Career SkillsLessons on Leadership

Protecting Your Most Valuable Commodity at Work

By Jacquelyn Adams

Few things get under my skin quite like someone not respecting my time. Time is one of our most valuable commodities. There is an unknown, finite amount of it. I am purposeful with my down time, not mindlessly wasting it, but instead purposefully investing it in recharging and building a life I love. I am also happy to invest a portion of my time in work that I find engaging and fulfilling… and this also helps pay the bills. But since I have come to acknowledge that time is my most prized asset, I have set up boundaries to help ensure healthy working relationships.

Beware of endless interviews

I can feel my old crotchety side coming out as I say this, but back in my day, job interviews were not this crazy. Seriously, though, what has happened to the interview process? Potential employees can now be expected to go through eight interviews, a psychological evaluation, write essays, or do mockups of projects as they try to land a junior position. This kind of insanity is unacceptable. And these tendencies will only be more widespread if we do not push back. After this happened to me one too many times, I set boundaries during the first interview. When we reach the point where I am asked if I have any questions, I run through the standard lineup. I start with any questions about the company and then ask what it takes to be successful in the role. But I have recently, as my last question, asked what the interview process entails. If the demands involve more than my willing investment, then I politely decline to move forward with a tactful email as a follow-up to that conversation. If their ask is debatable, I might give myself time to consider making the investment. Perhaps these responses have resulted in me missing out on opportunities. But, if a manager was willing to waste that much of my time when we were strangers, I am not optimistic about our relationship when I rely upon them for my paycheck.

Know your job description

Speaking of earning our paychecks, we need to know our job descriptions. There are two primary reasons for this.

  • The first is to look out for red flags. This involves any extra tasks to be accomplished on an as-needed basis, especially if they are outside our typical working hours. This could be additional meetings with clients, liaising with other shift workers, the optional (but not really optional) meetings or teambuilding events outside of work hours, or any use of the words like “volunteering time to…” These job descriptions can indicate managers/employers who will view your leisure time as their own resource, expecting it to be available whenever there is a need, and thinking the occasional free pizza balances the account. Hello, red flags!
  • The other reason to know our job description is so that both sides will be held accountable for the contract we have signed. We have agreed to perform set tasks and receive an established paycheck. If we fall short of those duties, then it is right for us to be held accountable. In that same vein, our employers can only increase or change our job descriptions with a conversation to discuss this development. Suppose we are personally invested in the company and find the work fulfilling. In that case, we can take on a certain additional number of tasks, which should then be tracked and accounted for during upcoming performance reviews and conversations about compensation.

Have the difficult conversations

Of course, all of this is very easy for me to type, but it is more complicated to live it. It involves being okay with frustrating people (I understand this can be particularly difficult for people pleasers!) and having the ability to have hard, but still civil, conversations. We must be ready to stand our ground, because there are people who will steal every advantage they can, including our time. Again, free food does not buy several hours of your life. Your time is more valuable than that. You may choose to donate those hours, and they may choose to provide the free meal. But each side is making their individual choice. If it is an expectation from managers that you will put in the extra hours, then that is an indicator of an unhealthy workplace. And while it can be hard to push back against that mentality, realizing that you are working towards a healthy work-life balance can help us speak up when it is easier to cave. When we set healthy boundaries and demand respect and compensation for our time, it makes it easier for those around us to do the same. We have the strength to do hard things and choose better work relationships.

As I said before, I am not blind to the fact that establishing these boundaries may have cost me opportunities. There are plenty of managers and clients with a my-way-or-the-highway mentality… and I, for one, am happy to take the highway to positive working relationships. This involves mutual respect and open communication. Good working relationships take effort, but in my experience, they are worth the investment. So, if you and your time are not currently respected, it is time to ask if you are willing to continue accepting that treatment. If not, it is time to demand that respect and be ready to take the necessary steps if that respect is not reciprocated. I will not say it is easy, but it has been worth it for me.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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One Comment

  1. Time is gold! 🕒✨ I couldn’t agree more with you on respecting our valuable commodity. Setting boundaries and demanding respect for our time is crucial. It’s empowering to see someone who values work-life balance. Cheers to better work relationships! 🙌💼

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