When Does Your Insane Work Ethic Backfire? When You Don’t Know When To Shut Up About It…

Steve Boese Communication, Steve Boese, Work Life Balance

Editor’s Note: We’re bringing this piece of gold back from the vault because it qualifies as a “Best Of FOT…” post. And because it’s good to be reminded that your work ethic can be super annoying… and kind of rude.

Author Note: Although this post is running mid-week, it was written over the weekend, where some of the behavior that is described below is at it’s most annoyingly acute.

Let me follow the initial disclaimer with an additional disclaimer: I do believe that hustle, grit, determination—whatever term you prefer to use—often makes the difference between real success and just getting by. I don’t think hustle alone without at least some kind of differentiating talent can get anyone to the top or near the top of any field of endeavor. But without the willingness to go a little bit further, to make the extra effort, and to sometimes simply put in more time than the next person, most of us will have to settle with just being good, maybe even pretty good. But probably not great. I understand that people who achieve great things almost always put in insane levels of effort to attain those achievements.

But sometimes, at least to me, the way that the extra effort, that intense work ethic that some folks have and display, can have a way of backfiring… at least a little. Sometimes, and again, this is 100% SFB opinion here, your insane work ethic is really annoying. I don’t mean you specifically. But I am pretty sure you know someone that drops at least some of the behaviors I am about to describe. But if you see at least some of yourself in the below list, then it might be worth taking a minute to consider how what you are doing can be interpreted by the rest of us.

What kinds of things am I talking about exactly?

Here are just a few random observations, in no particular order:

1. You are emailing all weekend. And I’m not talking about emails to Grandma about coming to visit (she’s all on Facebook now anyway) or messages having to do with some kind of side projects or personal/family activities. I’m talking about straight up, mundane, non-emergency type work emails. Emails about meetings, about setting up meetings, about reviewing action items from meetings, about pre-meetings for other meetings. These kinds of emails are horrible on Wednesday at 9:46AM. They are an abomination at 10:13PM on Saturday night. They tell the rest of us that either you don’t have anything else better to do on Saturday night, or that you are trying to make the rest of us feel bad that we are not thinking about the Tuesday morning status meeting at 10:13PM on Saturday night.

1A. You are responding to emails all weekend. This is a corollary to Item 1. Sometimes, (I fully admit to doing this and I bet you have too) I choose to respond to certain emails during “off hours,” mainly because I want to knock the ball back over to the other side of the court and have it stay there for a while. Maybe that thorny issue you emailed me about at 4:47PM on Friday is not one I wanted to deal with before checking out for the week. But I know it is important and so for that reason sometime over the weekend, like at 8:15AM on Sunday I respond. And before I can shut down the laptop and go back to sleep I mean go to church, BOOM! your response comes flying back at 8:16AM. It’s like you are a kind of jungle cat waiting for some unsuspecting prey to wander along so you can pounce. I am an idiot for emailing you at 8:15AM on Sunday. What are you doing responding at 8:16AM?

1B – Stop emailing from your phone. If more than say 50% of the emails I get from you are signed “Sent from my iPhone,” you might have a problem with unplugging. And that is also annoying.

2. Early, early, early. You like to get to the office by 6:00AM every day. That by itself is not really a bad thing. You are a grinder. Or just a morning person. Or you dig your job. That is all good. What’s bad is how you shame the rest of us into thinking that not following you in this 6AM practice makes us the strange ones. How do you do that? By checking in to the office on Foursquare with comments more suited for a 10-mile hike up a mountain than 9 hours spent in meetings and under fluorescent lighting. Tags like #BringIt and #HRNeverSleeps and #ItsstilldarkoutbutImatworkandwherearetherestofyouslackers don’t really go far to rally most of the rest of us. How about this: Come in at 6AM if you must, but don’t make such a big deal about it. And while you are at it, quit saying crap like “Half a day?” with one raised eyebrow if I dare to leave the office at 5:04PM on a Wednesday.

3. You have a professional opinion about everything. There is not a Twitter chat, LinkedIn discussion thread, or online radio show/podcast that you won’t chime in on. It doesn’t really matter what the specific topic is; you have something to say and you won’t miss the opportunity to say that something. If you are afflicted with this particular problem, please try and remember it is ok to not have an opinion once in a while. “I don’t care” is often a sensible answer. “I don’t know” is almost always the right answer.

4. Twitter. There are probably a dozen ways to be annoying on Twitter, and most of them might not be classic “work ethic” related annoyances like the ones above, but I will mention at least two things about the way you might be using Twitter that are really off-putting. One, you post something new on your blog on a weekday morning and YOU WILL NOT STOP TWEETING ABOUT IT. You tweet it as soon as it posts, then in a few more hours to catch the west coast folks, then again in the afternoon, then again as the day winds down, then once more that evening—you get the idea. You also RT anyone that shares your blog post on Twitter (including the many “robot” accounts that share dozens of blog posts every day), and you are sure to shoehorn the link back to the original post. Then the next morning you start up again, maybe squeezing in a “In case you missed it” disclaimer before you link yet again to your post. No, we didn’t miss it—we are trying to ignore it.

The other colossally annoying thing you might be doing on Twitter is “re-mentioning” every mention of you. Whether it is some poor soul still clinging to Follow Friday like it’s 2010, or an automated mention in some ridiculous Twitter Daily e-paper, you do not fail to jump on these. You know what Tweet is sillier than the “The Joe Bloggs HR and Workplace Daily is out!”? It’s you thanking Joe Bloggs for including you in his stupid summary (which NO ONE will ever read).

5. Digital Detox. At some point you as the working-all-the-time guy finally crack (or your family and friends have staged an intervention) and force you to take a break, maybe go on vacation, and definitely disengage from the phone, the laptop, Facebook and go on a digital detox or holiday—which is great and probably needed. But simply taking a digital holiday is not enough for you, and you WILL NOT STOP talking about the fact that your digital vacation is coming up. You make sure to remind us over and over again as your vacation gets closer. Don’t worry pal—the rest of us will be just fine without your 5:58AM check-ins at Starbucks.

I could keep on about this a little longer, but my real point is this. Even if you like to work all the time, most of the rest of the world does not, or at least would prefer not to. If you have to work all night, all weekend, starting at 5AM every day—whatever—it’s wise to low-key that sometimes. Write your blog posts for the week (just don’t tweet constantly about how you’re writing blog posts for the week), catch up on some work that does not involve emailing your team at all hours, dream up your new ideas for products to pitch to the group at the next meeting, work on one of your side or pet projects—just don’t feel the need to tell the rest of us that you are working all the time.

It’s cool if you want to work all the time, really, that is your choice and you probably will win” whatever race you’re running. What’s not cool, at least to some, is never shutting up about it.