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How to cope with working overtime

How to cope with working overtime
We get it. You’re new on the job and you want to make a good impression. Unfortunately, some companies and managers take advantage – knowingly or not – of your enthusiasm. Many employees in Hong Kong are known to be workaholics and it is all too easy for that culture to permeate to new recruits. Hong Kong-ers take just 17 days of leave a year and work an average of 50 hours a week, one of the highest in the world, according to a study by Swiss bank UBS.

Sometimes working past your contracted hours is necessary to complete a project, in the lead up to a big event or to deal with an emergency. But working such long hours regularly should not be the norm. Not only does it eat into leisure time, it can negatively impact health and wellbeing particularly if it leads to burnout.

The first thing to establish is the reason why you are working so hard. Is it because you are putting in “face-time” to curry favour with the boss? Or is it because you have too much on your plate? Here are some tips to help you retrieve the ‘life’ part of work-life balance.

Be more productive during core hours

A lot of research studies prove working longer does not mean working better. In fact, productivity declines with excessive overtime. Tired employees produce poor quality work. To avoid all-nighters, think about what is needed to get the job done and then work on being more productive during normal office hours.

Switch off social media, turn off the music and only check email in bursts, say, every hour instead of every 5 minutes. People will call you if it’s urgent. This allows you to concentrate on the task at hand. Are internet memes too tempting? There are apps out there that let you strategically block internet access until the project is complete.

Manage your workload better

If you’ve cracked the productivity problem but you’re still in the office at 9pm, think about how to manage your workload better. This could include basic solutions, such as writing a to-do list at the end of each day for the following day; establishing a list of priorities (and sticking to it); educating colleagues in different offices about time zones (and saying ‘no’ to midnight conference calls); or starting earlier to power through tasks in the morning.

Think about what you could usefully delegate. Team members are there for a reason – ask around and see if there are some items where colleagues can help out. Most colleagues will be willing to pitch in if you are overwhelmed, unless they are also overworked in which case…

…Talk to the boss

Your manager may not know you are overburdened if you’re working for multiple teams, for example. Set up a meeting to discuss your workload. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It shows you recognise the problem, you’re keen to produce good quality work and you want to work together to make things better. Think about the most time-consuming parts of your job, the tasks that could be done by others, or other suggestions to reduce overtime.

Your manager will appreciate you’ve come armed with solutions, not just complaints. In some cases, your manager may be the root of the problem. Read our tips on how to deal with an overly demanding boss, including asking for realistic deadlines and how to establish boundaries.

Chill out

The pressure to work long hours can be intense in high-achieving work environments. Is the stress worth it? Stop feeling guilty: leave the office on time, don’t take your laptop home and don’t check email after hours.

Make sure you take full advantage of the weekends to relax and recharge instead of worrying about work. As a last resort, if excessive overtime is really ingrained in the company’s culture (and not just the bad habits of one manager), then it may be time to consider a different job.

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