The Myth of Taking Work Home to Get Ahead

You’re leaving the office, finally, laptop in hand, taking work home AGAIN.  

You’re convinced that the time spent this evening responding to emails and texts, looking over your notes for tomorrow’s meeting will help you get ahead.  

Get ahead of what?  

Work will still be there, no matter what you do out of the office.  

And, who’s convinced you?  Is your boss insisting? Is there unspoken pressure from co-workers who wear their overtime like a badge of honor?  Or are you trying to make up for something that you secretly feel you lack?

Regardless of the reason, taking work home and working excessive hours not only hinders your productivity and work quality long-term, but it also has potentially negative consequences for work satisfaction, your well-being, and relationships.

More is not better.

Regardless of what you’d like to think, working long hours more does NOT mean producing more or better work.  

Decades of research has consistently found that an increase in hours worked does not equate to increased output.  In excess of the 8-hour day, production decreases.

Furthermore, as time increases above the 8-hour mark, the chance for error and injury increase as well.  

One exception to note is that for brief stints, workers who are pushed to 60-70 hour per week for a short-term deadline, can produce more.  

However, the ratio of hours to output is NOT one to one.  A 50% increase in hours only provides an increased production of 25-30%.

Moreover, when employees are pushed to work extended hours long-term, there is also a long-term, negative impact.  Not only do they get burned out and less productive in the short-term, but it takes weeks to recover their normal productivity after returning to a 40-hour week.

Your boss doesn’t really know.

If you are hoping to catch your boss’s eye by overwork, don’t bother.  

A study published in Harvard Business Review found that bosses were unable to tell the difference between workers who really worked 80 hours per week and other employees who pretended to work 80 hours.

Physical and emotional impact--What personal life?

Consider dangerous health effects of long-term stress:  heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, depression, compromised immunity, and more.  

Consider, too, the damage to relationships when loved ones are consistently feeling undervalued and ignored for the sake of work.

Time for a shift in mindset and culture.

If you are the hard-charging boss, consider the by-product of an over-tired, over-stressed, and potentially resentful staff.  

Are they going to perform at their best and be dedicated employees long-term?  It might be time to adjust the culture you’re cultivating.

Corporate culture is best cultivated from the top.  For instance, Volkswagen in Germany opted to shut down corporate email servers just before and just after the workday for all but their senior management, because they recognized the need for employees to unplug to be productive.

If not the boss, but your own self-imposed overwork to make up from some perceived shortcomings, take time to reflect and assess your skills honestly.  

At best, you likely have more game than you think.

Go through the exercise of actually writing down your work-related strengths and skills.  And, don’t forget the “soft” skills, like communication, teaming, emotional intelligence. All of those are valuable too.  

If you can’t work as well with others, you don’t work as well.  

Give yourself some credit.  You may be surprised. At worst, you find areas for personal growth.  

Regardless, running yourself into the ground is only going to make you less mentally sharp, prone to error, and less productive; a dangerous trifecta for performance.  It’s time to trim your work time.

How-to strategies.

Share research with boss and co-workers.  Maybe if you lay out the facts, such as a well-thought-out presentation, you’ll win them over and change your work culture.  Having support at the top is essential.

Set and communicate clear expectations and personal boundaries.  

What your boss/co-workers can expect from you:

Give 100% during the 8-hour work day

Actively look for ways to be your most efficient and productive. (This an opportunity to re-assess your tasks and appropriately delegate or build capacity in others if you tend towards perfectionism or over-extending yourself.)

Eliminate off-task behaviors.

Consistently meet deadlines.

Boundaries you expect your boss/coworkers to respect:

You define, but something resembling...

Respond to email, text, voicemail and other tasks during the average work day/week, unless there is an imperative need on a case by case basis that has been communicated

Insist on Accountability

When expectations and boundaries are discussed and agreed to, hold yourself and others accountable.  

Check in with your boss and co-workers to assess how you and they are doing.  

Significant change doesn’t happen overnight, so keeping tabs on progress is critical.

Schedule downtime.

If you are concerned that you might be the weak link in this new plan, schedule some downtime into your evenings/weekends that keep you from working.  

Always wanted to join a book club or try a couple’s cooking class? An adult basketball league or painting class with a friend?  Preferably, select an activity that is on-going, involves others, and/or costs you something.

You’re less likely to bail out and revert to work if you’d disappoint someone else or waste money.  Plus, you’ll enjoy a built-in, de-stressor. A win-win for coming back to work refreshed and sharp.

Can technology help?

Technology has made for a more mobile and connected work environment.  

One could argue, that technology has exacerbated the problem of overwork and setting boundaries.  However, harnessing the power of technology to make the 8 hours in your workday the most efficient and effective could help.  

Wouldn’t it be easier to unplug at the end of the day, knowing that you’d really produced?  

By utilizing tools like the iStratus DayPlanner app, you can manage/integrate multiple calendars and task lists, access encrypted documents and passwords securely on the run, and more to better meet the demands of your busy professional and personal lives.  

Visit to find out more about how the DayPlanner can help you still get ahead in 8 hours a day, without taking work home.

Ann Brennan