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This is a hypothetical from a team manager perspective.

Assume that I have been leading a team of 20 people in a fairly big company. The work-life balance is very much respected by everyone and therefore there are no expectations that one should work after hours or weekends unless asked (and of course compensated).

Now assume that there is senior employee who's been working 10+ hour days and probably weekends for months but only for his own personal reasons (no idea tbh - probably not too much personal life going on). How should I react?

Frankly, I am under the impression that such thing should be discouraged. Their output is going to be much bigger that other employees' and that may

  1. make them feel that they need extra praise which imo they shouldn't get, which would in turn probably lead to dissatisfaction
  2. might make the other employees feel less productive and discourage them or even
  3. make other employees feel that they need to work more and compromise their personal life

What do you think?

EDIT: To clear this up, this person works for 10+ hours (under a 40hr/week contract) on a daily basis and probably weekends too without either being asked to do it or expecting compensation for the extra hours.

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  • does after hours mean he works a lot more than others or does after hours mean he works later than others and maybe distributes his work differently? that can make a huge difference regarding just having a better work balance or running the risk of overworking themselves. – Frank Hopkins May 15 '20 at 11:54
  • I should have worded it differently. It means that they have longer days (10+ hours) but only clock-in 8 of them (which is required amount). – Rick Grimes May 15 '20 at 14:01
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    The "clock-in" part of Rick's comment is worrisome. If the worked is being paid hourly, then there are likely labor laws that making working off the clock illegal. That would be major trouble for the company, not the worker. – MaxW May 15 '20 at 18:36
  • If this is really happening (and it seems that it is from your comments to answers) then this is not a hypothetical question. You should also edit details like his work output/quality and so on into the question, rather than simply discuss them through comments. – HorusKol May 17 '20 at 23:29
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  1. Understand why the employee is working long hours (and their answer might not be sufficient);
  2. Remind them of the official policy;
  3. Evaluate if and how you can support them;
  4. Measure the impact of their actions;

I had an employee that prefers to work long hours when they are going through some heavy stuff in their personal life. At first, I tried to discourage them from acting like that, citing the impact on their work-life balance and the bad example they would set for the teams they were close.

In the end, it wasn't a problem for the other colleagues, and I learned to let it go a little, as long as their long hours were a rational choice that was making them feel better, I'd not intervene until I see negative signs on the horizon.

If their output is not lower than the rest of the team and it meets the expectations, then I'd recommend just to offer your support if needed. If the output is not meeting the expectations, you need to make them reconsider their efforts and help them get through whatever is affecting them, be it wrong assumptions or difficult life.

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  • I'd add the regular reminder that this is not encouraged and not required. For the employee and all their colleagues just to avoid implicit pressure building up. Otherwise onboard, if it's helping them, there's no reason to block them, but an eye should be out for their mental health. Some laws might disagree, so one might be in a conundrum of having to look after them but not too closely... or transferring that responsibility clearly to them if the local law allows that (or make the framing clear to them and ensure they stay within the lawful bounds). – Frank Hopkins May 15 '20 at 11:56
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    Their output exceeds expectations. That's why I feel I should discourage it as to not let the others feel like they should work more. As for the coworkers, let's say that I know as a fact that a couple has been negatively impacted especially when another higher-up remarked this person's long hours positively – Rick Grimes May 15 '20 at 13:59
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    @RickGrimes, is their output per hour worked also above expectation, or is it just the total output (as a result of making those extra hours)? If it is only due to the extra hours, maybe others who remark on the exceptional output should be made aware/reminded of that. – Bart van Ingen Schenau May 15 '20 at 14:18
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    @RickGrimes ah, then you have mainly a problem at the higher up. I've worked in a few places where putting in some unusual hours was totally fine - every manager kept reminding everyone that it's not needed and shouldn't be done over a long time for mental health reasons but as long as the person doing it was fine, all was good - no one would have complimented them for it though. (They might have complimented availability outside work hours in case of emergencies, but that is something others could do too without working more and it was expected that you take time off another day for that). – Frank Hopkins May 15 '20 at 14:20
  • #1 must be emphasized. Even if it is a short term gain, the reasons for it might not be aligned with the company. Maybe the worker is expecting some extra compensation that will not happen (and when he sees he gets the same than Joe who just is doing his hours he burns out). Maybe the worker is specially involved in this project for personal reasons (and if the company shuts it down it will become a personal issue). – SJuan76 May 15 '20 at 22:42
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I am going to take this in a different direction.

Now assume that there is senior employee who's been working 10+ hour days and probably weekends for months but only for his own personal reasons (no idea tbh - probably not too much personal life going on). How should I react?

They are there on evenings and weekends and you don't know why. Are you sure they are doing things that help the company? They could be running their own company or doing work for another employer/client using the company resources. They could be collecting proprietary information by accessing systems they shouldn't be using.

You might say there is no way they are doing anything dishonest, but I know of several times in my career where management didn't realize a co-worker was doing these things until it blew up in their face. It is far easier to steal from the company when nobody is around.

Now lets assume they aren't stealing from you.

You need to determine why they are there and are they being productive. If they have to be there that may hours, you might have a fundamental misunderstanding of how many hours it takes to do their job. I have been in that situation. If they have to always put in overtime, then they aren't using their time wisely, or you have heaped too much responsibility on them. They might also not learned how to delegate and they are taking on tasks that can be done by somebody cheaper. Delegating might cost the company more money in the short term, but it also might make them more productive.

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Even if people are doing this "voluntarily", it can lead to problems.

  • The "voluntarily" might not actually be that voluntarily, but rather the result of the workplace setting unrealistic expectations of productivity and employees trying to measure up to them.
  • If "voluntary" overtime becomes common, then others might feel obligated to also do overtime out of peer pressure, not out of enthusiasm for their work.

The result is a higher stress level throughout the organization, which leads to expensive mistakes in the short term and loss of productivity due to chronic illnesses in the long term. It is just not worth it.

For these reasons, organizations should usually discourage employees working overtime, even if the employees claim it is entirely voluntary.

If the organization is in an industry with irregular demand, then there might be alternating phases of high intensity which require overtime from some employees and low intensity phases where people aren't even required to work at full capacity. In that situation, a flex time agreement with time accounts can be a good approach. This allows employees to work overtime when they are required and then get time off when they are not required.

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    I wouldn't assume that unrealistic expectations of productivity is the reason because no other employees feel the same way. Quite the opposite actually. Free time and work-life balance is more than respected in the company but also the country in general. – Rick Grimes May 15 '20 at 14:09
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Do you have a company policy against working after hours?

Is their work of good quality?

Is this creating any of the problems you've alluded to?

If there's no company policy, and if their work is of good quality, and if this is not creating any of the problems you've alluded to, then I'd suggest doing nothing. Or perhaps asking this individual why they choose to work after hours. Don't create problems where they don't exist. Seek to understand the situation before taking action. Don't make assumptions and don't jump to conclusions.

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It should be discouraged, but for the opposite reason - their output is going to be significantly lower quality than the other employees, and possibly create more work requirement in the long run. Your team may resent the overworker, but because they end up clearing up the mess at the expense of their own productivity.

Knowledge / creative work simply does not scale, and your team will only do a reasonable job if everyone has an appropriate amount of rest and relaxation. It doesn't matter why your overworker is doing it, it's bad for the team and you as team manager should be probing as to what is going on.

Edit: you added a comment that they are overperforming. You need to be sure that is not the result of the rest of the team being distracted by putting out any fires this guy is inadvertantly starting. You also need to be sure that your performance metric is one that drives the right behaviour. Are you measuring volume of output, or business outcomes (the value he creates)?

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    I wouldn't immediately assume that just because they work longer days this means that their body of work is of lower quality. What if the quality of their work doesn't seem affected by this schedule? – Rick Grimes May 15 '20 at 14:11
  • @RickGrimes To be fair, you posed the question as a hypothetical and it's reasonable to state that in general people do poorly when they are overworked, especially over time. It's only in replies on other answers that you state that this is actually happening and the non-hypothetical employee is currently outperforming their peers. – BSMP May 15 '20 at 17:13

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