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Are Long Work Hours Necessary for a Good Impression? | Hill Navigator

Long hours can be part of the gig, but just how long need they be?

We’ve all done it at some point — lamented the long hours at work as a matter of pride. “I stayed until 10 p.m. ... I came in at 7 a.m. ... I eat lunch at my desk every day.” Such schedules can be a badge of honor or a symbol of importance. Or validation. Or simply misplaced energy.

It’s true that working long hours might be a tradition alive and well on Capitol Hill. But long hours are not always the best way to get things done. It might not even impress the boss. This week’s Hill Navigator discusses whether working late to leave a good impression is the best way to shine in your current role and explores the fine art of picking your long hours more selectively.

Q. I work in a mildly competitive House office, where everybody stays late so they can “look good.” Do I really need to stay late every day, even if I don’t have work to do to impress my boss?

A. Short answer: No. Don’t try to impress the boss by staying late when you don’t have anything to do.

It’s a counterproductive habit that will ensure you resent your job and burn out faster than your colleagues. Plus, it’s not the ideal way to spend your much-coveted free time.

Long answer: Maybe. Let’s take a minute to posit the first part of your dilemma: The other staffers are staying late to “look good.” Do they look good because the boss is there? Or are they monitoring late-night votes? Are they going to receptions with your boss and inviting you to come along? Or are they taking on additional responsibilities that translate into more hours at the office?

Working on Capitol Hill can mean long hours, especially when votes go late. If you have a boss who wants staff to hang around during key votes — even if you don’t have pressing work to do — that is worth reconsidering what it means to stay late and look good.

In such a case, I’d pick your spots carefully. If there is a vote, or a reception or event that you are affiliated with, stay late for that. Spend meaningful time with the boss and do it on aspects that are closely tied to your job.

But if by “look good” you mean these guys are giving the appearance of burning the midnight oil by leaving their jacket on their chair and desk lamp on (see: Richard Darman tactics, circa Reagan administration), then there is no need to imitate that behavior. Unless you’re a self-imposed Luddite, your smartphone and Internet access mean that you can be nearly anywhere and still effective on the job. The days of pretending to work late for show are going the way of the old whip phone. And good luck finding an office that relies on one of those.

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