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I'm working through exactly what the best approach is to being asked by an employer as a team to put in extra hours both during weekdays but also an additional day on weekends (6-8 hours). No additional compensation (overtime, additional time off, etc...) is a part of the arrangement; I think from their perspective it's about being able to keep the job.

We work in 6 week cycles, so the duration of this "crunch time" is the length of the cycle. The entire project team are salaried (exempt), not hourly. After the cycle is complete if it is judged that the project is in "better shape" then we will go back to our normal expected hours of the typical 40-hour work week.

Any thoughts, advice, or previous circumstances like this from which you might have emerged the better?


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Is this a temporary crunch-time thing or something more permanent? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 25 '11 at 19:43
Are you exempt or hourly? If you are hourly, they can't legally ask this of you. –  Robert Harvey Jan 25 '11 at 19:53
@Robert: Good point, though I think we might be approaching "ask a lawyer in your jurisdiction" territory... –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 25 '11 at 19:56
At the same time, I've seen/heard those who: "We technically can't ask you to come in, but it'd be nice if..." and then later rewards are then dished out based on who came in the most. –  mummey Jan 25 '11 at 20:24
Follow-up question: "Need help looking for a new job." –  NickC Jan 25 '11 at 21:25

6 Answers 6

up vote 74 down vote accepted

Unless this is an individual emergency of short duration, say, 2-3 weeks which is not expected to happen again, this is a sign that things will go wrong from now.

Resist for as long as you can and begin to look for another job in the background.

Extra hours won't bring extra productivity. If people are tired and angry of being deprived of their private life, they won't work well. The reversed motivator (through fear of losing jobs) is the worst possible one. They'll produce more bugs, screw quality to get out sooner and that will only endanger the project in the long run.

And if it were an individual case, that much of extra-commitment has to be rewarded. More money or extra holiday days, otherwise it's just ugly of the employer.

UPDATE: After having read your addendum I have to say it's one of the weirdest work organizations I've ever heard of. 6 weeks of overtime in a row, repeatable now and then - you would do yourself good to start elsewhere. When you get burned-out (and not if), it will be very hard to get back on track for many months, possibly years to languish with no energy to work or even live. Don't do it to you.

I don't think we know anywhere near enough of the specifics to make this sort of suggestion. –  Murph Jan 25 '11 at 20:03
The answer applies broadly to most situations like this. Rapid Development by Steve McConnell says basically the same thing. What happens is that the more time put in, the more thrashing occurs in addition to tired, frustrated developers dropping off in performance. This also accelerates burnout of the development team and a high turnover rate. –  indyK1ng Jan 25 '11 at 20:14
+1 I would add that if you're not being paid overtime and the company expects you to stay into the evenings across dinnertime, or work on the weekends, you should insist they feed you at normal mealtimes at their expense. And good stuff, too - not bags of cheap burgers or Domino's lowest-end pizzas. If they aren't willing to provide that minimal recognition of your humanity, I'd start sending out resumes. –  Bob Murphy Jan 25 '11 at 20:58
Seconded on the 'happen again' element. If you work in 6 week cycles and this one runs on, even with the extra work, then they may declare another crunch because you have extra work to do in the next cycle... and the next... Watch for it into a 'boiling a frog' situation. Set your limits beforehand as to how often you will do this and how long you let it go on for. –  ijw Jan 25 '11 at 23:23
There does exist companies for which this is the aberration (ie. it happens maybe once or twice a year), but there's far too many more where it's the norm. Figuring out which case it is, is essential. –  Steve Evers Jan 26 '11 at 0:12

If you are salaried worker with all the other benefits associated with that then: it is relatively standard to be asked to put in extra time to get things done by a deadline.

If they ask you do this for more than a month then it starts to become a bigger issue.

As a result I would also expect the company to be more flexible with you skipping a day here and there when not in crunch mode.

totally agree with martin. –  jmo21 Jan 25 '11 at 19:55
Absolutely - firstly its a question of context, if this is work toward a specific goal then it may well be justified. If, OTOH, its something for nothing or a regular requirement then its no good at all. Secondly, they should offer something in return - as little as the MD turning up with pizza and refreshments at the end of the day will at least show appreciation... –  Murph Jan 25 '11 at 20:02

It's time for a job hunt.

Extra hours (when self imposed to meet a deadline) are just a part of the job. Sometimes you have downtime, sometimes you need to get something done and the only way to do it is a lot of extra hours. Part of the job.

Extra hours being required by management? Forget it.

+1 "Extra hours being required by management? Forget it." If I work extra hours, I get extra compensation... 60 hours this week, 15 hours next. Food. Money. Stocks. None of those? No extra pay = no extra hours. –  WernerCD Jan 25 '11 at 23:06
Do you get to go home on the weeks that there are downtime? No? Hmm... –  Nitrodist Jan 26 '11 at 8:19
I they are serious about "meeting a deadline" then they can offer some kind of compensation afterwards. Asking for a 6 weeks period is just a sign of desperation... –  Uberto Jan 26 '11 at 9:22
@Nitrodist: Actually yes. If things are slow I'll come in at 10 and leave at 3 or 4. –  Josh K Jan 26 '11 at 13:49

I think from their perspective it's about being able to keep the job.

You should look for a new job rather than allow yourself to be exploited by the employer. Extra hours should be spent only if you are sure of a long term benefit for yourself, particularly, exciting opportunities and an enriching experience.


Following up on my comment... if it's a temporary thing, don't worry. It happens now and then that a hard deadline approacheth and you shall not make it if you don't bust yo ass for a little while before hand. I've gone in on weekends, stayed way past dinner time... it is not a regular part of my jobs. It is done when necessary. Sometimes I even get approved overtime for it. :) But... if this is something you're being asked to do on a regular basis as a routine part of your job, go look for something else. Having a life outside of work is important.

Forget it. Requests likt this are never a temporary thing. It is done when necessary - so it is regular part of your job! –  Slawek Jan 25 '11 at 21:22
@Slawek: I'd distinguish between the two: "When necessary" usually happens during a big push before the end of a project or major milestone. Depending on the size and scope of the project, I wouldn't expect this to happen for more than a week or two out of every 6-8 months (but this may vary with projects). When it's a regular part of the job it means there's an expectation that you WILL be there until 8 pm, you WILL be there on Saturday, and that does NOT depend on any project schedule or timeline. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 25 '11 at 21:27
Well... your manager should have said "im sorry you'll have to stay over hours for the next two weeks, next time i'll bring another person to the team so it won't happen again". Keeping deadlines is not your job. Your manager isn't supposed to code. Of course the situation is allright - when you get additional vacations (not even compensation for overtime but time-compensation is a thing i'd always require). –  Slawek Jan 25 '11 at 22:08

If you're salaried, then this is somewhat expected of you. The bottom line is that you're paid to get the job done.

However, don't let anyone take advantage of you either. Maintain your boundaries clearly with your manager. Make sure they understand your expectations as much as they expect you to understand theirs.

In the end though, it's a business for the both of you. It's not UNICEF. Never work for free.

If the hours you work are no longer beneficial to you or the cost out weights the benefit you'll need to deal with that accordingly with your employer or be willing change jobs. Your employer would do the same if the cost out weighs the benefit for them.

Take a read here: http://gawker.com/5731134/

And focus on the following snippet:

"If nothing else, this ex-employee's letter will serve as a reminder to anyone contemplating an insane work commitment that voluntary overtime is just that: Voluntary. If you're not getting paid, you should make sure there's something in it for you other than a promise."

+1, Everyone is, in essence, a solo contractor engaging in a mutually beneficial trade of labor for money. If people viewed themselves that way, they're a lot less likely to be abused. –  GrandmasterB Jan 25 '11 at 20:34

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