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How to Stop Sucking at Maintaining Your Personal Relationships When You Work Very Long Hours

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Joanne Poh

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Long hours at work are a fact of life in Singapore. This is probably only the place in the world where you can end up unexpectedly waiting till 9pm or 10pm for your friend to show up for dinner.

So it’s no surprise that work can quite easily get in the way of having satisfying relationships. Half of Singaporeans complain they have no time to date, which is probably why despite the fact that people make fun of SDN it still continues to be alive and well.

55% of Singaporeans also complain that work gets in the way of family time.

And while nobody’s mentioned friends so far, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that many Singaporeans lack close friendships and do not feel connected to the community at large.

If you have a demanding job and work long hours, here are some tips for maintaining the close relationships in your life and not getting disowned by your family.

 

Be upfront about your schedule and work together with the people in your life to find time to spend together

One of the things that really drives me nuts is when friends suddenly postpone dinner by 2 hours when I’ve already sat down at the restaurant because their boss suddenly emailed them.

What is annoying isn’t the fact that they work long hours, but rather that it’s so darned unpredictable, and when it happens, the friend suddenly ghosts me, only to reappear hours later mumbling something about “having to settle some stuff at the office”.

Unpredictability can ruins relationship, because it leads to broken promises and missed appointments. If your work schedule is really that unpredictable and demanding, you will need to be very upfront about the situation at hand so people can adjust their expectations.

For instance, if you know very well that your boss frequently makes you stay back at the office till 11pm, do not tell your kid vaguely that you’ll come back and play Xbox with him in the evening “if you have the time”. If you routinely work till 10 pm, do not say you “think” you can make it for dinner when you’re really not that sure.

Instead, what you should do is to be upfront with the people close to you about the kinds of hours you work, and try to find time to spend together jointly, rather than trying in vain to accede to invitations that can easily get derailed by a single email from your boss.

For instance, if you regularly work late nights, your and your friends can work out together that the best time to meet is on weekends or really late at night for a nightcap. Don’t just tell them you’re “not free”. Talk them through your workload and schedule and it will make them feel less neglected.

 

Know and enforce your boundaries at work

Just because you’re prepared to work long hours doesn’t mean you should have zero boundaries. Being prepared to work hard doesn’t mean being ready to work 48 hours without sleep or jump off a cliff if your boss demands you do so.

You need to know what is absolutely out of bounds for you, and then say no when you’re asked to cross the line. That doesn’t mean you tell your boss at 6pm that you “refuse” to do OT, or that your phone will be off on weekends. Your boundaries demarcate what you absolutely will not tolerate as a matter of principle.

Everyone’s boundaries are different, so you need to figure yours out, and then enforce the hell out of them.

For instance, if you are a parent, you might decide that in the event of a medical emergency involving your child, you will take urgent leave no matter how much your boss tries to guilt-trip you.

If you are a young executive, you might decide that when you’re having meals with friends, you will not check your phone or reply to emails, because it’s rude and there’s nothing that can’t wait an hour or two.

Maintaining healthy boundaries will make you feel more in control of your work-life balance. Even if you still end up working very long hours, maintaining boundaries is essential in order to give the people in your life the care and respect they deserve.

 

Optimise whatever time you do have

Anyone who works long hours knows that time is a scarce commodity. How do you work 50 or 60 hours a week while still having the time to see the people you love?

While there are many possible answers, one thing is for sure: those hours you spend playing Candy Crush as the latest Korean drama plays in the background are definitely not helping.

Working hours have become longer and longer in Singapore, but that doesn’t mean people are spending their time more efficiently. If anything, the internet and the constant distraction of smartphones and tablet devices have made us waste more time than ever, and what gets sacrificed are time with loved ones and sleep.

If you’re wasting a lot of time working inefficiently while at the office, mindlessly playing mobile games or spending your days surfing internet forums, you have only yourself to blame if you find yourself with no friends and kids who barely recognise you.

Do you work very long hours? Tell us how you maintain your relationships in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.