I was really saddened to read a recent article in TIME, “Want to Get Ahead at Work Without Killing Yourself? Fake It”. It was a well-written article by Martha C. White, so my beef is not at all with the author. Rather, my concern and sadness is that the collective “we” still have to pretend that work is more important to us than anything else in order to be considered a good worker. Really? It’s 2015, people. I had hoped we would be more enlightened by now.
As parents, how many of us have talked ad nauseum with our kids about the virtues of being truthful? Honesty is the best policy. Heck, most employment agreements and HR policies have ethics clauses. So, why are we feeling forced to lie to our employers about our priorities? Where is the ethical value in that?
I’m a Liar
Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of faking it – lying. Many years ago, my husband and I were going through infertility treatments that required me to undergo blood tests and ultrasounds with little or no advanced notice. Like it or not, my body wasn’t on a predictable schedule (probably the reason for my infertility), so I couldn’t plan in advance. So I lied. I made up stories about why I suddenly had to leave the office for 2 hours in the middle of the day, every day. “My dog is sick and I have to take him to the vet.” “The HVAC company can only come tomorrow at 10:30 so I need to let them in.” “Dental filling came out.” “Car trouble.” Thank God the cable company was notorious for being unreliable – used that one more than once! You name it, I made it up.
But why did I feel the need to lie? Because I wanted to prove that I was serious about my career. That I was committed to the company. Mind you, this was in the 1990s before we all had cellphones attached to us 24/7, so if you were out of the office, you were unavailable. You were not working. And you couldn’t be a serious career woman if you weren’t in the office and working.
I fell into that trap of believing the more hours I worked, the more notice I would get and the more rewards I would receive. Hard worker. Great work-ethic. Team player. I wore my 75+ hours a week like a badge. And it worked, to a certain extent. I was promoted regularly. Received great salary raises. Was highly visible in the companies and organizations I worked for. Rising star climbing that corporate ladder.
It Takes Too Much Energy
I was simply exhausted from keeping up the stories. It takes too much energy to keep your personal life a secret and keep it 100% separate from work when that is the place you spend the majority of your time. Who has that kind of extra energy?
One morning on a flight from Chicago to Minneapolis, my boss asked where I was the day before. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I just opened up. No holds barred, I told him about my infertility and miscarriages. And I held my breath.
Guess what? The world didn’t end – and I wasn’t fired. In fact, I was supported!
My staff soon covered for me when I needed to run to the doctor for blood draws. My boss took a meeting with my client in Minneapolis so I could have an I.V.F. procedure. And if people asked for more information than I was comfortable sharing, I simply said “thanks for your support, but I’m not really comfortable sharing those details”. It was liberating. Soon, I started setting other simple boundaries like leaving the office at a reasonable hour and not checking my voicemail after 8pm. And I was still able to give my clients – and my boss – what they needed. No problem.
One unexpected benefit of my newfound honesty and openness was that I started to feel better. Both mentally and physically. I hadn’t realized the toll these secrets and lies were taking on my body, yet I started to feel better. I was even able to relax and laugh at work. Much less stress.
Start Being Real
So, how do you stop lying and “start being real”? How do you get comfortable telling your boss – and the co-workers who you are certain must be judging you – the truth about what you need to get and do to keep balance in your life? Not easy, but you can do it! Here are a few Life-Work Balance tips – steps, actually – to help you shrink down that Pinocchio-nose you’ve been sporting and let people in.
- First, be honest with yourself. Own it. Do you really know what you want? What you’re comfortable doing and sharing? Not everyone is ready to tell their employer and co-workers all their scary and personal reproductive woes – TMI. But there’s nothing to be embarrassed about parent-teacher conferences, right? Figure out your own comfort level and honor that.
- Find that first confidant at work who will let you test out your newfound openness before you spill the beans to your boss. I’m sure there’s someone in your office – or maybe in another branch of the company – who shares their entire heart and soul to you. Test the waters. If she rolls her eyes when you say that you want to leave one hour early to have dinner with your spouse to celebrate 16 years’ of wedded bliss, she’s probably not the best confidant to share that you need to take a couple days at home because the daycare suspended your little prince for 3 days for biting Billy. Find another. They’re out there.
- Listen and watch what others are doing. I guarantee there is someone there who has figured this out. She stopped working 70 hours a week and yet is still respected and considered a “hard worker”. What is she saying? She’s being honest. She’s telling people that today she really must leave at 5:00 AND that she’s going to actually use her allotted vacation days next month! She set boundaries by being honest! (different topic we’ll explore in the future) Mimic her! Follow her out the door if you must.
- Jump in – well, not really into the deep end just yet. Take a deep breath, and announce to anyone within earshot of your cubicle that you’ve worked hard enough today and that you feel good about what you’ve done, so you’re going home ON TIME. Then you actually have to do it – leave on time. Otherwise it’s no different than telling your spouse you’re stuck in traffic and will be late for dinner when the truth is you’re still in the office parking lot.
- Finally,tell it like it is. Sit-down with your boss and your team and be truthful. You’re armed with all the information. You know the toll this secrecy takes on your body and your energy. You work hard. You meet all your goals. You ARE serious about your career. And you’re honest. Isn’t that the kind of employee they want?