We all grow up hearing it.

Work hard, keep your head down don’t complain and you’ll be rewarded. Do all the work, especially what no one wants to prove yourself.

And we follow suit, bust our butts, are the first to come in and last to leave only to find that not only are you not rewarded for your excellent service, but instead you are stalled at this invisible ceiling.

You have successfully become a victim of your own success.

Now that you have proved you can successfully work 70 hour weeks consistently for 6 months, they won’t backfill the support position, hire help or add automation that would make you happier and maybe even more available to work on some stellar projects you’ve been thinking of.

I know it sounds bad, wrong and messed up to say working hard is bad. And that’s not what I’m saying . You definitely should NOT pull an office space and traipse into the office an hour late in beach clothes, take a long lunch and leave early.

But if you think not taking your vacations, insisting on coming in before the boss and leaving after him/her, doing all the grunt work no one else wants (or they dump on you)… basically burning yourself out is the way to get ahead, then think again.

Here’s why it doesn’t work

  1. Managers don’t care

    Some managers won’t recognize your hard work as the ability to handle a higher position.

    In fact, some managers purposely will not recognize it because they believe you should always be working hard. That it is always a part of your job to push beyond your job description. And that is true. We should always try to go above and beyond the call of duty. However, I’ve had managers tell me they never give ‘above expectations’ on reviews because they fear if they acknowledge your exceptional performance, then you might start slacking off.

    So work hard, or not, you’ll always be a meets expectations. And that’s no indication that you are ready for the ‘big leagues’. You might be great at making french fries, but that’s not proof that you can kick ass at assembling the burgers.

    Working hard simply proves that you are capable of handling more work … at your current level. You have to show that you can stretch too, that means working smart.

  2. You neglect other aspects of your job

    Your job is so much more than just work. People are promoted to higher positions and better tasks based on their ability to meet challenges, work with others, motivate and even lead a team. Not based solely on how hard they work. Your manager is able to assess these qualities the more they get to know you, your personality and your work ethic.

    That’s what folks mean when they talk about company fit and corporate culture. They compare your personality and character with the identity of the majority of the company employees. If you are so busy working hard that you forget to build relationships with your managers, then they will not get to really know you, and hence they can’t rank you next to the company culture. Leaving you behind the eight ball.

    Working hard is one part of the puzzle, you need to connect with people too and build relationships.

  3. It stifles your potential value

    When you take every piece of BS work given to you – busting your butt like a true soldier just to show you are committed – you miss the chances to tell your manager things you truly are passionate about working on.

    Of course, every job has parts we hate but have to do, but if your whole day is spent doing things you hate then that’s a problem. And worse, when you never voice your concerns for fear of looking ‘uncommitted to the cause’ you do yourself a disservice and rob the company of your neglected expertise and exuberance.

    Not to mention, when new opportunities in your areas of interest, or high visibility projects come along, your manager will not know to pass these projects to you. Don’t just keep your head down and work hard on whatever you get. Voice your interests and tell your manager what you want to do more of.

  4. It makes you miserable

    Skipping vacations or working while you are on them is bad for your health. And can turn you into a less productive cube rat with an overworked and harried attitude.

    Everyone needs a break in order to reset your mind and come back with renewed spirit and vigor. Working yourself ragged makes you look ragged, and is counterproductive. If you look like you are killing yourself to get your current work done, then what message are you sending? Can you really manage more high profile work or more work in general?

  5. It’s not job security

    We might think that working 90 hour weeks while everyone else works 40 means that we will show how indispensable we are, but it can backfire. Managers may wonder why it takes you twice as long to do the work that others can do in half the time.

  6. It makes your hands full

    Working this hard cuts like a double-edged sword. One manager might think you are free enough for more work at your current level, and another might think you are too busy for anything else and should stay right where you are.

    Meaning your hands are (appear to be) already too full with your current job and you don’t have the bandwidth to take on any more responsibilities. So you know what that means. No higher profile gigs and no promotion.

So how do you know if you are working too hard?

  1. If your reviews frequently read ‘Works well, but doesn’t spend enough time with the team’ then it’s likely that you are focusing too much on working hard and not enough on the other traits to get promoted, like networking, being a part of the team, and increasing visibility with senior staff.
  2. If you are consistently the last one to leave the office every single day several hours after the lights go off then something is wrong. Are you lacking automation, a system or not following a process that results in you burning so many ‘extra’ hours?
  3. If you are working your butt off and you are getting passed over for all the high visibility projects and tasks then you aren’t being seen as the superhero you are trying to portray.
  4. If you are losing vacation days because your company won’t let you roll over any more unused vacations.

Again I can’t say this enough. I am an advocate for hard work. I do it all the time.

There is nothing like spending hours at work working on an issue and seeing it resolved before we go home. But it takes so much more than just working hard to make get promotions and move up in your chosen field.

And beyond that, losing vacation days that are factored into a part of your benefits package is never a good thing for you, your family or your company. So what now?

You can decide to keep rocking on the way you always have, hoping for your big break, or you can commit to start taking your vacations and finding the right/successful ways to get that next position bump!