I’m in talks with an early age startup (would be joining as employee number 2). I do realise that working in a startup is not a classic 9-5. I understand that there might often be deadlines which will require me to put in more work than that. I understand that and am ok with this arrangement - obviously I will want to put in those hours because once on board I will want the product to succeed.

But I also understand that in a startup there is potentially unbounded amount of week-to-week work which means how much one works is largely determined by what the company founders expect. I value having time off, not only because of hobbies, social life etc, but also for mental health’s sake. And so if they expect that I should have no life and spend 100 hours a week on this project like they might do, then it’s easier to know that before getting on board rather than finding out later, quitting and wasting everyone’s time.

So, how do I find out what is the average normal time committment expected of me, roughly, while also not making it seem like I expect to be simply clocking in and out?

  • Tell them straight up how much you value your free time. Explain that you are willing to put the work when necessary and spect to rest likely. In my case I clock out 20 mins early most days but also clock in 1hr earlier than everyone else. Because I value my free time which I hate spending it in traffic jams(commute is wild down here). My managers are pleased as I report to them early in the morning, coworkers on the other hand dislike but that it's not my bussiness.
    – dmb
    May 9, 2019 at 19:41
  • If you care about life-work balance at all, I would stay away from startups. They are good for people who essentially have no life beside work. It sounds gloomy but I'm being honest
    – amphibient
    May 10, 2019 at 2:39
  • "Tell me about a typical day in this role" may be a good start. May 10, 2019 at 19:06

5 Answers 5


Asking a question that makes the interviewer think "Nope, not hiring this person" doesn't automatically mean it's a bad question!

Imagine if you went to a job interview and the person asked, "Would you be willing to donate 30% of your salary to Habitat for Humanity?" Probably not - 30% is a lot of your pay. So you might think that's a bad question - it would immediately make a lot of applicants decide they didn't want the job. But it's actually a great question, if the workplace wanted people willing to donate heavily to charity: they're weeding out the people that wouldn't be a good fit - which is the entire point of an interview question!

So, should you ask a question about work/home balance? Absolutely! If the manager thinks, "Ugh, this person isn't going to fit in with the amount of hours I'm expecting them to be willing to commit" - you want the manager to weed you out, because you're not going to be happy with the position that's open. Getting rejected for a job opening isn't automatically bad!


Ask the founders if you can speak with the other employee about the company, to get a feel for how everything is. If they decline to allow this, that is a red flag and I would not bother continuing talks with this company.

Regardless, keep in mind that startups where the founders expect all the employees to have no life and work 100 hour weeks seems to be the norm rather than the exception. If work/life balance is that important to you, I wouldn't bother with a startup unless you were founding it yourself and setting the precedence.


Here's the thing: I do want to work eight hours a day and no more. And I do a good job in eight hours. I know I wouldn't do any more work in ten hours, so that would be pointless.

Now whether the startup thinks spending time in the office is necessary to prove your dedicated, or whether they just think they want someone to do the job reliably, that's up to them.

  • 1
    I'm having trouble seeing how this answers the question (which is about how to find out, not opinions of startups and working hours). Is something missing? May 12, 2019 at 20:14

Read "Slicing Pie" about wages vs equity in a startup. If you're getting paid 100% of your market wage, you get no equity; if you work for free, you get your wage equivalent in equity, and everything in between.

The important thing is, this should be laid out before you start. This approach accounts for the different needs and expectations of a startup's employees.

  • 2
    Not sure this answers the question. They're asking about how to deal with expectations on number of hours worked - not the amount/method of their payment.
    – Kevin
    May 10, 2019 at 19:38

I think you can clue in on the environment or just the building they're in. Do they have a open office where it seems like everyone can see what everyone is doing at any given time? Is the office in a small place like a converted hanger or factory floor?

Also you can ask simple questions like if they have the product out yet? What is the status of the product like? Are there coworkers or partners in different time zones?

You can also view their website. How long have they been a start up? What clients they have right now?

I think these questions might give you a clue on what sort of environment you're getting into and you can assess yourself if that's something reasonable to commit to.

  • If the OP is going to be employee #2, I think it's a safe bet that it's very early in the company's lifespan. May 12, 2019 at 20:16

You must log in to answer this question.