Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

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


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



Why France has decided to ban out-of-hour work emails


Why we should resist London's toxic culture of overtime


Tired of London, not life: what happens when you ditch the city grind


Year of You: a Stylist writer's mission to boost her career

woman park bench short four day week.jpg

Why a shorter working week would make us happier, and healthier


Women are held back by competitive work environments, new study shows


Why negotiating your salary could leave you at a loss


The science behind why holidays are truly essential for your health

high heels office sent home.jpg

Woman is sent home from work for not wearing high heels



“If you need me, I’ll be in the woods”

Lucy Mangan on the joy of being alone

by Lucy Mangan
01 Mar 2017

Lucy Mangan explains how a tragic event can actually unite us all

“Amidst polarising opinion, we are still united”

by Lucy Mangan
01 Mar 2017

“Brace yourself – it’s time we had the baby chat”

Lucy Mangan on why it’s fine to not want children

by Lucy Mangan
01 Mar 2017

“You can take your heels and...”

Lucy Mangan on the high heels debate

by Lucy Mangan
01 Mar 2017

“All hail the big cosmetic surgery U-turn”

Lucy Mangan on a welcome change in the fashion and beauty industry

by Lucy Mangan
03 Feb 2017

“Without divorce, marriage is doomed”

Lucy Mangan on why the world needs divorce

by Lucy Mangan
01 Feb 2017

Lucy Mangan on the art of saving money

“In debt? Allow me to confiscate your cards”

by Lucy Mangan
15 Jan 2017

Lucy Mangan guides us into the New Year

“So here it is! 2017: a user’s manual”

by Lucy Mangan
01 Jan 2017

Lucy Mangan doles out her annual awards

“And the award for the worst year ever goes to...”

by Lucy Mangan
09 Dec 2016

Lucy Mangan on the hope in the abuse headlines

“The silence that protects people who do terrible things is breaking down”

by Lucy Mangan
05 Dec 2016