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Why Leaving Work on Time Could be a Bad Habit

leaving workWalk past an office building at 5 p.m. and you’ll bump into people flooding out the doors like a fire alarm has gone off. This has led Dharmesh Shah, co-founder and CTO of HubSpot, to wonder what it’s like to work for companies like that. He asks,

“what must it feel like to so badly want to get away from a job that hordes of employees are compelled to make sure they get out the door within seconds of their official quitting time? I’ve had that kind of job when I was younger, so I know how terrible it feels.”

This brings him to make a somewhat surprising proposal: “you should never leave work on time.”

He says this not because he believes workers owe their employers more hours and output, but because he feels all of us owe it to ourselves to work in a job, and for an employers, that make us feel engaged, rewarded, stimulated, and enthusiastic to do work we personally value.

Check out the 10 most satisfying careers here.

Of course Shah is in a privileged position to make such a prescription. As he affirms, “I love working at HubSpot; it’s the job best job I’ve ever had. (This is not an accident, my co-founder and I designed it to be the best job we’ve ever had.)”  But he applies his own experience to American workers more generally. Shah asks us to consider the fact that we will work more than 10,000 days during our careers – a huge chunk of our lives to be spent feeling unfulfilled, alienated and unappreciated.

Shah insists that “Life is too short to spend days willing the clock to move faster towards quitting time.” Which is why he prescribes a change. The goal should be to secure a career where you sometimes leave on time, but where you also sometimes linger a bit longer — not because you must, but because you want to — to help others, to complete one more task, to explore a new side project, to tie up a loose end, to chat with colleagues you didn’t get a chance to see.  Workers do this when they feel their jobs are part of their life, and they enjoy both. But, we should also work for a company where we can leave early to attend a child’s performance or head out of town for a weekend trip.

In other words, not all hours are created equal. Some hours count for much, much more than others. One should optimize their work time for overall effectiveness and fulfillment.  But, of course, this is easier said than done.

Maybe not, says Shah. Here are his prescriptions for the perfect work life:

1. “Go back to seeing people as people. It’s easy to get bogged down in daily tasks and lose sight of the fact that internal and external customers are people — people with needs. When you meet the needs of people, you feel better about yourself and about the work you do. No matter what you do or what you’re job you’re in — you’re helping people somehow. It’s important to remember that.  Plus you build solid relationships; relationships form the true backbone of job satisfaction.”

2. “Go back to seeing your manager as a person you work with. It’s also easy to start seeing your manager as a person you work for — and in time that relationship can feel adversarial rather than collaborative.

Take a step back and think about your her targets and goals. How can you help her perform better? How can you help her achieve more? Working as a team rather than as two individuals helps break down hierarchical barriers — and improves the level of trust and respect you both display.”

3. “Go back to viewing success in terms of fulfillment and gratification. When you started your job you were excited about the work — about the chance to learn, to develop, to make a difference, to make things happen… and then somewhere along the way your focus shifted to promotions and pay raises.  And when those didn’t come along as often as you hoped (because they never do) then you started to disengage.

Flip it back around. Focus more on making a difference and making things happen. Focus more on helping other people succeed. Focus more on enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done than on the monetary reward you receive. When you do, two things happen. You’ll feel much more satisfied with what you do every day, and in time your performance will result in the promotions and pay raises you not only deserve but truly earned.”

4. “Go back to charting your own course. When you started your job you were also excited by the possibilities. You had ideas. You had plans. You eagerly dived into new projects. You even created a few of your own.

Then time had its way with you. Now you do what you’re expected to do — and that sense of excitement and empowerment is gone. Stop waiting to be given something exciting to do; it may never happen. Take advantage of the fact that now you truly know the company: the players, the agendas, the barriers and turf wars. Then take a step back and think about how your company truly creates value. What do your customers really care about? What are their pain points? What can differentiate your service?”

Plus not only are you respected, you also get to share your knowledge and skills with others — and enjoy the gratification that comes from seeing other people reach their potential.”

But What If You’re Still Unhappy?

Unfortunately, your current employer may simply not be the right fit. Another sad reality about work is that all companies are not created equal. No matter how hard you try, your job and your employer may not be right for you.

If that’s the case, you owe it to yourself to make a change.

One option is to find a company you’ll love working for. Another is to start your own business, whether full-time or on the side.

But what is not an option is to stay in a job where your sole focus is on escaping at quitting time.

I’m not saying you need to consistently work longer and later hours. I’m not advocating a terrible work-life balance. (Although I’d argue there’s no such thing: work and life are both aspects of life.)

I am saying life is too short to work in a job where you always leave on time — because that means you’re missing out the gratification, fulfillment, relationships, and sense of self that comes from working in a job you love.

You owe that to yourself. Work hard to find it — and keep it.

Dharmesh Shah is co-founder and CTO of HubSpot. He is a contributing blogger on LinkedIn, where it first appeared

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