Why being a clock-watcher is good for you

by Melanie Chisnall

We live in an overworked society where burning the midnight oil has become the norm.

Are you a clock-watcher? If you’re not jumping onto Slack and announcing to the team how late you worked, then please shush. The higher-ups aren’t really interested in hearing about your relaxing evening Pilates session. Clearly, you’re not dedicated enough.

Dedication. Let’s unravel that word, shall we?

According to Urban Dictionary, this means an extreme or uncommon commitment to a task, people, or an ideal. For me, I take it to mean upskilling on the job, working as part of a team, and being an ambassador for the company. But that’s not what you’ll find in many job ads today.

What you will find?

Requirements like this: “Must be prepared to work after hours,” or “Don’t bother applying if you’re a clock-watcher.” Sounds like a fun place to work, doesn’t it? Let’s hear it for companies who don’t value employee well-being.

I’m not trying to be smart here; there will always be people who take advantage and pretend to be “busy.” That’s another conversation altogether – a conversation that should start at the interview stage and escalate in performance reviews where needed.

Back to well-being at work.

I remember going for an interview a few years ago. The head office was located on a beautiful wine farm, so naturally, I asked what the team did for lunch every day. I’ll never forget the look of disgust when the co-founder replied something along the lines of, “Lunch? We don’t have time for lunch. Some days I’m lucky if I manage to eat a few rusks at my desk.” Right. Sounds like a wonderful place to spend nine hours every day.

I’d like to know when work-life balance became so unimportant. When working like a robot became something to strive for – a check-box for potential promotion.

I personally know of people who’ve landed in the hospital due to work burnout. Did they ask for additional help or make it known that they were struggling with their workload? Of course. Did anything change? Not at all. Where has human compassion gone in the workplace?

Clock-watchers get a bad rap because they’re considered lazy.

I disagree.

Clock-watchers, in fact, have their priorities in check. They have a healthy work-life balance. They know when it’s time to work, and they understand the importance of recharging, rest, and refueling. A study by Stanford University debunks the belief that working longer hours equals getting more done. So there’s that.

But still, for many, hustling beyond the workday equals success.

One of my previous managers felt it important to share how often she worked over weekends to “catch up” because she was so busy. Yes. Unfortunately, that tends to happen when you spend most of the day in meetings and chatting with coworkers.

There’s a big difference between busyness and productivity, and there’s definitely something to be said for working smart. Arianna Huffington says it best:

“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.”

I became a clock-watcher after a very hard lesson in a new job.

Like most people in their early twenties, I was eager to prove my value to the company. So I started coming in earlier and leaving later – I thought that was how it was done. It wasn’t until I commented about all those extra hours (I’d logged them and worked out how much overtime I was due, or so I thought), that I was snapped back to reality. “Melanie,” the company bookkeeper said kindly, “No one asked you to work all those extra hours, that was your choice.”

(Lightbulb moment and humiliation I’ll never forget).

From that role onwards, I never felt guilty about leaving at 5 pm or taking my lunch breaks. No one should. Our lives shouldn’t revolve around work. Yes, we all need an income to live sustainably in this modern world. BUT…

We shouldn’t have to drive ourselves to the point of chronic stress or burnout to prove that we’re “dedicated employees.”

Right now, we’re living through a global pandemic where things are drastically changing. The way we work, connect, and communicate is evolving every day. Yes. We’re in the midst of an economic recession and maybe this isn’t the best time to talk about watching the clock.

But if not now, then WHEN?

If we don’t look after our health in a time like this, where will that leave us?

If ever there was a time to step back, relook at how things have been done on autopilot, and alter them for the better, it’s at this moment. Thanks to countless studies, we already know that work-life balance means better employee morale and productivity.

And still, it’s a foreign concept for so many.
What if it wasn’t though?

Imagine a company that allowed employees to go “dark” and work on one big project for the first three hours of the day – totally uninterrupted. No meetings and no distractions, unless it was absolutely urgent.

A culture where the CEO encouraged people to leave work on time so that his employees could spend quality time with family, catch up on hobbies, and simply enjoy life.

Clock-watching isn’t laziness.

It’s how we look after our well-being so that we can show up and give our best during work hours – without needing to take time off for stress management or hospital visits.

At a time when there are clearly much bigger things to worry about and focus on, should picking on clock-watchers really still be one of them?

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