Superheroes Don't Work at Corporations

This message is for the workaholics out there, and not for those of you who barely want to get your work done, who aren’t interested in doing more than just what is asked at work, or who have a balanced lifestyle so that you are seeing many years of success within your career.  This blog won’t help you because you either already figured it out or you won’t ever be the person that needs to figure it out.

Many people seem to think they are invincible when it comes to work.  They work long hours, always think about what they can do to help, to get one more thing done, to get that review rating that is higher than last time.  And I applaud that attitude at work.  But only to a degree.  Everyone needs to take care of themselves, above and beyond any accomplishments at work.  Aren’t you in it for the long haul?  Do you expect your career to be long and successful or a short highlight that fades quickly?  If you don’t pace yourself, you will burn out quickly.  But you have to understand yourself and what you are capable of.  And that is hard, even when you think you know yourself really well.  If you like working hard, consider taking some down time in between your intense work times to rejuvenate.  Or if it’s too difficult to let go of work when you are away, then just pace yourself so that it doesn’t take up every thought you have throughout the evening and night.  Now how do you slow things down when your project is on a death march and makes you work weekends and evenings?  Well, that may be the wrong time to pace yourself.  But the death march won’t last forever and when there is planning time for the next release, spend time giving your input to impact the schedule, to point out the risks, and to make sure you afford enough time for surprises.  Sometimes you’ll have to pushback and stand firm on some principles that you’ve set in your personal life or even in your work life.  What if saying “no” was a superpower for us common folk?  Corporations employ people, not superheroes, so you are not a superhero.  Give up the mission to try to become one.

If you enjoy being the hero that comes in and saves the day, then you are not the right person for the job.  Companies aren’t looking for heroes.  They are looking for people that can come in and estimate the work, understand the risks, and then execute appropriately.  Although sometimes superhero skills are needed, don’t make that the norm.  Don’t swoop in and save the day by working the weekend again for the 6th time this month.  (Hey, that math doesn't add up...exactly!)  Instead challenge your leaders and people setting up the work that causes you to have to put in those extra hours.  It may be fun to be the one that saves the day, but if things are planned correctly and done right, the day shouldn’t need to be saved!  You will benefit the company more and have a more successful career if you help figure out how to make sure the project never needs saved, never needs those superheroes to come save the day.

For leaders, you have to look out for the warning signs that prove you have people working too hard in your team.  For example, having your people work weekends is an appropriate warning sign to notice.  What about when you have multiple people calling in sick over the same period of time?  Or if you compare your team’s output to other teams and your team's output is lessening?  That means people are less motivated or enthusiastic to do the work.  Give them a break.  Rejuvenating and coming into work refreshed is the only way to keep employees happy and the most productive.

As managers and leaders, did you need to be a superhero to get that role?  If so, then you need to be extra careful of burning out your people.  You are naturally portraying how coming in and saving the day with long hours is the way to get promoted and succeed.  There's nothing you can do about that because anyone that knows your history will come to that conclusion.  So now you need to take extra steps (more communication and an attitude change) to show that a balanced work-life and no reliance on super-hero powers is a good thing, and expected in your team.

Are you exhausted?  Is your team exhausted?  Are you noticing that?  What are you doing about it?  Start by letting them know its ok to take time off, work regular hours, and pace themselves.  Then go fix the issues that your team is having that are causing this superhero mentality.  Is there an issue with how people are rewarded for their work?  Can you resolve the planning issues that may be the culprit?  If not, then you might as well go buy some red boots and capes because your team is going to need them to save the day!