When is the last time you planned time away from the office to engage in networking, professional development or even just a little R&R? If you honestly can’t remember, or you think the idea of doing anything like that will be frowned upon by your boss, please read on.
I recently reached out to several folks I hadn’t seen in a long time for some good old-fashioned, friendly networking. I got expected responses like, “When can you meet?” and, “I’m traveling that week, but maybe first of the month?” But what’s interesting is that more than one person responded saying they’d love to, but they are too caught up in work to leave their desk. In some cases, to ever leave their desk. For example, one said – quite seriously – that a meeting wasn’t possible until after Thanksgiving, or maybe even Christmas, due to a heavy workload.
Wow. When I heard that, my first thought was, “What kind of life is that?” Prisoners serving jail time lament the loss of this kind of freedom. And it’s likely these people have not committed a crime (or at the very least, didn’t get caught). Were they just blowing me off? That’s possible. But I’ve noticed a growing trend of “too busy” among many people I know, ranging from room parents at school to my CEO clients.
It may seem all fine and good to present the image of the high-performing employee who is the first in, last out each day and busily churning out work over the lunch hour. It may also seem cool to brag that you have logged so much unused PTO that you can fund your retirement when you quit and receive the payout check.
But what’s it all for, really?
Perhaps people do it because they think they’ll be better perceived by their peers, given a raise or even a promotion. The reality, unfortunately, says just the opposite. One article characterizes these individuals as “work martyrs,” which conjures up a very vivid – and unflattering – image. That article, and another from Harvard Business Review, both suggest the quest for recognition and reward through putting in extra hours not only impacts your productivity, it impacts the organization’s productivity, and takes a toll on the health of both.
I believe there is a much bigger risk with this behavior, however. It can leave your career in neutral at best, or set it back at worst. There is no shortage of articles telling you that networking is the best way to get a job. And Phil Romano is pioneering a new concept on the premise that face-to-face networking is vital to your career success.
But if you never leave your desk, how are you going to grow a network?
While Texas is a right-to-work state and does not, by law, insist that employers allow employees break time during the work day, most organizations do offer breaks (including lunch) and paid time off in other forms. And if your company has such a policy and has stated it, you have the right to use your break time and leave your desk.
So, it’s quite likely that the only person holding you back from networking is you.
Challenge the Norm
Here are some suggestions for cutting the ball and chain:
- Treat your career like it’s a business. If you’ve been using excuses like, “My boss (or company) doesn’t invest in my professional development” or “If I want to attend conferences, I have to use my PTO and pay out of my own pocket” to keep you from enhancing your skills and networking, you need to stop. These people don’t own your career – you do. When you start seeing yourself as your best investment, you will act accordingly.
- Treat the hours you work from the entrepreneurial perspective. Savvy entrepreneurs establish a dollar value for their time. Anything they can get done for less than that amount they delegate or outsource. In an office, this may translate into figuring out the value of your time relative to the tasks you control, and delegating those you don’t do well, or are overqualified to do.
- Muster up the courage to get the time. If you are due time away from the office, take it. You don’t have to be rude about it – just be firm. Demonstrate your desire to increase your skills, or how your participation in activities outside the four walls of the office benefit your company. (In a pinch, pull out the HR policy that states you are afforded a lunch break, or PTO.)
- Brush up on your networking skills. You can Google “networking,” scour Ted.com for good ideas, or plug in the term “networking” into a search on LinkedIn, and filter it by “posts.” There are a LOT of great ideas out there for getting involved and engaged, as well as leveraging a network. Devote some time each day to keeping your skills sharp.
Just remember it’s never too late to start networking, but if you’ve been chained to your desk for a while, it’s time to pick the lock. Why? Because given the pace of change in business, your job isn’t guaranteed to last (even if it isn’t outsourced overseas or replaced by a robot). If you haven’t built a strong network, who is going to help you find another job, or start your own business?
It’s up to you. No one can network for you.