Cube vs. Corner: How do the boss' work habits affect yours?

employee employer relationshipSometimes it’s difficult to know how much you’re supposed to reflect the boss’s work habits. Especially in regards to working hours. After all, he or she is the boss — so doesn’t that role come with increased responsibility? But at the same time, as an employee, it’s important to show dedication and drive — that’s exhibiting ambition and is how one climbs the ladder. So where’s the happy medium?

In today’s Cube vs. Corner, Brad and I have a serious discussion about the blurred lines around the 40 hour work week.

How do your boss' work habits affect your own



Some people have told me that I can be a little intense. I’ve also been known to be a bit of a work-a-holic. I feel like I’m getting that tendency more under control — but I can still get “in the groove” and spend 5 – 6 hours with my head down working without taking a break. I will sometimes send emails into the evening or early in the morning, and vacations still don’t come easy for me.

Does this work style set an unreasonable standard for you? If you are only working 45 hours in a week do you end up feeling like a slacker? Do you ever feel guilty about getting up and taking a break? Or do you feel the freedom to work with your own style regardless of my work habits?


When I first started out in the workplace, I just assumed work was 40 hours and you’re done. Once it’s 5pm, you leave regardless of where you’re at in your work (well, that’s how it was at one past employer). But in a new role, you don’t know the ropes yet and that’s not really the case. You need to make sure your work gets done, whether that takes you 35 or 50+ hours.

I also get days where I’m “in the zone” and forget to eat and take breaks when I’m focused on something. I’ll work 10 or 11 hours straight. Those days I feel “proud” especially if it’s 7 or 8pm and I know you’ll see I was working late when you check your email.

Then there are other days I just don’t have that same focus and drive and have to take more breaks. And to be honest, I feel guilty on those days. You have a super strong work ethic where you can push through on those days and still work a solid day where you’re in at 7 or 8am, and then work more at night. And I see that when you send emails late at night the next morning.

To be honest, I’m torn because, yes — I want to work more and show you I’m super committed. And no — because you know I really value my time outside of work with things I’m involved in, and I can’t work as many hours as you often do.

Do you ever wish that I worked more or just as much as you? Be honest.


So, I can see from your response that I do set an unrealistic expectation for you. Sorry, we should have talked about this more explicitly before.

I’m glad you value your life outside of work. I don’t want you to be working all the time. You have done a great job taking ownership and responsibility for a big part of this project and for that I’m very grateful.

I don’t really care that much about hours — I’m more interested in results. If you know an email has to go out on Friday and you have to work late to make that happen, I trust you will do that. If you have to work late every week, I’d expect you to talk to me about your workload so we can adjust.

But I know you are ambitious. That you want to succeed, get promoted (and make more money) so sometimes that’s going to drive you to do more. I love seeing that, it makes me want to promote you and pay you more money. So there’s a difference between what is “good” work (for which you get to keep your job), and what is “exemplary” work (that gets you promoted). That difference is up to you.


No, that makes total sense! Exploring the workplace and expectations for growing in your role is different at many companies, especially small companies vs. larger ones. So knowing more clearly what it takes to move up in roles and pay scale at a company is something that I was never ‘taught’ before, but the way you lay it out completely makes sense.

I’ll be passing on that word to my colleagues as well, because I think hearing the boss’ perspective and knowing the ball is really in our court is invaluable advice for other millennials.


  1. Thanks for the clear, honest conversation on this. I have experienced a similar environment in a corporate job, which was a significant reason for me leaving. I am really saddened by this conversation though and how I’ve seen it play out. I’m saddened by the sacrifice of many important things in life for the sake of climbing the corporate ladder for more pay, influence and prestige. I think that it’s possible to do a really great job and put out great work, while still working 40 hours. However, if everyone is putting in 60 hours, you’re going to fall behind. If a culture of 60+ hours is set, you will inevitably sacrifice the important things in life for the corporate climb.

    • Thanks for your response, Lindsey! I have many other colleagues in similar situations. But the one thing that I’ve noticed is Millennials (like myself) are making an impact in the workplace to show employers that we want a life outside of work, so they’re trying to adapt to that, and not let workloads get too intense. But not all companies are doing this… yet.

      I’ve led other friends to seek new jobs where the ‘norm’ was that 60+ hour work week — even staying up until 4am multiple nights a week to work on a project. They couldn’t do ANY hobbies or activities outside of work! Thankfully, they’ve been able to find a job at about the same pay at other companies that don’t nearly demand the same amount of hours of work a week and support them in their life outside the office. My advice to them is — if you’re good at what you do, you can find a company that fits your values and work expectations in terms of salary and workload. And it’s becoming easier now than before as more employers are trying to be the “employer of choice” to attract great talent.

    • As a boss I want to create a job that a good employee can do in 40 hours. Do the job, get paid, go home.

      But the truth is the people who DO put in the extra hours (assuming they get results with those hours) are the ones who get promoted and get better raises.

      If you find a job you *really love* you might be willing to give up some of the hobbies — but maybe not?

      • Thanks Brad for the thoughtful response. My concern on both your and Devan’s responses is the assumption that hobbies or activities are being sacrificed for work. It’s not hobbies or activities that I personally wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice, it’s the relationships with the people that I love.

        For me personally, I don’t want to sacrifice the health of my marriage for the sake of climbing a corporate ladder. I do think in order to achieve anything great in life, sacrifice of something else needs to be made. It just depends on what you’re looking to achieve.

        Thanks so much again for the open and honest discussion around these issues.

  2. Brad – Completely agree with you. As a leader I need to set an example by working hard and extra hours, however I cannot expect the same from all employees. Everyone’s situation is different. One person may be interested in only 40 hour job, while another may want to contribute extra to move up or learn more. it is leader’s job to reward those properly who do contribute more than others.

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