The Curse of Workplace Efficiency

On one of my first days at my first real-world job with Rodale International, my boss taught me how to fill orders for images from our international partners, a substantial part of the job. Once I had the hang of it, I got working on the backlog of orders that had piled up in the time since the last production assistant left.

Once I finished, I knocked on my boss’s door. “Okay, I’m done—what’s next?” I said.

She looked at me, eyebrows raised above her reading glasses. “Done?” she said.

I nodded.

“Already?” she said.

I nodded.

She seemed astounded, and went to check my work. I was done, and everything had been done correctly. Impressed, she complimented me on my efficiency.

Unfortunately, the American workplace does not always prize efficiency. I have friends who work in offices where simply being desk-bound as long as possible seems to be the ultimate marker of “hard-workingness.” Are the employees who remain fixed in front of their computers past 7 p.m. doing work, or are they watching cat videos? It doesn’t matter! Their presence alone gets them points.

It’s not like that at Runner’s World, really, but because I sit in a supercube with three other people, I do feel some pressure—that may or may not originate solely inside my head—to not be the first person to leave.

It doesn’t matter whether I’m the first person to come in, or the only person to work through lunch with the intent of leaving earlier. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a slow week, with nothing due for the magazine and nothing major we have to cover on the web. I still feel the pressure even when I’ve completed all my work and stayed my requisite eight hours.

Take last Friday, for example. I came in at 9, worked through lunch, and killed my to-do list by 3 p.m. I spent the last two hours of my day waiting for something to happen. Nothing did. I shut down a few minutes after 5 and left before anyone else. I spent the entire drive to Paul’s house in Allentown stressing that I’d be seen as less of a worker for tapping out. At 5 p.m.! On a Friday! In the summer!

Paul, wise as always, assured me that my coworkers will value the quality of my work over the time I spend in my little corner of the cube. It took a while, but I finally chilled out.

But why do I feel this way? And what can I do to avoid a self-imposed guilt trip the next time I duck out (at an appropriate time!) before my cube-mates?


About Meghan Loftus
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2 Responses to The Curse of Workplace Efficiency

  1. Alexis says:

    Do you view whichever cube-mate leaves early as less of a hard-worker simply because they left before you? I guarantee no one cares. Unless they see you watch endless cat videos day after day, while simultaneously not contributing anything useful to the magazine, AND leaving before them.

  2. Jen Miller says:

    I had this same problem when I worked at an office job. After I left to freelance, I realized how silly the time clock culture is. I think you’re good 🙂

    Side note: I used to do work for a company that was hired by big financial firms to do their corporate writing. I left at 4:30pm on the Friday of a holiday weekend and the project manager FREAKED OUT that I wasn’t there to answer an email, and email screamed at me for about 500 words. That was my cue to not write for them again.

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