3 Bad Reasons To Work Overtime

It’s easy to see yourself as a hero during the summer months. Desperate families in sweltering houses sing your praises after you quickly swap out that capacitor or install that new unit and the first blast of cold air comes out of the vents. Most companies make or break in the summer months, using the extra cash flow to keep the engine running the rest of the year when work is slower. We know we need to make hay while the sun shines.

But there is another side to this coin. We sadly pack our lunches in coolers and post memes about being MIA to our friends and family all summer. To some degree, there is no avoiding this. What I’ve been wondering about is if there is a part of our ego that is fed by being needed by everyone else. 

It feels good to be wanted, to be the hero. I love being so capable and resourceful that I can solve someone’s AC problem and get them back up and cooling most of the time. There is a deep goodness to serving others in their time of need. But as I’ve started my own company in the last couple of years, I’ve realized there is a darker side to this. A side that you might only see if you decide to challenge it.

What happens when we say no? What happens when I tell a customer I can’t make it out to them for 2 weeks because my schedule is full?

In the past, I would squeeze them in. I would say to myself, “How long can this call possibly take? I bet it’s a capacitor. Can’t take more than an hour.” I would schedule them for the end of the day. Then I would be home late for dinner. I would look at my wife, and my expression would show her that no, I didn’t really want to run that call, but the customer was in great need. After all, one of their 3 units had gone out, and it was for their master bedroom, which had French doors leading out to their infinity pool. But behind that was a guilt that maybe, just maybe, that service call had really been about my needs more than anyone else’s.

I’m not saying that every late-night service call is a bad idea. A good friend just messaged me saying his AC isn’t working, and you better believe I’m going to get out there pretty quick. I have systems under warranty that I am obligated to service. But what are some bad reasons to run a late-night service call?

A Scarcity Mentality

This one cuts deep for me. We live a simple and (hopefully) sustainable life. We have no debt, my wife drives a 2012 Honda Civic, and we have 2 kids. It’s a little squishy when everyone is packed in there. We try to keep our bills low and don’t eat out much. We have savings in our personal and business bank accounts.

But turning away guaranteed work is still very hard for me. Sure, we are secure, but couldn’t we be MORE secure? Why wouldn’t I want a bigger, better safety net? What I’ve realized in the last few days as I’ve turned down work is that the bigger safety net costs me something somewhere else. It costs me time with my kids, it costs me mental health, it costs me spiritually. I am chasing safety that will turn to dust in my hands. There is no financial safety net big enough to hold my fears of not having enough. 

A Fear of Disappointing Others

Typically, no one holds us to a higher standard than ourselves. I feel this a lot with callbacks. I know that I did my best when I put the unit in, but everyone makes mistakes. I recently overcharged a unit and it ended up tripping on high head pressure a few weeks later when it got warm out. That NEVER happens to me. It’s literally such a rookie mistake! (It was a Bosch. Maybe I forgot to put it in charge mode?)

Callbacks put me in a state where I become very concerned with the homeowner’s opinion of me. I want to get back in their good graces as quickly as possible so I bail on my family and rush out the door to fix a problem that could have waited an hour or two.

The Ego Boost

We’ve all had the conversation at the shop about how many hours we worked, comparing our worst week on call to the other technicians. 

“Yeah, I worked 87 hours last week. One night I finished so late that I slept in my van in the parking lot instead of going home.” 

“Oh, that’s nothing! A couple years back, I stayed up for 48 hours straight. I fell asleep behind the wheel, wrecked a company vehicle, and almost died!”

For me, these conversations are all about comparison. I want to be the one who has worked the hardest and done the most. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t good for me or my family, within my work community I want to be esteemed. I want to be #1, or at least pretty high up the food chain. That way I can know that I am secure within my social group.

The Cure: Making Your Work About Others

Many of these challenges with my ego become resolved when I make my life about others rather than focusing on myself. This can be hard to see because, especially as a service tech, you are… serving others. So, it can take some work to really figure out our motivations. What helps me is taking a step back and looking at my life. Getting feedback from trusted friends and family can help a lot too. 

When it comes to priorities, work goes below family. I have a compulsion to work work work because it serves many of my existential fears—like financial insecurity and disappointing others—while offering a quick little ego boost. I have had to learn to sit with my fears. None of them are entirely true, but like all good lies, contain some elements of truth.

Work in service of others is an overflow of joy. It becomes attention paid to others’ needs once you are secure that your own will be met. Instead of feeding on our work to satisfy us, we can give abundantly and bless those we serve.

—Matt Bruner



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