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My company is about to ship a product but some of the features my team is in charge of aren't completely integrated yet. I am not directly working on the product but I have been asked by my manager if I could help one of my collegues one day on the week-end. Overtime isn't paid at all although they will at least cover any lunch expense for that day (which is still less that a day's worth of pay obviously). I decided to do it because:

  • I care about delivering a working product, regardless of the planning failures.
  • I don't want my team/my company to take a reputational hit. Even if we are not to blame - the design and goals completely changed 3 weeks ago... - the top management won't see it that way if things go south.
  • I was not forced to go in and I know for a fact that not going would have no negative impact on my job, salary or bonus and that my direct management would understand perfectly that I prioritize my personal life over my work.
  • It's the first time it's happening and I clearly won't do it all week-ends nor more than a few times per year.
  • My colleague decided to do overtime because his own reputation is on the line and it felt like a good thing to help him at the best of my abilities/availability out of solidarity.

One other colleague is complaining about my behavior, stating that doing what I do encourages the management to force us to work for free on our personal time and makes the others that don't look bad. He also says that it's the management fault for not planning better and that failing to deliver something functional in time is the only way they'll learn. I agree with the "bad planning" part but I honestly do it because it feels like the right to do.

Is volunteering for occasional unpaid work on week-ends a good or a bad thing ?

P.S: To give some context, I work in the video-game industry, where this kind of thing is quite common.

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    What do you mean by unpaid? Are you on salary so that the "extra" hours would receive no extra pay? – RubberChickenLeader Oct 19 '15 at 15:07
  • @WindRaven: It is not company policy to pay for "volunteer" overtime. And they almost never "force you" to do it so yes, it is work time for which I am not getting any pay. That being said, nobody complains either if I have to leave early every day during a week or work for home for whatever personal reason. So in a sense, it works both ways. – ereOn Oct 19 '15 at 15:11
  • @ereOn so you get paid a set ammount every pay period that does not vary based on hours worked? – RubberChickenLeader Oct 19 '15 at 15:15
  • @WindRaven: Exactly. – ereOn Oct 19 '15 at 15:15
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    It depends on if you are entitled to overtime pay at all which very few programmers are in the United States. If you are entitled to overtime , you are breaking the law to work without it and you are in fact endangering the overtime that others are getting paid legally by providing the expectations that people will work without it. I can see where non-exempt coworkers would be rightfully angry with you. If you are exempt you are expected to work without overtime and how much is more of a company by company expectation. – HLGEM Oct 20 '15 at 22:23
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If these requests are occasional and you're not being forced to work then I think you should make your own decision. However, I would consider if the extra time is necessary because the manager is making poor decisions or if this is the result of an unexpected occurrence.

If the manager has made a poor estimation then he won't learn much if his team cover for him by cramming overtime. The danger is that he'll think he made the right call and come to assume that you'll always be able to pick up the slack for him.

If however things have fallen behind because people have been ill, the building burnt down or other things that fall outside his control then I would be far more inclined to help out in your position.

As an aside I know a lot of people who've been employed in games can be quite sensitive about what they might see as a slippy slope towards 'voluntary' overtime. The traditional 'crunch' is not a healthy or happy situation for a lot of people and they'll probably want to avoid that environment if it doesn't currently exist in your company.

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I have been asked by my manager if I could help one of my colleagues one day on the week-end.

Well, if you do get a (paid) day off after shipment, I don't see a problem. As you mentioned in the comment, you can compensate by leaving early, too. So you are not really working for free, you are merely shifting the hours to different calendar times.

He also says that it's the management fault for not planning better and that failing to deliver something functional in time is the only way they'll learn.

Whether you work or not during the weekend will have no effect. Management will, no matter what, either try to improve or not. If management could be educated by their inferiors, there would be no business consultants in the world.

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    In some countries, like Finland, this would still be troublesome due to employment laws. There is a concept of maximum hours per week, per month and per year. It is illegal for the company to have employees exceed the monthly and yearly one, even if the employee himself has agreed to it. The weekly one can be exceeded with the permission of the employee, and it must be compensated with money (generally at a multiple of the normal salary - usually arond 1,5x for saturdays and 3x for sundays). – Juha Untinen Oct 20 '15 at 11:33
  • @JuhaUntinen While it makes sense and I agree with it. I suspect the entire video game industry would collapse would those laws be enforced on the various production floors. – ereOn Oct 20 '15 at 21:20

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