CareerBuilder Menu Search Search

When 110 Percent is Too Much

Anthony Balderrama, writer

  • Email

"Congratulations! You're average."

You never hear that sentence because nobody gets commended for being average. Throughout our lives we're taught to excel so that we're recognized for going above and beyond. Straight As get the honor roll. Straight Bs, not so much. High scorers get MVP. The rest of the team gets to applaud at the ceremony.

The same is true at work. If you want to get promoted and receive any recognition, you should be willing to make small sacrifices once in a while, whether that means working through lunch to finish a project or bringing work home to catch up. But at what point are you going from above and beyond to overboard?

A sign of the times

Once upon a time when landlines outnumbered cell phones and memos existed on paper and not e-mail, working until nightfall was a nuisance that you avoided at all costs. It was a sacrifice that your colleagues and boss noticed as they left and saw only your car in the parking lot.

Now, thanks to technology, you can be steeped in after-hours work from the comfort of your home, car or the bleachers at your child's soccer game. Because you're not meeting with a client or in an office, both you and your boss might start to think you're not actually working, but you're not relaxing either.

"I used to use [a BlackBerry] when it first came out around the year 2000," remembers Victor Cheng, president of Bookmercial Productions, a book publishing company. "I was working, thinking about work nearly 24/7 -- routinely replying to my CEO at midnight because he too was using his 'crack-berry.'"

Now that he's left that job and is the president of his own company, a BlackBerry is on his list of forbidden workplace items. He understands how much you can do with a few keystrokes of a smartphone, but he doesn't think anything substantial comes from them.

"As the chief decision maker of my company, getting out another e-mail rarely makes or breaks a company ... but blowing a big decision because I was continually getting interrupted by a [BlackBerry] is stupid. Achieving big results is about getting a few important things done right -- not about getting more little things done."

Just recently, television network ABC had a contract dispute with some employees who wanted compensation for checking their BlackBerrys when they weren't in the office. Workers felt they were expected to give too much of their personal time, while the network felt it was to be expected. Although they reached an agreement, the conflict is a sign that when it comes to technology, the boundaries between work and home aren't clear for employees and employers alike.

Missing out on life

Technology isn't the only culprit in the battle of work versus home; it's just the newest one. Plenty of workers aren't sacrificing their personal lives because of e-mail; they just can't get away. Some people just have good old-fashioned pressures, such as a demanding boss who sets unrealistic deadlines for projects or a seemingly bottomless amount of work that they can never catch up on. Or maybe they simply can't pull themselves away from work. In fact, a recent survey found that 50 percent of sales workers intend to check-in with work while on vacation.

David Bohl was a venture capitalist who made weekly trips overseas, which meant his schedule was anything but a reliable 9 to 5. The line between work and home blurred too much for his liking when he found himself learning more about his children through faxes and phone calls than in person. He knew he was sacrificing too much personal time for work, so he decided to move on. He has since become a lifestyle mentor who helps other people avoid making the same mistakes he did.

Of course, you don't have to wait until life passes you by to know you've put your job ahead of yourself. If you feel like you've crossed the line -- like one more moonlit drive home is too much to bear -- you probably have. After all, you're the only one who can make that call.

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Last Updated: 09/07/2008 - 2:59 PM

Article Reprints
Permission must be obtained from to reprint any of its articles. Please send a request to