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3 ways to stay sane when you have a workaholic boss

If you don’t match their pace will you look like a slacker?

3 ways to stay sane when you have a workaholic boss
[Photo: Kritchanut/iStock]

For better or for worse, bosses are role models in the office, setting the pace and establishing the culture. When they’re also workaholics, it can make things difficult for employees. Are you supposed to mimic their style? If not, will you risk looking like a slacker?

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“Working for a workaholic boss can be tricky; I know because I used to be one,” says Lynn Branigan, president and CEO of She Runs It, a not-for-profit organization that promotes women’s roles in marketing and media. “The staff wonders, ‘Are we supposed to match the hours that she does? Are we supposed to be in the office before she gets in and after she leaves?'”

The first course of business when you have an overachieving boss is to do your job and do it well, says Branigan. Beyond that, embracing lines of communication will ensure that you’re fulfilling expectations and growing your career.

Be honest

Don’t be afraid to have an open and honest conversation with your boss, says Paul Harris of GRN Blackhawk, a global recruiting network.

“I have an expression in my life which is, ‘When in doubt, tell the truth,'” he says. “You may find out that your boss has absolutely no expectation that anybody in the company needs to work as hard as they do. They may be single, no kids, no pets, no plants, and no outside activities. They may simply enjoy [their job] 24/7/365, and don’t expect anybody else to [keep that pace].”

You may also find out that your boss expects similar hours from direct reports, but not necessarily from others. Or you may find out the long hours they’re putting in are due to a short-term project and they’ll be clocking in less time when things calm down.

“You won’t know all this unless you ask,” says Harris. “In a perfect world, your boss would be the type of person that can handle open and honest communication.”

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Set boundaries

As long as you’re doing good work and living up to expectations, you need to set boundaries for yourself, says Branigan. “Then firmly–but respectfully–apply them,” she says.

For example, don’t reply to an email received in the middle of the night or on the weekends. If you do respond, explain that you will answer fully when you’re back in the office, says Branigan.

If you can only work a set amount of hours during the week or have to leave the office by a certain time, address it upfront, adds Harris.

“The key is to get out in front of this before it gets to be a problem,” he says. “Address it as soon as possible.”

Give updates

While you don’t need to try to keep up the same schedule, you can make your impact obvious through consistent communication, says Gina Cherwin, chief people officer at the public affairs agency MWWPR.

“Everyone has a way they like to manage or be managed—take the time to learn your bosses’ preferences so you can highlight your accomplishments in a format that works for them,” she says. “Whether that’s a weekly catch-up meeting or a written recap report, focus on what you accomplished and the impact of your work—not the hours you logged to do it.”

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And give your workaholic boss plenty of information about your progress and timeframe, adds Nate Regier, CEO of the global training advisory firm Next Element and author of Conflict without Casualties: A Field Guide to Leading with Compassionate Accountability.

“Show confidence and commitment meeting deadlines,” he says. “For example, say, ‘I understand that the deadline is Friday at 1 p.m., and I am committed to meeting it. I will be leaving today at 5 p.m. to attend my son’s soccer game and have time set aside tomorrow to finish the project in advance of our deadline.'”

Transition any conversation about what time you arrived or left the office by pointing to outcomes and a job well done, says Branigan.

“Let her know that you appreciate the pace she keeps, but your best productivity is achieved when your work exertion is more balanced to your life,” she says.

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