Many of us have faced this dilemma: It’s six o’clock and we want to go home, but our manager is still holed up in his or her office with no sign of stopping. Many employees—and employers—associate face time with productivity, so if we slink out of the office before our boss, do we look lazy or entitled?
This inner conflict may stem from the generation gap between Millennials and their managers. “There’s heightened awareness of different generations feeling differently about the world of work,” says Ann Mehl, an Executive Business Coach. “Perhaps you’re working for someone who had to buckle down and get a job when they were very young—maybe they had a blue-collar upbringing—there’s a mindset that says ‘[long hours] is the way you’ve gotta do this.’”
And for many entry-level employers, that thinking is unfortunately correct: The key to advancement may come from staying in the office late. To help you cope with the grind, here are some tips for working toward that perfect work-life balance.
1. CONSIDER YOUR OFFICE CULTURE.
“What fundamentally matters as a new employee at a company is establishing your brand and reputation,” says Rachel Rider, Founder of MettaWorks LLC and an Executive Coach and Leadership Consultant. “At a large corporate company that has been around for 25 years with 50,000 people, my immediate reaction would be to ask yourself what’s important to you at your job. At an established organization it matters that you’re in the office before or when your boss appears in the office, and you leave after your boss at night.”
But the workplace and workforce is changing, she adds. “At a small company, such as a tech company, I’ve seen consistently that people can work at their desks, from home, the library, or a coffee shop… what matters is that they’re incredibly responsive and deliver quality work.”
2. BE CONSCIOUS OF MILLENNIAL STEREOTYPES.
Unfairly or not, Millennials have a reputation for being “entitled," so recent college graduates need to be extra careful when trying to duck out early.
“Millennials are perceived as experts in technology—they are the ones to ask when the company system is updated,” says Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach. “But Millennials can also be perceived as a generation with a lower work ethic or as not wanting to pay their dues.”
When you’re new at a company, it’s a good idea to go the extra mile—at least initially. “I feel like philosophically, do yourself a favor and gear up,” says Mehl. “Get yourself a suit—maybe not for a start-up—but hold standards that are smart ones. Model behavior that says ‘I want to be on top of things.’”
3. ESTABLISH TRUST EARLY—AND BE EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT.
At a more junior level, it can be hard to get permission for privileges usually reserved for more senior staffers, such as working remotely. At the same time, however, the more trust you’ve established with your boss, the more likely you are to get flexible working hours.
“I would say seniority matters, but what matters more is your brand and your performance,” says Rider. “There’s real trust involved with working remotely. So you may be privileged the same benefits as someone else with a very different tenure because you’re highly thought of and trusted.”
And when it doubt, communicate. “It’s okay to be vulnerable and literally say, 'If I leave at 5, will the perception be that I’m slacking?’” says Mehl. “People want to think you’re starving for the job and you’re hungry as heck. Communication goes a long way.”
4. ASSERT CONTROL OVER YOUR OWN WORK-LIFE BALANCE.
At a certain point in everyone’s career, they have to come to terms with the sacrifices and compromises their job demands.
“Someone told me when I was first starting out that there are three things in a job: money, people, and if you’re learning something," Rider says. "If you have two of those things, you’re doing pretty well. You decide which of those are important. It’s deciding your values, where you want to go, and what you want to do.”