too much burden at work anymore. This unreasonable emotional blackmail did not work either. The 40s is the new 30s or 20s or whatever you choose it to be. It is all in the mind. If you feel you are ageing and you cannot do much, then damn right, you cannot.
The end story is that I got what I wanted – not to work overtime.
I have to say I was privileged when I first started working. I was not in dire need of money. I had a support system. If I were desperate, I would have compromised more and said yes to a lot of work I did not want to do. Work was not a priority in my 20s. I was preoccupied with living my life, having fun, getting my heart broken, and spending all my money without saving a bit.
Many people compromise at work because they do not have a support system at home to fall back on. Maybe they are the sole earning member; maybe they are in a lot of debt. When the responsibilities pile on, which they will as you age, so does the burden of compromising. You tend to become more afraid of losing your job, and you play it safer and become more diplomatic.
I see many employees working overtime mainly to please their bosses. They take that first step – to work overtime. Their bosses never asked for it. I realized that once you start working overtime, there’s no going back. Your coworkers (and boss) would keep expecting you to put in those extra hours. “You have done it before, so why not now?“
Once you establish a boundary that you are available to work only during your scheduled hours, things become simpler. Everyone will stop nagging you to stay back. Your body will also nag you to leave work on time. Some stay back out of habit. They are used to working overtime, and it has become a part of their life now.
What makes us work harder than required might also be due to imposter syndrome. That feeling that you are not good enough and you need to try extra hard to safeguard your job. Some do this by working extra hours. But when the work you produce within your work hours is of good quality, working extra is really not required. Try to focus and give your work your full attention during work hours. This should be more than enough.
You might have to deal with people asking, “Leaving already?” when you exit on time. Pay them no heed. It’s your work-life balance that is at stake. If you feel working after hours is the only way to live, by all means, work overtime. If you wish to have a life outside of work, make it a point always to leave work on time! The ones who are spending too much time at office are creating the wrong standard for the rest who wish to maintain a work-life balance. Some (like my senior I mentioned at the start of this post) do not know proper time management. Or they are plain lazy. They spend hours chatting away with coworkers and then suddenly realize they have a lot of work to do at 4 PM. The rest who spend their working hours productively get reprimanded for leaving office on time—office politics at its best.
I am not as privileged as before. I need to work to earn my bread and butter. I do not have a robust support system, yet I cannot get myself to be at the office post my work hours. I have many interests – my job is only a part of it. To deprive myself of all other interests for the sake of my career is plain sacrilege.
To maintain sanity, pursuing your hobbies and interests is a must. Why wait till retirement to do what you like?