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Hey Boss, What About Work-Life Balance?

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The last hypothetical I posted, Is This Your Project Stakeholder? attracted a wide cross section of responses.

It made me wonder what you think of this real life experience (only the names have been changed):

Sebastian is a highly competent, upwardly mobile executive and your boss. He works 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and is a very detailed person. He proofreads everything, making copious corrections and is also studying for his second master's degree.

You have found the best time to approach Sebastian to discuss anything is after 8 p.m. when the office is quiet and he is working on his studies. In fact, at this time of night he seems to appreciate a brief chat.

The problem is you have a "life" outside of the office and feel 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. is a very fair day's work.

How would you approach building rapport with Sebastian to allow the discussion of important project issues and enhance your career prospects without waiting until after 8 p.m.?

I will review all comments and based on your feedback I will suggest some solutions in my next post.


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I think this is indicative of a larger problem. To some extent, it's not just the Sebastian's of the world...it's the entire culture of today's workplace.

Most PM's are salaried and have not received any kind of overtime pay for many years. It's no longer considered "acceptable" to work 40 hours a week. It used to be that occasional long days, or periods of long days were expected. But, the norm was to be 40 hour weeks, which we are paid for.

Now, if you work an 8 hour day and leave, you are considered a slacker. Exactly how much more than 8 hours is acceptable depends upon your office.

This becomes very difficult for parents, those handling elder care, those pursuing degrees, and those who are aging. It certainly does not promote a healthy work-life balance, which leads to burnout, stress, etc.

I was in a similar situation. My Sebastian is so far into control-freakery that he is conversing with his subordinates at an annoying and unreasonable rate. I use that. If I have something to discuss with Sebastian, I just wait for him to come to me.

I, like many, have worked for a boss like Sebastian. In my case it was company culture and posturing for his superiors.

Some things I think it's important to point out or emphasize...

Sebastian, as a project manager, is not managing the project well if he has to put in those hours on a consistent basis. Part of managing a team is to set real and sustainable expectations for all of the stakeholders and team members. He isn't doing that.

His proofreading and correcting is micro-managing and is a problem in itself. We as team members and professionals should be submitting work that has aleady been read for errors and is accurate. Having said that, it's been my experience that people who micromanage often don't feel in control and have to compensate.

My final point is that Lynda mentions that he is "working on his studies" in those late hours when he seems to want to talk. That is not the work his company is paying for, managing the project/team or even managing time well.

I too tried to interact with my manager within the constraints of company culture and the personalities involved. It eventually became obvious that things were not going to improve. So, like any good project manager I continued to give 100% everyday but gave myself the project of finding a new position.

When establishing communication agreements there are always constraints. In this case one constraint would be the normal work hours. Just because the boss’s best time for communications falls outside the constraints should not require you to ignore the constraints.

I would try to reach an agreement for the best time that falls within any constraints.
If you cannot reach an agreement then there is probably a bigger problem here then a communication issue. How you deal with that is up to you. I tend to stand my ground. I would rather find another project/job then slide down this slippery slope.

John Richard, PMP

Sebastian used to proof read and make numerous corrections in the schedules and other project documents that I used to share with her, as her deputy. I was much impressed with Sebastian's competence but at the same time I had a feeling of capacity deficience in myself. Eventually I improved my own and other team's skills and thus Sebastian would not have to thoroughly proof read each of our document. She now has spare time to chat with his team between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m..

I too faced this situation.
Infact I was told by my boss to sit beyond office hours daily to brief him on various issues.I politely declined and when it didnot have the desired impact I raised the issue to the next superior level.
"If we can't manage our work in scheduled office hours we are not professionals - as simple as that!"Various measures like delegation, shift teams etc need to be put in place where we are likely to encounter situations needing attention beyond working hours.
All this has to be clearly (and as politely as possible) communicated to the various stakeholders to extract a win-win situation.
If in case this method doesnt work then in my opinion the organisation is not worth working for which donot respect your concerns and is better to start looking for a change.

Throughout my career, I have encountered Sebastians in multiple hues. In the Indian context, it has somehow become a perception that working longer hrs equals dedication, and many use it to hide their basic inefficiencies.

There is another problem, with people coming in at 10.30 — 11 and then staying late. Some get a kick out of watching others leave on time, and watching the staff shut off all the lights except on their cubicle. None of this, by the way, is benefiting the organization. There are also a few cases who make it a point to compose replies to mails during working hours but send these mails in the night.

Of course, over the period of time, the good ones do stand out despite their working hour caps. But staying late is found to be a good initial impression creator. My suggestion is to catch Sebastian at a time of your choosing i.e. you set up the meetings, and not allow him to dictate them.

I agree with many of the previous sentiments provided. In my experience you can't change the behaviour of a workaholic manager. However, you can make sure that (s)he doesn't change yours.

I, too, believe in firmly setting expectations of work hours early — in the job interview. I also have a motto, "Work smarter, not harder or longer" as I agree that people cannot sustain long periods of longer working hours AND function well. This is not to say that short periods of excessive working hours are not sometimes necessary — they are, but they should not be the norm in my view.

I like the previously submitted idea of an office hour every day but, presuming "Sebastian's" character, an office hour every second day might be more sustainable. (The lunch/walk in the park also sounds great and might be worth a shot, depending on the relationship one has already developed with Sebastian.)

I also think we need to take responsibility for making our meetings with Sebastian as efficient as possible. In time, he may come to realise that the time spent on these meetings is minimal, effective and worthwhile - and you may find he is more conducive to having them on a regular basis (only as needed) during a more amenable timeframe.

I worked for a version of Sebastian. He would show up for work two hours after everyone else and stay until late into the evening. I worked 7:00 am until 5:00 pm or later. He always seemed to want to talk about my projects right before I was ready to leave for the day. When we traveled to other offices we'd end up working until late into the evening and then go someplace for dinner and talk about work.

I tried scheduling meetings with him, going into his office when he arrived in the morning, and communicating via email and IM. I treated our relationship like scope creep. If I didn't he'd find ways to keep me at work 12 hours a day. He was my supervisor but I found myself having to manage him.

What a sad reflection on today's working life that so many identify with Sebastian. I too have been in the situation. As a single working mother, its impossible to work Sebastian’s hours — so I don’t try to. If its important that Sebastian and me meet, then he will find a way to do so inside the hours that suit me.

Too many meetings are held just for the sake of having a meeting. If the only purpose of me meeting Sebastian is to 'network' with him, then there is no real advantage to him in that at any time of the day. A passing comment each day will serve to let him know who I am. Save the meetings for when they are necessary.

What works for me is a quick weekly report / dashboard that I send out as well as posting the project plan out on the portal for review. I've also scheduled a weekly 30-minute meeting in order to touch base and "manage up." Because I keep him in the "loop" I don't have too much trouble keeping a life balance. Challenging though.

This has become a rule in Indian service companies. Since they cater to geographies other than local, working well into the night or starting work at midnight has become the norm and executives have to burn the candle at both the ends.

They have to cater to the customer in the other 'geo' and to company superiors in the local 'geo'. This has become the rule. The bar has been raised. But the question is - Is this sustainable? Definitely NOT! That is the reason burn out, sycophancy; job exit also is the rule in India service industry. Since Indian laws and culture do not protect individual rights as they do in the US, it is a rough and tumble game, the envious critics probably do not know this.

Proofreading and making corrections to everything is a sign for a detailed oriented type of person who wants to be in control. I would definitely insist on having regular meetings with such a boss during the normal work hours and I would explain to him the importance of personal time in keeping my performance at a high level.

In order to both facilitate the completion of my tasks I would first clarify with him the areas in which I can decide and proceed and the areas for which I have to have his authorization. Hopefully this would give me a clear picture on what I can fast-track. Second, I would definitely attempt to understand what his priorities are so I try to facilitate these and include updates in my status reports. Lastly, every time I needed to have a meeting with him, I would email an agenda of the areas to discuss, decisions to take and things to accomplish, so to stress the importance of the meeting in having things progress.

You have to understand the boss' preferred communication style. If you communicate using the preferred format the boss is more likely to be responsive to you versus others. If the boss is detail oriented, they probably are more visual and want you to communicate at a high-level and come prepared with more detailed documentation.

If it is an emergency, contact your boss in the most accessible method that they use, i.e., blackberry or phone (if they don't answer the phone leave a voicemail), stating that you have an emergency and need a response that day, asking when would be a good time to talk with them, and explaining that you will be gone by, i.e., 6pm; they will then know your time limitations/expectations.

For more regular updates, setup a weekly recurring meeting (till the end of the year) at the time you want. The boss is probably very visual and operates highly by their calendar.

By using these techniques you enable your boss to focus on you and you enable work life balance by communicating your expectations with the set meetings and/or declared response/communication times.

My suggestion is that you may meet up with him at night one or two times, but realize there is always more work to do. Some people don't feel comfortable unless they are constantly busy. In this day and age, there is less and less loyalty from companies to there workers. You may give everything to a job for years only to discover that your entire division is being closed down. All of the time that you may have given to the company while taking from your family was not worth it. In today’s market we need to work hard, but at the same time we need to make time for a life outside of work.

In project management we often move from one stressful environment to another with no time to relax. I believe extra hours are for "crunch" times on projects and that most of the time people should step away from their work at a reasonable time and recharge their batteries with family and friends.

Building a rapport is something that comes naturally to me and not something I've ever had to formalize a plan for. This question required that I pause and reflect on exactly how I build a rapport with others.

First, I am outgoing and friendly. I look for opportunities to learn about others. I notice the pictures, calendars, and other knickknacks in a person's office. I ask questions about them to see what they tell me about the person and his/her life outside the office.

When I hear details that resonate with me personally, I let the other person know. In other words, if I discover that he or she likes archeology or fishing or basketball, I let him or her know that I also am interested in those things. Doing so establishes that we have things in common and helps to establish a relationship of trust.

Once that relationship of trust is established, I find I can speak much more directly and freely with a person. For example, after establishing trust with 'Sebastian', I would simply talk to Sebastian, let him know that I need to be able to schedule time with him to discuss my projects, and ask how he can best accommodate that need in a manner that works for both of us.

I'd rather make the relationship formal and send in my requests in form of mails or documents that can be submitted to his desk and expect to get feedback in the shortest time. Documenting our transactions will keep all parties on their toes. Then i'll be on the look out for the right opportunity during the course of the day to give him some summary of my request and probably have some chat with him and make him feel at home with me. This way, i wont have to be looking for hard to predict happy hours before/after work to get his attention and also wont have to disrupt my work-life balance.

I haven't come across this situation in my work. My suggestion would be to schedule project related work as a calendar event with a specific deliverable for all the stakeholders. In case Sebastian is unable to attend the meeting, the meeting minutes will give him the whole picture.

Sebastians are there everywhere. I would tell him , politely that I like to do a work life balance, if he calls for a meeting consistently after office hours. If it is once in a while it can be accommodated but I would take care that it does not become a continuous pattern.

Also would tell him this improves the productivity for me of course "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Still if it continues, I feel it can be escalated.

Me, as many other persons have lived this Sebastian's situation. What it works for me is scheduling a "breakfast" to review important issues.

This helps quite a lot as at the beginning of the day and before starting with schedule meetings, my boss is not distracted and we can talk about any pendings we may have.

Jorge Luis Nuñez, PMP

This particular situation currently persists in my organization; though I am not affected by it. My boss does sit in the office late, but he knows that I do have a Social life and hence respects it. I had made it clear on the first day of my office that I would toil hard from 9 am to 6 pm (std. working hours in my organization), only if I get to leave the office by 6pm. And he understood it.

Also I see to it that whatever work he has assigned to me is completed in the stipulated time. There have been occasions wherein I did have to work till 9-10 pm....but those are rare situations.

As far as discussing the project is concerned, I do make a summary of all the points regarding my work and first of all mail it to him. And then after about an hour discuss it with him. This makes him prepared for what he is expecting from the meeting, hence preventing time-waste. If he is busy or in a meeting, I SMS/short text him regarding my issue. If he sees it to be very important, he replies to it, otherwise we talk it over the next day.

As I sit responding to the question late Sunday night, with the family asleep, after working over the weekend, I admit my work-life balance is somewhat out of alignment. That being said I have worked for “Sebastian” before, many times. Every time it is the same story. The quality of the conversation late at night is never as high as it is during the work day.

I answer the call after hours, even with my two small kids around. If it is a simple question and I have the answer I always provide it, but more often than not I divert the question or topic to the morning. “Sir I am not completely sure, let me check and verify the information before I provide you with an answer, it will have to wait to I get the kids in bed, can I call you first thing in the morning?” It is a gentle reminder of my family responsibilities while also ensuring I provide accurate information when I am fresh.

To ensure that I get time to discuss important issues I find that persistence alone goes a long way. I pick of the phone, send an email, ask for time in person and always ensure I set up time on “Sebastian’s” calendar. I make use of what little time I get during the work day by being prepared to have the conversation. If I never get more than 15 minutes during the work day, I limit my topics to 15 minutes worth of my critical topics.

Currently working for a company that spans international borders with project teams across many time zones…the work demands flexibility. I am flexible and expect others to be flexible. When I find myself walking in “Sebastian’s” shoes, I always ask myself, “ Is this call after hours really needed?” “Can I just call in the morning or send an email?” Or my wife gently reminds me, “put down you BlackBerry!!”

I have the personal philosophy that I am contracted to work so many hours per week, and I make my best endeavours in that time. I will work extra hours for "one off situations" where the company's operations demand it, but not for base load work.

I let the quality and effectiveness of my work speak for itself.
I am also up front with my bosses about my attitude and have not found it career limiting.

As far as the situation with Sebastian is concerned, I would just be up front with him, and suggest that we put time aside for regular social interaction within the office, like a weekly "Morning tea" where eveyrone has a chance to chat, and discuss things other than work.

The point I would make is your work goals should be set up front and agreed to by you and Sebastian. If you are meeting, or exceeding, the goals set up for you. Then you shouldn't have to worry about whether you put in the excessive hours Sebastian does or not. If Sebastian, brings it up, you can review your progress toward your goals and the results of your project(s) with him to demonstrate you are meeting the goals set for you and that your programs are on track.

I lived that for 20 years. Following the advice that to get ahead you needed to get there before the boss and leave after him. Yeah, sometimes it was necessary to stay no matter what to finish something. BUT, in retrospect, all you do is get old sooner and lose out on your relationships. I would guess only 2 of the dozens of plus 16 hour days were truly needed and perhaps 10% of the plus 11 hour days. Face it, after 10 hours unless the adrenalin is running hard you aren't doing much but getting in face time anyway. At least after 40. LOL. I don't know that many companies or bosses appreciate the absurd effort. Good luck.

Almost all my managers have been Sebastian's. Each one had a different style therefore I had a different approach. My last manager was easy to catch with a text message letting him know what was going on. If he required further details, he would contact me. Most managers prefer email. I would capture everything in a very detailed email and let them know I was available to discuss when and if they felt it was necessary. I usually would receive a response around midnight.

I have also been known to schedule weekly one-to-one's but then use the time to give a project updates. Managers are hesitant to cancel one-to-ones as they will lunches. I'm sure I have used other tactics but they elude me at the moment.

My previous job had a 'Sebastian' (and surprisingly the description given almost matches his work routine) who was as diligent as anything when it came to work. There were times when he was difficult to approach, even after 8 pm.

Initially, it bothered me a lot since I was newly inducted into the organization and was not quite familiar with the working life-style, especially Sebastian's. It however, became vivid as the days rolled by that it was not his eternal love for his job nor his esteemed devotion to his career, rather it was out of necessity that he set up an example, at least for me. It was then that I learned that when it comes to work, official or non-official, diligence, accuracy and thoroughness should be taken care of even if it requires you putting up those extras hours in.

During his 'after-hours' (after 6 pm) I often had a chat with him and I still remember him saying once: "... putting in an hour now is easier than putting in two tomorrow!"

Just because Sebastian decides to sacrifice his work life balance doesn't mean you need to as well.

Your best opportunity is to get Sebastian out for lunch. It's a breather he doesn't normally get. If you can get him to shut off his Blackberry you have his undivided attention. A word to the wise though, record everything discussed in a follow up email to protect yourself. Also agree to go dutch treat. My Sebastian stuck me with the bill!

You may even find he looks forward to your periodic lunch dates.

The subordinate has ENABLED his manager's behavior and has NOT effectively managed upwards.

My approach to this would be to introduce the topic of work-life balance in the next 1 on 1 meeting with Sebastian. (If the subordinate doesn't have periodic 1 on 1 sessions with his boss then that is it's own problem.) Start off with questions, i.e., his definition of WL balance for himself, for others, etc. Then surface the behaviors that are problematic and identify the associated negative repercussions for you. Then get into the grist of the discussion with an open conversation about how best to address the behaviors and set the appropriate expectations for both of you.

Do not preclude the opportunity to identify areas of delegation, i.e., your boss gets more time and you get new interesting tasks that clearly have value.

I am still working under this same situation. My Sebastian works 6 am till 9 pm and sometimes he expects you to work at the same rate. Fortunately I have a lot of access to him and as such am able to interrupt his day as I will. The downside is that he forgets sometimes what we have discussed during such interruptions. So I email him a summary of our discussions immediately we have them.

Also if a favorable and immediate response from him is required I usually join him in the morning or wait till late to discuss this issue.

Hi Lynda,

Thank you for your entry, I had the exact situation with one of my managers, she was a consultant so she had to put in her 11-12 hours during her on site time and she would only want to chat after 6 or 7 pm which is what needed to be done if you wanted to build a good rapport with her.

The way I approached it was, I would chose one day in a week, not necessarily the same day every week, when I would come in a little late (if possible) or take an extended lunch break to get some errands done (or cooking) and then stay back till 9 or 10 pm that one day.

I didn't go looking for her, but she instead started looking for someone to chat with, or I would stop by later in the evening to make small talk.

It worked like a charm!

Good luck, Pranjal

I would talk to him , moment such delays on his part becomes a routine thing. If he still continues to show disregard towards my time I will discuss the issue with my next superior. If company has 360 degree appraisal policy such behaviour of the bosses come to the notice of the superiors.

Practically I often had chance of working such bosses and my strategy had been to make it amply clear in the beginning itself both in words and action that I will not like to discuss after working hours except in exceptional cases.



I have always heard and tried to follow that without God you are nothing, without health you are not effective, without family you have no support and without a job you have no way to provide. Keep you priorities straight from the top down.

I lived this situation and found that there was no good alternative to waiting for the evening opening for conversation. I used email to ask urgent questions that needed a quick answer, or placed a quick phone call to "Sebastian" during the day for that purpose. He would respond to those.

For the times I just had to wait, I would stop working on "work" at a reasonable time and do something personal while I waited such as reading a book, making a personal phone call, or taking a walk.

As a project manager, you are likely to have to be somewhat flexible with your time, especially if you support geographically dispersed teams. You could try setting up weekly one-on-one meetings with "Sebastian" and see if that helps to get you an audience during regular working hours.

As others have mentioned, this is a tough scenario and a strange BOSS. But, as far as my working relationship with him is considered, I would say since I am managing key projects within the company, and he is the owner of the projects, I would be valuable to him like any other customer and having focused meetings is imperative to keep the projects healthy.

In the above situation, I would fix up a brief 15-minute meeting with him on his calendar, say on a Tuesday and Thursday morning. So,this would be on his calendar like any other meetings, it's short and I would make sure it is crisp as well and this would ensure that both of us get the necessary face-time to discuss project issues. This would be my approach if I am working with such a BOSS.
Thank you. Cheers :)

In such and similar scenarios I would set up an appointment on his/her calendar - just like any other meeting to discuss shop-talk. If this works then I would make it repetitive practice. Else, I would find that '8 PM' time slot on select occasions and have a heart-to-heart conversation about balancing work-life activities.

In this scenario, I would make a point to catch Sebastian first thing in the morning before his work day started to review his issues. Additionally, I would attempt to schedule a time to review his comments as I turned in the associated work.

In today's work environment with BlackBerrys and 24/7 computer access to work, it seems as the work day is non stop.

Scott Nobel, PMP

One of the biggest issues in any company is that of company culture, it works top down. Having a boss that has no balance and no respect for the aspect of quality-work-life of the people that work for him, is very difficult in a time of scarcity of jobs.

I also have a Sebastian that I work for and it is all about “Sebastian” god in himself, who wants to show the rest of the world he is the great "Sebastian". If you don’t respect your own family life you will never be able to respect other people’s family lives.

How do you deal with it? You make an appointment within normal company work hours, (get a few time slots from his secretary), or if he likes to deal with it himself then you tell him that you have the following times that you can discuss it the issues with him. Give him an agenda of what you want to discuss and the time that you will need for the discussion. Should he insist on having the meeting after hours then you have to subtly indicate to him that it will impact on your family time and that you normally help your kids with homework during that time.

Everyone has different approaches to this issue, it seems, but few actually accept that there is a need in some fields for that 6AM-10PM person. After thirteen years in the software industry, generally in the area of development or service support, I've come to understand that 60-70 hour work weeks are often a requirement, not a choice. I work in the healthcare industry now, though still within IT, and nothing's changed - in fact I've pulled a few 80 hour work weeks during a hospital transition, and during a data center outtage. I know what you're thinking: As a PM or Engineer? Well, as a PM... I think the phase of your career where hours are really analyzed carefully is prior to entering into a new job, when you look at the landscape and norms of the industry you're in. Your choices are often to take a lower paying job knowing you'll get to work 40 hours a week, or accept that you are going to make sacrifices for your paycheck. I believe good work requires such sacrifices. My bargain with my wife has always been, I work at home when I can, and in the evening when she and the baby are asleep. Tough, but so far so good. Cheers.

How about an office hour every day. A small window for which Sabastian sure available for any issues. Besides this, Sabastian anyway should work on plan to balance his work and life.

He can't do this all the time, which will bring down his efficiency.

Interestingly, I was in a situation like this until my last job which ended December 2009. My own Sebastian had the habit of sending for you if he knows you're in the building, even before work commencement which is 8am. He was a quintessential workaholic.

Anytime I needed to have an audience with him for project related reasons, I get to work before him and accost him before he launches into his schedule. I also wait to close late in case there is any feedback from him. Such a day is an out of balance day for me as far as Work-life Balance is concerned. I see it as the cost I had to pay for working with him.

Some situations require management and bosses to be busy like these. For me, I like to ring him and tell him what requires his attention.

Alternatively, if he suggests a convenient time within his work hours to meet and discuss, then, I would be there with the required preparations.

Maureen Gan

I have, unfortunately, lived this scenario... or at least one very similar. I found myself picking one day per week to work extended hours to bring my manager up to speed on the important issues.

It worked for me.

I'd personally be worried working for Sebastian in that his life doesn't appear to have much balance, and he will need to be an exceptional individual to recognise and respect that different individuals have different "business cases" for working hours. It's no good being a permanent superhero if in the long-term you can't sustain that level.

However to make the relationship work on my terms, I'd suggest a lunchtime "walk'n'talk" or sandwiches in the park which give a number of benefits - it will get Sebastian away from the detail he seems to be trapped in (how many really successful executives can stay at that detail level, and with the right breadth), give him a bit of fresh air to energise him, and also "trap" him for a bit of quality time.

Maybe explain to him that you don't really function effectively after 6pm and so any conversations had then you would be distracted thinking about the kids bathtime or whatever. Tell him you value his time and want to use it effectively. If you're an older worker, you may be able to have the discussion about sustainable leadership, based upon your own life experience.

Also you need to recognise that whatever your personal WLB tolerance, project management is a "peaky" job in terms of effort, so you need to be very careful to demonstrate commitment to the cause when it will really have an impact to the outcomes.

As for enhancing career prospects, let your behaviours and results do the talking rather than your brown-nosing.

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