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I have a senior management-technical position with equity and a decent salary in a pre-launch startup with 6 people. I am newly-married and I work about 11 hours a day, 6 days a week, give or take one hour, and I have produced quality output and have been on top of all my personal deadlines assigned to me by our President. I have one person I directly oversee who is making consistent contribution to the projects.

There is a junior team of developers who are working day and night, sometimes staying at office overnight to finish aspects of development that I am not directly involved in and is overseen by the President. The President stays over with them and works on other business matters(he is not a technical person). Over the last few days I am being asked by my President why I am not staying late with them. He is aware that I have finished my work that the immediate deadlines were dependent on. He wants me to stay late so that the morale of the team is high, and so that they respect me. One of the junior members is apparently asking him why I am not staying as late as she is.

I want to know: Am I doing anything wrong? Should I be staying later to keep up appearances of working late? Or am I in the wrong company?

To clarify cultural context : the company is in CA.

  • 148
    The hours are excessive. Think of burn out. Think of your health. Think am I doing good work when you are tired – Ed Heal Aug 4 '15 at 18:56
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    Also your new wife or husband might be heading for the hilla – Ed Heal Aug 4 '15 at 20:24
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    I have always hated situations like this. I'm a morning person, so I like to get in about 7:00. Other guys will come in at 11:00 and then wonder why I don't stay "late" like they do. People will always find a reason to complain. When I was young, I played along. As I got older and wiser, I stopped worrying about it. I put in the hours I needed to put in, but no more. Anyone whose morale depends on me needlessly being around needs to find a better source of morale. – Mohair Aug 4 '15 at 20:32
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    If the juniors are asking this question, then your boss is on the wrong end of the problem. They're probably asking this because they feel mistreated and overworked, not because they actually think you should work more. You working more isn't going to make them feel any better; it's just going to make them think, "This never gets any better. I need a new job." – jpmc26 Aug 4 '15 at 23:36
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    Yes, you're doing something wrong: staying too long. Go home after 8 hours and only work 5 days. – R.. Aug 4 '15 at 23:44

14 Answers 14

273

The short answer: "Because I do not supervise them."

If they don't report to you, you don't control their work or assignments, and shouldn't have to stay late due to whatever is going on, whether too much work or too little skill.

If you are working 60+ hours a week and it still isn't "enough" - then you're at the wrong company. Neither you nor anyone else can keep this up. I speak from experience, here.

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    My question to the President would be why they aren't able to get their work done without spending most of their life at the office. Either there's too much being asked of them and we need to manage it better, or they're just young and have been mislead into thinking that sacrificing their lives on the altar of work is the way to be successful. – ColleenV Aug 4 '15 at 18:38
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    I would ask the president why he is causing the projects to take longer by requiring exhausted people to work. The hours you describe are simply unacceptable. – HLGEM Aug 4 '15 at 19:57
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    @HLGEM I would also ask him why he's not staying there all night to boost the morale of his team. – Eric Aug 4 '15 at 20:14
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    Yes, and for technical roles (probably for all roles but I can't tell for others), working more than 8-9 hours a day is just wasting your time. If you work 15 hours to accomplish what could have been done in 10 hours with a fresh mind, then it's just a waste of your time and effort. – dyesdyes Aug 5 '15 at 9:21
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    What @dyesdyes said. Also usually it's not even that you need 15 hours for what you had done in 10 hours but more like you create some ugly hack that barely works, while with a fresh mind you would have built something much better in 8 hours. At least in my experience. – Josef Aug 6 '15 at 13:12
226

Am I doing anything wrong?

Yes. You are working 66-hour weeks and taking part in a culture that promotes even longer hours. You are considering going even further into dogmatic presenteeism in which it is a good thing to be in the office even if there is nothing to do.

You will not improve morale by staying late twiddling your thumbs. You will not improve morale by giving the impression that even if they finish all their work they don't get to go home. You will not improve morale by denying yourself any time to relax and so becoming permanently tired or stressed and making bad decisions or having bad social interactions.

Ask why people are working these ridiculous hours. Ask how long it's going to continue. Ask if the company can handle 2-3 of your 6 staff going off sick because of overwork. Ask if the company knows what its liability situation is if that causes long-term health problems (it does and in many jurisdictions, the answer is something like 'very liable'). First and foremost, steer the conversation in the direction of coming up with solutions for how to get the hours down to something reasonable.

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    +1: Yes. You are working 66-hour weeks. Nuff sed. – Joel Etherton Aug 4 '15 at 19:09
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    +1 for You will not improve morale by giving the impression that even if they finish all their work they don't get to go home. – durron597 Aug 5 '15 at 4:17
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    Not to defend the company, but he did say it's a pre-launch startup - that's a very specific environment. While the hours are excessive, those with a stake in the company could easily contribute that kind of time and commitment. Those without a stake would just be boned. – lunchmeat317 Aug 6 '15 at 2:39
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    Its a fallacy that working longer hours for an extended period of time increases productivity. So, even in a start-up, it should be avoided. This fallacy is especially prevalent in the US. Reading material: google.nl/… – Roy T. Aug 6 '15 at 7:32
32

The other two answers clearly seem to come from people who are not working for startups. In startups it's not uncommon for people to work 50 to more than 80 hours (random source backing this up) and this is part of what you're signing up for when you start working for a startup. On the upside of course you tend to get shares in the company and are directly invested in it's success which is the reason people are willing to work those hours in the first place. Practically speaking I have heard people suggest/joke you should not sign up for a startup unless you're single, which might be an exaggeration, but there is a core of truth there. The point is just that things like "Because I don't supervise them" are not a good excuse in any way, because that's not how the culture in startups works (and for that matter user52889's comment about productivity and 66 hour week isn't going to cut it either, simply because people who work in startups are people who can handle those kind of workloads (or end up quiting after getting overworked thus leaving only those who are able to handle those kind of workloads)).

However this kind of organizational structure with an possibly unhealthy workload is something that employees should take upon themselves. Considering your boss is trying to pressure you into working even more hours I would definitely see that as a negative sign. For me personally 66 hours a week as a newlywed would already be the point where I would easily decide that I would rather quit (and if necessarily downscale or whatever), however the line is different for everyone as for example you seem fine with your 66 hours. In the end you just have to decide where your line is and see how your boss will take it, but if everybody starts staying in longer at some point or another then you will probably be in 'trouble'.

Some recapping and extra explanation

Just to be extra clear about what I am saying as there seems to be some confusion in the comments:

  • Startup culture is not for everyone, however there is no point in fighting such culture in general after you signed up for it. If you want a 40 hour week you should not sign up for a classical american-style startup.
  • A boss trying to get his workers to work even more hours however is not something that is a part of startup culture. Normally workers will work their *** off on their own accord (and yes, a 66 hour week already counts as working your *** off), but it's totally not normal for a boss to request such a worker to work even more hours (the only circumstances where it can maybe be remotely okay is when the boss himself is putting even far more time in).
  • The reason I call the idea that a 40 hour week would be optimal for total productivity a myth is because it doesn't line up with real life observations (take virtually any successful person) and historically it's something that developed from the socialist and unionist movements, not from an attempt to optimize total productivity1. That's not to say that a 40 hour week is a bad idea or anything like that, for me personally for example I notice that I can only do boring intellectual work for at most 5 to 7 hours a day and start making stupid mistakes extremely quickly after that point. On the other hand when given a fascinating project I can easily work far far more hours a day for weeks on end at a better rate of efficiency. Point in case: optimal hours in a week depend on the job and the person, so don't try to force your total productivity cap on others.

1 Do note that some US sources will claim the Fair Labor Standards Act was primarily a result of Fords research on productivity. This claim is mostly false and Fords 'research' was broader than just decreasing the 45 hour week to a 40 hour week as far more importantly he also doubled the wages of his workers

  • Comments have been moved to chat. Comments are not for extended discussions. – Jane S Aug 9 '15 at 0:54
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    Startup culture is a poisonous influx of people who see successful startups and want to make money quick, and despite those outliers it is generally synonymous with failure: roughly over a 90% failure rate, in fact (example: quora.com/What-percentage-of-startups-fail). Blindly going along with literally stupid working hours just because "it's startup culture" would be ridiculous. (see ftp.iza.org/dp8129.pdf, cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-143/pdfs/2004-143.pdf, many other actual studies) Something that happens a lot in startups isn't a good sign: it may be a very bad one. – taswyn Aug 10 '15 at 16:44
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    @taswyn Oh wow, seriously, before commenting: 1) read the answer 2) read the actual discussion that happened before you came along. As has been pointed out multiple times, this answer doesn't claim it's the best way to run a startup, all it says is that if you sign up for a startup you already accept a different culture and that answers and comments suggesting fighting that are ill advised and totally out of place. 8)7 . – David Mulder Aug 10 '15 at 17:10
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The question is, when will they start to get their work done, so they can go home when you do?

The President could decide to give you more work, so be careful about your push back. The ideal solution is to look into why this group is always so far behind. The expectations could be unreasonable, which would be hard to fix, or you may find them to be highly inefficient. To hide short-comings, some people will do things to make them look like they're working harder or doing more. Others may have a life-style where they want to work later hours because the bars and clubs haven't started yet or they want to wait for the traffic to go away.

For some of them to complain to the boss about your not working makes them sound childish and unprofessional. One thing I've learned through experience, is that I get more done in less time that those with less experience. I know how to get started working quicker, when to ask questions and manage may workload. Seems like someone who does that shouldn't be punished.

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    +1: Isn't the whole reason people want to hire people with experience because they get things done quicker/better? – GreySage Aug 5 '15 at 19:40
15

Inspired by this comic? http://dilbert.com/strip/2015-08-03 Print that out and hang it by your office door! :-)

Read "Peopleware" to understand the problem and then decide if it is worth convincing your president to do something about the long hours or if you better look for a 9to5-job.

The trick about startups is that they can produce huge ROI, but this usually happens when you do something smart, not when you do twice as much as others. When you work twice as much, you earn twice as much maximum, subtract taxes, subtract lower quality, ..

So the net gain from them working late is probably and will only cause long term problems, so if you don't see the product doing insanely great, you should consider running because the equity means nothing then, as profits are determined by profit for normal work times invested time.

If you want to stay, you can either play along, play along for some days when morale is critical, play along on wednesdays, not play along at all. That's a decision we can't make for you.

You could also split your day, work some hours, then leave and live your life, then come in and work until late. But that all depends on you. You define what is right or wrong for you, don't let others dictate it. Getting paid for no work might get hard though.

And if you agree to anything, get in writing for how long that will go, how much you get in return. If not as a contract, then at least as an email. - Keep that mail outside the office or you might not be able to access it one day.

You are doing extra work, basically as an actor who pretends to work, you should get paid more if it's that valuable for the company that you are present. Look up hollywood celebrities to determine the rate for your after-work acting gig. ;-)

And take care of your wife and family, they might not be around one day if you are keep coming home when everyone is asleep.

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    The fallacy is that you get twice as much done from working 80 hours vice 40. The truth is you actually get less done as your efficiency goes way down very quickly. – HLGEM Aug 4 '15 at 21:18
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    "And take care of your wife and family, they might not be around one day if you are keep coming home when everyone is asleep." Very true. What's the point of working hard if you work your family right out of your life? Work to live, don't live to work. – coblr Aug 4 '15 at 21:44
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    @hlgem: depends on how you work the hours. During the last few weeks before our World's Fair exhibit went live, we worked those sorts of hours, backing it down to 72-hour weeks once the system was mostly stable. (We continued to evolve the kiosks over the course of the fair, something that would have been terrifying if our system wasn't so robust and if we hadn't come up with a number of release/recovery techniques that hid many outages from the guests.) 72 across 7 days was sustainable for the duration of the fair -- then we all took a 3-month paid leave to make up for it. – keshlam Aug 5 '15 at 0:11
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    @keshlam: it's impressive, but 72 hours in fix-this-and-that-mode is not the same as 72 hours of development, you just react based on stress and training, you fix one broken thing after the other. In development you need to focus on planning and averting to run into the fix-situations, for that you need a clear head and lots of free time and sleep. – leeroy Aug 5 '15 at 0:28
  • Not saying you could have averted it, stuff just pops up, but the chance would have been much higher if you had proper time and rest to work it out before. – leeroy Aug 5 '15 at 0:28
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Am I doing anything wrong? Should I be staying later to keep up appearances of working late? Or am I in the wrong company?

Yes, you and your coleague are doing it wrong. You will be able to work long hours for some time, but after you will start feeling exhaustion, being stressed out, and finaly the burnout. The quality of your work will worsen, and finaly you are going to become sick.

If you work in an open office, the things are just going to be worse.

Working more than 40 hours per week increases 'burnout' risk (read the comments how people gets hearth and other diseases, starts office fight, etc).

Why Working More Than 40 Hours a Week is Useless :

According to a handful of studies, consistently clocking over 40 hours a week just makes you unproductive (and very, very tired).

3

I'd say there is no right/wrong here. It's a human question, a question of expectations, perspective, culture and perception.

Judging by your extensive work schedule, I would not see any room for improvement on your part....

The long hours of your developers very much sound like bad project planning. Judging by the extensive hours you all put in and by the interpersonal friction, I would not see much future in this company though....but that's just my 2 cents.

3

Likely as not you are killing yourself to make a lot of other people wealthier. How many startups has senior management successfully herded to stable companies? Do they have a history of getting them to the point where the startup is bought out, the senior management gets paid off to leave and everyone else gets laid off? Maybe it does go IPO, maybe stock zooms up a bunch, now you cash out give most of it to the government and the rest to your ex who used your money to get a great deal out of the divorce. If you are that valuable to the startup they should be grateful to you for maintaining a lively and alert demeanor which will help them much more than a tired and grumpy soon to be divorced work-aholic. I'm 62 and this is a lesson I never learned. The attaboy at the end of a 72 hour rush to deadline doesn't give you your life back.

2

This is always tough. Startup culture can be very skewed and unhealthy. In reality the young bravos are likely far less productive than you even though they work longer hours.

You need to work on visibility of your work and also on visibility to the teams. While not at a start up, I'm an agile coach in an engineering office. So I don't produce anything, making it easy for people to wonder what I do. One of the first things I did when I started, was create a big visible task board on the wall. Anyone walking by can see my backlog and what I've gotten done.

The next part can be the hard part, especially if you lean toward introversion. You have to get up from your desk and interact with that other team. Have lunch with them, play ping pong with them, make them aware of who you are. It also lets you talk informally about the work you are doing so they know you're working and that your work isn't direct to theirs. You can even offer to help in limited scope, maybe you can show them ways to do more in less time.

The final part is communication with the president. Here you need to focus on sustainability and productivity. There is a wealth data on the web about how working over eight hours can end up in less productivity. Also you might want to work on getting some work tracking in. If you ran simple Kanban and didn't even estimate the Kanban stories you could start tracking stories completed and cycle time. With the president what you are essentially focusing on is "Lets see how we can be as productive with everyone working less time. That way we won't burn out." This is important because your companies backers don't want you guys to start growing and suddenly lose engineers because they burn out.

1

One of the best bosses I had told me "what you do in your twenties predicts what you do in your thirties..." Not being adverse to work and long hours is a good quality, but what you value is different than what anyone else can value.

66 hours a week on average sounds like it sucks.. but perhaps:

  • You really enjoy your job?
  • Want to retire early and want to stockpile cash?
  • Need to pay of mortgage \ old debt \ "Tiny" the Bookie

If it's a good place, if they reward you well, if they respect you, then you need to balance that with what your motivations are. Some people make a very low salary but are gratified by a healthy homelife, others (sadly) work to get away from their homelife.

Its always a great thing to get other perspective, but do what drives YOU. There's a lot of good employers out there, if you're at a place that doesn't respect your personal time, and you worry about your lack of personal time, then I don't think you have an employer that understands your needs. If they're not willing to see eye-to-eye with you on that, then they don't respect you. If they aren't aware of the issues you currently face, then that means you need to communicate it as best you can, give them the opportunity to meet your needs, and act accordingly.

Oh.. and remember.. happy wife, happy life =]

Good luck

1

It sounds like your boss has not clearly defined his expectations for you. I would ask him what hours he expects you to work.

Long hours are common on startups, but if you are not managing this team during normal hours, I see no reason why you should be responsible for staying until they finish. I have worked many long weeks to meet personal deadlines and managed teams to work long hours here and there, but if a team is working late every day with no set time schedule then it is a scheduling/planning problem.

I would not do this, but I know people that have requested to be paid by wage rather than salary to fix this problem. Approving overtime gets expensive for companies and makes long hours visible to other departments. Like I said, depending on your profession and the culture this may or may not be possible.

0

Since you have equity, their working late and through the night benefits you. Optics are everything. If one was brave enough to ask that question, the others are thinking it, too. Long hours and low morale will definitely cause low performance, which will impact your equity.

You need to address that and figure out how to get across the perception that you are in it like their in it. Simultaneously, you should also look into this work tempo you have going on to see whether you are really getting the return for the long hours your people are putting in. I know there are deadlines and cost constraints and you gotta do what you gotta do; however, if there is no return, then doing it is silly and detrimental.

  • The first sentence is wrong. Their working totally excessive hours is likely to harm, not benefit, those with equity. There is a lot of evidence that the maximum useful work is achieved at much lower hours of physical presence. At best, the extra hours are just wasted time. More likely, they are leading to mistakes, inferior solutions, and loss of productivity. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 16 at 9:33
0

Because you don't want to ruin your life, your relationships, your health or neglect your other responsibilities. Learn to say no or that you have other responsibilities to take care of. Learn to say no now. It's so easy I'll teach you. Repeat after me, "No. I have other responsibilities." It is about half a minute of discomfort versus years of health problems, rocky relationships, loss of time and lots of not experiencing life. Are they going to pay your health bill years later? Are they going to fix your relationship with your spouse? Are they going to give you back your time? If they pressure you after you told them then say, "If you pressure me to stay late I'll risk losing my wife, my girlfriend, my health. Do you want that to happen?" If they continue to pressure you then you know they care nothing about you and would replace you and give you nothing for all the work you've done. They will take as much as they can and never repay you. That's 70% of companies I've worked for. They care nothing about you. That doesn't mean you can do whatever you want or that you don't do a good job, just know that.

PS I've been in multiple startups before I learned that I needed to stand up for myself. It may be a delicate situation but if you stand up for yourself your CEO and your employees will stand up for themselves (or not) and learn not to be so irresponsible. It's peer pressure. They too are risking their own relationships and health as well and they probably only doing it because they are peer pressured as well.

-2

why I am not staying late with them

Because you're a better worker.

That's why you're a senior and she's a junior. You do more in shorter time.

There is no real way out of your situation. If you leave as usual, you'll be deemed slacker because you leave early. If you stay with them, then you'll have nothing to do, so you'll become a real slacker, which will be noticed.

You need to talk to your boss that it's his job to resolve such situations. It's your boss who needs to reprimand that junior by answering questions about your departure: "His work is done. Is yours done?"

What you're seeing is IMHO authority problem. Juniors are questioning his way of running the company (letting you leave "early"). Now, if you try to resolve this on your own, you'll erode his authority even further. IMHO the only thing you can do is to talk to him 1 on 1 and tell him to get his shit together and keep HIS people in the line. It's the junior poking nose into none of her business who's out of the line, not you for leaving after 11 hour workday. You signed in for getting the job done. If you'd wanted to sit out the hours browsing facebook, you'd join a big company. Remind this to your boss. Ask him who is more valuable, a guy who gets the job done in 11 hours or one who needs XX? (insert number of hours a day they're used to work) If he starts again about morale, point out that low morale comes from them being unable to get their job done in time, so they're looking for substitution problems. Joining them in the misery won't help their morale, but will wreck yours. Remind him that you're a senior, and the whole point of seniors is they don't get micromanaged.

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    The fact that he does more than her in a shorter time does not imply she must stay longer. It implies he should be paid more for the same amount of work (which he likely is already). – ereOn Aug 5 '15 at 19:07
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    He should be paid the same for the same amount of work! If he can do double the work of a junior developer in the same time, he should get double the money for the same time. – Josef Aug 6 '15 at 8:10
  • @ereOn Nobody said she must stay longer. She's already doing that. Maybe she planned 20-hour workday from beginning. That's fine - unless she forces HER ways on others. – Agent_L Aug 6 '15 at 8:41
  • @Josef: No. One usually expects a senior to provide higher quality work, to have more responsibilities and to get more things done in the same amount of working hours. What's the point of being a senior if you get paid the same as a junior ? That doesn't make any sense. – ereOn Aug 6 '15 at 12:58
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    what? In my example you get double the amount per hour paid than a junior! I believe you should be paid the same amount of money for the same amount of work. Work is, even if some office slackers seem to disagree, not measured in hours you sit in your workplace (playing Candy Crush), but by the output you generate. – Josef Aug 6 '15 at 13:04

protected by Jane S Aug 6 '15 at 3:18

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