An employee I manage has started working on weekends. They have a temporary position, and probably want to make a good impression to have a chance of getting hired permanently. Higher-ups have asked for tasks to be done on a pretty tight deadline.

This employee is new and requires a lot of guidance to work efficiently. I'm used to working on weekends myself, and I have no problem dedicating a large part of my time to them if needed, but I don't want to normalize working overtime and give the impression that I expect them to work on weekends regularly. I've already told them that they didn't need to do this, but since I often work overtime on the same project myself, I'm worried that it looks like I expect overtime from them, which I don't.

How should I approach this? Should I keep supporting them during the weekend, and regularly make clear that they aren't expected to work that much? Should I stop advancing that project outside of work hours to remove the apparent expectation of overtime?

  • 28
    Get senior management to set a “real” deadline avoiding weekends etc but that won’t happen... because the deadline was a poor estimate...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 17:43
  • 17
    If you were one of my managers, my feedback to you would be that you're the problem. You've set a bad example by working weekends, and now it's possible that this person feels it's necessary to maintain status quo. Find out why this person is working weekends, if it's not for personal reasons (bad situation at home?) Instruct them to stop. Then stop it yourself. Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 1:57
  • 21
    As soon as you start any kind of overtime as "normal", you reduce your "contingency time" which you could use when problems arise. Not to mention the toll on the employees mental health and morale.
    – Mawg
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 8:08
  • 9
    What country? Different countries have different laws, and some of them have laws about how overtime is to be handled.
    – nick012000
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 8:37
  • 3
    I do not agree with the close vote for "opinion-based questions". Yes, it contains "should" questions in the title and text, but it has a clearly defined goal. The "should" questions are just some solution proposals, which OP is thinking about.
    – Chris
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 11:29

8 Answers 8


I don't see a reason why you cannot make this explicit with them:

I see that you sometimes work in the weekends and I sometimes do that too for a variety of reasons. However, I want to be careful to maintain a healthy work life balance and not create the impression (with you or anyone else) that overtime is expected. For this reason I'd prefer to coach you only on Monday through Friday.

Higher-ups will have to deal with missed deadlines, as they would have if your team member didn't make extra hours.

  • 6
    Also, I suggest that when the manager is working a weekend, that manager's main goal has to be figuring out how to prevent future weekend work - doing things such as finding new resources, new tools, reworking schedules on other projects to free up resources, etc. A manager's role is to direct resources to get the job done and that means making sure that the human resources are not worn out.
    – David R
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 14:09
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    s/human resources/people/
    – chepner
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 19:31
  • @chepner, my organization has actually just done this. HR are now "People Partners". HR is one of the most loathed things to have made it across the Atlantic.
    – SiHa
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 16:14
  • 1
    @SiHa Silly sounding, but much better :) I've never understood what the problem with "personnel" was.
    – chepner
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 17:03
  • @chepner IMO, it's just a step towards dehumanizing your employees, from the country that gave us "fire-at-will". You should care about people you employ, but it's easier to not care about resources.
    – SiHa
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 6:40

I'm used to working on week-ends myself ... but I don't want to normalize working overtime

This is the fundamental conflict, and I think you're going to have to decide which side of the fence you're on.

If you work on weekends, and your reports see that, they will assume that working on weekends is within the bounds of normalized behavior. Frankly, they'll be correct in that assumption.

You can tell them as much as you want that it's not expected, and the more senior or confident of them may even believe you; but you'll have set the example that it's normal, which means that a reasonable employee will view it as a within-bounds way of getting ahead.

You are a manager and a leader, and you lead by example whether you like it or not. If you don't want your reports to work weekends (which is very commendable!), the single best thing you can do is to not work weekends yourself. The second-best thing you can do is to hide that weekend work from your reports: keep emails in draft form until Monday morning, don't work on collaborative documents where they can see when you made changes, etc.

(If it's impossible to get the work done without working weekends, then you've normalized working weekends. Your two options are to either live with that fact, or else manage the project's scope or deadlines such that it's not needed.)

  • 5
    Well said ! Working on a big project as a senior engineer with multiple people from another team, I realized that a manager and a senior engineer were regularly working late during the week and were also working weekends. I also saw a young engineer had started to follow their lead. I raised my concerns to the manager and also made sure to always say "don't do that" when working on weekends was mentioned during meetings. They continued working long hours and weekends, although they had talked to everyone involved in the same way the OP did. The young one burned out a couple months later.
    – Jawad
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 19:59
  • "This is the fundamental conflict" I would say that depends. An hourly employee not getting paid while working overtime vs a full time, salaried employee working "overtime" are two separate beasts. (Assuming temp is hourly and poster is salaried since "manager")
    – WernerCD
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 6:28

Unless weekend work is obligated by your expectations, you shouldn't feel obligated to support it.

Your obligation here is to provide your people with a reasonable chance of completing their work within what is understood to be normal working yours. If you have done that and this person must work weekends to meet the deadline, either they are not appropriate for the job or the deadline is unrealistic.

As for an approach: I would simply ignore their requests until your earliest availability during the next work week. If they get stuck, maybe they will decide to enjoy their weekend.

  • 5
    "If they get stuck, maybe they will decide to enjoy their weekend." — or maybe they will spend the weekend worrying and putting in even more effort to overcome being stuck, leaving them entirely exhausted for Monday...
    – Levente
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 21:55
  • 1
    That is entirely possible. But as a practical matter, I don't think it is the manager's problem worry about or solve. Assuming that reasonable expectations have been set and communicated, someone who exhausts themselves outside of work hours trying to get their work done probably isn't right for the job.
    – jiheison
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 23:39
  • If you don't want them getting stuck and agonising over it, you can make it explicit: tell them that if they reach a certain point, they'll have to wait till Monday to get any more help. That's the problem of helping them at the weekend, they'll think they're expected to work; and it's not good for you to have someone bothering you at all hours of the day (especially weekends) asking stuff. It's much better to say "You can't do this without whoever, and they're not in until Monday. Have a good weekend."
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 16:40
  • @jiheison not to come across as rude, but a managers entire job is to manage his or her reports. Having a direct report get burnt out by working too hard for too long shows mismanagement, even if the working conditions were not mandated by the manager. Particularly in the USA, implicit signalling is more the norm than the exception. Even with explicit instructions to the contrary, I would feel more pressure to work late/weekends if my manager was already doing so.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 17:31
  • @GOATNine no offense taken. But I don't quite see what you are suggesting here: that managers must not work weekends? That they must assume that due to pervasive implicit signaling in the USA in general, they are obligated to support workers over the weekend? That if an employee ignores instructions and burns themselves out, this is due to mismanagement? On the last one I might agree, if you are further suggesting that a manager's duty is terminate anyone who demonstrates unhealthy work habits.
    – jiheison
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 17:52

Imho the question you need to answer is "does the employees behaviour realistically improve their chance to get a permanent position?"

If yes, make it clear that this isn't expected, but don't stop them. It benefits the company, it's not a problem and it benefits the employee, too.

Additionally, you working on weekends implies that the chance for this employee getting your job some day is increased too.

Some people work on weekends for their career and not (only) because of pressure. You should know, as you seem to be one of them. Therefore not allowing this or actively preventing it doesn't seem fair. (I don't understand the other answers nor do I see any argument why you should not allow this person to benefit their career in their free time - unless they benefit is imaginary.)

  • 1
    I guess you come from a country where working 7 days a week to build a career is normal. I, as many others here, believe you get more done in working 5 days of 8 hours and taking the rest of the time off, so you are rested and ready for work the next week. While some people will work more than 50 hours a week here, nearly non will work 7 long days.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 11:47
  • 1
    @Willeke I'm from Germany, so no. And I dispute the notion that overtime on weekends never leads to an increase in productivity for anyone. We're talking about short term weekend work, not long term 7 day weeks.
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 13:02
  • @DonQuiKong - The author never made it sound it was "short term weekend work", my last engineering project was 2 years, and for that project it was an "extremely tight timeline"
    – Donald
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 12:40

I'm used to working on week-ends myself, and I have no problem dedicating a large part of my time to them if needed, but I don't want to normalize working overtime and give the impression that I expect them to work on week-ends regularly.

I understand that you want to allow them to work on weekends, but not create any pressure to do so.

Explicitly tell them that they will not get any reward by working on weekends and act like that.

Any benefit you would give, would forfeit your attempts to create a healthy work environment - no matter how you communicate it. Therefore do not give them credit for working on weekends during performance reviews. Do not give raises or promotions based on it.

It is hard, because probably they will be able to achieve more than other employees who have other duties/priorities on weekends. Think about this: Will your childless employees perform on the same level if they get a child next year? Will your employees be able to stop working on weekends and willing to lose the advantage, if they notice that it's affecting their health?

You should reward people who are working most effectively, not working the most hours.

Let's assume you get a high priority task in the morning that must be completed until end of business, whom would you assign it? Employee A who doesn't work on weekends but achieves most in short timeframes, or employee B who grinds through work in overtime? The answer seems obvious here, but is more difficult for long-running tasks. Employee A would be able to up the ante in case of an emergency, while employee B is already at his limit. Therefore think about timeboxes when evaluating employees.

Avoid the impression that weekends are normal working days.

You should not support working on weekends by collaborating with employees like you would on other days. For example do not answer messages and do not handle tool-based requests. You may work on your own stuff, but avoid any interaction and communication with your employees. If they are stuck because they need something from you, ignore it until your next working day.

Having said that, I know that under certain circumstances it's a benefit for employees to work on weekends instead of fixed hours from Monday to Friday. I have been there myself. Therefore I would not actively punish them for working on weekends.


If there really was an emergency that required work to be done over the weekend, you can reward them by giving them a day off during the following week.

Be clear about whether working weekends will make it more likely that you'll take them on permanently, or whether it really only depends on something out of your control (like a customer placing another big order). It might have seemed like you were just explaining the situation, but from a temporary employee's point of view it's very powerful incentive to work extra hours. They might think they're in competition with others and the company will keep whoever does the most work. It's really quite a cruel way to treat people.


I think OP is totally overthinking this situation. The typical setup for this kind of situation is that the OP has responded to either an email sent by the new employee, or some sort of messaging, during the weekend hours.

This doesn't even require a whole lot of thought or conversation. If you don't want to normalize weekend hours, stop responding to anything other than a telephone call. Save those responses until Monday morning. New employee will get the message very, very quickly. This is not meant to discourage the employee's momentum, but the employee will understand that others on the team have lives that the need to compartmentalize away from office stuff. It's not healthy to enable this employee to make a good impression, when it comes at the cost of the work-life balance of other team members.


Frankly, it is not your business

First of all, stop entertaining idea that you are somehow responsible for well being of your subordinates. All of them are adults, and have full responsibility for their lives. They are not your flock, and you are not their shepherd. Even your sentence that you "manage this employee" is probably technically wrong, i.e. your functions is likely project manager, product owner and such, not manager of such and such person.

Second, as a manager, your job would be divide tasks into work units that could be accomplished by average worker (in this case I suppose they are developers, although it is not mentioned) in contracted work hours (40 hours per week, or whatever) . If you think you that deadlines for the tasks are too optimistic, talk about that with senior management. This is also part of your job. You could talk with them about moving deadlines, getting you more resources, spending extra money for overtimes etc ...

Finally, about the employee in question : he is new, probably young, you said he requires guidance. He probably needs more time to finish tasks, which is OK for a junior. At least he is showing certain work ethics so he sacrifices his own weekend time to finish the job, and that is certainly commendable. Hopefully, in time his skills will improve and he would do things more routinely and faster. Your job as a manager is to control his overall performance, not to attempt to manage his life.

  • 5
    I don't think trying to stop people working unpaid overtime is attempting to manage someone's life Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 11:16
  • 1
    @mattfreake what people do in their spare time is none of the manager's business...as long as this overtime is not expected and even less taken for granted.
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 12:47
  • 1
    @mattfreake I agree with Laurent. If company deliberately does not push for shorter deadlines, so average team member could not finish his tasks in allocated time, then there is no problem. You simply have one worker who is slower then others, but if he manages to do his job in his own free time, that is his problem.
    – rs.29
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 17:22
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    The first sentence is fundamentally flawed. A good manager will realize that long term they will get better results from their subordinates if they have a better state of well-being. They will have no influence outside the office, what they can influence is what happnes inside it.
    – Jon P
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 0:35
  • 2
    One of the worst things a Manager can do is to allow overtime to become a "normal" thing.
    – Donald
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 12:38

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