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“Word to your boss – this overtime has to stop”: Lucy Mangan on why we should all work less hard

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I was talking not long ago to the writer Marian Keyes, who recently took the conscious decision to stop working quite so hard. Life since then, she said, “is like walking through into a bigger room that you didn’t even know was there”.

Her words came to mind this week during a flurry of emails among me and my three best friends about the possibility of meeting up for a drink. Finally, 259 reply alls later, it resulted in a date being set – for late August. From previous experience, this will be rescheduled twice, eventually happen sometime in early October and at least one person will drop out the night before, because a boss has over-demanded, a project has under-delivered or some other crisis in the office has been precipitated.

And we’re not even the worst off. A recent survey found that millennial women (ie those aged 21 to 29, into which bracket neither I nor most of my possessions any longer fall) put in the longest hours of anyone in the workforce – 1,692 hours per year, compared with an average of 1,556 hours (1,631 in London) for the rest of the female demographic.

Lucy Mangan

A lot of those millennial hours, of course, will be accounted for by the genuine need to establish yourself at the beginning of your career. Of course. That’s fine, dandy and completely legitimate. But here’s the thing – and I’m about to use some very technical corporate language here, so just do your best to keep up – employers like to take the piss. In fact, especially when it comes to UK companies, it’s virtually policy. Research by the CIPD [the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development] shows that job satisfaction is currently at a two-year low (and people weren’t exactly brimming with joy before that), with 25% of workers looking to leave their jobs thanks to bad management, lack of training (did you know that long-term investment, including in YOU, appears as a loss on quarterly business reports?) and lack of – who’d have thought it?! – money, since real wages fell every year between 2009 and 2014, a feat we haven’t managed since Victorian times. Go us. Sigh.

It’s why the French are making a bold attempt to tackle this by introducing a law banning employees from sending work emails out of hours. Yet from my own – personal and anecdotal – experience, women’s natural inclinations often aggravate an already imperfect situation. A lack of confidence (in ourselves and/or in our managers) can lead us to undervalue our work and to go the extra, compensatory mile far too often. We believe – not without reason – that we need to be better than our male peers to be recognised as half as good. In places with flat hierarchies that make promotional paths unclear, it is often easier to rack up provable hours at your desk than learn how to break into networks and make the contacts that will provide you, less tangibly, with a way up.

And before you know it, you’re dovetailing nicely with your company’s desire to sweat you like any other inanimate asset and planning a single night out with the other company units you once knew as friends three bleedin’ months in advance. You are now living to work, not working to live.

Well, I call bull (another technical term) sh*t on that. Give your work your all while you’re there. But don’t give it all of you. Step into a bigger room. You might just find your friends there.


Photography: Ellis Parrinder, iStock

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