Paranoia in the Workplace

Published April 8, 2019

Workers in corporate America are paranoid. A recent study found they work an average of 23 extra hours a month – most often staying late – just to be seen! The study found these people aren’t even more productive. Most simply “stretch” their time at the office to comply with the company culture. They believe extra hours are expected, and if they don’t do it, they’ll be viewed as lazy, unmotivated, or someone who just wants to do “the bare minimum.”

During my 40 years in corporate America, the person I admired most left the office every day at 5 p.m. sharp. His desk was completely clean. While everyone else was still on their phones or having meetings, looking frenzied, with files and papers strewn all over their desktops – some of which hadn’t seen the light of day in years – this guy strolled out without a hint of unease.

One might have thought the guy who left at 5 every day with the clean desk didn’t have as much responsibility or wasn’t nearly as dedicated as his colleagues. But one would be wrong. The guy had as much or more responsibility as anyone in the department. His job was more demanding than most. His work ethic and integrity were beyond reproach. Even people that didn’t like him respected him.

Yes, he knew how to manage his time, and yes, he considered his personal life as important as his job. But the main reason he almost never stayed a minute after 5 was because he had the balls not to. He was personally and professionally secure enough to let his job performance speak for itself. He didn’t feel he had to put on a show every day to impress people or prove his value to the company.

In Corporate Crap, I talk about the “hours mentality” most companies still have. It’s easier to manage this way. It’s easier to measure who is putting in the hours than evaluating things like talent and judgment. It’s easier to maintain control, assess compliance, know where everyone is, and keep everyone honest. In other words, like most corporate dynamics rooted in poor leadership, it “dumbs down” everything, causing your best performers to eventually leave.

It is this same dynamic that causes more than half of American workers to relinquish some or all their vacation days each year. It’s what causes people to skip lunch or eat at their desks. Employees are afraid that if they simply work normal business hours, or take their rightful vacation time, or God forbid take an hour for lunch, they will lose their jobs or get passed over for that big promotion.

This is so unfortunate. If you need to put in extra hours to meet a deadline, get ahead on a project, participate in a phone conference on the other side of the globe or some other legitimate business reason, that’s one thing. But just to be seen? That’s pathetic.