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I've received a job offer from an extremely large company with a reputation of having a "workaholic" culture. I asked some of the interviewers about it in loose terms (ie. what does a work week look like; what's the work culture like; etc) and the responses sounded pretty normal to me.

Since it's a huge company, I'm getting the sense that work-life balance varies by team, with some teams working 50-60 hours per week (verified by someone who works there), but supposedly many other teams are more normal (40/hrs, etc).

Based on the replies I've received, I'm willing to gamble and assume that my future team is one of the more normal ones.

However, I've never worked in an environment with that type of workaholic culture. For those who have worked in that type of environment before, is being a workaholic a job requirement or an optional side kick (albeit with peer pressure to do so)?

In other words: If this team turns out to be a workaholic team, would I be risking my new job if I hold my ground and only work 40 hours a week instead of 50+?

------- EDIT ------------

To clarify - Every other aspect of the offer is amazing for me: Exactly the type of work I want to do, right type of company, stability, highly intelligent coworkers, excellent compensation offer, etc. My question is not asking if this is an offer worth taking. I'm also not asking why it's bad to work 50+ hours a week.

I'm only asking if it's unrealistic to try to have a work-life balance with a workaholic team once you're already in the door. And if it's unrealistic, to what extent?

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    Are you able to talk to your teammates before you start? That's more likely to get you a real answer. I'm not sure most interviewers would admit it if they expect you to work sixty hours a week, especially if only asked indirectly – Kat Aug 28 at 22:20
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    This will always be 100% dependent on the exact details -- the company, the position, your manager, etc.. No answers here will be useful. You might have no problem if you set boundaries, you might be the target or jealously or exclusion, you might be fired, etc. No one has any way of predicting this for you. The only reasonable advice is that norms like these don't exactly come about by people not following them.... – Matthew Read Aug 28 at 23:10
  • What happened to just working the hours you’re contracted and paid for? – Darren Aug 30 at 10:02
  • @Darren: OP is in the job offer phase, so they cannot know now. – guest Sep 2 at 15:18
  • @guest I meant generally in society. – Darren Sep 2 at 15:19
77

I currently work in a company that has a workaholic culture.

I'm only asking if it's unrealistic to try to have a work-life balance with a workaholic team once you're already in the door. And if it's unrealistic, to what extent?

No, it is not unrealistic. For the most part I am able to restrict work time to 40 hours per week, give or take a few hours. On the occasions where I give more of my time I take it back by leaving early on subsequent work days. This is something I have worked out with my manager who knows that work-life balance is a priority for me.

For those who have worked in that type of environment before, is being a workaholic a job requirement or an optional side kick (albeit with peer pressure to do so)?

No, being a workaholic is not required. It's not really a choice though either. It's a trap you fall into when you don't set boundaries. If you are willing to give up extra personal time to meet the deadline, the company will happily take it and give nothing in return. If you're not careful, it becomes expected.

As far as peer pressure, co-workers don't hold your work-schedule against you unless you are unavailable for collaboration during normal work hours or you are an under-achiever. They expect you to complete your work in a reasonable amount of time and to provide explanation if you can't.

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    at what point did you discuss work-life balance with your manager? before you started working there, or at some point after? – c36 Aug 28 at 4:42
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    @c36 I have switched managers a few times, so it was after I started there. I don't think I mentioned it to him until it became a problem I needed his help to address. – mjjf Aug 28 at 5:11
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    I disagree with the co-workers won't hold your schedule against you. If everyone else is used to working 50-60 hours per week and you come in asserting you're only going to work 40, right or wrong, they will most certainly hold it against you. Your answer portrays a highly idyllic scenario. I've worked in places where the expectation is that you're going to work 60 hours per week and everyone that tries to assert otherwise finds themselves not working there for long. I'm not saying such places are good or bad, just that they exist and no amount of asserting by new employees changes them. – Dean MacGregor Aug 28 at 13:09
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    Agree with @DeanMacGregor. Game development studios, for example, are NOTORIOUS for having a clear expectation of working lots of extra hours every week for no additional compensation. Anyone who isn't on the same wavelength will not last long. There are many news articles, and even some deep-dive TV shows that cover this. So, this answer is not representitive of every company culture, and simply exemplifies a more ideal company culture. – Ellesedil Aug 29 at 22:59
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    @mjjf The usual argument is that "video game development is different and crunch is required". There is a huge romanticization of crunch and overworking in game dev, the employees themselves often very strongly believe that it's good, productive and the only real way to make games, which, in their opinion, are so inherently different from any other kind of development that it warrants those conditions. – Maurycy Aug 30 at 21:23
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The problem with working 50-60 hour weeks is that it is ineffective. Not just inefficient, but so inefficient (because you get tired, make mistakes etc. ) that you achieve less than in a 40 hour week, at least in the medium or long term.

If you have nerves of steel, then you can start in a "workaholic" environment, stand your ground not staying in the office more than 40 hours a week, not accepting phone calls out of worktime, and you'll soon find that (a) the guys staying 60 hours in the office don't actually work 60 hours, but much less, (b) you may beat them in productivity, and (c) you will beat them when incomplete, broken, and low quality work products are taken into account.

You'll find out how acceptable that is to your direct manager. Whether bums on chairs are more important to them than work done, or not. But if they insist on 60 hours a week, losing the job is the best thing that can happen to you. Quote from a really good book: "You can make people stay in the office for 80 hours a week. You can't make them work more than 40 hours a week".

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    I agree. The only thing that sustained long hours demonstrate, is inefficiency or low intensity. In fact the main feature of sustainable "workaholic" cultures appears to be that workaholics simply do their socialising at work and their colleagues form their friend group, and inordinate hours are thus spent dossing about or talking. There's no detriment to the employer if they aren't paying for the overtime, but the assumed additional productivity (compared to those who get on with work and finish on time) has been consistently shown (by research and experiment) to be a fiction. – Steve Aug 28 at 1:49
  • For completeness' sake, >40 hours per week is only ineffective if the work is cognitively demanding. If you are working behind a store counter you may well get more done in 60 hours than 40. – JDL Aug 28 at 8:49
  • @JDL, I wouldn't indulge that fallacy. 5x12 or 6x10 on a store counter would be unsustainable if the actual pace of customers were reasonably constant. You can get people to broadly attend a place for over 60 hours - especially if they can control their time to perform minor private tasks during the working day, or conduct their social lives or leisure from that place - but they will not work for 60 hours sustained. The problems can express in many ways, such as rattiness with customers, bad workmanship, or constant turnover of staff, but one way or another you don't get more work done. – Steve Aug 28 at 12:38
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    @Steve The benefit of long hours in many cases is coverage, not productivity. You may have the same productivity despite working longer, but if you are in an environment where urgent requests frequently pop up, the increased chance of being in the office to handle it has a lot of value. Or if you work with a global team, the chance to overlap hours with both Europe and Asia could be incredibly valuable in increasing team cohesion. – Cain Aug 28 at 15:18
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    @Cain, agreed, if there is any advantage to long hours at all, it must be seen from the point of view of "coverage" (where overall intensity is unquestionably low and the pace is out of the control of the employer) rather than productivity. The problem is when employers can control the pace, and they instead ramp up hours and tend to create a culture of poor organisation, low hourly intensity, and other malaises. – Steve Aug 28 at 16:40
13

If this team turns out to be a workaholic team, would I be risking my new job if I hold my ground and only work 40 hours a week instead of 50+?

Perhaps.

I haven't worked in many companies that had an "only work 40 hours" culture. In those companies where everyone worked extra, someone who chose to strictly work only 40 hours wouldn't fit in, and they seldom stuck around.

In one department where I worked that had an "everyone goes home on time" vibe, that lasted only until the first reorg. After that, folks were expected to work more.

If you are looking to work no more than 40 hours, you need to learn about the company/department culture, and avoid those that don't fit your needs, then hope for the best. You'll fit in better, and likely enjoy it more.

I'm only asking if it's unrealistic to try to have a work-life balance with a workaholic team once you're already in the door. And if it's unrealistic, to what extent?

"Work-life balance" is a personal thing. For you, that appears to mean 40 hours. Others (me included) find that they can balance their work and non-work life quite well, even when working more hours.

If it's truly a workaholic team, it would likely be unrealistic to thrive while adhering to a strict 40 hour schedule.

There are companies out there where the cultural norm is to work 40 hours and no more. Find one of those.

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    This is definitely the right answer. It seems everyone voting was voting on the basis on how they wished things were not how they are. – Dean MacGregor Aug 28 at 13:14
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    I agree with this answer. I'd also like to point out that many workplaces have "low key" activity factored in - semi useful work meetings, some maintenance, writing up some documentation etc. So doing that kind of tedium in extra hours definitely frees up for more productive time the next day. And yes, it is expected in many places. – bytepusher Aug 28 at 20:43
  • If there is a union it could be in breach of the agreement to work more than 40 hours a week. – Yuftre111 Aug 29 at 10:34
12

Having worked in this industry for (koff, koff ...) decades, my position on such things is simple: "I'll give you my best efforts during ordinary working hours, but the rest of my life is mine."

I found this out the hard way. (Long story.) "Quantity," whether we're talking about working-hours or anything else, "is not Quality." And, "lack of quality" is what turns out to bite you in the asterisk. So, if your prospective employer has a reputation for "not understanding this principle," maybe you should ... keep your eyes wide open, eh?

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  • Correct. Employers will take advantage of you only if you allow them to. It's their job to hire the necessary number of people and plan buffers instead of overworking people. I've known employees who have calmly told their boss that they could not work for more than a certain number of hours, and the boss agreed. It's an irrational fear that makes people work longer to keep the boss happy. Don't forget the toll on health. Especially the eyes: medium.com/@nav9/the-real-cure-for-eye-strain-6483490d150f – Nav Aug 30 at 10:14
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Low Risk, But Low Upside

Generally, you won't be at risk of being fired if you hold yourself to 40 hours, as long as you are meeting the job expectations within those hours. As has been noted elsewhere, working more than 40 has drastically diminished returns, so if you are unable to meet the basic work requirements in 40 hours, you probably could not meet them in 50 or 60 in the long run.

However, you will almost certainly be hurting your chances at progression by working less than the team culture. If the rest of the team is in the office while you aren't, you're missing out on exposure, networking, etc. Boss walks out of the office at 6 PM and asks the first person they see for help: it won't be you getting a chance to show off to the boss. Somebody has a special project: they might not ask for you on the team if they want someone who can put out fires after working hours.

So if you are happy with the current offer and not trying to continue advancing your career, you can almost certainly maintain a 40 hour work week and keep your job. If you are still trying to climb the ranks, then going against the team culture will make it more difficult.

Note

I come from a finance background, only partially related to tech, so this experience may be different between industries. One key aspect of this is that skill and productivity are not easily quantifiable, so demonstrating value tends to require face-time with important people.

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    definitely an important point. Not being there means not being recognized - that may not be great, but it is true in many work environments – bytepusher Aug 28 at 20:45
  • "they might not ask for you on the team if they want someone who can put out fires after working hours" Who is more capable of putting fires out, someone doing the job in 40 hours, or someone taking 60 hours to do their job? The one doing 40 hours can increase their workload by 50% for a week or two, the one doing 60 hours can't. – gnasher729 Aug 30 at 23:34
  • @gnasher729 I was referring to the kind of emergency that is measured in hours, not weeks. This may be more or less common depending on the industry, but certainly exists. – Cain Aug 31 at 14:39
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As a midway point between the two extremes, it is very normal in pretty much every job that you might have a temporary "rush" requiring overtime. This is particularly true in anything which has a defined release date or deadline for delivery. In a large organisation this might only be an internal deadline, but it still may be important so that other teams can use your output. You might also have an emergency fix needed for some critical bug. You should certainly expect one or two longer weeks per year.

As other people have said though, this should be exceptional. If 50-hour weeks are the norm, even if it's "only" over a space of a few months, you are being exploited. If this isn't deliberate, either they haven't allocated enough staff for the project, or they haven't hired enough staff for all the projects going, or they have fundamentally screwed up their estimates really badly. Whatever the cause, you are covering up for a management error and you should expect some compensation for that.

Sadly the more normal cause of an overtime culture is that management are consciously exploiting you, and this should not be accepted by employees. This is often typical of places such as games companies which intentionally hire people new to the industry (normally people just out of college/uni) in the knowledge that they don't have the experience or confidence to call out management. EA are pretty much the canonical example here, but it's endemic in the games industry. The result is a rate of staff turnover which no other industry would tolerate, and generally also quality issues with what comes out. The games industry gets away with this because there are always fresh "cannon fodder" graduates who think the games industry is cool, and there are always customers who'll buy the game regardless of bugs and wait for DLC to fix it.

Where quality is an issue - consider the impact of failure on fly-by-wire aircraft controllers, or international banking systems - this kind of approach doesn't work. Even with something simple like the chips controlling a microwave, you can't download new content so it has to just work when it's shipped. It is very rare for these kind of industries to have an overtime culture, because the impact on quality would hit the company in the pocket.

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As others have noted, it varies.
This is essentially a one-example mini case study. Still hopefully useful.

I had a manager who appreciated my abilities.
He assigned me projects which well exceeded my ability to meet in a reasonable time.
I provided him with a list of work I had been assigned in what I perceived to be priority order, with my estimates of effort required to complete them.

He subsequently assigned me a major task which he obviously considered important.

I asked him where the task fitted on the list I had given him, and which tasks he would like me to deprioritise. He was amused - he said he had forgotten about the list I'd given him. His expectations at least seemed to be, please just do it all.
It varies.

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"You've got my best professional efforts – eight hours a day, five days a week."

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  • I find it difficult to see how this addresses the question asked. Consider editing it into a better shape, to meet How to Answer guidelines – gnat Aug 31 at 16:07

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