imageContributing blogger John Long is a professional career coach and consultant in Atlanta who founded Two Roads Resources. He blogs at Atlanta Career Coach.

Q: One of the reasons I accepted a new job last year was that this new role would allow me to cut back to maybe 50 hours a week. It’s now nine months later and I find myself back to six and seven day work weeks that consume 60 plus hours a week.

A: You know the old saying: “You never see, ‘I wish I had spent more time at work,’ on a tombstone.” This question centers around work-life balance, the definition of which is very personal.

In reality, certain fields including the legal profession, hospitality and consulting, demand an incredible investment of time each week. So consider this factor carefully before you start or continue on such a career path.

When we are just starting out in a career or joining a new company, we often don’t mind putting in extra hours. The time is often justified as an effort to prove ourselves and demonstrate a commitment to our work and to our employer.

But commitment can morph into a warped work ethic or engrain unrealistic expectations. And the slippery slope here is that this behavior can start to consume us, erode relationships, and have negative effects on physical and mental health.

Is there a gay factor quietly surrounding the issue of work-life balance? I‘ve worked with clients who have either experienced subtle innuendos in the workplace or overhead comments from a manager concerning who is expected to work overtime. Something like this: “Since Mark is gay and doesn’t have a wife and kids, he shouldn’t mind working overtime/Saturday/the holiday.”

Or maybe you work for one of those dogmatic business owners or bosses who believe that there is no such thing as a standard work week. These expectations, whether directed at single heterosexuals or members of the LGBT community, are wrong and need to be confronted.

My suggestion is to assess your level of work-life balance and focus on establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. If you need objectivity, seek feedback from a mentor, coach or counselor.

You can in fact prove your expertise and value to an employer without becoming a workaholic. You can produce great work and be viewed as having a strong work ethic during the course of a 40-hour work week. You must inform and consistently emphasize to your manager that you have other commitments in your life—relationships, school, community service—and stress that these commitments are, at the very least, of equal importance to your career.

If you have a proven record of delivering high quality work, building alliances, and you’re a strong team contributor, there is absolutely no shame is telling your boss, “I have plans with my partner this evening” or “I have a class this evening and I’ll make that my priority tomorrow.” You do in fact have the power to establish healthy boundaries. If your boss respects you that should translate into respecting your boundaries. Read that last sentence again. And again.

For those who allow themselves (and often their lives), to be defined by the title on their business card, well, that’s a topic for another post. Check out these links on work-life balance and the American work week.

Resource links:
Leave the office earlier
Yes: Americans do work too much
Reluctant vacationers

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