How Can I Say I Want to Work Less Without Looking Lazy?

WIn job interviews, hiring managers often promise the world and then when you start working, they pull it back. This happened to a reader of mine. During the job interview, the hiring manager said:

“You should know that during busy periods, you will work more, and when things calm down, I will be generous/understanding with you and you can work from home or receive additional time off. You be understanding with us, and we’ll be understanding with you.”

Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, it didn’t turn out that way. The letter writer continues:

This has sadly not happened for two reasons: one, there never (ever) seems to be any downtime, and two, when I try to organize essentially time off/take off half a day for a family event/ attend a conference (even one where I am representing the company), my boss lets his extreme displeasure be known. He feels that I should be here, keeping an eye on the employees all the time, and ensuring smooth operations.

After being overworked for quite some time, this work/home life imbalance has really gotten to me, and I am likely resigning in the next 3-4 months. I have tried discussing this issue with him to no avail whatsoever.

My question is the following: When the topic of why I am leaving my current position arises in job interviews, how can I discuss this imbalance without sounding lazy? It doesn’t sound great to say, “I’m working far, far too much and have no balance in my life” at a job interview for upper management.”

To read my answer, click here: How Can I Say I Want to Work Less Without Looking Lazy?

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7 thoughts on “How Can I Say I Want to Work Less Without Looking Lazy?

  1. I would focus on Suzanne’s third point: You accepted the job based on the description and commitment your boss made, but he hasn’t adhered to the arrangement he described. You’ve tried to discuss it with him and he’s refused to do so.

    You can soft-pedal this any way you like. It sounds harsh as I’ve stated it so put it your own diplomatic way. But I’d focus less on “I don’t like things the way they are. This isn’t working for me.” and more on, “My working conditions and the job description I was given were inaccurate. And my attempts to discuss them with my boss haven’t been fruitful.” In other words put the onus on him rather than on you.

    Finally, have you tried to involve upper management before you take the drastic step of quitting? You might consider that,

  2. I am not the HR expert here so I am not sure of the proper wording one makes in clarification of work schedule expectations. From the description of the initial interview for the job that individual is having problems with, I would think that maybe n example should have been asked to show what is considered “slow “ time. Everyone has different versions of “slow “ time but expects all to know. That would explain at least partly why the individual and the boss had different opinions on “slow” time.
    A boss who needs staff to be supervised constantly, probably needs the supervisor to be developing and evaluating that staff to be able to function without supervision for day to day operations. A simple question would have clarified this point.
    Too many of us get tongue tied during an interview and only hear selective wording in job offer especially if one has done multiple job interviews. We, the job seekers, should be as through as the company in finding ideal match. Like the other commenter stated perhaps a sit down discussion is in order to clarify situation before jumping ship.

  3. I’d be inclined towards the honesty approach. If you tell them “I’m working 60 hours a week with no end in sight, and I need to work less than that so I can have a life,” and they don’t hire you because of it, well, where I come from, that’s called “dodging a bullet.”

    You don’t want another job just like the current one. Interviews are a two way street, and it’s perfectly OK to test them by being honest with your expectations.

    1. I agree with both Goober and Chelsea. As an HR Director, I want interviewees to be honest in what their looking for so I can be sure they are a good fit. I also try to be as honest as possible about the job (if there is late working hours, seasonal busyness, etc).

      The key is to find a good fit for BOTH sides. No one wants to keep job hunting anymore than a business wants to be continuously recruiting.

  4. I’m a recruiter and I’d agree with Goober’s comment above.

    It’s fair to let prospective employers know you don’t want to work 60+ hours/week continuously, but also make sure you make it known that you don’t have a problem putting in extra hours during busy times (as long as it’s truly during busy times, not year round). Good luck!

  5. Always verify. I *never* believe what the hiring manager says regarding working hours during interviews– there’s some sort of systemic bias. I *always* have “one on one” discussions with peers which may, or may not, corroborate. Often not corroborate, as in the following example.

    I interviewed in my “honeymoon” town for an intriguing job, just a few years after we’d married. Kismet, I thought.

    The hiring manager had shown me around the facility, had one-on-one, and was wrapping up in a conference room discussion with two would-be peers — when an unplanned phone call pulled the manager away a few minutes.

    As soon as he closed the door behind him, I asked “I like the way this job sounds; should I take it?”

    “NO!” was the unanimous reply. “This is a small town. We relocated here, bought houses… and as soon as we did the manager piled on more work. He knows we’re trapped: there are no other jobs and we can’t sell our houses– don’t do it.”

    The previous work conversation resumed as the manager returned. A job offer eventually showed up in my mailbox, and was tactfully declined.

    Always talk with peers away from the hiring manager.

  6. This is mostly good advice. More generally, your priority when seeking to jump ship should be 1. finding a better match for youself at this point in your life and career, and 2. helping the employer to see that you are a good match for their needs. Obviously you shouldn’t be dishonest, but since as Mrs. Lucas points out you might be verifying some of the specifics about, for instance, scheduling through “back channels,” this might be one of those questions the answer to which need not tell *every* detail.

    That said, it is a huge mistake to prioritize merely “looking good” in an interview. If you start to sense things might not work out and at the same time the employer seems to express some hesitation, don’t panic and try to turn things back in your favor. You’re supposed to be learning more about each other.

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