While I’m no longer single, I’ve definitely experienced this where I work. My boss is completely accommodating and overall wonderful (it helps that she is also a family friend), but sometimes I do stay late because she has to go home to her kids. She respects my time, and she generally has a more hectic life than I do with two small children and a husband with an unpredictable work schedule, so I don’t often see it as a problem. But I know this happens to some of my friends without any acknowledgment from their higher ups.
Office politics are so complicated, much like regular politics. Should you be honest and represent yourself truthfully at all times, whether or not it’ll get you on the CEO’s good side later on? How close is too close when it comes to your boss and coworkers, and where is the line between friendship and professionalism? If you attend a company happy hour, how many drinks should you order before you need to eat a sandwich and go home?
It all depends on where you work. I work at a young company; no longer a start-up, but it prides itself upon a casual dress code, a fairly laid back work environment, mostly younger employees, and hip clients. Our partners wear designer jeans and Penguin button-down shirts most days. They know everyone’s names.
This causes confusion when it comes to where the line is at times. Employees often share personal stories with their coworkers, even their bosses. (My boss and I have a particularly lax setup, where our weekly check-in meeting always begins with an in-depth recap of our weekends that play out as if we were girlfriends at weekend brunch–sans alcohol, of course, and unfortunately.)
One of the higher ups, who I frequently work with on an ongoing project, mentioned how he’s friendly but a bit removed from his clients. He tries to keep in mind that these people are not his friends, and they are taking mental notes of every interaction they have, whether he realizes it or not. In a profession like consulting where the goal is to always keep the client happy and hope they come back for repeat work, it can be a challenge to maintain a personable yet professional relationship, especially in a field like retail consulting.
Oftentimes, with smaller clients, you’re working on a personal project of theirs, like a new restaurant that they’re sinking all of their savings into. They may not be as experienced and business-savvy as a developer or corporation, and therefore may not understand the way a consultant-client relationship should ideally function–think late-night calls and emails, last-minute requests, and additional work not included in the scope.
It’s even tricky when it comes to larger clients. Where I work, many of them are big names in the industry, and sometimes it takes some wooing to get hired. Dinner and drinks occasionally happen in the pursuit of these clients, and sometimes they expect that to continue once they hire you. But just because they SHOULD know what a professional working relationship is doesn’t mean they respect it. They’re important, you work for THEM, they want what they want when they want it: these senses of entitlement come with the territory, and not always wrongfully so. The same “rookie” moves from smaller clients happen with larger clients, too: emails, phone calls, demands at all hours.
So really, it’s a balancing act, and I try to go with my gut. If you’re asked to do something that sounds unfamiliar, reread the contract first. Always do your best to keep the client happy, but within reason.
It’s like walking home alone at night down a dark street. Sure, you could put in your earbuds and listen to music to pass the time, but wouldn’t it be safer not to? Preparation and thoughtfulness are your best tools here. The same applies to the office.