Judging by all those posts you read on social media, I’m a millennial or in other words I’m in the 18 to 34 year old range when this post was written. I wrote a post on being 25 and overworked, brandishing advice that I feel would benefit fellow millennials who may be en route to where I am now.
The idea was that overworking has become a recurring theme among young people who are just starting out on their careers. Interns on Wall Street are expected to pull 90 to 100 hour weeks. It begs to consider if overworking at the start of one’s career is actually worth it.
I shared my opinion on the subject in my post. And while reviewing my submission, my editor asked me to get more opinions from people who are older than me, preferably from another generation.
About John and Jane
The plan was to pick two people from two other generations, who may have a different views of jobs, careers and life decisions. So, I spoke to John (not his real name) who is in his late 50s and Jane (same here) who is in her late 30s about things they wished they had known when they were 25.
They are two of the most successful people I personally know: John works at a law firm, and Jane is the head of an international IT company based in the Phillippines.
Note: Their answers were translated from Filipino language to English.
1. No one is going to die if you stop working today.
Unless you work in a hospital, clocking out after 8 hours is okay. No one is going to die. The world will keep on spinning. Plus, the agreement with your employer is that you will dedicate ⅓ of your time each day in exchange for compensation. Not 12 hours, not 16.
“But I love my job and stopping what I’m doing will ruin my flow!”, is probably what you are thinking. And that is true, you should love your job and care for your flow and while it may really be difficult to get back to your groove after taking a break, maybe, just maybe, this is just sign of a lack of discipline.
But that’s just me. What does John and Jane have to say?
JOHN: I don’t want to get emotional, but I really missed a lot of things in my life because I worked too much during my youth, and even though I want to catch up with the lost time, now, I can’t.
JANE: Working really, really hard during my early 20s has its pros and cons, it’s more on the positive side, now that I think of it. The only negative thing I could think of from doing too much work way back then is that I’m now lacking in the “family” department – but I’m currently working on it.
If I didn’t work that hard though, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now (not that it’s grand or anything).”
2. The company you work for is a business.
You are engaged in a business with your company. That means that you should not invest your personal time into your work, because the things that you pass up on – such as birthdays, holidays, night outs with friends, and so on – are all things that the company you are working for cannot give you.
Remember: you are human with emotions. Allow yourself to enjoy your own time.
JOHN: I remember working really hard for the second job I held back when I was 27 or 28. I was fished over to another law firm to be an associate. To me, that was like climbing the tower of success using an elevator.
I spent 18 hours a day working, even sleeping in the office, and I no longer knew who married whom among my friends and what season it was outside. Before I knew it I was already in my mid-30s and the only people in my circle of friends are the ones I see daily at work. The kind where we never really shared any intimate moments like going on vacations, clubbing, and the like.
Read more: 8 tips to simplify your work life
JANE: I think it depends on the company you are working for. The first company I worked with actually treated me nicely and gave me enough leeway to learn and experiment and live my life to the fullest. Yes, they run their business in order to earn more money with your help, and that’s why it’s important to understand their Mission and Vision.
Not so much for the second one as I was laid off even though I was dutiful. So yes, always keep in mind that the company doesn’t have your best interest in mind – they want money (and I’m saying this as a top-level manager).”
3. You are an expendable resource.
You can be replaced. What your company wants from you is to utilize your skills without expending too much resources. What does this mean for you, the individual? They could care less about who you are. Because at the end of the day, you are just another number and figure in their charts.
JOHN: Back in the day this wasn’t the case. However, I notice a trend nowadays with contractual workers who are not even reaching regularization after their 6 months of interning.
If the company you are applying for or working for has a big rate of turnover rate (where employees keep getting replaced), then the problem might lie with the company and not the employees. You should avoid working for companies like that.
JANE: Sadly this is the case. I worked in HR several years ago and our unwritten motto was to hire cheap labor with passable skills and if possible replace (harsh, I know) those who demand higher salaries. It was all economics and the orders came from the upper floors.
My advice to the younger generation is to find a startup or a small or medium-sized company where they can actually demonstrate their value, and I’m saying this because I experienced this myself.
Small and medium-sized companies take better care of their employees and treat them as actual humans, not expendable resources.
4. It’s okay to say no.
It’s a common pitfall for newbies to just keep on saying yes to their employers or superiors because they want to please them and keep their job. But what will happen is that work will pile on and extend beyond your job description. Soon, you’ll be taking on other requests that are way out of your scope.
JOHN: Definitely, but with one catch: if you are new to the company then you might want to be low-key for some time and just go with the flow, as long as everything is legal and you won’t get in trouble (or anyone) of course.
Once you gain people’s trust and you feel that you “belong” to the team, that’s most likely the sign that you can speak up for yourself.
JANE: Yes, it’s okay to say no, disagree, or offer an alternative. If you agree in everything your boss says, you’ll soon be (probably) seen as boring and not able to come up with creative solutions. This is particularly true today.
Everyone’s looking for that employee who will bring good contributions to the company, and they are the ones who shine the brightest. If the task given to you goes against your ethics and principles, by all means say no.
5. Do not become irreplaceable.
It may seem alluring to become a prized star employee. Who wouldn’t want the fame and the glory of being the only person in the company who can do that one specific obscure thing? Actually, this is not what you want to happen.
What you want to happen is that you want to get promoted. And how do you become promoted? Train someone to become better than you at your job while polishing your own skills for the next level. Rinse and repeat.
JOHN: Is that so bad? I mean, if your goal is to be financially stable and… powerful, then this is actually one of the best things that could happen in your career. You can use that to negotiate more perks, plant your roots deep within the company, ask for a better salary, basically it’s like having the best possible cards when playing poker.
But if you want to gain title and further recognition, well, that’s a different story.
JANE: About a month ago I received an email from HR (I was CCd) where they discussed Employee X’s employment. Turns out he’s been looking for a promotion and transfer (to another department) for several months now but can’t get one due to the nature of his job: he’s the only one skilled and experienced enough to handle the position.
Being irreplaceable has its pros and cons. You do get a steady paycheck though.
6. Document everything.
It’s not rare for co-workers to pin the blame on each other when something goes wrong. This sometimes lead to someone losing their job. In whatever it is that you do, never allow yourself to be cornered in a sticky situation.
Request or send e-mails for clarification that will serve as proof that you had verbal discussion and agreement over a task beforehand. Be vigilant and cover your bases. Otherwise, you might end up overworking yourself for nothing.
JOHN: Back in the day when we didn’t email each other regularly it was easy to get lost in the myriad of tasks we had. Who ordered what were somewhat easily forgotten. So during my early days, my mentor taught me to write down everything on a pad with the time and date on it and have it signed by my superiors. I’m that careful and I was made fun of it.
I remember one time I was asked to clean up an empty office and shred the documents in the cabinets because they weren’t going to be used anymore and they were just taking up space. A few months later I got grilled for doing that but I had proof that I was only acting on orders from the big boss.
If your superior specifically asked you to do things off the record, you should get worried.
JANE: Yes, definitely. It’s one of our policies actually, to get everything in email. During meetings there’s always the secretary writing everything down and he would post it on our company’s private forums for everyone to see and confirm. Same goes for the smaller teams. You really need to “cover all your bases” as you put it. It never hurts to be vigilant.
7. It’s okay to quit.
Often, people would keep on working for their company even though there are better opportunities out there, not because they aren’t confident of their skillset or fearful of starting a new career in a different company or industry, but because they have developed personal attachments to the place.
Remember, you are working in order to advance your personal and financial agenda. If you resign from your current job, you can still stay friends with the people you are working with. After all, you are not getting any younger and every moment you spend working should be spent with one thing in mind: growth and your personal pursuit of happiness.
JOHN: Of course. Don’t stay for the sake of staying. If you are no longer happy, then find a better place to dedicate your time on. I can honestly say that if you follow happiness, you won’t fail. You will succeed if you just keep on walking – even if that means quitting
If you are not confident about finding a different job as soon as you quit, then stay on for a couple more months while you polish yourself. Then only you quit.”
JANE: Yes. What’s stopping you from quitting? Sweet words from your boss who says you are an important person in the company? If your boss says that but you don’t really feel it, they’re just buttering you up because it’s difficult to find good employees, with screening, interviewing, testing, training, and such. It just takes too much time.
If you believe that you would do better if you quit, then by all means quit. You can’t stay under the same company for several years if your needs aren’t being taken care of properly.”
In your mid-20s, it is important to develop a good foundation first before venturing out into the wild and this may need working extra hours and engaging in different tasks that are outside of your scope. But you shouldn’t forget that sometimes you need to tend to your own needs as well.
Lastly, we should play the long game: growth doesn’t happen overnight. While it is absolutely fine to love the job you have, understand that you should never ever sacrifice pieces of your life for your company.
Because at the end of the day, no matter how much personal time you sacrifice for work, your company will not build a statue for you.