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I work in a research facility in Germany. I have lots of co-workers that are from other countries, mostly part of some international collaborative research projects.

There's one guy from China who's in his office almost every day including the weekend and also stays pretty late. I live more or less next to our office building and often see him at his desk while passing the building.

While it sometimes happens that we work on weekends during urgent projects, this should be an exception. However, this guy was in the office even during some public holidays (where we aren't even allowed to work as far as I know) and I see him almost every weekend.

I would usually say it's none of my business, but I have a feeling that he does not really know that he's supposed to rest on weekends and so. I know working culture is different in China and probably he thinks that he's expected to work every day or similar. HR is usually pretty good in telling us what our rights and duties are when we sign our contracts, but probably he simply missed this information. I assume that nobody is aware of it, since nobody else is here on these days.

We have fixed working hours that we should meet and we don't clock.

Should I approach this? If yes, should I talk to the co-worker or to our boss (who I think is responsible for having an eye on things like this)? I think I have a good relationship to both but don't want to step on their toes by approaching the wrong person and defying the other. I only want to make sure he knows that he really does not have to work every day.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Apr 23 at 14:41
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    Is he paid a set salary or is he paid hourly? He may be rolling in the overtime pay. – Michael Richardson Apr 23 at 22:12
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    @MichaelRichardson: salary if it is actually an employment contract (as this is at a research facility, he could also be paid by a scholarship). (And even employment contracts that mainly specify a hourly wage have to state a lower bound for hours e.g. per week or month and there is an upper bound by law) – cbeleites Apr 25 at 12:39
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    How would he know which days are public holiday? Is this communicated? – lalala Apr 25 at 18:39
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    @lalala Yes, it's in our group calendar. – supersoft Apr 25 at 20:16

12 Answers 12

481

Maybe he simply doesn't know what else to do with his time because of a lack of social contacts. Why don't you invite him over for BBQ on one of those weekends? (If you feel like investing your personal time in that matter)

It can be very hard to get to know new people when working in another country, especially if you are a little shy.

If you get along well, you can simply tell him that you noticed him working on the weekends. It is not a difficult issue at all and something that coworkers should be able to communicate openly about.

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    +1 It's a very considerate answer – Prison Mike Apr 23 at 12:08
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    "Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle." - Ian MacLaren. Proud to be the 100th upvote on this. – T.E.D. Apr 23 at 16:41
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    Good answer! Maybe suggest some activity that requires less social interaction thus less social skills. Instead of a BBQ where you may find out he is vegetarian, maybe invite him to watch a very popular movie with a large group (think Avengers/Avatar) or maybe some sports game. – Mefitico Apr 23 at 18:29
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    @Mefitico: Take the trouble to find out what the co-worker actually enjoys, first. Honestly, I'd much rather work than watch movies or spectator sports. – jamesqf Apr 24 at 3:46
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    As somebody who has moved (temporarily and permanently) to a few different countries, I can tell you that it's much better to be invited to something that might not be your cup of tea than to not be invited to anything at all. – xLeitix Apr 24 at 7:30
58

You do not know that he is working excessive hours. For example, he could be studying, and have a home situation that makes that difficult, such as a roommate with a loud TV. The office may be the most comfortable and suitable place for some of his non-work activities.

If you raise this with management they could be forced to notice something they are trying to ignore. He could be forced to go home, and left without a quiet place.

I am sure your colleague knows the normal working hours, because he sees people leave.

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    Nothing wrong with asking, though. It's a chance to get to know each other, and on the off chance he actually thinks that he has to work so much, OP can gently correct him. – Llewellyn Apr 23 at 17:24
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    When I was a bachelor, I tended to work long ours unintentionally. I didn't have any need to be anywhere at a certain time, and I'm good at focusing on my work. I would generally discover everybody was gone when I got up to go to the bathroom or to stretch, or somebody turned the light out on the cubicle farm, thinking that they were certainly the last one there, as they'd finished their day at 8PM or something. I knew the normal working hours, but I didn't notice the people leaving. That said, I usually didn't work weekends. – Ed Grimm Apr 24 at 1:26
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    It is possible that the employer (or insurance) would object to using office space for non-work purposes. – gerrit Apr 24 at 7:22
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    Also, not everyone works best during "normal working hours". For instance, at my last actual job, I would come in about 10 AM, take off a couple of hours in mid-afternoon for a bike ride, then work until 9 PM (or later if I was on a roll). I was hardly the only one to have such a odd work pattern. – jamesqf Apr 24 at 19:03
47

It doesn't matter if he enjoys or hates the job but there are rules like no work on public holidays that shouldn't be broken as that maybe against the law of the land.

In some cases it can also create bad name for the company for over working and create a culture of overworking like how it is in Japan, China and to some extent in India.

You don't have any responsibility in this case. HR of the company should take note of this and take proper action.

There are people who are paid just to check whether rules of the companies are followed or not. Let them do their job and you can focus on yours.

Most you can do is check your contract/handbook and see if you have any channels to report such incidence if not just let it be.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Apr 23 at 10:38
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    @Ramhound I work for the German federal government, which may also be the case in a German research facility. By law, I am not allowed to work more than 10 hours per day or more than 50 hours per week, and my 6-month average must not exceed 39 hours/week. Of course, some roles require working evenings, weekends, and public holidays, but no role requires working those in addition to regular working hours; shift workers have time off when others are working. – gerrit Apr 24 at 7:21
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    @Ramhound This may sound weird to an American, but the German Arbeitszeitgesetz (working hours law) says: To have employees work more than 8 hours a day on average is not allowed (§3); have them work more than 6 hours without at least 30 minutes break is not allowed (§4); have them work on Sunday and public holidays is not allowed (§9) etc. etc. The employer can be held liable and forced to pay up to 15k€ per wrongdoing employee per day (§22) unless he can show he did his fair share to prevent violation of the law, so it's getting pretty expensive really quickly. – Alexander Apr 24 at 8:31
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    @Ramhound there are exceptions to what Alexander said for services such as restaurants. But people working in these get extra pay that is regulated by the government. Work after 8pm gives 25% extra, work on Sunday gives 50% extra, and there are bank holidays with 100% and with 150% (like Christmas and Easter) extra, all of that tax free. Another section in Arbeitszeitgesetz says that you have a rest period of at least 10 hours between shifts. And Urlaubsgesetz (holiday law) requires you to take at least a two week consecutive holiday once a year, and says your employer has to let you. – simbabque Apr 24 at 8:38
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    @ESR I only know what applies to me as a federal government employee. I don't know how much of it applies to private employees or to self-employed people. If you employ yourself and then want to sue your own one-person company for violation of labour law, I suppose you could but I have no clue why you would do that. – gerrit Apr 24 at 14:28
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You should ask your common direct manager if he is aware that your colleague is at work for endless hours. If the answer is "yes", that's it. If the answer is "no", you can tell them what you know.

I said "is at work" because of the quote "you can make people be at the workplace for 80 hours a week, you can't make them work more than 40 hours a week".

It is well known (studies starting with Eysenck in the 1940's) that longer working hours don't lead to more productivity. People working 60 vs 40 hours for six weeks produce exactly the same (not the same per hour, but the per week), but then the person working excessively will be less productive per week.

If you talk to the colleague directly, you can tell them that his German manager will not think any better of him for working overtime, will not appreciate it whatsoever, and will not thank him. 37.5 hours a week is the norm. He should get a life instead of working.

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    This has notable exceptions. OP mentions that these are research projects, and some scientists really like and identify with their work, to the point where they will without prompt dedicate large swaths of their free time to furthering it in addition to work. Additional effort, freely given does not quite suffer from the same diminishing returns as compulsory overtime does. – Magisch Apr 23 at 10:55
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    I did a good 15 or 16 hrs a day on a project for a few months once, because it needed doing and it was really good fun. Don't get me wrong, I ain't rushing to do that again, but it was purely my choice and I have never regretted it. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 23 at 15:44
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    @Fattie I've seen a lot of your comments, and it seems like you're coming from a very narrow niche. I'm a software developer, but it's for a live system that traders use from 1 am to 6 pm, mixed with support. I begin supporting at 5:30 am (from home) and end my day at 5:30 pm. The traders work longer hours than that, maybe from 6 am to 8 pm. The better to more money make. – Matt Samuel Apr 24 at 4:11
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    hi @MattSamuel ! that's support, not development. (And congrats!) By the way the mods have entered full-on "delete comments we don't happen to like" mode, bless 'em, so your comment may make less sense to future readers. – Fattie Apr 24 at 10:34
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    –1, because this completely misrepresents the results of the studies about work-hours vs productivity. Those studies are certainly important and significant for e.g. employers setting their work schedule, or governments setting national regulations, but they’re trends, not charts that let you conclude something about each individual person. – PLL Apr 24 at 13:13
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Should I approach this?

Officially, No. Your co-worker does this on a regular basis. If he was under the impression that he "has to" work, by this time, he would have realized that's not the case and would have reached out to HR (or someone else in the authority) about the requirements. He's the only one who shows up on weekends / stays late - so it's not a group / team culture he is picking up.

  • He never mentioned about it
  • He never asked about it
  • and to your knowledge, he never complained about it.

Given the level of comfort you say you have with this co-worker, should he have felt the same - I'd say he'd have mentioned about this "overtime" to you.

He made a choice, for whatever reason. The best option is to - Let him be.

If there is a possibility that he is breaking the law / office rules - let people who are changed with enforcing the rules deal with that.

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    Completely agree. I think the question displays some measure of "nosiness" on the part of OP. The more fundamental question is, why does OP feel the need to intervene? Does OP somehow feel guilty they are not working hard enough and projecting their feelings onto this colleague? Is OP displaying superiority complex behavior over this colleague? Please see (similar) answer below... – user32882 Apr 24 at 7:23
7

The real problem here is that the this behavior puts the company at significant financial risk (liability for accidents, fines, salary payments for unpaid overtime, customers) if it is tolerated. Does his boss realize he works that much?

  • If yes, then you may think about contacting HR in an informal way (or run from the company)

  • If no, then somebody from the team (Teamlead?) should to bring this to the attention (in an informal way) of his boss.

Sensitive points:

  • Be careful not to make legal statements (e.g. the work on holiday thing is a company/contract regulation, not legal). Be especially careful not ro misrepresent the laws (I nearly sued a Betriebsrat for defamation because he misrepresented the legal situation around my working time).

  • Be careful not to appear to actually track him/her (e.g. do not show a list of observations, and btw dont create such a list from the beginning)

Update/Edit: To comment on the "research facility" aspect. Here the problem is that in research such things are accepted (as a former researcher I myself worked also more than my contract stated) or even encouraged by the superiors. Moreover, if he is a phd/post-doc this may actually even be encouraged by the competition. In these jobs the separation between "personal stuff to work on" and "work projects" is very fluent, however German laws also apply. So if it becomes very extreme (>60h/week average), consider to inform appropriate places (possibly anonymously)

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    'the work on holiday thing is a company/contract regulation, not legal' this needs some clarification. Do you mean working on holidays in Germany is solely bound by agreement between employer and employee? – jcm Apr 23 at 12:58
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    At least in some areas of Germany, the company needs to get a permit from local government for every employee which works on weekends or on holidays, which can sometimes be difficult, from what I hear. – AndrejaKo Apr 23 at 13:31
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    I wonder if he's also required to declare his hours, and if he's reporting work accurately. If he's saying he works 37½ hours and he actually works 92, then that's a misrepresentation. When he leaves, he would need to be replaced by 2½ FTEs. – Rich Apr 23 at 19:46
  • @AndrejaKo: yes, but it's not up to the OP to speculate about that, unless he is a lawyer and has insights in all the administration around this – Sascha Apr 25 at 8:16
  • @Sascha Yes, it is. OP, as a concerned member of the society, should point out that something fishy is going on. If the Chinese guy is OK with it, well, then I would consider OP's duty to the society to be fulfilled. Furthermore, based on my experience, I feel safe saying that it's a bit too much to expect that the administration of the Research Facility is up to date what's going on, all the implications, and that it has actually informed the Chinese Guy of all the administrative details... But now I'm getting a bit off-topic here. – AndrejaKo Apr 25 at 8:32
5

There are plenty of reasons that can explain this kind of behaviour, and some can be far more dangerous than other to deal with.

  • simple habit of always working : speaking with the person won't bring any bad, but not much good either, "that's just the way I am"
  • cultural training : it's a little bit dangerous to go there, as the notion of hard working may be part of the person's identity. attacks against one's identity are always bad received - however true is the remark.
  • simple wish to be more productive : there is plenty of litterature that shows that excessive working hours are not good for productivity, but there again, it's very delicate to convince a binge worker that' he's not as productive as he thinks.
  • pleasure at work : there you'll be probably be welcome, but with not much effect anyways. Whoever loves to work, does work.
  • fear of failure : fear darkens the mind, and consequences of speaking to the person are unpredictable.

Said otherwise, whatever the situation, it's hard to project an outcome where speaking to the person would be efficient. Especially if you have no management power over the person. I know manager who complain that some of their team members are doing excessive work times, and have a very hard time correcting the situation. You do have even less leverage.

Your concern seems valid to me, but I don't see any tools that could help you to solve it.

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    What's the nature of the work? Hopefully it's not the case here, but countries do routinely engage in economic and outright espionage on each other, and research institutions can be targets. Working long and odd hours without prior approval is a potential red flag. Might be worth at least making sure your supervisor is aware of the long hours without raising accusations (after all you don't know why, for good or for bad) and let them sort out finding out the reason (if they even want to). – bob Apr 23 at 20:32
  • @bob : excellent addition. It's not limited to espionage, by the way : Jérôme Kerviel did have the same behaviour to hide his illegal brokering - his only way to avoid someone looking ad his excessive orders was to be always, always, always present. – gazzz0x2z Apr 24 at 13:21
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Just discretely ask. Next time you're helping him just say "Wow you've progressed real far on this, have you been working extra?"

Then progress the conversation from there. If he mentions working weekends and late then gently question it. "Oh really? Do you not enjoy having some time off?"

If he doesn't mention staying late at all then just leave him to his own devices, it's very possible he just likes to work and enjoys the job.

Like you say, it's possible he is unaware of the norm here, no harm in asking. If you're certain he knows the employee laws and the norms then leave him be.

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    Like you say, it's possible he is unaware of the norm here, no harm in asking. Otherwise just leave him to do what he wants to do. - so what exactly is the suggestion? To ask or leave alone? – Sourav Ghosh Apr 23 at 8:16
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    You ask him, otherwise leave him alone if he is aware – Twyxz Apr 23 at 8:18
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I have worked for a German Company in the USA. Analysis below:

1) Immigration, Most people who come into a different country want to move to that country. For this, The workers have to prove their potential, so the Company can sponsor them an Immigration VISA. Especially the people from the East, ( India, Taiwan, China, etc)

a) In East Asian culture, They believe in quantity over quality. For example Schools in India are from 8 am to 4 pm and most kids are forced to attend tutors after that from 6 pm to 9 pm, Similarly, at work, The manager's impressed if the worker works after hours even though there is no productive work being done.

This could be one of the reasons why the worker is staying late, which he thinks would help him with an immigration visa.

b) Working in a German company in the USA,

I noticed a trend,

i) Most American workers (Includes Indian/Chinese born in America) work the 8 hours Mon-Thursday and 5-6 hours on Friday. Most people leave at 2 pm on a Friday

ii) German Workers and European Workers love their vacations, They organize their time (work-life), On some days they work 10-12 Hours, So they can free up other days for vacations

iii) Asian(Indian/China) who are in USA on VISA, work 8-10 hours every day. They would even come in on weekends

2) Lifestyle: In most western cultures, they like to socialize at bars/ lounges/ Comedy Clubs after work, In Eastern, it's usually family time.

a) When they are working in western countries, it can be a culture shock. So they don't like to expose themselves to something new.

b) Also, most local people in western countries tend to be with their own group/social circles (This is not true in Mega Cities like NYC, LA, London but applies to smaller cities and suburbs). They are not open to welcoming new people into their life.

  • Your last paragraph of a) sounds like you have inside knowledge of this case. If you don't actually know the person or haven't talked to him about why he stays late, you should probably change that to "This could be" rather than "This is". – Ed Grimm Apr 24 at 0:25
0

I understand your concern, but different people have different work ethics. Some people need a ton of work to be happy, others will be miserable when they are slightly above what they can handle. Let it be.

I am similar to your coworker and I work more hours than most of my colleagues. I'm happy that way. I am not unfriendly, but I socialize at the bare minimum required. I don't have the same social 'needs' as some of my other colleagues.

I would say leave your colleague alone. If HR explains the working conditions as well as you say they do, then your colleague knows it full well, and is only working that hard because they want to. I don't see why you feel the need to snoop into their work habits or impose what you think a healthy work-life balance needs to be. Do what works for you and respect and tolerate the choices of others.

The only legitimate thing in your question is regarding him/her working during unauthorized hours. That you could potentially raise as a concern, and they need to know that they need to respect what is authorized and what is not.

I am personally a workaholic. The same 'well-intentioned' colleagues who have told me not to work so hard often end up resenting and trying to bully me me for that reason. I have had to put many in check who don't agree with my work ethic and think they are entitled to tell me how to live my life or how much I need to work. It may become a form of harassment on their part.

Check yourself, your 'concern' here is really none of your business. If you see something illegal happening in the office or if your coworker is bullying or harassing others then sure you need to intervene. But in this case, leave your coworker alone.

0

I think the best argument for your colleague is that long working hours increase excess risk of coronary heart disease by 40%. So the idea that a job can kill you is not just empty words. Also there are some articles where researchers found decreased brain activity for those working long hours. And this means that productivity drops too. At some point, your health problems will become too great for any amount of money to fix. You should find another job if your manager does not value the health of employees. You can always find a new job, but you will not find a substitute for your good health. So that should be always in our minds.

Even if your co-worker doesn't have many friends or many places where he could spent free time, still there are possibilities. He can watch movies or TV, go to parks for a walk, read books, making dinner, or even drinking beer. Any activity will be better than simply to continue performing job duties no matter what.

EDIT

Of course you should approach this problem somehow. But I think it's best to talk with your co-worker and not to manager, because this problem involves more personal things than company culture. Besides managers usually opts for a long working hours because they thinks it's useful for a company, albeit it does more harm to it in reality. So try to approach your colleague somehow.

How to do this ? If you want to be very tactical - when going home after a work at least ask your co-worker if he/she goes home too ? (If co-worker replies "NO" - you may ask "why not ?" or "what's so important you are trying to finish ?" ) This question seems not very important at first, but it is. It implies that your colleague must re-think current goals/tasks again and at least unconsciously he/she may start raising a question - Is staying late at work worth it ?

  • Any reason of down-vote ? Somebody doesn't like the medical facts ? – Agnius Vasiliauskas Apr 24 at 8:53
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    Down vote wasn't from me, but I would guess the reason for it is that this answer doesn't actually address the question - Should I approach this?. Edit could be as straightforward as Yes, because [medical facts...], though I would also suggest providing an example of what one could actually say to the coworker if you do indeed advocate approaching them about the issue. (After all, it could be quite easy to stress them out even more if you bluntly point out they're doing something wrong without suggesting any alternative. Some tact is required). – CactusCake Apr 24 at 15:52
  • @CactusCake Thanks for a note. I was so buried into medical research, that totally forgot emotional and/or tactical side of problem. Added new edit in relation to this. – Agnius Vasiliauskas Apr 24 at 17:55
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Having lived in Germany for much of my adult life, and then in China, I find this question extremely interesting.

One bit of scientific knowledge can be turned into an amazingly lucrative industry in the PRC. China has a family-oriented and strongly nationalistic society. Gaining technical know-how overseas can lead to incredible rewards at home.

Staying late at work is a very good way to gain insights. Focusing on work is normal in Chinese culture.

protected by Mister Positive Apr 23 at 18:11

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