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Are Long Work Hours Necessary for a Good Impression?

We’ve all done it at some point — lamented the long hours at work as a matter of pride. “I stayed until 10 p.m. … I came in at 7 a.m. … I eat lunch at my desk every day.” Such schedules can be a badge of honor or a symbol of importance. Or validation. Or simply misplaced energy.

It’s true that working long hours might be a tradition alive and well on Capitol Hill. But long hours are not always the best way to get things done. It might not even impress the boss. This week’s Hill Navigator discusses whether working late to leave a good impression is the best way to shine in your current role and explores the fine art of picking your long hours more selectively.

Q: I work in a mildly competitive House office, where everybody stays late so they can “look good.” Do I really need to stay late every day, even if I don’t have work to do to impress my boss?

A. Short answer: No. Don’t try to impress the boss by staying late when you don’t have anything to do.

It’s a counterproductive habit that will ensure you resent your job and burn out faster than your colleagues. Plus, it’s not the ideal way to spend your much-coveted free time.

Long answer: Maybe. Let’s take a minute to posit the first part of your dilemma: The other staffers are staying late to “look good.” Do they look good because the boss is there? Or are they monitoring late-night votes? Are they going to receptions with your boss and inviting you to come along? Or are they taking on additional responsibilities that translate into more hours at the office?

Working on Capitol Hill can mean long hours, especially when votes go late, and if you have a boss who wants staff to hang around during key votes — even if you don’t have pressing work to do — that is worth reconsidering what it means to stay late and look good.

In such a case, I’d pick your spots carefully. If there is a vote, or a reception or event that you are affiliated with, stay late for that. Spend meaningful time with the boss and do it on aspects that are closely tied to your job.

But if by “look good” you mean these guys are giving the appearance of burning the midnight oil by leaving their jacket on their chair and desk lamp on (see: Richard Darman tactics, circa Reagan administration), then there is no need to imitate that behavior. Unless you’re a self-imposed Luddite, your smartphone and Internet access mean that you can be nearly anywhere and still effective on the job. The days of pretending to work late for show are going the way of the old whip phone. And good luck finding an office that relies on one of those, as opposed to say, email.

Q: I recently had a phone interview and would like to send the person a thank-you note, but I don’t have his address or even his email because the phone interview was set up by the company’s HR department. Is it creepy if I look up his address and send a handwritten one, or should I stick with an email? Also, what are your thoughts on sending a handwritten note and then following up with an email? I always worry that the handwritten note will get lost in the mail!

A. Using the Internet to find information is not creepy. It’s standard, and someone’s work address is public information that is easy to find.

Yes, send a handwritten thank-you card. Always do this. Even if you think it will get lost or opened by someone else or take weeks to arrive, you should still do it. People love to get mail: real, handwritten, addressed-to-them mail that comes in an envelope.

But you are right — a handwritten note does not always come on time. And it can make it hard for your job contact to follow up with you directly. So go both routes — email the person a thank-you note that has your contact information and any other details that might be pertinent to the job (i.e., a writing sample, a list of references). Then follow up with the handwritten card, something a bit lighter and friendlier thanking them for their time and reiterating your interest.

And what if even in the era of Internet over-sharing, you can’t find the address online? Ask the HR contact. Explain that you want to follow up with a thank-you note. Even if HR refuses to disclose such information for whatever HR-esque reasons, ask if they will forward a thank-you email from you. Your contact is likely to respond to that directly. And if your best efforts still yield nothing, then perhaps your next question to Hill Navigator should be about the interview process.

Got a question, concern or complaint about navigating life on Capitol Hill? Email us at or submit online at All submissions are treated anonymously.

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