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I am a manager of a software developer who has been working late nights to complete a project in time for a deadline. He is a salaried employee so he does not get paid overtime.

I am very thankful that he is putting in these extra hours, and I want to thank him for his commitment and going the extra mile to get the project done in time, but I don't want to make him feel like what he is doing is expected. And more importantly, I don't want him to get burned out.

What can I say to him to strike a good balance of making him feel appreciated while not making him feel pressured to keep working late nights?

UPDATE - I ended up taking a "time off in lieu" approach and proposed to my boss that we credit the developer some PTO to offset the extra hours he's been working. I also thanked him profusely and repeatedly and made sure he knew that we (management) would do a better job in the future of planning enough time for features to be implemented and tested so that there is less likelihood of time squeeze situations. Thank you all for the invaluable input and ideas, it is much appreciated and I feel like it was put to good use! :)

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jan 16 at 4:36
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    When I had to work late to meet deadlines as a salaried employee, I always took 'time off in lieu' afterwards. Have you not offered this option to your employee? – Aaron F Jan 16 at 11:09
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    Don't you have any kind of rewards scheme at your work? – bornfromanegg Jan 16 at 11:27
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    @AaronF, if the OP is in the US (and his profile says he is), it's probably far from obvious. Uncompensated overtime is far more common than comp time in the US. It wouldn't surprise me that most companies don't even think of it. (In Europe it's a different story.) – user1602 Jan 16 at 14:47
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    Have you considered apologising to, as opposed to thanking, the person? – Andrew Grimm Jan 17 at 5:06

16 Answers 16

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Most importantly, make it clear that you have a plan for adjusting future workloads so that he hopefully doesn't ever have to do this again.

There's a danger here that you seem to have picked up on. Some workplaces celebrate the "hard worker" willing to "do whatever it takes" so much that it becomes a cultural expectation that people will always "do whatever it takes." A company where people routinely put in lots of extra effort points more to mismanagement than to a "dedicated" workforce. It's something for the managers to feel shameful about, versus for the employees to be celebrated for.

As always in life, actions speak louder than words. So, yes, thank him - but also, have a plan that you can actually carry out to ensure this doesn't become the norm.

That may include:

  • better forecasing/planning
  • more thorough vetting of requirements, so things aren't sprung on him at the last minute
  • cross training on projects, so when the inevitable happens and another difficult deadline approaches, others can help him with his work.

It doesn't have to be a major overhaul of your management approach, but the more specific and actionable you can be, the better.

In terms of the actual delivery, personally, I find that an honest thank you is the best kind of thank you. It doesn't have to be big or showy, it just has to be specific and meaningful:

Hey Bob, I really appreciate your extra effort - The hours you put in helped by accomplishing X.

Then you can describe your changes,

I want to make sure you understand that we recognize that you went above and beyond this time - we want to make sure we're able to meet future deadlines without having to resort to late nights of cramming, so in the future, we're planning on X, in order to Y...

Finally, it's worth asking for their feedback. IME, it's a fairly common complaint among individual contributors that managers don't really understand the nuances that end up developing into show-stopping projects. Asking for their feedback is a great way to show that you care about the value they bring to the team:

Since you were so devoted to this project, did you have any insights into how things went, overall? Was there anything further you think we could do in the future to help our projects stay on time?

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    To be clear - I don't mean to exclude the possibility of offering something tangible - time off, or a gift card - but regardless of that, if someone has to cram all weekend to get something done on time, you clearly have an opportunity for process improvement. I've had stacks of gift cards given to me by managers who never bothered to fix anything, much less figure out what was broken in the first place. Gifts or time off are a great "thank you" reward, but they don't fix anything. The best managers are those who aren't afraid of talking about doing things differently next time. – dwizum Jan 16 at 13:43
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    Early in my career I worked on a project where we were requested to put in a large amount of overtime one week, culminating in an all-nighter which successfully got our deliverable out the door in time. My manager thanked me profusely and gave me the next day off. Upon my return he stopped by my cube and told me that he considered every incident where someone had to be asked to work overtime to be a complete failure of management. I thought that was a very effective way to express his gratitude for a job well done, and I did NOT feel pressured to try to do that again. – Mark Meuer Jan 16 at 21:47
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    Being specific shows that, as a manager, you understand what the employee actually did. IME, employees feel good when you're able to show them that you actually understand their efforts. If you want to pick apart or improve on the specific wording I used in my example, that's fine, but I think that would miss the overall point of the answer. – dwizum Jan 18 at 16:07
  • To repost my original comment (sorry, someone deleted it): Being this specific is good advice for an interview or a resume, but, if someone were to approach me with this tone, I'd consider it insincere—I would take it the same way I might take a "Thank you" over a supermarket intercom. I'd feel as if management were approaching me with a formulaic "You did [x] which resulted in [y]," but not actually be confident that anything would change, like they're placating me. – AmagicalFishy Jan 19 at 16:56
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I used to give guys 3 or 4 day weekends when they finished projects early or on time. In the days of scrum, there is a lessened sense of accomplishment in getting big projects done, since scrum seems more of a constant grind. I would think a free 3 or 4 day weekend would really show you appreciate his extra time.

It also shows your team that you are respectful of above and beyond effort when circumstances warrant. Most team members would be more willing to put in extra hours during those necessary crunch times if they see you appreciate it, without taking a hit on morale.

It's nice to see a manager who is even aware of this sort of thing. Many just run their horses until they die, so to speak.

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    @Fattie, Yes, as far as I know, it's still very prevalent. I've been doing this for a long time and I much prefer the 3-6 month cycles that used to come with major and minor releases. We used to have release parties and all that, and it really gave the team a sense of accomplishment to achieve a goal together. – Tombo Jan 15 at 15:21
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    Maybe even add days off in HR system, if that's possible – Askar Kalykov Jan 16 at 12:16
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The best thing to do in this situation is

  • give the guy a day off

to compensate for the time.

I would say DON'T give a gift or money. If you do that, the person will continually work late to get gifts and money.

Give them a day off, tell them to make sure it doesn't happen again, and as the team lead make sure it doesn't happen again.


Note that of course

  1. None of this should ever happen - obviously

  2. Setting aside a crap, disorganized company, any programmer who works late is 20 years out of date. Nowadays, as a rule, any programmer who works "late" is just seen as amateurish, sloppy. "Cowboy" scripts, "hero-slop" programming, and "extreme! enthusiasm!" is not software engineering. Nowadays, software is built by people who build software in the same way people who build suspension bridges build suspension bridges: in a professional, orderly manner. There's a reason everything used to crash all the time 20 years ago.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jan 17 at 5:03
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    "tell them to make sure it doesn't happen again" do you mean "tell them YOU WILL make sure it doesn't happen again"? Because the employee was just working as told according to OPs comments. It sounds to me like they didn't have a choice (other than quitting of course) – user87779 Jan 18 at 16:06
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    This answer is perfect in a world without unrealistic deadlines. – Robert Grant Jan 19 at 14:50
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    "We live in an era when you can fire 10 server programmers and just use Firebase" then I will enjoy shorting your company's stock :-) – Robert Grant Jan 19 at 15:29
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    @Fattie that's fair. I suppose my (non-smartass, unlike my previous ones) final words would be that we don't always have the latitude to make choices that would mean we didn't have to work overtime, be said choices technological or chronological in nature :) – Robert Grant Jan 19 at 15:48
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I'm a a software developer, and I've been through this situation many times.

When I'm in a situation in which I have to work overtime to compensate exceptional circumstances (e.g. incoming deadline), my primary fear is that my overtime work will go from being a professional courtesy to being mandatory.

Well last time, the dev finished the work in only 2 weeks, so we can commit to completing this similar work in 2 weeks, too

There have been many suggestions to give the employee paid time off (PTO) in lieu, but I don't think anybody has a good job in explaining exactly why management should do that.

It's obvious, but it's important to make it clear that not all hours are equal. Working 9-5 during planned working hours is not the same as working 5pm-1am, even though it's the same 8 hours. This is why you see overtime typically be 1.5x regular pay. I think a similar principle should apply to PTO.

It's important to make changes to try to eliminate the need for overtime work like this. But the fundamental issue is that management doesn't have any skin in the game. They can commit to tight deadlines to please the business, overwork their workers, and not face any consequences until the point at which employees get fed up and quit.

That's why I think PTO is so important. It's a feedback loop that aligns the management's incentives. "Well I can overwork this employee and squeeze out an extra 8 hours to finish this project, but then I'll lose 12 hours from the next project due to their PTO." Under such a system, management's incentive is to maximize productivity by minimizing their "losses" to 1.5x PTO payouts for overtime work.

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Time off in lieu

From the comments I see that this is a foreign concept. I speak from experience working in the UK, where I've found it to be prevalent. As far as I know, this is not a legal requirement in the UK.

Time off in lieu (TOIL) is commonly given to staff who put in extra hours.

The TOIL is equal to the amount of overtime, but can be increased at the manager's discretion.
For example, I've worked weekends before and been given two days off for each weekend day I worked.

I've also worked in companies where TOIL wasn't offered, and unpaid overtime as deadlines approached was still expected.
At those places I made sure I still took my TOIL.
After a project was delivered, I would tell my manager that I would be taking x number of days off to make up for the overtime I'd put in.
They always accepted it.

  • In my decade of experience in the UK, it hasn't been prevalent. It might be more likely here than in other countries, but it's not standard. – ChrisFletcher Jan 17 at 11:59
  • Thanks, @ChrisFletcher , I've been out of the UK for about a decade now, so it could be less fashionable these days. It could also be quite sector-dependent. And I think I was lucky that my first and second jobs were in companies that did offer it, so I took it to be customary behaviour and made sure I applied it later on in other companies where it wasn't automatically offered. – Aaron F Jan 17 at 12:32
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    This seems the best solution to me - it doesn't encourage overwork (there's no actual benefit to doing it, you just shift some work hours to a different day), but it clearly sends a thank you message – Algy Taylor Jan 17 at 13:28
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    It's been standard at every company I ever worked at - depending on what/where you are doing. i.e. when I log in for an hour on a friday evening to do a release while the markets are closed that's just part of the job. Working a full day or most of a day extra though is different. – Tim B Jan 18 at 15:57
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A heartfelt sincere thank you in private accompanied by a small gift will suffice. Make sure you talk about the massive impact they had and how it significantly contributed to or wholly did dig you/your company out of a bad situation. Make sure you mention that they won't need to stay longer in the near future. Be sure to put a specific date on that, and then follow through on that by letting them go home on time on that day.

Alternatively, "I appreciate you staying late" followed by overtime pay or time off is in some ways much nicer.

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    I have to agree - if someone messed up & another person has to work extra - you pay them. Even if you're not contractually or legally obligated. Pay them. – Mirv - Matt Jan 15 at 21:04
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As someone who has been on the employee side of this situation, I feel I can offer some insight.

To me, the biggest thing is personal acknowledgement - having management actually stop by, in person, to offer thanks for your efforts and let you know the extra work is appreciated can speak volumes. That they took the time - even only a few minutes - to actually come by and express thanks can be a big deal to the employee.

This was actually one of my most immediate complaints I raised during the exit interview when leaving my previous employer. Near the end of my time there, working OT in an effort to bring a project back on schedule was met with zero acknowledgement from management. Having the project manager stop by on his way out the door in the evening to let us know he appreciated the extra mile we were going would have made a big impression, in a positive way.

Now, other ways of expressing thanks can be good, but are going to vary a lot person-to-person. This type of personal thanks seems to be a fairly universally appreciated gesture in my experience.


For an example of how other measures can vary, I would caution generally against the suggestion of public acknowledgement by means of publishing in a newsletter, in a company meeting, etc. While it might seem like a great idea, not everyone appreciates being singled out for that type of acknowledgement. Depending on the individual, this may not been seen as a welcome gesture. Someone who is very introverted will likely not appreciate the spotlight being drawn to them, especially if they also feel that what they are doing is not extraordinary.

The same goes for offering certain types of compensation. This can backfire in a number of ways. Significant monetary bonuses can be appreciated, but also may lead to people purposely trying to work OT in order to "milk it" for extra cash. Some may even see the offer as insulting, especially depending on the amount. For yet others, it may present a very uncomfortable situation - feeling that the offer is unnecessary, while not knowing how to decline or otherwise respond. So, for the same offer, there could be at least four different types of responses, depending on the person, with only one being purely positive.


Again, those of us commenting from afar here aren't really in a position to say definitively which other expressions of thanks should be made in your case. Suggestions can be made of some possible actions, but actually choosing which applies best can't be done without personal knowledge. For some people, things like extra time off or a monetary reward would be great ways to express your thanks; for others, not so much. (And they may actually be received negatively.)

You are in the position to judge what kind of person this employee is and how they may respond to certain responses. Beyond personal thanks, which is pretty much universally well-received, it really should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

  • How would you feel if the management gave the entire credit to the team instead of you for finishing the deadline ? – MasterJoe2 Jan 18 at 19:23
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You have the answer right there in your own question. Just say to him what you just said:

I am very thankful that your are putting in these extra hours, and I want to thank you for your commitment and going the extra mile to get the project done in time, but I don't want to make you feel like what you are doing is expected. And more importantly, I don't want you to get burned out.

Some people get worried about the mindreading capabilities of others because they might misread your mind. Some think they have this mind reading capability, but they really don't. When you say "thank you" you are not saying "that's what I expect from you". You just don't.

Real two-way communication is always important.

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Give him a big fat bonus at the end of the pay year.

Tell him of your intention to do this.

As for the second part of the question:

while not making him feel pressured to keep working late nights?

I would cushion the conversation with 'but remember that your bonus depends on the the whole year's performance - I really don't want you getting burned out', take a few days paid leave, and let's work on being more organised going forward'.

Ask him his recommendations on how you'd be better organised next time. That's going to make him feel valued.

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    way to pile stress on an already stressed employee. – Jasen Jan 16 at 2:41
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    "but remember that your bonus depends on the the whole year's performance" sounds more like "please do more of those overtime in the future". – Paŭlo Ebermann Jan 16 at 23:36
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    "but remember that your bonus depends on the the whole year's performance" - is management-speak for "I'm going to find a way to weasel out of this". Absolutely the last thing I'd want to hear from my boss after knocking my pan in for the last several weeks. – Ed Daniel Jan 18 at 14:17
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There are a few things here that impact the best actions:

  • Where does the 'deadline' come from?
  • What role did you and the employee have in defining that deadline?
  • Hence, do they feel a moral obligation to honour a commitment?
  • What is the real (financial) impact of missing the deadline? This might range from loss of face internally to bringing down the company due to contractual consequences.
  • What is the implication to you personally of meeting or missing the deadline?

If they are getting out of a hole you made via insufficient foresight, acknowledgement needs to recognise that. Standing up in front of others and saying

I totally underestimated what was going to be needed here and Alice saved our bacon

will gain a lot of respect from the team for being personally accountable. If the situation was created by someone else, just change 'I' to 'We'. You then are speaking on behalf of the organisation and recognise the individual whilst not directing blame.

  • For the value you personally get: Personal thanks
  • For the value to the business: Public acknowledgement, the breadth of which should be equal to the number of people affected
  • For their personal commitment and sense of honour: Praise, but also see as a learning opportunity to avoid in future

Now, clearly recognising that you do not want the situation repeated, have a retro and work out how you, the individual and the rest of the team can avoid it again. The follow up.

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Like this

Hi Joe, I really want you to know that I've noticed you going above and beyond for us in this last crunch. Thank you for your hard work and dedication. I really appreciate it, and I want to make sure we have you around for a long time, you are an asset to the team and the company.

Pull out a 100 dollar gift card you bought with your own funds.

Here, take this and treat yourself to something, leave on time tomorrow, and enjoy the evening.

That will be the best 100 dollars you ever invested. It will show that you notice and appreciate his work, you're rewarding it, while telling him to back down a bit. You will likely end up with an employee who would march into Hell and sware he had frostbite if you told him to.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – user44108 Jan 17 at 16:40
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Just saying Thank You won't mean much to employee, In the end we work for money.

I was in similar situation where we were not paid overtime and needed to stretch for delivering work. With team being small and no extra resources to share the load we completed work successfully, Each time after delivery our manager would just say big "Thank You" personally or over mail. But this became more of a routine instead of resolving this problem we just received big Thanks every time. No bonus, no rewards nothing. After delivering this once/twice by overworking managers made up a habit of coming up with bizarre deadlines stating that if we were able to finish previous work we must be able to complete this.

Being manager you should understand that if any employee is putting extra effort, its might not only because of his liking to the workplace or work environment. There is always aim to achieve growth financially so they can provide to themselves and their family.

Other answers provide sufficient enough points to consider to make that employee feel important, You must consider any of the suggestion from above answers to reward that employee, But also consider to hire appropriate number of resources so in future you won't need to face the similar situation.

  • Disagree - we do work for money but work is also a big part of our lives and feeling good while we're doing it is also very important. A thank you generally goes a long way! – Lightness Races with Monica Jan 17 at 10:35
  • I am not saying that it is not bad, but if it becomes habit that everytime you are overworked and receive a big fat thank you then it feels like all the positive efforts you put by investing your time and energy is not turning into your growth. Words wont mean much if you don't get what you are working for. Also there are places that will be more fun to work at and will pay me overtime. – nightfury101 Jan 17 at 10:41
  • Sure, don't get me wrong, just saying thank you doesn't solve everything - ideally the perceived need to work more hours would be eliminated too via better management. I'm just saying that as someone who has in the past habitually opted to work more hours because I enjoyed the project, wanted to spend more time on it, and very much appreciated a "thank you" for it (and started getting a bit disenfranchised whenever it seemed that nobody had even noticed) I wasn't thinking about money, but about gratitude. And FWIW in those times we would have just delivered later otherwise, no problem. – Lightness Races with Monica Jan 17 at 10:44
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I think this might be a repeat of @Steve's answer but this is from my personal work experience.

On one instance, when I worked long hours to get something completed, a past boss of mine gave me a few extra days off and some movie tickets along with verbal appreciation. The days off didn't match the hours I put in 1:1 and the other things were small but I still appreciated the gesture.

Another instance, the boss took out the team to lunch at a nice restaurant and basically gave us the rest of the afternoon off since we were just relaxing when we got back to the office. He also privately gave me an Amazon gift card too after the lunch so I'm not sure if everyone got this.

In both cases, the gestures were appreciated by me and made me enjoy working for these past bosses. If/when I become a manager, these are some of the things I will take with me when expressing appreciation for my workers.

  • Better yet, one company gave us $100 to spend taking our neglected friends/family out to dinner wherever we chose. A nice acknowledgement that the employee isn't the only one suffering in these circumstances – user90842 Jan 16 at 19:06
  • I've received movie tickets once as a thank-you gesture at work. Sure that was a nice gesture, but there's one problem: I practically never go watch movies! So for me, they were essentially worthless. – a CVn Jan 18 at 18:48
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@dwizum's answer to respond with ways to prevent the situation in the future is great, but in addition you should also make sure that the developer's extra commitment and unpaid overtime is visible outside your department, and in their permanent record. When it comes time to look at pay-rises, bonuses or even who to keep and who to cut from a department, this is the sort of thing that should make a difference and there is no guarantee that you will still be their manager at that point.

Write a memo to your superiors and peers, praising the employee for what they did and make sure a copy goes in their file. Give a copy to the employee - having your thanks in writing makes them more tangible and gives them something specific to call on when discussing raises etc..

  • If the manager and employee are both on LinkedIn or some similar site, the manager could post a (re)commendation for the employee. The manager's job / contact information may change, the company may go out of business, paper may get lost; but a commendation on a professional profile is forever. – David Jan 18 at 20:58
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    ... in this particular situation I'd downplay or at least be vague about the amount of overtime put in -- you don't want to attract slave drivers, that would be a poor way of rewarding the employee -- I'd simply emphasize that the employee went more than an extra mile. – David Jan 18 at 21:01
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I'd highly suggest a physical award of some kind. Something that can be displayed in the employee's cubicle. Most largish companies have some kind of employee recognition award. I have 3 of those (earned over 2 decades mind you) proudly sitting on my desk right now.

Usually they come as some kind of plaque or framed certificate, along with some kind of monetary compensation. Having received 5 of them myself (two from a prior employer), I can honestly say the plaque means more to me than the money did. However, the money is still an important part of it, as it shows the company takes the award seriously, rather than just running them off in job-lots at Kinko's.

As a management idea, displayable awards have been used for ages in the military. Napoleon is often quoted as saying he could conquer the world given enough ribbon. (I'm dubious about the quote, but the saying is A Thing).

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Don't thank him for the hours. Thank him, and reward him, for the results.

I'm a software developer, with the same company for almost 24 years. They've always worked that way, and it pays off. The developers don't feel pressured to work long hours for the sake of statistics. Instead, they work to get things accomplished, and when those are unusually important, they'll make unusual efforts to achieve them.

Don't expect all unusual efforts to be long hours. In software, creating custom tools to help with the job can be far more productive. You also have the tools thereafter, and using them doesn't wear out the staff.

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