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Personal Growth

Are You Working Too Much Overtime?

Dave Ramsey calls the classic book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend a life-changing book! Many people think that boundaries only apply to unruly children and intrusive mother-in-laws, but this is simply not true—boundaries can work wonders in many other areas of life—including your job.

When I first went into practice, I hired a woman for 20 hours a week to run my office. On her second day in the office, I gave her a pile of things to do. About 10 minutes later, she knocked at my door, stack of papers in hand.

“What can I do for you, Laurie?” I asked.

“You have a problem,” she told me.

“I do? What is it?” I asked, not having the vaguest idea what she was talking about.

“You hired me for 20 hours a week, and you have just given me about 40 hours of work. Which 20 would you like done?”


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She was right. I did have a problem. I had not managed my workload very well. I was either going to have to spend more on help, cut back on projects, or hire someone else. But she was right: it was my problem, not hers. I had to take responsibility for it and fix it. Laurie was telling me what that ever-present sign says: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

Many bosses aren’t so lucky. Their employees take responsibility for their lack of planning and never set limits on them. They are never forced to look at their lack of boundaries until it’s too late, until they have lost a good employee to exhaustion or burnout. Such bosses need clear limits, but many employees are afraid to set them, as Laurie did, because they need the job or they fear disapproval.

If you are in a situation in which you’re doing lots of extra work because you “need the job” and because you are afraid of being let go, you have a problem. If you are working more overtime than you want to, you are in bondage to your job. You are a slave, not an employee under contract. Clear and responsible contracts tell all parties involved what is expected of them, and they can be enforced. Jobs should have clear descriptions of duties and qualifications.

As hard as it sounds, you need to take responsibility for yourself and take steps to change your situation. Here are some suggested steps you may wish to take:

  • Set boundaries on your work. Decide how much overtime you are willing to do. Some overtime during seasonal crunches may be expected of you.
  • Review your job description, if one exists.
  • Make a list of the tasks you need to complete in the next month. Make a copy of the list and assign your own priority to each item. Indicate on this copy any tasks that are not part of your job description.
  • Make an appointment to see your boss to discuss your job overload. Together you should review the list of tasks you need to complete in the next month. Have your boss prioritize the tasks. If your boss wants all the tasks done, and you cannot complete these tasks in the time you are willing to give, your boss may need to hire temporary help to complete those tasks. You may also wish to review your job description with your boss at this time if you think you are doing things that fall outside your domain.

If your boss still has unreasonable expectations of you, you may wish to take a coworker or two along with you to a second meeting (according to the biblical model in Matthew 18), or you may wish to discuss your problem with the appropriate person in your personnel department. If even then he remains unreasonable about what he thinks you can accomplish, you may need to begin looking for other job opportunities within your company or outside.

You may need to go to night school and get some further training to open up other opportunities. You may need to chase down hundreds of employment ads and send out stacks of resumes. (Consult the book How to Get a Job by James Bramlett for information on job searches.) You may wish to start your own business. You may wish to start an emergency fund to survive between quitting your present job and starting a new one.

Whatever you do, remember that your job overload is your responsibility and your problem. If your job is driving you crazy, you need to do something about it. Own the problem. Stop being a victim of an abusive situation and start setting some limits.

(Taken from Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend Copyright © 2001 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan.

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Ramsey Solutions

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Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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