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I feel like a terrible employee



During my time in the Navy, I was the first to arrive and last to leave, and it never really bothered me because I enjoyed the things I worked on and the people I work with. Back then I was single and as long as I could make our local bar before the kitchen closed it was never an issue to pull such long hours (or if we were out to sea it didn't really matter how long you worked).
Fast forward to my new civilian life and I enjoy the things I work on and the people I work with, however, now I have a wife and kids. Being the last to leave the office is not conducive to a healthy home life. I feel guilty that I'm not giving the same effort at work as I was accustomed to in the Navy. But when I do, I feel guilty for not giving all my effort to family.
Some other aspects was that in the Military, the recognition and reward was very straightforward, advancement was meant to occur at certain times and if you weren't advancing, it was a clear reflection of performance. Currently, I'm not in a position where there is defined or tangible advancement opportunities, at least not that myself or my manager have identified.
Any suggestions? Thank you in advance.

14 May 2019 14 replies Military to Civilian Transition



Chad Eaves Lake Zurich, IL

Hello Robert,

Regarding balance, there is none. It's a fallacy. At different points in life something will demand your time more than something else - work over family or vice-versa. Consider focusing on effectiveness and quality of time you do have with different people.

Drew made an important comment on boundaries. Boundaries drive behavior, though they have to be flexible at times.

You appear to have diagnosed the problem and it sounds like you know the solution. Leave the office at a "normal" time.

Keep in mind, employment/working is an exchange of value. You are providing skill/knowledge to your employer for a defined salary/benefits. By staying later, you are diluting the value of your compensation.

Another factor, ironically by staying late at the office consistently, you may be making yourself less attractive for promotion. Companies often like to promote people with interests and other activities. If all an employee does is work, they may think they don't have to compete for your time - which can result in poor raises and promotions.

Try it out for a month. It's up to you to take the action of leaving the office. If you don't want to go home, that's a different issue.


4 June 2019 Helpful answer


Robert Brisolari Arlington, VA

Robert, The work life balance is an ongoing challenge for most of us. I think your situation is compounded by a job that is not professionally satisfying you and there's no path to promotion. I would suggest possibly expanding your horizons and look for new career opportunities that will provide you with a sense of satisfaction and provide growth opportunities. Make sure your family situation is factored into any decision because at the end of the day they're all that matters. Depending on the job, teleworking has become increasingly more prevalent and provides the stability your family requires. It won't be easy, but it won't happen unless you take the required steps.


Paul Trejo Austin, TX

Hi Robert, and thanks for your years of service.

I appreciate your backstory, and I have this advice for you. You can make up for lost time by adding one new strategy to your workday to super-charge every hour you work. This strategy may sound too simple, but practice shows its true power.

Lets start with the Big Picture of our company. There are seven basic Departments of any company, from tiny companies to gigantic companies. They are: (1) Stockholding; (2) Human Resources; (3) Sales; (4) Accounting; (5) Production; (6) Marketing Survey; and (7) Advertising.

Furthermore, these seven Departments link to the Buying Public and to each other in a very specific manner, as follows:

A. The Buying Public has no interaction with (1) or (2).
B. The Buying Public always begins with (7) to first hear about our company.
C. The Buying Public then goes to (3) a Sales place to deal with a seller.
D. The Buying Public then goes to (4) and pays their nickel.
E. The Buying Public then goes to (5) and takes their choice.
F. The Buying Public then goes to (6) and fills out a survey: up or down.

That's the flow of all business, big and small, worldwide. If the Buying Public likes our product (i.e. good survey) then they will eventually go back to (3), (4), (5) and (6) in an endless loop -- hopefully for life -- and become our "Customer."

The word "Customer" has the root, "Custom," so this person is our "Customary" Buyer. This is what we need to be successful -- lots of "Customers" in our loop.

Here's how to apply this on the job. The flow of the Buying Public is also the main flow of business INSIDE the Company! THEREFORE:

Internal flow of (7) Advertising is: "Input Raw Public, and route them to (3)"
Internal flow of (3) Sales is: "Input Prospects and route them to (4)"
Internal flow of (4) Accounting is: "Input Buyers and route them to (5)"
Internal flow of (5) Production is: "Deliver to Buyers, and route them to (6)"
Internal flow of (6) Marketing is "Survey Buyers, and route them back to (3)"

Knowing this natural flow of business will help us in our daily work. What Department do we work in? What internal Department sends our Department business? To which internal Department does our Department send business?

That orientation - input to your Department from (x) -- output from your Department to (y) is the orientation that the super-charged employee needs to EXPEDITE THE FLOWS AS FAR AS POSSIBLE.

Because only senior managers tend to know what I'm saying here, the employee who practices this EXPEDITE procedure will be perceived as a wonder worker. Every hour will be more productive. Promotions will come sooner, including for management.

Best wishes,


Chris Hyers Farmington, CT

Employer perspective - understand what's expected of you, deliver those results and let the rest work itself out. Personally, I want results oriented people not those who can work the longest. Have that discipline and over the long haul you will be successful at work and that piece of mind will help you find the balance you seek....rightly.


Denise Kalm Walnut Creek, CA

Work-life balance is easy to say; hard to do. The problem is that most employers expect one person to do two people's job. What I did that works is to have short weekly status meetings with my boss. We would look at my assignments and check priorities. It's interesting to see how employers react when forced to assign priorities; often, things come off when they aren't really all that important, but you don't know till you ask. When you have more of a reasonable amount of high-priority work AND you have done a good job each day crossing off boxes in getting in done, leave with a good heart. I also like to write a short status report regularly as well. It helps keep us on the same page and also is a chance to let them know of issues that hold you back from completing things, such as others not getting their part done. We owe the company X hours a week and in emergencies a bit more. No matter what they say, we don't owe them our life. No one ever died saying they were sorry they had not spent more time in the office.


Jerry Welsh Middleville, MI

First you are not the problem. Many organizations evaluation processes and advancement processes leave a lot to be desired. As suggested, a sit down with your direct report on expectations from that person, corporate, and HR. What are the parameters for advancement, is it based on something(S) tangible, if so what are they. Many times it is not that simple, it will be a combination of items, and you may find it confusing or not very clear. Again, this is not your fault, it is the company's.
After you do this searching for what is acceptable, what will result in advancement(if you get an answer) and what is the status quo-reasonable annual increases. Now, what fits Robert's goals. My balance was Faith, Family and Work. Faith, I would never do anything that was outside of my set of core values. Family, meeting sport and school events were important. Work, I was fortunate-the evaluation process was like the military- accountability, using quantifiable accomplishments.
The market is an employee market, unless your position is very limited geographically. What I am saying is, if you do not feel satisfied with your work life, this is a key issue to your life in general. I am not a career counselor, but some people live to work and some people work to live. You will find if that a lot people fall in the later category, and are very happy. As an executive I found the work to live people were very good employees, they just have a different priority and the company had measurements that if they did their job up to standards, they would be included in an annual increase, periodic bonuses and based upon their work, their department's goals, the overall corporate goals an annual bonus! Long story- You have two choices, determine what life will be like at your current position, with more time with your family. If the evaluation/promotion process is very nebulous, how important is it to you and begin a new job search, with that an integral part of the process. NEVER bad mouth a former employer, but in your job search do your research on what the evaluation process is and how is it run. Glassdoor is a good source,also speaking with employees of the company. If you set working to live as a priority, you need to work with a company that at least gives you a clear cut evaluation process. A lot of civilian companies do not have that. If you chose to stay, spend more time with the family-you need to come to grips with a life work balance. You are comparing apples and oranges-you did not have a family in the military, sit down with your spouse first and determine what you both agree will be acceptable family time versus work goals.


Barry Sosnick Greenlawn, NY

There is a law of diminishing returns regarding the number of hours worked: more hours doesn't result in more quality work after approximately 50 hours. You are better off heading home and recovering by enjoying time with your family than putting in additional time. You will feel more energized and happier when you return to work.

Think effective instead of efficient: getting the right things done and not the most things done. Make sure your priorities align with your supervisors and tackle those two to three most important goals every day. Find ways to eliminate, delegate, and automate (through routines, processes, and technology) everything else. Work smarter and not harder.

If you feel that you are achieving results in 50 hours but have a boss that measures success by cumulative hours, then document your accomplishments and start looking for a position elsewhere. It could be a lateral move within the same company or moving to another firm. The problem could be with the corporation's culture or your manager and not you.

Best of luck!


Patrick E Alcorn Arlington, TX

Self employment is a viable option for setting your own hours and dictating your own schedule. Join us at to learn how. Check out the FREE Boots to Business TAPS class near you:

No excuse:


Steven Mathews Spring, TX

Many good comments.
You may perceive that your annual reviews were glowing. They could have been that manager's standard format. A good annual performance review should take at least 30-60 minutes to prepare to truly reflect your performance. Unfortunately, that time is often on the manager's own time. Some managers will take the easy way out and provide a pro forma evaluation. Consequently, there are no distinguishing characteristics to justify awarding you for your efforts over your coworkers.
I have a memo defining how you can significantly improve the probability that you can have consistent "Outstanding" annual reviews. Worked extremely well for me.


Jerrod Altmeier Putnam, CT

It took me years to learn this myself. At first, it was great, I was working hours I was used to and was doing great professionally because of it. As time went on, my priorities started to shift and I realized the opportunity cost was too high. Also, the feedback loop was very different. I'm critical of myself and didn't think I was doing very well. At my annual reviews, I was getting great reviews. What I learned was, I had to stop and make a decision on how I wanted to shape my life around my priorities. I wasn't able to decrease my hours and keep the job I had so I moved to another job where I make a little less money but have more control over my own time and a better work/life balance. The strategy I'd tried before that was to set goals of having only certain days of the week where I would work later than I had to. That wasn't a reality for my position, which is why I went out and got a new one. Set those short term goals and stick to them, then reassess where you are and how things are going.


Andy Bergin Greenwich, CT


Everyone struggles with the job/home balance. Would love to discuss if you ever want to do that - contact me for a chat. I've got no magic answers - just free advice. A few thoughts:
1) Ensure you and your manager are 100% clear on time requirements expected in your job.
2) Ask if there are any possibilities of doing some parts of your work from home, virtually.
3) Rethink your mindset - judge your contributions by the value you add, not time served.
4) Network with colleagues in other parts of the company where hours are family-friendly.
5) If there are no advancement opportunities, look for another company where there are.
6) People up and down corporate ladders struggle with balance - ask others how they cope


Marvin Feil Newton, NJ

Family should always come first. That is sometimes hard to balance with the needs of a job. There were times when my job suffered because my Family came first. Every decent Manager understood that. Sometimes my Family suffered because something on my job was very important. I always discussed this with my wife and we jointly agreed on what I should do. These decisions are sometimes not easy, but adults need to make them and there is no rule book. My Family depended on my job. There were things my bosses knew I would not do. Civilian life can be complicated.
Part of a Managers job is to do what is necessary for the future of good employees. If your manager can't/won't do this, consider looking, quietly, for another job. Always discuss with your wife. She has to live with the consequences too.


Drew Schildwächter Wilmington, NC

Robert: I think there are times where work probably must happen outside of normal working hours in any high performing organization. Still, I've learned that it is important to set boundaries. If it's important to be home for supper and put the children to bed, then prioritize that and schedule the other stuff when it can happen.


Nancy Quartey Palo Alto, CA

Hello Robert,
I work as a career transition coach and hear many tales of poor work/life balance as well as lack of loyalty/potential in the corporate world. I would be happy to talk to you about your goals and alternative career options to help you achieve those goals. Let me know if you're curious and we can schedule a call.
Best regards,

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