There’s a very easy barometer for how happy your boss or client is with you. Do you go “above and beyond” for the company? Do you work later to make sure a deadline is hit? Do you work on weekends, even when not needed? When asked to do X, do you deliver X or three different versions of X that the client can then choose between? When asked to help out in something completely unrelated to your job or the company, do you do so enthusiastically? More broadly, do you do the minimum required to do “good enough” or do you do much, much more?
Of course, your boss or client will love it if you do much, much more. And guess what? Doing much more, really focusing and obsessing feels great, too, at least for people with active do-er personalities. It is one of the easiest ways to charm your boss and company and make them love you — just do much more than needed.
But there are two downsides to it, too, and we need to think through it.
The first is that the “above and beyond” is — by definition — the extra bonus work. But they’re not paying you for the bonus, only for the core work. So it’s a gift to your client. And you know what happens to all humans when you gift again and again and again? They stop appreciating it, so it turns from being a “gift” into being “ordinary” and, as such, they’ll stop valuing it. I don’t mean that as an insult against your client or your boss, it’s just human nature. (There are exceptions, but they are well under 1% of the bosses or clients you will encounter, and those are the gems to continue working with, forever more.)
The second reason not to do it too often is that it will burn you out and ultimately — even if no one is forcing you to go above and beyond — you’ll feel taken advantage of. No mere human being can work nights and weekends and do intense, amazing work 24⁄7 for an extended basis. Even half that, and you probably can’t. There’s a reason why the 40-hour work week became the standard. And I don’t mean “above and beyond” only in reference to hours — even focused intense work is hard or impossible to sustained in a long-term basis.
So by regularly going above and beyond, you ultimately devalue it, and thus since you’re not being paid for it, your work is being devalued.
There are two ways to deal with it.
First, just to make sure you’re paid for it, either directly or indirectly. A lot of payments happen indirectly, such as via learning or mentorships, or a great work environment. Or it could happen via your salary directly, like if you’re a lawyer making a gazillion dollars per millisecond, you’re being paid to go above and beyond all the time in your work. But if you’re not, then don’t give the gift away too frequently, or else it will lose its meaning and its value.
A good expectation and healthy level is to go “above and beyond” at work once per month. Maybe a client has a huge crisis, you have to be there. Being there in critical moments or crises is fundamental, one of the most essential aspects of being a good professional or really just a good employee. Any employee who wasn’t there for me in a crisis moment I would fire the moment I could.
The problem just happens when bosses or clients take advantage of this — sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. In your case, I don’t know if it is on purpose or they just don’t realize it. When there is a crisis or problem every weekend, every night, every moment, it will lead you to break down in fury.
So my favorite way to deal with this is the second way, to be direct about it with the boss or client, even if you have to be a bit euphemistic. I’d recommend the strategy of articulating the trade-offs to them clearly and directly. “Hey, every Friday night, there’s a new release of our software and it makes me work 4 hours almost every single Friday night. Would it be okay if I worked 1 hour less per day Monday to Thursday, to compensate for it?” There’s no downside in asking — in the worst case, your boss says “no” so you just need to strategize other ways around it. It’s all a game of push and pull that you just need practice to master.