Setting Boundaries With Your Boss

Even at a startup, you need to make time for Saturday bike rides and socializing with friends if you want to remain productive

Dear Liz,

I am 27 and single and shocked to be having the career issue I am, which I associate with older people with families. I work at a great startup company where I love my job, and I generally work between 55 and 65 hours per week. That's no problem for me as I get a lot of satisfaction from my job.

However, lately the culture in our company has shifted from long hours during the week, and weekend work optional, to a place where working all day Saturday and a few hours on Sunday is basically a requirement. The managers don't talk about it, but they expect it.

I am in a cycling club that rides every Saturday morning and it's the only exercise I get. After the ride we chill over a meal, and that's the only social life I have. I'm unwilling to give up my Saturdays, although I do come into the office on Sundays about half the time. Any suggestions for setting boundaries with my boss without looking like a bad employee? I think that being young and single shouldn't disqualify me from wanting and deserving some time that's not about work.


Dear Rick,

You don't sound like a bad employee from your description, but the person whose opinion matters more than mine is your manager. I'd ask your manager for a semiformal sit-down meeting and ask him or her for a frank evaluation of your performance.

First note: If your manager doesn't mention your absences on Saturdays, the problem may be smaller than you think. If s/he does, lay out your situation. Even in a startup environment, even in a job you love, a person can only keep up a 65-hour work week for so long. It's not healthy over an extended period, and I'd be worried about you if you weren't taking those long Saturday bike rides and having fun afterwards with your friends.

If you want to compromise, you can offer your boss one Saturday afternoon (don't skip the ride) a month. As you talk with him or her, focus on your accomplishments at work rather than your hours. It's easy for a busy manager with a bunch of direct reports to forget all the great things that any one person (like you) has made happen. Don't be shy about offering a gentle reminder. Smart leaders know that loyal, talented people are worth way more than someone who shows up at work just to be seen there. That's the point you'll want to reinforce with your boss.

Don't be shy about saying, "If I didn't get my R&R on Saturdays, I'd never have been able to work here as long as I have." And over time, Rick, think about working with your manager to get your weekday hours down to a more reasonable under-65 count. "Crunch mode" is for crises—there are always diminishing returns when we push any system (including the human body) too hard for too long.


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