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I'm a software developer with 5 years experience over 3 companies. Within the last year a junior (brand new to the industry) has started at my current employer.

I believe he is an excellent developer, who always delivers and is skilled as solving complex problems. However I'm slightly concerned that he is possibly applying himself too much for the following reasons:

  • He begins work approximately 2 hours before most (and is expected)
  • In his free time he has developed an application that was clearly months worth of work that is specific to our employer

I and the team are completely greatful for all he is doing, and is clearly an asset to our team. However I'm worried that this is not sustainable.

I can almost see that he has the same enthusiasm that I had when I began coding for work, however over the years I've realised that extra curricular work not only doesn't progress your career, but eats into your all important free time.

The question I'm asking is:

Should I advise him to take things a bit more slowly? Or perhaps I need to learn from him and do more for my employer out of hours?

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closed as off-topic by ratchet freak, user16764, Carson63000, thorsten müller, gnat Oct 30 '13 at 7:26

  • This question does not appear to be about software development within the scope defined in the help center.
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about managing employees and would be a better fit on workplace.SE –  ratchet freak Oct 29 '13 at 21:29
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What is your actual question? We normally close questions on Workplace amounting to, "tell me what to do" - are you hoping to find a way to discuss with this person to help take work life balance more seriously? Or how to determine if someone has poor W/L balance? –  enderland Oct 29 '13 at 21:53
    
I guess I'm looking for advice over this scenario. As a good software developer should I be doing this kind of extra curricular work, or is it best (in the long term) to let him know he doesn't need to put in all these extra hours to be successful? –  billy.bob Oct 29 '13 at 22:02

3 Answers 3

I wouldn't necessarily dampen his current enthusiasm by telling him he's doing too much. On the other hand, people have lives outside of work, and it is unrealistic to expect this kind of sustained performance from everyone.

I would keep an eye on him. If you see nascent signs of burnout, remind him that it's a marathon, not a sprint, and that other intrinsic qualities like consistency, quality of work and ability to work in harmony with other people are more important than trying to be a hero.

There are some other things to consider. If clients are involved, it's unfair to them to set unrealistic expectations based on your employee's off-duty work, and it is unfair to the employee to be working those hours unpaid while the company logs billable time. You can redirect his effort to more intrinsic things like refactoring or reducing technical debt. You can even reward him with some training classes or books, if you like. But it's generally bad policy to allow employees to work for free, if that's what is happening.

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Your last comments describe my predicament: it's generally bad policy to allow employees to work for free. We work for a massive international company, and whilst what he is doing is voluntary, I'm wondering whether I should warn him that such extra work is unlikely to reap personal rewards. –  billy.bob Oct 29 '13 at 22:25
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Definitely warn him, he needs to learn that lesson soooooooon. –  LachlanB Oct 29 '13 at 23:41
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@m.edmondson There is a bit on c2.com Heroic Programming (that I have trouble getting to at the moment) for Heroic Programming. I grabbed the bit from the wayback machine and mentioned it in chat. Its more than it will just be "unlikely to reap personal rewards" but that it may lead to a change in expectations that everyone is a hero - focus on the personal accomplishments rather than the team collaboration. –  MichaelT Oct 30 '13 at 0:38
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"Employ them young and keen, preferably without a life/girlfriend/wife or family. Hang carrots in front them in the form of promises of new projects, latest technology and massive pay increases. You will get 1 to 2 years of 60 hour weeks before they wise up and move on".... (Unfortunately it took about 8 months before I found this hand written in his "Small business management training" notes.). Are you sure someone in your company did not do the same course? –  mattnz Oct 30 '13 at 1:23

You have to gauge whether he is putting in the extra effort because he feels he has to, or because he just likes doing it. This is the essential point - when I was young and full of energy, and hadn't had the enthusiasm kicked out of me by PHBs and incompetent managers, I liked doing extra just because it was there to be done!

If you get it wrong, and start to tell him to slack off, he could easily see it as a criticism and will undoubtedly affect his moral considerably (assuming you've just told him to stop doing what he loves!). IF he is doing it out a misplaced sense of achievement, then you'll have to find some other way to ensure he doesn't need to do it - for that, I recommend a formal review session (so it doesn't seem like you're singling him out). Then you can express amazement at his extra work, and that no-one else does it, and that (informally) he's only going to make everyone else look bad so he can really reduce the hours and still look good due to his obvious enthusiasm etc etc etc.

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It is hard to tell from this perspective, if your colleague is in danger of experiencing a burnout. But I think it is not that much easier from your perspective as well. Among technicians, engineers, software developers or scientists certain characteristics are commonly found. One of these is introversion. It makes it nearly impossible to detect any signs that are signaling personal issues (e.g., overworking) other than introversion itself. I'm not saying that he is in fact introverted. You might find it difficult to figure it out yourself. Some people have learnt to hide this very well. You would not recognize them being introverted at first. However, they will avoid talking about personal feelings at any cost.

Whether he is introverted or not still does not tell you anything about him. If you are really worried that his commitment to work might harm him, you could start talking to him. Of course you shouldn't rush it. Small talk in coffee breaks is a good start. In the past I've met several people who started to talk about their problems at work when they discovered that I would listen to them. However, the more introverted a person is, the longer it takes. Sometimes people will never open up to you.

This still does not have to be a problem. The thing is that some people just have no private life. Most of my colleagues at the university (at first students, later post-docs and professors) tended to neglect their lives outside of their fields of expertise and work. While some maybe just continued to work at home on weekends others had a hard time to leave their offices at all.

Still, this does not have to be a bad thing. Some people really enjoy committing their whole lives to work. For them it's fulfilling to be part of a software engineering team, research group or something similar.

To summarize all of the above as an answer to your question: If you want to find out more about him, talk to him. If he does not confide to you, there's nothing else you can do.

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