Why doing unpaid overtime is NOT the way to progress your career

16 Aug

Are you working late to get ahead? (pic credit: istockphoto)

A new survey from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) reveals that employees feel they have to ‘go the extra mile’ to get ahead in their careers – especially in these challenging times of pay and promotion freezes. The question is whether this self-imposed extra distance is taking them in the right direction.

I think it’s rather unimaginative to believe that the way to get on in a company is to do more hours and take on more responsibility for no extra pay. Yes, it’s tough right now and everyone is under pressure, with redundancies and the resulting increased workload for individuals. But if you’re not getting some kind of recognition by the company, HR, your peers or bosses, then the employer is being exploitative – and the blind eye that gets turned will encourage others to act this way in the hope that they’ll get noticed and get ahead.

I’ve worked in offices where everyone stays as late as they can just to show off to the boss that they stayed late – even responding to emails late into the evening and at weekends. I’m all for keenness, but what kind of message does this send to the employer? That you’re always available – for free?

The CMI survey says that 22% of the 2000 respondents bemoan the fact that the employer doesn’t have funds to pay for them to progress (yet the company will always find money, in my experience, for those they truly value); some (13%) believe they need more experience; while 9% think their boss isn’t fighting their corner. The CMI blog concludes that nearly half (42%) believe they should be further ahead than they are right now.

Yet they’re not prepared to do anything about it – apart from sitting at their desks, stoic victims of presenteeism, and possibly full of resentment that they’re not being noticed for all these extra hours they’re putting in.

While nearly half (45%) believe studying for a professional qualification would help them step up the career ladder, they’re full of excuses not to give up their spare time to do so: 39% say they haven’t got the money; 30% say it would take too long; and 13% don’t know which qualification to do. (The CMI has helpfully developed some online resources to help people make that decision).

I’ve been a hiring manager in the past, and someone who has taken the time to study for a qualification has more chance of an interview than someone who moans that her boss isn’t recognising her.

I may look favourably on someone who’d put in extra hours as stepping stone in their career strategy, doing the job above them in readiness for a promotion – especially if they’ve agreed it with their manager as part of a personal/professional development programme. But not if they’re allowing themselves to be taken for a ride.

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3 Responses to “Why doing unpaid overtime is NOT the way to progress your career”

  1. Karen Ramirez 16/08/2011 at 6:03 pm #

    I’m a strong believer is productivity and effectiveness – not who’s latest out of the office. Maybe we should follow the German lead where those staying late every night are positively considered unproductive and less effective than those who deliver results within a standard working day!

    • womaneer 16/08/2011 at 8:00 pm #

      Absolutely. I love your suggestion about taking the Germans’ lead in this.

      In my experience, the people who need to stay late to do their work are the ones who have chatted and procrastinated all day, or the ones who think they have points to score.

      I agree with you that staying late just because you think it will help your career is an own goal.

  2. S.Johnson Inbaraju 10/02/2012 at 10:43 am #

    I like to be germans’ lead which is very correct as well as productivity and effectiveness too.

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