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I work at a big tech company as an individual contributor. We are approaching an important launch where I'm playing a key role. There is no strict deadline, but I'd like to make sure it's finished before the next promo cycle—in hope for a promotion for me and some other folks on the team, so I have set a soft deadline with my manager and a few team members.

The deadline is approaching and we are far from being ready, some milestones have already slipped and I keep discovering problems, partly because I have underestimated certain tasks. I really want this project to be ready on time, so I've been working a lot more recently—last week roughly 70-80 hours, including 10 hours/day every day on the extended weekend (Monday was a holiday). My manager does not know exactly what parts are missing and how complicated/long each task is. He mostly trusts me that I know what needs to be done, and I'll take care of it. My manager also doesn't know when I work and when I don't work - it's trust-based at the company. Figuring out when someone is working requires some investigation (build logs, commit activity, etc.), so I doubt that my manager looks into those - he trusts me, so why would he care?

Should I tell him about it?

Some arguments for yes:

  • He should know that the project is important to me which he may value.
  • He should be aware that these tasks take a lot more effort than we expected and the reason for the slipping is not that I'm neglecting the project.
  • I may get some bonus / time off after the launch if my manager is aware of the overtime.

Some arguments for no:

  • It would prove that I made bad estimations and could not manage the project properly - which may cause trust problems in the future. It may also be a negative signal in the promo process.
  • My manager may just tell me not to do any overtime—the project is not mission critical. It's mostly because I want the promo (and some teammates who have contributed deserve it too).
  • It's officially forbidden to do overtime without prior manager approval.

If I tell him, what should I say?

I have a fixed monthly salary which does not depend on the hours worked—I am supposed to work 40 hours/week. I am eligible for performance-related bonuses, though. These are given for achieving things, not directly for working overtime.


Thanks for all the replies. I talked to my manager who valued speaking up and thanked for putting in the effort to bring the project through the finish line. We also discussed that once the project is launched, this shouldn't be the norm, but he shared my view that these difficulties were hard/impossible to foresee.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Aug 3 at 16:05
  • @motosubatsu I would like the comment that follows to be conserved as it is critical to answering the question. Aug 3 at 16:07
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    @HarryJ You should say in which country you are employed. In the US, what you described is standard operating procedure in many high tech companies. By your description of what you do, you would be an exempt employee in the US, which means your employer is exempt from laws regarding overtime. The so-called 40 hour work week is fiction with regard to exempt employees. In other countries your employer's behavior and expectations would be rather illegal. Aug 3 at 16:07
  • @DavidHammen no problem, the move-to-chat process is a bit all-or-nothing but I agree the matter of location is potentially an important clarification the OP could provide.
    – motosubatsu
    Aug 3 at 16:10
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    I work in Europe for a US firm, my contract follows the local law. We're free to report hours but nobody I know does that because you don't get compensated for overtime. You get to decide when and how much you work, it's the output that matters in the end.
    – HarryJ
    Aug 3 at 16:57

6 Answers 6

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Yes, you absolutely should tell your boss.

This level of work is not sustainable, and frankly, you are harming yourself. This point is covered very well in LoremIpsum's answer.

Is this behaviour you should be promoted for?

This is a really important point. You say you are going for a promotion, however you are:

  • Attempting to hide mistakes rather than own them and fix them properly with help
  • Lying to your manager (not telling them something is lying by omission)
  • Actively harming yourself through overwork
  • Potentially harming your manager or team mates if this high-risk strategy doesn't come off and you give them no warning
  • Abusing your manager's trust in you

As a manager, I have to say I don't promote people who work this way. It is detrimental to themselves and everyone around them. If I give them a team of people to look after, why would I think they would do anything else than push those people in to stressful overtime as well?

No-one is perfect, I don't expect my people to never make mistakes. I expect them to let me know they've made a mistake as soon as they realise it will be a problem. If they can outline a solution as well, so much the better, but we work as a team. We succeed or fail together, and that means being open and honest. That is why I trust my people. Not because they don't make mistakes, they do. But they are honest and they learn from their mistakes.

But they might think I'm not able to handle the responsibility if I'm honest...

...and I'm afraid they would be right. Not because of the initial mistake – we've all underestimated time scales before; it's the nature of work. However, your subsequent behaviour of hiding the truth and trying to fix a worsening situation by yourself has absolutely demonstrated this.

Be honest with your manager. Immediately. The sooner you are, the sooner they can help you fix or mitigate this problem. The sooner you open up to them about the reality, the better this situation will be. Leave it too late and that is when people are angry. You have made a few mistakes. Own them and learn from them before it is too late, and use the experience to work towards the promotion you desire.

Finally, I know this is a harsh answer; I understand that it may be difficult to read, and for that, I am truly sorry. However, this is exactly what I would say to you if I were your manager.

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    This is a great answer.
    – bob
    Aug 3 at 13:03
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    +1 for this answer. I think the manager is also being willfully ignorant and should carry some of the blame too. Aug 3 at 15:43
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    Very well-said. This is concerning behavior and if I were the manager, a promotion is the last thing I'd be thinking of if I found out about it.
    – ribs2spare
    Aug 3 at 16:16
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    Asserting that the op is "actively hurting themselves" after one week of working long hours and over a weekend is silly overstatement. Possibly true, but obviously depends on the person. Aug 4 at 0:49
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    @aquirdturtle while it may be possible that they exist, I have yet to meet a person who does not hurt themselves by working 80hours a week (and it sounds like the OP is already longer than a week in overdrive mode)
    – Falco
    Aug 4 at 11:22
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Tell him as soon as possible if you are thinking on the long run.

By repeatedly doing overtime, you are setting a standard that your body cannot withstand for long before collapsing.

Whether or not you get the promotion, you will be held to that standard. So even if later you try to slow down to a normal pace, your manager, whoever he will be, won't like it; it will seem that you started under-performing. And if you actually get the promotion and then decide you tell him, he will say: "Wait, only now, after you got the promotion, you come and tell me you were overworking?"

And, as you said, he could figure out if you were overworking if he wanted. Are you willing to play that luck game? Remember: The task of managers is to manage. It's not nice to manage false data. If he trusts you, he won't be happy later to find out he wasn't managing reality, but a theater play.

Bottom line is don't regularly work beyond a sustainable level. Exceptions are fine, as long as they are exceptions. Short and remunerated.

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    @HarryJ It is natural to underestimate the time a project will take. The unexpected always happens. But see also workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/1633/… and related questions Your manager will understand it if you can explain it, he has passed through it himself. In the future, do pad your estimates. Best luck!
    – LoremIpsum
    Aug 2 at 0:47
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    Your job is to tell your manager what’s going on. Deceiving him is grounds for disciplinary action if something goes wrong because you decided to go rogue.
    – mxyzplk
    Aug 2 at 1:22
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    If you are both hiding the hours you work and lying about the complexity of the work you're doing, how is anybody supposed to know that you deserve a promotion? From the outside it looks like you're handling a trivial, non-mission-critical project in normal hours. You're working yourself into a burnout while also minimising the chance of being recognised for it.
    – Ottie
    Aug 2 at 15:51
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    Pushing yourself like this will destroy you, and it's not worth it for fictitious deadlines that aren't even being foisted upon you by upper management. Personally I wouldn't tell him because I think it could make you look bad, raise questions about why you're pushing so hard when no one told you to, and result in the opposite reaction you want. Slow down. Do good work. Keep up your health. You can be ready for the next promo cycle.
    – ribs2spare
    Aug 3 at 16:15
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    You may not in fact be setting a standard at all. I once worked with a man who was working 90 hour weeks, one after another. He was tired all the time, his health was poor, and he didn't get to spend much time with his family. And his work sucked. Like, I spent a lot of my time redoing his work, and fixing up errors that he wouldn't have made if he hadn't been so tired. Because of the impact on my time, his nett output was close to zero, or possibly even negative. But he thought he was doing really well. It would have been much better for the entire project he was on if he had ... Aug 5 at 3:36
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I clearly see red flags:

  1. Clearly, you are not catching-up with your manager every week/bi-weekly
  2. If you did, you are not really talking about the work in hand: how it's coming about, what the big issues are, and how you solved/ought to solve them.
  3. And if you really did, then you would not have written this post.

I worked for a startup in exactly your situation. Full trust from the founder of the company. I worked 14-15hrs/day of work for 1.5 years; no holidays; no family; no personal time. Finally, I ended up with permanent damage to my backbone (spinal cord), and acute neck pain. Finally got fired. Take lessons from me.

  1. It's ok to delay. It's ok to slip. It's ok to be bashed in team meetings.
  2. Health is important. Don't trade health for a promotion – which may or may not arrive.
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    If you're bashed in team meetings because someone is bad at planning this might not be the best place to work at Aug 3 at 7:50
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    understand that this is the way of life. I am in my 6th company of my career. THis is how the world is. You will be cleaning somebody shit. Just make sure that you are thick skinned. You cant keep running job to job always
    – chendu
    Aug 3 at 8:18
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    Sorry, but this mindset is just wrong. Your individual anecdotal experience does not mean every job in the world has a toxic working environment. Maybe consider that having this mindset might affect your choice of jobs. Aug 3 at 8:20
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Fact is, you are killing yourself by working 70 hours a week. The other fact is that you are doing it for nothing. Nobody will thank you for your 30 hours extra work. Especially since you are probably deep in a state already where you are not effective anymore.

Tell your boss right now what you are doing, and whatever they say, stop doing it. Or when you burn out completely, you will just be replaced with a fresh model.

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Never, never, never assume that your boss knows what is going on with your projects. In most cases, they are already so overworked with stuff beyond what you are working on that they don't have time to find out what you are doing. It is your responsibility to tell your boss what is happening - both formally in weekly status reports, daily updates, Slack or Team chats, and informal communications when you can catch your boss in the hallway / break room / etc. You have to let your boss know your struggles and get the resources from your boss to meet any deadlines.

So, by not telling your boss, you are already not doing your job. Remember, your job is not just to deliver a project, it is to help the company do better. You do not help the company by burning yourself out or by working so hard that you start to make serious judgement errors on your projects.

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I think the part “It's officially forbidden to do overtime without prior manager approval.” should be telling enough, unless that ‘officially’ part means that it’s just a rule that in reality no one is expected to follow. But if he assumes you’re following the rules and you’re not, it could land you in more trouble than not finishing the project on your desired time. Keep in mind good managers prefer to avoid employees burning out because it’s extremely costly for the company too, aside from any moral issues.

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    In some places you can sue your company for up to six years for not paying you overtime. So maybe in two years this employee is laid off, and then comes the big surprise. That's usually why companies say overtime is not allowed (without prior approval).
    – gnasher729
    Aug 3 at 18:26

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