Being a hard worker is a badge of honour that many people strive for. After all, working to achieve a worthy goal can give us a feeling of purpose and meaning.
Accomplishing a challenging goal after working hard to achieve it can be extremely rewarding and motivating for you and your team. However, as with many things in life, moderation seems to be the key.
Working too much can obviously lead to stress, burnout and mental health issues. These are important factors to consider, but there are other aspects at play here too, so let’s take a look.
What Does it Mean to Be a Hard Worker?
To set the scene, I’m going to use my own definition of a hard worker.
A hard worker is somebody who takes pride in being able to handle a heavy workload and work long hours. They don’t like to complain and are stoic in the face of a mountain of work.
A hard worker often has the perspective that work should be hard. You’ve probably heard someone say “If it was meant to be fun, it wouldn’t be called work!”
A hard worker gains a sense of self-worth and pride from their hard-working label. Sometimes, they consider themselves a step above the rest because of their tireless effort and ability to power through the hours to complete a task.
Does this sound like you?
Being a Hard Worker: The Good
As a hard worker, you’re likely to have several good characteristics:
- You build a reputation of being dependable. People can rely on you to work the required hours to do the job. They don’t need to worry if you are on the case.
- It is rare for you to complain, so nobody needs to spend too much time “managing” you.
- You are stoic in the face of huge amounts of work. You expect it and take pride in being able to complete it.
Leaders generally love hard workers. Dependable, not complaining, stoic, easy to manage.
If you fall into the hard worker category, it’s likely your boss feels like they can let you get on with things without having to worry.
Now let’s take a few moments to look at the other side of this picture.
The Downside of Being a Hard-Working Leader
We’ve looked at the benefits of being a hard worker. Now, we’ll take a look at a few of the downsides that you may not have considered.
1. Setting a Nasty Precedent for the Future
As a hard working leader, you don’t like to complain. You take on the work, work long hours and just get on with it.
The problem with consistently tolerating mountainous workloads and overwhelming demands is that you are telling your boss (and everyone else) that this is OK.
You aren’t complaining or pushing back. Nobody thinks there is any reason to worry, because you’re getting the job done. You might be experiencing extreme stress and risking burnout, but that’s OK because work “is meant to be hard”.
In some cases, you might come to feel as if it’s all a bit too much and that the expectations placed upon you are unreasonable.
But you can’t say anything now, because you’ve set the precedent that it’s all OK. In fact, you’ve set the expectation that you will always do more. Working long hours under stressful conditions becomes your new normal.
This makes it much harder to push back and negotiate your workload in the future.
2. You Aren’t Providing an Accurate Picture of the Workload Involved
As a hard worker, you just get on and handle it. “No worries”, we like to say in Australia.
You work your team hard to successfully meet the tight deadline. This is all good, until you realise that you’re in a situation where this isn’t going to stop.
You’ve been working long hours and so has your team. In fact, collectively you’ve been doing the work of eight people, with a team of five.
Now that you’ve set the precedent that you can deliver, are you going to ask for more resources? No way! Your boss has seen you deliver successfully with the resources you have now, why would they want to spend more money?
What you have inadvertently done is once again set expectations about the workload involved. The next time a similar project comes around, people will assume that it can be accomplished with just the same small team.
3. You’re Role-Modelling Behaviour You Don’t Want In Your Team
I’ve worked with a few thoughtful leaders who work very long hours and definitely fall into the hard worker category. The interesting thing about most of these leaders was that they didn’t expect or want to see their team members showing the same behaviours.
These leaders were content to consistently work late and be the last one to leave, but they didn’t want that from their own teams.
Unfortunately, this creates a few problems. First, you are demonstrating “Do as I say, not as I do”. In other words, you aren’t walking the talk.
You think it’s OK for your team members to work reasonable hours, but you don’t allow it for yourself.
This can create a credibility and trust problem and your team members may have doubts.
“Does she really think it’s OK for me to leave early? Or is she going to be mad at me?”
Second, your team members may start to follow your lead. What you say makes a difference, but your team members are really watching what you do.
When you keep working long hours, your team will feel compelled to do the same, because that’s the culture that you are setting. This can lead to “clock watching” where people are just waiting to leave, or you might find that your team start to work later, despite your attempts to stop them doing so.
We Need to Be Working More Effectively, Not Working Harder
Some people may read this post and scoff. “Being a real leader means working long hours and putting up with the pressure” they’ll say.
I get it. Our society has been conditioned to respect hard workers and to put them on a pedestal. What I believe we really need is to be working more effectively, not just working harder and for longer.
Here are some steps you can take to work more effectively, for the benefit of both you and your team.
1. Have a Meaningful Conversation About Workload and Resourcing
One of my coaching clients was struggling with workload and stress. He’s a hard worker, taking pride in being able to power through and succeed regardless of the effort required.
What I discovered was that he had never had a conversation with his manager about resourcing in his team, or about the number of tasks he was being expected to complete.
As leaders, we feel compelled to make it seem like we have everything under control. But when we do this, nobody knows if there is a problem.
If your manager doesn’t understand the stress or pressure you’re under and the work you have on your plate, how can they help you?
That’s right, they can’t. The solution could be as simple as starting a conversation about your workload.
2. Clarify the Priorities
When you try to work on everything at once, you’re bound to have a lot to do. However, some things are always more important than others.
Therefore, we need to specifically tackle the topic of priority. What should come first? What can wait until next week? Can we delay something until we have another team member starting?
A prioritisation conversation can feel uncomfortable because it may feel like you’re questioning the direction of your manager. However, you’re really just clarifying expectations and making sure everyone has the same idea of what’s important.
3. Be Curious, and Assume Your Situation Can Change
Many leaders operate from what is called a “scarcity” mindset, rather than one of abundance. They will make statements such as “We can’t do that because there is no budget for it” or “We must deliver this by next week”.
These statements have a fixed position. They assume that there is no ability to change or influence the situation.
In some cases this is true, but I’ve found that very often we have an opportunity to improve our situation just by taking the standpoint that everything is negotiable.
We simply need to ask the right questions.
Why does this need to be done right now? How can we do it better, with less effort? What could we do differently to achieve the same outcome?
Start operating from the perspective that you can change your situation and you’ll begin to ask the right questions.
Hard workers have many good qualities, but sometimes just working harder can cause more harm than good. It’s time to start thinking differently and working more effectively, rather than just working harder, for longer.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment below or visit the Thoughtful Leader Forum and tell your story!