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My manager told me that working overtime is just part of the job and that I'm expected to work overtime. We're not paid overtime like most companies.

I'm aware that most programmers put in 50-60+ hour work weeks, but is that the attitude a manager should take? It seems like they're taking it for granted. Or maybe I'm totally wrong and it's completely normal :P


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Strongly depends on whether you are disposable... – user1249 Oct 26 '10 at 10:38
In the EU it is illegal for anyone to be asked to work more than 48 hours per week ( averaged over several weeks ) without the worker giving explicit permission. – glenatron Oct 26 '10 at 11:13
Overtime should be exceptional, otherwise there's no normal time it could be over, it just becomes regular hours. – deceze Oct 26 '10 at 11:58
@glenatron That's the case in the UK due to John Major's opt-out from the Working Time Directive. In the rest of the EU I think it doesn't matter whether the employee agrees or not, 48 hours is the maximum. – Dan Dyer Oct 26 '10 at 12:47
Did you tell him that hiring and training new programmers is also part of his job, one he'll have to partake in soon? – GrandmasterB Oct 26 '10 at 20:44
up vote 163 down vote accepted

That's insane. It's like CPU overclocking. It works, but you reduce the lifetime a lot, and in many case, you burn it.

That said, sometimes is unavoidable to do extra hours to fix an exceptional issue, or work over the weekend to meet a deadline you company must satisfy. That's a flexibility you must provide.

In any of the above cases, the extra hours should be paid or converted into vacation days.

No one should work more than 40h a week. Still today, I apply that rule to myself, and really dislike when my employees want to do too much. You have only one body, you must preserve it.

That's my opinion. It's bound to my beliefs that an happy developer with a good health is always better and more productive than a crushed lemon.

+1, very true, all of it. – Jas Oct 26 '10 at 10:06
For overclocking you just need better cooling: you can try water-cooling, or even liquid nitrogen to achieve higher frequencies. It works with CPUs, isn't that scalable to programmers? – Wizard79 Oct 26 '10 at 10:25
Find another job. Seriously, as Pierre said, YOU are the most important person to yourself - do not care about an employer who doesn't care about you. What is more - if your employer has to go down the unpaid overtime route it means that they 1) do not have much money and 2) can't manage their company properly. – Jakub Konecki Oct 26 '10 at 10:37
To expand on Pierre's response, cooling can keep an overclocked chip running in the short term, but in the long run, the increased voltage will still lead to charge migration in the semiconductors, and breakdown of the circuits. So, giving overworked programmers nicer chairs and getting pizza delivered can keep a project going for a while, but they'll still burn out. – Tom Anderson Oct 26 '10 at 12:23
Programming is in part a creative job, how can you be expected to perform consistently working that many hours... I once worked in a place with a similar attitude, it lasted three months (the only three) while I looked for another job- in that time they lost 4 other new developers - if I were you, I'd leave and make it clear to everyone why.. maybe they'll do the same. – Mr Shoubs Oct 26 '10 at 12:39

I see overtime as a failure of planning and other processes. Your project should not require overtime, it should be properly estimated and resourced. If the planning has failed and the project is not properly resourced, forcing your developers to do unpaid overtime is not a good way of correcting the situation.

  1. Good developers will often simply go and find somewhere else to work that has better conditions.
  2. Developers will be unwilling to use their contacts to aid with recruitment (no one wants to get their friends into an excessive unpaid overtime situation). And will not recommend the company as a good place to work should the opportunity arise as alumni in the future (they may even actively warn people off working there).
  3. Developers will rush the work as they want to go home. This will lead to a reduction in quality. Which will reduce your ability to correctly estimate changes to the project in the future (unexpected bugs, having to dealing with poor design and poor implementation decisions, etc).
  4. Developers will not spend time doing soft tasks, like thinking about how to find better abstractions, exploring the opportunity to exploit new technology, or furthering their understanding of the business and customers.

All of these factors can result in a vicious cycle of overtime where overtime leads to lower quality leads to less predictability leads to more overtime.

Compulsory paid overtime is not much better than compulsory unpaid overtime in my experience. Although voluntary paid overtime may alleviate at least some of the issues above.

Yeah, you pretty much said everything I wanted to. Thanks, no need for me to type all that now. – Neth Oct 26 '10 at 13:25
+1 for 'soft tasks'. Never heard it put that way but it's really valuable and often not considered part of the cost of software development. – Jared Updike Oct 30 '10 at 5:31
although not explicitly stated by your "soft tasks" I think that refactoring as you go also falls into that category. Better not wait until everything crumbles to acts on it: refactor each time you add some features / patch some bug so that the new code fits within the old one rather than being an eyesore and you'll avoid the organic growth issue. – Matthieu M. Dec 9 '10 at 20:01
+1 from me for the very first sentence. If I could give +2, it would probably be for "soft tasks". Like "just sitting there, 'unproductively'"... yeah, thinking about the problem and how to solve it instead of slinging code. But explain that to a manager. – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 9 '10 at 20:09

In Western companies, having a culture of mandatory overtime is generally a "job smell" and a pretty good indication that something is wrong either with the corporate culture, the leadership of the group you are in, or the management of the project you are working on. It has generally been shown that requiring employees to work overtime is bad for their morale and in most cases, also causes degradation in their performance. What's the point in staying late to write more code if you end up introducing errors that take twice as long to correct?

Granted you might have to work overtime from time to time due to various issues that pop up, but a properly run project should be constrained to assumption that the team members will be working a normal work week (i.e. 40 hours) and timelines should be set based upon that assumption.

+1 for job smell – Alan Pearce Oct 26 '10 at 13:22

I've had this kind of thing before, and it's normal - to a point. I'm a late worker - I come in late, and I work late, and this is just how I work best. In a previous review my manager wanted me to come in earlier, but still wanted me to work late (though he'd quite often shoot off early). He used the overtime argument as well.

I came back and told him to get the contract out - that was what we all signed, and we'd have a look at what the actual contracted hours are and we'd show that I was doing more than that. If he liked, I could go to doing just the contracted hours and the company would lose out.

In another case, I needed to stay home in the morning to meet some British Gas engineers for a boiler service. He complained, but I reminded him that the next time he needed me to work a weekend, I might be busy that weekend.

He quickly made the point that there is an amount of give and take (well done boss, did you figure that out all on your own?) The working relationship between you and the company works best when there's flexibility on both sides.

Ultimately it all comes down to what's in the contract. The contract probably allows them to ask you to do overtime - it does not give them a license to engage in forced labor.

100% agree with this sentiment. I know how much work I should be able to get done in a day. If it takes me 10 hours because I was on stackexchange for a few hours or walking down the Wikipedia black hole, then so be it. Our jobs shouldn't be measured in hours but in tasks and each developer has a different amount of tasks that they know they can get done in a day. Some days you just don't have it mentally and only work 7 hours. Other days, you're on, and you better not leave because you never know when the next "code flow" day will come. – Nate Noonen Oct 26 '10 at 16:03

This question already has a bunch of great, sane answers, but there was one point that I felt like I should add: what exactly is your employer's disincentive to making you work crazy hours? If they can get you to work 60 hours a week just by saying that you need to, they are effectively paying you 2/3 of your actual salary. Why wouldn't they do it?

The only reason that they wouldn't take advantage of you is that you refuse to be taken advantage of. Being a salaried professional does not mean that you are signing your life over to some shmenzer with a good haircut and no ethics.

Refuse to get used.

the disincentive is a decrease in quality of the product. And overhead when the time comes to hire more employees, if the company has a bad reputation it'll cost more. – Victor Jalencas Oct 27 '10 at 9:16
@Victor: in practical reality, you are correct, but I feel that at most companies, short-term business pressures tend to override these very valid concerns. Most businesses seem to think in increments of financial quarters: "Are we going to make our numbers? If not, what can we do to get them up?" When the barrier to increase sales is features, bug-fixes or releasing new products, the decision makers will tend to lead towards just getting it done, and they'll put off treating the employees right until 'next quarter' which turns out to be no different than any other. – Adam Crossland Oct 27 '10 at 13:16
+1, excellent point about the 66.67% pay. – Jas Oct 27 '10 at 21:11
There's also flexibility. If I'm working a 70-hour week normally, I can't put in extra effort at crunch time (not and get anything more done). If I'm working a 40-hour week, I can step it up for a week or two and get more done for a short time. – David Thornley Dec 10 '10 at 21:32

My manager told me that working overtime is just part of the job and that I'm expected to work overtime.

This is wrong, for the most part.

In my experience, there are two types of overtime:

  • Overtime you put in because you want to - do not expect to be paid for this (unless you're a consultant, more on that later)

  • Mandatory overtime - if something has gone wrong, or a project is late, someone can sometimes tell you to put in some overtime. This should be paid for, and be aware that not all managers can demand mandatory overtime, this will vary from company to company.

There is nothing wrong with working a little bit extra from time to time - perhaps you're working on an interesting project, or you want to make a good impression - but unless you have an agreement with your employer, don't expect to be paid for this.

Working a little bit extra can be fun when you can choose when you want to do it.

However, if it is expected that you work overtime, all the time, this is a warning sign. It can work fine in the short term, but in the long term it can be very stressful, and you can risk burning out.

I would suggest talking (confidentially) to someone in the HR department, if that is an option.

We're not paid overtime like most companies.

I don't think it's that uncommon in the IT industry, but perhaps it depends on what kind of job you have. It wasn't until I started working as a consultant that I started getting paid for overtime, in the sense that there's a bonus that is related to how much I work.

When you're a consultant, being paid for overtime isn't such a big deal anymore - as you work more hours, the client is billed more hours, and thus it is not as expensive for the company you work for to pay you for overtime. It'll be more expensive for the client perhaps, but the nature of consulting is usually that you simply bill for hours spent. I've never heard of any consultants working for free.

Not sure why being paid for overtime is such a big deal, and I'm not sure how it is in other industries.

The main point that I can see to "all overtime is paid" is taht it acts as a brake on the company to ask for overtime, as asking for overtime suddenly becomes expensive. – Vatine Oct 26 '10 at 12:42
Bingo! I was working somewhere and this happened; 10 hour days M-F every day and then coming in on weekends for weeks. I burnt out and couldn't take it anymore. – PSU_Kardi Oct 26 '10 at 17:05
I don't think it matters why you're putting in overtime: if you work overtime you get paid overtime. – xj9 Oct 27 '10 at 0:07
Not true on some cases: I'm a consultant but we don't really bill our clients for extra time. It's up to the contract and the client can push the fact that we'd said we deliver on a certain budget. It then isn't his responsibility to paid for more hours. – Bruno Brant Oct 27 '10 at 14:31

Overtime should be exceptional; if it's "expected" on a 50-60 hours per week basis, then I'd find another job. That shouldn't be normal.

People are sacrificing their quality of life. And for what?

Family > overtime.


I'm wondering if there's an assumption that your "overtime is part of the job" line means that you'll be pulling 80-hour weeks constantly. If so, that's pretty bad and will burn you out in no time. Especially when you're up against the clock.

However, I think there's also an expectation that we software developers get stuff done. If that means pulling an extra couple of hours a night for a week or so when a deadline is looming, then I'm quite happy to accept that as "part of the job."

I suppose it's part of the implicit contract between developer and manager: you give me sane deadlines, and I'll give you sane products.

Fair point since if my boss asked me to do a couple of extra hours one evening to get something fixed, I'd probably do it unless I already had plans. Heck, I might even just doing it without being asked, if I knew it was that important and the deadline was looming. I think the implication is that sane deadlines aren't being offered. – JohnL Oct 26 '10 at 14:49

My manager told me that working overtime is just part of the job and that I'm expected to work overtime.

Occasional overtime is unfortunately sometimes necessary due to unforeseen circumstances. Routine overtime should not be. If you have a contract for 37.5 or 40 hours a week yet you are expected to work 50-60 hours a week every week, without additional compensation, then there is something wrong. It's not what you signed up for and you are being taken advantage of. In the EU it is illegal for your employer to ask you to work for more than 48 hours a week.

Also, it's not particularly productive. You cannot maintain the same level of output. You'll probably end up being less productive than if you just worked 40 hours because tired programmers make mistakes and poor decisions.

We're not paid overtime like most companies.

If you're a salaried employee, getting paid for overtime is not that common. Usually the best you can hope for is time off in lieu.

I'm aware that most programmers put in 50-60+ hour work weeks

[citation needed]

In my first job, during crunch periods, I would work from 9am to 7pm. That was less than 50 hours a week but, with a 50-minute drive each way as well, it's not sustainable. Since then, except for the occasional stay-late-to-fix-the-urgent-problem, I have generally been able to stick to 40 hours a week or less and never had to work on a Saturday.

The "salaried employees do not get overtime" is mostly a US phenomenon and it may be good to mark nation-specific advice as such. – Vatine Oct 26 '10 at 12:43
@Vatine It's the same here in the UK. – Dan Dyer Oct 26 '10 at 12:46
+1 for addressing the "most programmers put in 50-60+ hours" bit. Most of the jobs I've been in, you could do those kind of hours if you wanted to but it wasn't typical. – John M Gant Oct 26 '10 at 13:09
@Dan Dyer - I am salaried, but not overtime-exempted, working in the UK. – Vatine Oct 26 '10 at 14:30
@Vatine @burnt_hand - it's quite usual for operations types to be paid overtime to be "on call", and sometimes I've seen developers get a cut for that too. For "business as usual" development, though, it's usually easier for manager-types to organise payment-in-kind, e.g. extra holiday. – Jeremy McGee Oct 27 '10 at 20:18

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