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Summary: I am salaried employee regularly working 15 extra hours (over 40hr/week of my contract) every week without overtime pay. I work from home (WFH). I want to decrease amount of unpaid overtime in a professional manner, given that my coworkers and managers are used to it.

I'm a salaried software worker who currently works 50-55 hour weeks on the regular, on occasion more. This is done out of a pressure to stay productive and to meet quotas. It is also partially due to distractions related to Work From Home (WFH) conditions. Over the past few weeks, my manager has expected more and more, and it seems as if the only way to keep up with the demand. Part of this as well is a mandatory 38% of the 8-hour work day being dedicated to meetings, naturally stifling productivity. There are also other, minor factors. I know that a few of my co-workers have caved as well as I, and are also working around 55 hours. I'm now wanting to take back the time that was once mine. It may be relevant to note that us employees are not given any compensation for working more than 40 hours.

In a corporate environment, what's the best way to do this? Gradually, or Immediately? Is it better to tell my boss, or should I let him tell me if something's off? Should I wait until after the upcoming crunch, or would it be better to do it while we're on a tight schedule?

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  • How do you normally communicate about how much time you spend on what tasks? For example, if you fill in a timesheet, this is an easy peasy way to passively say "As you wanted boss, I spent 23.5 hours in meetings this week instead of [actual work]".
    – OmarL
    Aug 16 at 2:17
  • 38% of a 40-hour week works out to 15.2 hours. That's a weirdly specific and un-round number for mandatory meetings. Who is mandating these meetings? The organization? One or more project managers? Your boss? How big a contribution is the "distractions related to work from home"? And is work from home something you want to do or something you're forced to do during the pandemic? You'd want to present things differently if you want to work from home permanently vs. if it's a temporary measure until the pandemic subsides. Aug 16 at 2:23
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    @JustinCave That might just have been 37.5% (15 hours) rounded to an integer.
    – TooTea
    Aug 16 at 7:10
  • What country? Australia has a laws prohibiting the working week of a full-time employee exceeding an average of 38 hours, for instance, so you'd be within your rights to ask for some days off as compensation.
    – nick012000
    Aug 21 at 4:16
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    @nick012000 United States
    – user53861
    Aug 24 at 19:53
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Working 50-55 hours a week consistently is neither healthy nor the right thing to do. You need to let your boss know and draw a line on how many additional hours you should be putting in, to factor in the distractions. e.g. I could say I would spend an hour additional per day to make sure I am spending the required 8 hours to cover for the distractions or other non work related matters which need to be attended to.

Beyond that :

  1. You need to show your productivity - Document things. Since you are in software, each software you need to develop would have an estimate. If its not estimated, can you create that estimate and track against that estimate.You seem to be tracking meeting data well. Do the same for productive coding hours as well.
  2. Send a weekly status report to your lead/ manager.
  3. Take a hard look at meetings and see which one you can avoid. Make a list and get your manager to agree you can skip those. This will help you claim back some time which can be used to show productivity improvements.
  4. Say no to unrealistic expectations. Managers will push an employee to do more in less. Its their job. Your job is to see if those expectations are realistic and if not, then communicate as soon as possible that something cannot be done in the expected timeframe. If its still needed in the timeframe then it needs additional hours which should be documented. If they don't approve the additional hours, then you continue working your 40 hours and highlighting the date by when you think you will be done.

To start this process, I would recommend you prepare this data for a week and have a one on one with your manager. Tell him that you are working between 50-55 hours a week and its not sustainable. Give him a plan, e.g. you can tell him to help you cut down on meeting time to get similar output.

Depending on his response, you can make the next call. It could be that this is a temporary phase where he needs to meet a timeline. In that case, though you are not paid overtime, you can negotiate additional time off.

If he dismisses you or threatens you, then its time to look for a new project in the same company or look for a new job.

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    "Managers will push an employee to do more in less. Its their job" -> no, that's what bad managers do. Good managers will push employees to the highest pace that can be sustained indefinitely
    – STT LCU
    Aug 16 at 8:25
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    "Working 50-55 hours" Yes and don't fall into billionaires bullshit. Those people can work when and HOW they want. They also don't need to do a lot of thing (like cooking etc). PLUS they also brag about how many hour they need to work like A LOT of people. Here (France), I can work 9-19, people like me tend to say that they work 10h a day which is wrong. People take a lot of break, lunch time.. etc. The best thing is to work less but harder, high work hour volume result in people standing here to make them looks like concerned worked.
    – PowerCat
    Aug 16 at 10:18
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In a corporate environment, what's the best way to do this? Gradually, or Immediately?

When making a change like this which you clearly feel will be problematic ("take back the time that was once mine"), it's best to do it gradually, in hopes that it won't be as noticeable.

Is it better to tell my boss, or should I let him tell me if something's off?

It's likely better to not signal your intentions ahead of time.

Should I wait until after the upcoming crunch, or would it be better to do it while we're on a tight schedule?

If you think the tight schedule will ease relatively soon, then it would be best to wait for that time.

You seem to indicate that part of the issue has to do with you ("It is also partially due to distractions related to Work From Home (WFH) conditions.") If you continue to work from home, you might need to find a way to be less distracted, and thus won't have to spend extra hours to make up for it.

Realistically, you should be looking for your next job. As you have described it, this company has a culture of expecting people to meet quotas, and to work extra, and so far you have chosen to go along with it. Now you decided that you no longer want to conform to the company culture. You would be better off finding a company with a culture that fits your needs.

Perhaps you should look for a company where you can work in the office and not be so distracted, and one with fewer mandatory meetings.

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  • Hard disagree with making the change gradually to avoid it being noticed and to not signal your intentions. The solution is going to have a direct impact on OP's ability to deliver within the expected timelines so management needs to be made aware of it ASAP so it can be planned around. The drop in productivity will almost certainly be noticeable over time and it will look far worse on OP if they don't raise the issue beforehand.
    – aleppke
    Aug 16 at 18:43
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My solution was to track my work. This means I logged all my hours spent on work including meetings etc,. into a simple tracking program for reference. Then, if there were any queries I would pull the timeframe up from my tracking program and explain what the time was used for.

60 hour weeks were done once in a while if there were pressure situations or interesting projects. But I was always prepared to show what my time was spent on when I just did 40.

On rare occasions I was asked why something wasn't finished and I'd just pull that weeks hours up to explain why I needed more time to complete it. The company ended up having everyone using a tracking program.

This is a good solution for an engineer, a bit more complicated for software guys but something along these basic lines may be a solution for you.

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  • What program did you use or did you write your own?
    – Earl Sven
    Aug 17 at 12:39
  • @EarlSven I'm not a programmer, it's just a basic MS Access one someone wrote
    – Kilisi
    Aug 17 at 18:09
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Can you work through the meetings?

I have a hybrid workplace and make a point to work from home on meeting heavy days so I can just return to working while others talk.

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    I wouldn't suggest this. Without the attention of your colleagues you spend longer repeating yourself and decisions are likely to be poorly understood. Aug 16 at 8:12
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    I worked in a project where you basically had to do this to get anything done. Way to many people were invited to 2h meetings, were they needed to pay attention for 15 min and the rest of the meeting was about something else. It is a bad way to setup a project. People are less productive, stressed, meetings take even longer than nessecary due to nessecary repetion, etc... If this becomes the norm, i recommend switching project/company.
    – Benjamin
    Aug 16 at 8:39
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    @JamesWebster whether that matters depends on how involved in the meetings you are. I am frequently in meetings where I say nothing and nothing but the final decision is relevant to me. Aug 16 at 15:24
  • If you haven't paid attention during the meeting the final decision is likely to be poorly understood or your colleagues will have to needlessly repeat themselves making you look rude. I stand by my opinion that this isn't a good way to conduct meetings. If you don't participate and only care about the conclusion - don't attend and ask for the decision to be documented to allow your time to be put to better use and avoid looking unprofessional. Aug 17 at 7:57
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    If you don't pay attention in a meeting, a bikeshed might get painted in the wrong color.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 19 at 9:50
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You need to push back

Before we start, I must warn you that all of this could get you fired in certain companies, so be prepared for that. As it stands now, it would be wise anyway to start looking for another job if you can. Anyway ...

  • Work 8 hours a day and not an hour more. Get yourself into a habit of starting your work computer sharply at 9 o'clock and turning it off at 17 o'clock (assuming you are working from 9 to 17). If you don't have separate work computer, then turn off any chat, mail client and application related to work at 17h. Also turn off your business phone if you have one.

  • Tell your manager you are wasting time on meetings . You need to be blunt about this. Tell him that you will not work any unpaid overtime because he makes you waste hours daily on meetings. It would be wise to document meeting hours in a time tracking software like JIRA or similar, if your company uses one. If not, you could simply write it down in a text file and send it to your manager.

  • Demand realistic estimates. For any task you are given demand realistic estimate and do not be afraid to argue about that. Of course, you will first need to introspect yourself, do you have enough domain knowledge required to finish tasks in a reasonable time . If not, study, but in your own time.

As I said before, they may choose to fire you over this. In a long run this could be a good thing, because overburdening yourself would be bad for your health. Short term, it is best to be prepared for any eventuality.

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