Workplace Doctor: Putting in too many hours – and I need help

Over the past few months my working hours have grown longer and longer. I am contracted to work from 9am to 6pm, but I sometimes find myself sitting at my desk at 10pm. The workload never diminishes and I could really do with a helping hand. But we are a small company, and I need to present a serious business case for the owner to consider taking on more staff. How should I go about this? I want the proposal to look as considered and well thought through as possible. MD, Sharjah

If you are putting in an extra 20 hours a week and that still doesn’t feel like enough, then you need some help. You probably feel like asking for some support, but may be worried that it will look as if you cannot cope. In turn, you need to pull together a detailed business case and draw on your influencing skills to persuade the business owner. Many of us have been in the same boat, but when we feel diminished or depleted we do need to do something to recharge and move forward, as burnout is not really an option.

First, reflect on the effect these long hours have on you and your performance. Although you are working an extra 20 hours a week, I am pretty confident that the quality of the work, energy and enthusiasm goes down when you feel tired and drained. We often find that individuals are at their most effective when they feel refreshed, and clearly these long hours are going to affect your sleep, which is directly linked to cognitive functioning and decision-making. So although you are working hard for the business, it may not have the desired effect, as you are clearly depleted and the mental battery is almost on empty.

I encourage you to seek a greater balance, because research shows that workers who are satisfied and energised outside of work perform better at work. I am not saying do just the contracted hours, far from it. But I think you should balance the extra hours you feel you need to work with something you will enjoy that week, such as an evening at home with your family or a social activity you enjoy. Whatever happens in my working week and wherever I am travelling to, I make sure I exercise a minimum of three times a week.

Secondly, I think you should present your case to the owner. As a small business it may be perceived as a significant cost to take someone else on. However, I would suggest you think about the benefits for the business of doing so, rather than simply that you wish to reduce the impact on you.

Making the decision to recruit is a crucial point for any small business. Consider presenting ideas showing how more productive and more effective you would be with more support and identify possible sales or business benefits of taking on more staff. Quality work by engaged and satisfied people will reap benefits in the short and long term for the business. There are many cases from large global businesses that can be accessed online that demonstrate this, and will back your proposal.

Finally, importantly, if the business is to grow and thrive, then there is a business case for more capable staff who can take the organisation forward. Being too busy to develop new working practices is an issue that particularly affects smaller businesses. A good business plan defines what you want to achieve and how you plan to achieve it, so working with your boss to ascertain where you want to get to and how to get there will help you identify the resources needed.

Doctor’s prescription:

It is useful for you and your boss to separate quantity and quality. I know you may need to do extra hours, as we all do, especially in a busy place like the UAE. However, running on empty will not benefit you, or the business. I encourage you to manage your work-life balance for your own well-being and performance, and presenting a positive case to your manager should leave you in a good position.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Business School based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues


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