I work in a Startup where I was hired at the first employee, after the founder. Naturally, after the company started growing, I rose the ranks quite fast.

I am still quite young and the founder of the company was an experienced Regional Director of a very big and famous multinational company.

He decided to implement a 6-day work week. On any single day, we start work at 9 am and doesn't end till 8pm on average. Sometimes, it goes far beyond that. We don't get remunerated for overtime as, in his own words, it is a startup.

This 6-day workweek and along with the long working hours is proving more detrimental to the company. Unfortunately, he values long working hours more, employees who validates his idea and generally loyalists that will keep their heads down and do as they say.

On Saturday, there was a situation where I decided to leave at 7 and he "made a joke" about how we should swap jobs and I should take his. He even involved my other colleagues in the discussion whereby they were discussing how "lucky" I am to be working in this specific area and how stressful their job is. I smiled then, but it really got me thinking.

Colleagues are complaining internally to each other, but no one has the guts to say anything to him. Do I need to say anything? How do I approach this subject?


To clarify some few things:

  • The company is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • The working hours specified in my contract is 09:00 - 18:00, Monday to Friday
  • The maximum working hours in a week in UAE is 48 hours. Overtime should be paid. However, in my signed contract, it says overtime won't be paid. I am aware that the country's law takes precedence.
  • Yes I do own stocks in the company. It has the potential to grow into a successful company, but I don't think the long hours is helping with that. It is doing more harm than good.
  • 6 days a week was instituted after 15 months of me joining the company.
  • 1
    Also it is worth noting that we are all paid below average (as it is a "startup"). One of the reasons why most of us keep staying is, it is very hard to get a job in the country based on current economical conditions.
    – Dexter M
    Mar 26, 2018 at 3:51
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Mar 26, 2018 at 15:46
  • Questions: 1) When you were hired, what were the expectations? did 6x11 hours happen immediately? a week in? 6 months in? Are you getting stock options? Company ownership? Salary? hourly wages (up to 40 hours)? "We are a startup" doesn't necessarily mean "we work 70 hours a week" and without some kind of carrot (IE: Company ownership/stock), you have no obligation to work beyond what you agreed to when you started: What was that agreement?
    – WernerCD
    Mar 27, 2018 at 17:04
  • Thank you all, edited original question with more details.
    – Dexter M
    Mar 28, 2018 at 16:45

9 Answers 9


It sounds like saying anything will be a career limiting move at this place, but that may not be a bad thing. Many companies may ask for occasional overtime to get past short-term deadlines, but it's clear that here a 60+ hour week is considered normal and expected of you. It is bad enough that you're not being paid for that level of effort (and "it's a startup" is no excuse, he is blatantly exploiting your goodwill), but more importantly it is simply not sustainable. You will damage your health and relationships at this rate. Start planning your exit now; this is a toxic environment and you shouldn't be putting up with it.

  • 7
    I see no indication in the question that the asker is not being sufficiently remunerated for their heavy workload. If asker is in the US, it would be unusual for a salaried employee to be paid overtime.
    – njuffa
    Mar 25, 2018 at 21:34
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    A 60-hour week is not normal, and remuneration is negotiated in the good faith assumption that the working week will be of a reasonable and consistent length. If they went in knowing they'd spend close to half their time on the job, and were happy with the pay, fair enough. If they assumed they would have a regular five-day 8-to-5 with a few evenings late every month, the extensive commitment is not fair, not reasonable, and not acceptable to anybody with a practical option to leave.
    – user53718
    Mar 26, 2018 at 2:59
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    Thank you. Since joining the company, I have gone through some health troubles as well as relationship ones. You are probably right and it is something to be considered strongly.
    – Dexter M
    Mar 26, 2018 at 3:52
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    @njuffa I would think OP took the job at the negotiated salary thinking it was a 5-day week job, and took that into account when accepting. A few hours here and there isn't much, but to ask for a whole extra day as an every-week kind of thing without paying overtime seems excessive.
    – Fodder
    Mar 26, 2018 at 4:27
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    @Fodder especially when the workdays are beastly 10- or 11-hour days. If it were 6 days a week at say 6.5 hours a day, or maybe 7 hours M-F and 5 on Saturday that'd be quite different.
    – Doktor J
    Mar 27, 2018 at 19:39

If you're not being paid enough to compensate for your time working, then you have two options, and should probably do both.

Address your concerns with your boss directly, and job hunt at the same time.

Anytime you discuss concerns over hours or remuneration there is an implication that you will take steps if your issue is not resolved. This can have your employer searching for your replacement, so make sure this is the way you want to go before you go down that track and get a head start on the job hunt just in case.

Personally I don't mind long hours, but I make good money for it, if I didn't I'd be job hunting quietly and just fade out when I got a job offer. No risk that way and if you decide you would rather stay, a job offer in hand gives you a LOT of leverage in any negotiation.

Psychologically, just making up your mind that you're leaving makes problems seem smaller.

Lastly, you're not the boss, it's not your company, your colleagues pay and hours etc,. are not your primary concern, do not make yourself a target for them (unless you are their mum), that can be a bottomless pit. Your career, pay, reputation and health are the primary things to be worrying about.

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    I will take that in consideration. We are not paid up to the country standards to be honest, let alone overtime.
    – Dexter M
    Mar 26, 2018 at 3:53
  • Asking for advices is "passive aggressive" on the boss already ;)
    – Ooker
    Mar 27, 2018 at 16:47
  • In my opinion not even if the OP was paid enough to compensate for the working time that would still be unacceptable. If most of the time is spent working and going/leaving/preparing-for work then what do you do with the money? Plus, repairing health could take much more than the money earned and/or not be feasible. Mar 28, 2018 at 15:31

One major problem he's going to have with this policy is recruitment and staff retention.

If all others around you are doing a 40 hour week for a similar package to what you get for 60 hours, then it's a no-brainer to change jobs. The only reasons people haven't done so already is that they're too inexperienced to realised that the company culture sucks, too hyped up by the startup culture, or else simply too busy at work because of the 60 hour week to have time to stop and think about it.

Make no mistake: they will wise up to it eventually, and they will leave. The final note in the question implies that the complaining has already begun. The boss is likely to be in for a rude shock very soon, because in this kind of environment, it only takes one person to have the courage to quit for it to very quickly become a race for the exit.

More to the point, hiring good people is going to be much harder. You might be able to attract young graduates who are excited by the idea of working for a startup and can tolerate the hours, but if the environment is as toxic as described, most of them probably won't last long. And experienced devs are going to laugh in your face if you suggest that they work a standard 60-hour week, so you can forget about getting anyone senior to make sure you maintain some semblance of quality.

The policy may appear to work in the short term, but it will fail spectacularly in the longer term.

My advice to the OP is to find yourself a new job as soon as possible (or even just quit and start your own startup; the experience you've gained here will definitely help you with that).

  • just curious, where does the OP mention that there is any code at all? GS and Mck are still around, by the way - they are very large companies, and very few people earning money there work less than 80 hours/week.
    – bharal
    Mar 26, 2018 at 16:44
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    In addition to your comment, assuming the environment is toxic and everyone starts quitting, any options and promises become worthless. So that needs to be factored into the stay/leave equation. I guess OP is staying despite the below market rate salary mentioned elsewhere because of the option carrot. When the edifice comes crashing down the founder will wander off with all of the IP and probably kick off another deathmarch startup leaving OP with nothing but a dramatically below market salary number to hide from future employers and some experience.
    – mcottle
    Mar 27, 2018 at 4:59
  • This answer is good. Why don't you advise the OP to actually walk the founder through this thinking? Rather than saying, "I'm doing too much hours, I can't sustain it", say "I think if this goes on, people are going to realise the grass is greener on the other side, with better conditions and better pay and they'll start leaving one after the other. We'll then be spending our time replacing them and handin over work".
    – Puzzled
    Mar 27, 2018 at 6:38
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    what is "GS" and "Mck"??
    – glace
    Mar 27, 2018 at 10:38
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    "it only takes one person to have the courage to quit for it to very quickly become a race for the exit" - so true. Especially given that when that first person leaves this kind of boss is the sort that will expect people to work more to cover the missing person's stuff while looking for a new employee. The extra hours become the final straw for somebody else and then there are two people to cover... One person leaving is definitely the start of a vicious cycle.
    – Chris
    Mar 27, 2018 at 11:35

The easiest way to convince your boss that this strategy is not effective is to find a more reasonable job and quit this one. In the exit interview, then you can tell him what you've told us here: the pay is below what it should be and the expected hours are way above what they should be. While I would definitely not name names of any other employees, you could also mention at that time that, if those things don't change, you expect other employees will also leave.

He'll either take your advice to heart or everyone else will leave and his startup will fail. Either way, he'll eventually get the message and you'll be happily working somewhere with better pay and more reasonable work/life balance.

"It's a startup" is no excuse for taking advantage of employees.

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    "It's a startup" is no excuse for taking advantage of employees. -- this. I have worked for start ups and never had to work 6 days a week. I have worked long hours, but not 6 our of 7 days. That is just a joke.
    – Neo
    Mar 26, 2018 at 17:48

You say that you are "still quite young." That tells me your boss is taking advantage of you and your lack of experience in the workplace.

Your boss was the Regional Director of a fancy multi-national company-- that means he KNOWS a 60+ hour workweek is completely insane.

If you live in the US, it may even be illegal. Many companies here have been sued when they failed to provide overtime pay past 40 hours.

My advice: polish up your resume and move on.

  • 4
    I don't think OP is in the U.S., but engineers and software developers in the U.S. are typically considered salaried employees exempt from overtime pay laws. Those laws mostly only apply to hourly wage workers (and some non-exempt salaried positions, but these tend to be lower on the pay scale than engineers and software developers.) Otherwise, though, your answer is spot on.
    – reirab
    Mar 26, 2018 at 22:20

Try science. Various studies have shown that people simply can not work efficiently for more than 40 hours a week over longer stretches of time. Overstraining this stress level results in lack of concentration which reduces the work output and increases the amount of mistakes made. The result is that the weekly output of a worker decreases when you have them work more than 40 hours. It might sound counter-intuitive, but your company might be able to accomplish more by working less.

  • I like this answer.
    – Almo
    Mar 27, 2018 at 15:34

This is a matter of risk versus reward.

The founder is happy to work long hours because his potential reward is great. From your description he may also be a workaholic, which means that he receives a psychological reward from working long hours.

The founder appears to be asking you and the other employees to take a similar level of risk (to invest long hours at below normal rates of pay and risk your health and relationships) for much less reward than he will receive if the company is successful (or receives immediately as a workaholic).

Given that you are unhappy with this situation (as I would be), the solution is to renegotiate with him to either lower your risk, increase your reward or a combination of both. And it sounds as though you are in a position to help other (less influential) employees to do the same.

One way of framing this to him, perhaps, is that if he continues down the current path, that his reward is at risk (because there may be a mass exodus of staff and, therefore, no company left to succeed financially and no goal left to justify his workaholism).

If you are unable to change his mind, I suggest that there is no point in continuing - your reward does not justify your risk.


I've seen this brought up briefly: What are YOUR motivations for working 20-30 hours a week extra?

A startup, to me, means they are aiming for one of two things: Massive growth or getting bought out by a bigger fish.

What are you getting out of the extra hours?

You question doesn't mention any details and your comments mention you are paid under market rate.

Things to get from a job:

  • Experience - I've taken jobs for under market to get experience. My first programming job was $21/k when $40-50k was the normal starting pay expected - but I got started somewhere.
  • Skills - are you learning new technology? I've done things for free/cheap to learn a new stack... I'll put in a few extra hours to come up to speed on something new.
  • Title - I've seen a couple people work under-rate and over-time for a title - Senior Developer. Chief Architect. etc.
  • Money - self explanatory.
  • Stock - Are you getting any stock? Company ownership? Many people work at startups for the chance to be part owner of the next Facebook, Instagram, Uber, Lyft, etc...

Are you getting ANY of that? Is the experience and skills worth, what I assume, is a lack of money and stock options?

On top of that: What was your initial agreement on hours?

Your boss "instituted" a 6x11 work week... was that immediately? weeks in? Months in?

If you agreed to get paid $x for 40 hours - basically $y/hour... you are now getting paid $x for 80 hours... basiclaly $1/2y/hour. If you were paid $30/hour before - you now make $15/hour. (Whatever the actual numbers are - even less because, honestly, you are getting screwed out of overtime).

What are the laws in your country?

There are overtime laws in the US. There are some exclusions for those laws for certain jobs and certain pay rates...

Is what your boss doing illegal? if so, you (and your co-workers) could be owed back-pay.

I Am Not A Lawyer, so you need to ask one in your locale.


Well, firstly, you need to prove it is detrimental.

You need a significant business problem that working less hours will solve

Problematically, plenty of capable people work many many hours each week, and accomplish amazing things. "People will be happier" isn't, I'm afraid, a reason to work them less.

You'll find lots of support that working lots of hours is bad .. but is it? I mean, for the company? Is it producing capable work, getting clients, is revenue rolling in? You're employee number one with a lot tied up here, not only career wise but, presumably, in stock. How much is that stock worth?

You mention people complaining, but people complain ALL THE TIME ABOUT EVERYTHING. Are they leaving? Is their work struggling? If not, what is the problem?

If you simply want to work less then have that conversation, but again, check how much you're making, your rise, your stock worth. Maybe you can talk to your boss about taking a long vacation instead?

You can have a team that only work 40 hours, and you can have them run doing some work alongside other people in the company, but if you're not being paid overtime then UNLESS the 40 hour team outperform, I'm not sure you're going to be able to make a case this is detrimental.

You might Check out HBR for articles and discussions on this, there are many case studies on work hours and balance and one might be applicable.


I'm pretty proud about this, which I think is my least popular answer on any stack exchange site. More so, because unlike other times where on reflection I was wrong - often very wrong - I'm very happy to stand by this answer.

Some thoughts - for you, dear reader! - before you statistically likely dv: as I write, there's no indication this is a code-based startup, and while many comments prior to be removed assured me otherwise, there's no indication that the startup is struggling in terms of revenue, or that there is an exodus of any sort.

The closest we get is this, which was buried in the comments by the OP before it was removed:

We work in a startup that demands a lot of creativity every single day. Is work suffering? Sure. We don't always perform well. Delivery suffers, Sales has been stagnant and the overall environment in the company is toxic. I strongly believe that if people are leading a happy life outside work, they will do much more meaningful and productive work.

There are a myriad or reasons for the above - workplace bullying, poor kpis used, poor management. Long hours too, to be sure. But that needs to be proven.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Mar 26, 2018 at 18:01
  • I'm not sure the Thoughts section is relevant to the answer, but I left it in anyway. Mar 26, 2018 at 18:34
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    Too bad this answer is so heavily down-voted. It's the only answer that attempts to answer the question. After reading through the comments, I get the impression that people are voting with their emotions. Understandable in a way. Perhaps some rephrasing can stem the tide of down votes? This answer does ramble on a bit without really emphasizing and expanding on your main point.
    – Cypher
    Mar 27, 2018 at 18:45
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    @Cypher Not true. The other answers suggest quitting, which is a very effective way (and, given the OP's description of the boss, probably the only possible way) to convince the boss that his plan won't work. People with personalities like the one described in this question who believe they're always right and everyone else just needs to keep their heads down won't change unless they're forced to. Their employees jumping ship is likely the only effective way. And it's almost certainly the best option for the OP's sake, regardless of if the boss ever changes or not.
    – reirab
    Mar 27, 2018 at 22:00
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    @reirab Quitting would not be an effective way to convince the boss, it rarely is.
    – Stian
    Mar 28, 2018 at 2:36

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