Plus, 5 strategies for working for a workaholic boss.
Elon Musk doesn’t have an off switch.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO puts in remarkably long hours: He recently told the New York Times he’d been working 120 hours a week and hadn’t taken off for more than a week since 2001, when he caught malaria. “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside,” he told the paper. “This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.” He even spent his entire last birthday at the factory: “All night — no friends, nothing,” he told the Times.
He’s far from the only workaholic boss. Marissa Mayer sometimes clocked in 130-hour weeks at Google, which she says she achieved by being “strategic” about when she slept, showered and went to the bathroom. And Apple CEO Tim Cook routinely sends emails to his employees beginning at 4:30 a.m., and is often the first one in the office and the last one out.
The CEO often sets the company culture, and so for employees, a workaholic boss can be stressful. For example, Bloomberg reported that some Tesla workers work such long hours that they develop a zombie-esque “Tesla stare.” But the publication also points out that many want to work those long hours out of love for and loyalty to the company — although Tesla workers told the Guardian last year about suffering pain, injury and stress for all of their hustle. Musk acknowledged to the Guardian that his workers put in long hours, but highlighted that he cares deeply about their health and well-being. Tesla says that it has improved safety in many ways, and here Musk talks about the many updates his company has made to make it a safer, and more fair and fun place to work.
Experts confirm that working for a workaholic boss — whoever he or she may be — can take a toll on employees. Psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, the author of “Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love,” says that working for a workaholic can increase up your stress level, which in turn can lead to depression, anxiety and poor coping behaviors like overeating, drinking too much and not sleeping well. It can also lead to relationship stress with loved ones, she adds. And psychologist Crystal Lee notes that working for a workaholic can lead to burn out, in which “you’re likely to feel exhausted, might struggle with insomnia, and get sick more frequently (because your immune system becomes compromised).”
Of course, there are pros to working for a workaholic. They can be inspiring leaders: Many Tesla employees love putting in long hours for Musk, who they consider a visionary, for example. And experts say that it can improve some people’s work ethic to work for a workaholic, as well as improve their work product. Still, it may stress you out. So how can you cope if you find yourself in this situation?
Set strong boundaries, says psychotherapist and relationship coach Laura F. Dabney. “This means, in short, putting an appropriate but firm line in the sand. For instance, if a boss is talking about starting on a project and it’s very near the end of the work day, a worker should respond, ‘I look forward to starting that first thing tomorrow,’” she says. When doing this, don’t “get into personal details such as feelings (‘I get irritated when you want me to work past 5!’) or sound less than a team player (‘It’s the end of the day, I can’t start that now’),” she adds.
Be consistent. Don’t waver on your rules for when you will and won’t work, “whether it’s answering emails between certain hours or not working on weekends,” says Alexander S. Lowry, a professor of finance at Gordon College. “Whatever it is you need to do, do it consistently. Once you break the rule, your workaholic boss will assume the role no longer applies. So set expectations early and explain why — i.e., ‘This time is set aside for family,’ ‘I use this to get my necessary sleep to be a better employee,’ etc.,” he says.
Focus on your successes, not your hours. Try to avoid conversations about how many hours you work, or when you come in and leave. If your boss initiates one, try to “transition any conversation about what time you arrived or left the office by pointing to outcomes and a job well done,” says Lynn Branigan, president and CEO of She Runs It, a not-for-profit organization working to ensure women’s representation in the workplace. Indeed, success isn’t about the hours you work but about the quality of your work, experts say. Create a list of successes and what you’re working on, so you can make sure your boss knows the results that you produce.
Smartly encourage non-work activities. This is a long shot, but it can be worth subtly trying to get the boss to do something outside of the office. “Point out the interesting experiences you had that enhanced your creativity on the job. The best way to subtly nudge the workaholic into dipping their toe in outside life is to tie it to work in some way, so as to get them to at least consider trying,” says workplace psychologist Michael Woodward, founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI).
“If they can see how being healthy or spending some time traveling may help them in their work, they may take a stab at it.”
Know when to quit. “If your boss can’t comprehend that you would possibly want some time off work or that there are times when you aren’t thinking about your job, then the boss isn’t the right one for you,” says career coach James Pollard of TheAdvisorCoach.com. “No job is worth being miserable every day.”
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