Feel lazy if you leave the office on time? Get a twinge of achievement when you’re the last one? It could be a case of Competitive Work Late Syndrome.
Daisy Wilson* loves those days when her work finishes on time. But something stops the 27-year-old PR grabbing her bag and heading for the door. The rest of her team. “When I look around and see them all still sitting there, I’m frozen, I just can’t leave. It’s a mixture of fear and guilt, a voice in my head tells me that they’ll think I’m lazy and shirking, even though my work is done.”
She admits these daily extra hours are completely unproductive. “But leaving the office becomes a threshold. I just won’t be, can’t be, the first person to cross it.”
Daisy is suffering from Competitive Work Late Syndrome. She’s not the only one. It’s being played out in offices across the UK; women welded to their desks, trapped by the idea that working hard means working excessively long hours.
''Busy now means you’re important, it means you matter.''
British women work the longest hours in Europe, with one in six Londoners putting in more than 48 hours a week. Life coach Carole Ann Rice says, “If you work in an office where the culture is one of very long hours, it is difficult to break free of those expectations.”
Why is it happening? Rice believes we revere being busy, associating it with success. “Busy now means you’re important, that you matter, that you’re productive.”
Women are particularly prone to CWLS. “Women worry about what other people think about them far more than men. We want to please by going that extra mile.” Psychologist Mamta Bhatia agrees. “Women like to gain approval and be recognised for their contribution. Physical presence has become shorthand for achievement.”
Mamta also points to our quest for perfection. “There is an innate desire in women to get things right. For many women it motivates them.” And when they come across a work colleague who is also striving to be perfect? “We want to be better than her.”
But it can be beaten. CWLS suffered Laura Bolton* took time out to travel and returned to work with a new perspective. “I had blamed my workload for my long hours but realised I’d been creating the situation myself. I saw other people leave at five and finally accepted that the roof won’t fall in if I do the same.”
Leaving on time has completely changed the way she feels about her work. “I’m happier, healthier and more productive now. I am well rested so go in with a clearer mind. I’m still driven but in a more healthy way. It’s the best thing I ever did.”
- Names have been changed
Photo: Getty Images