I'm currently in the interview process to work at a mid-size startup which has been operating for 4 years and with 50-100 employees. One of the questions they asked me in the interview was along the lines of 'we sometimes have to work long hours / overtime, is that ok?'

I agreed that it was a bit of a fact of life that sometimes overtime is required and that I'm happy to put the effort in. I was a bit puzzled to hear however that they do not pay overtime. Since the salary offer is without equity, I feel a bit deflated that they're already essentially asking me to work unpaid overtime before I've even begun.

I come from a large company where overtime pay is expected and thought it was the norm everywhere (within UK). Am I being unrealistic?

  • 11
    That doesn’t sound like startup to me. Why do you use that word? Sep 11, 2019 at 13:29
  • 1
    have you asked how they reward overtime? Sometimes you get time off for it instead of overtime pay. Sep 11, 2019 at 13:57
  • For me this is a red flag when they even ask it during an interview. Sounds like plannings issues. This red flag is even more huge when they say 'long' and 'no pay'. Check if they offer time for time compensation?. I would run.
    – RvdK
    Sep 11, 2019 at 13:58
  • Also see China's 996 for one reference point.
    – user25792
    Sep 11, 2019 at 15:04
  • From what I learned when interviewing, that is quite common and they are just being honest. As long as you get compensated somehow (leaving early when there is not much work, extra vacation days, etc.) and you are ok with that instead of overtime pay, I wouldn't mind that. Of course, if you have to do 12 hours every day without any compensation, ever, then you should look elsewhere. But that is something you can only learn when you work there.
    – Dirk
    Sep 12, 2019 at 6:22

6 Answers 6


I'd tell them: "That's OK, assuming that it's indeed sometimes and not most of the time, and that the company is also OK with me sometimes having to come late or leave early, on both sides within reasonable limits".

These are the points I'm trying to illustrate:

  1. Any company can sometimes find itself in a situation where some overtime is needed; but if that situation happens most of the time, that's a sign of a problem - bad planning or something.
  2. Employees can work overtime sometimes, but if you have them do it all the time, they will burn out and then even a normal amount of work will not be possible for a while, until they rest and recover. Expecting anything else is not realistic.
  3. I'm not a charity, and extra work needs to be paid in some way. If it's not directly paid in money, it can be paid in like kind and quantity, understanding for understanding - the company can show understanding when I have a personal situation and need to work less. If they want the relationship to be one-sided - if they want me to do extra work and this is not recompensed in any way - it must be made clear to them that I will not allow this.
  • 11
    I would add two specific questions: "How often has it happened in the last six months" and "If I have a family commitment that means I'm unable to work overtime on a given day, will that be OK?" Sep 11, 2019 at 15:11
  • 1
    +1 for highlighting that compensation for overtime is not always money and for driving the point that overtime needs to be compensated somehow. Only watchout is that OP also needs to ensure that they'll be able to cash in those extra hours, I've seen multiple times people putting in overtime for "hour pools" or "hour banks" or something like that and not being allowed to redeem those hours later Sep 11, 2019 at 15:54

I've recently worked for two startups, my previous around 65 employees, my current around 10. I was asked this in both interviews and it's even in my contract for both companies:

conform to such hours of work as may from time to time be reasonably required of him on the understanding that the performance of his duties may require the Employee to work outside the Company’s normal business hours of 9.00 am to 5.00 pm. There is no entitlement to be paid extra remuneration for any additional hours worked in excess of basic weekly hours, as this obligation has already been taken into consideration by the Company in determining salary levels;

The key part of this clause is "reasonably required". I work extra hours, log on weekends and holidays etc. when something goes wrong. My salary takes this into consideration that I will do this, but it's usually shared about in the team, depending on who is actually available.

It's also worth noting that, although they don't say it (because then they'd be obliged) if you're the person who stays late, offers to log on when there is a crisis etc. You're going to get a good bonus. They're likely to be more flexible with holidays. They are going to be ok with you clocking off early to catch a train, or see your daughters play.

I can't say that this is the case in every company, some will take the piss, but if you think there is a good atmosphere in the office and like the company, it's unlikely you'll get one of the bad ones.

p.s. Also UK (London)


I feel a bit deflated that they're already essentially asking me to work unpaid overtime before I've even begun.

Go with that feeling. I'd have clarified at the time to make sure they're talking about unpaid overtime. But not getting extra if you're on a salary is normal.


I come from a large company where overtime pay is expected and thought it was the norm everywhere (within UK). Am I being unrealistic?

No you are not being unrealistic. The only legitimate reason for having to work overtime is an emergency. Anything else is poor management of time/planning on the part of management and/or the employee. It is understood that real emergencies happen and people need to work extra to address it.

The fact that they ask you about it in the interview indicates to me that overtime is a common occurrence at this company, which should never be the case. I would look elsewhere for employment.


If I were in your shoes and they wanted that from me, if I wanted to accept I would still ask for toil time. This is where in return for your overtime hours, you get a few hours off to recuperate as necessary. Managers will typically have an easier time giving you time off than overpay, and as such overtime is typically used in an emergency situation, it makes sense that they won't want you to burn out.


My response to this question is "I prefer to not work overtime, but I understand crunch time happens, so I'm OK working small amounts of overtime from time to time provided it's not habitual".

The problem with this question and also this answer is that, if this answer is acceptable, the question shouldn't need to be asked; it should be understood that if you are in mid-line-of-code when the clock strikes 5, you're not going to get out of your chair and walk out the door, because no reasonable person would do that. Conversely, if the question needs to be asked, then it implies that the overtime is habitual and long, which means the answer is not acceptable, and also means that I (at least, and this is my opinion) would not want to work for the company anyway, so asking the question disqualifies the company from my working there, and the answer disqualifies me from working at the company.

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