66

I have a great team member who is very reliable and dependable and a great asset to the team.

However, of late, I have realized that this person is working for almost 14 hours a day.

There is certainly work out there that needs to be done and the whole team is working on it but the tasks he is working on don't need immediate attention. But this person ends up putting so many hours, that frankly it ends up in a situation where we look like we have only completed a few things and this person has made a lot of progress.

This has been happening for over a month and I'm not sure if this is what I want to follow.

Should one start putting in more hours as well, (I always do it when there is some work that needs immediate attention, and not otherwise) or should I not bother with this?

I am asking because there were tasks I had planned on doing which this team member has picked up now, because he is doing a lot more than what can be done in a standard 9 hour work day.

Please advise. I believe in a good work-life balance but this situation might make me want to put in more hours too.

  • 24
    Do you manage this person or is he/she a peer? – HLGEM Jan 28 '16 at 19:31
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    @HGLEM - the member is a peer. Same role as me. – shyla Jan 28 '16 at 19:33
  • 6
    Possible duplicate of How to cope with an employee who stays late and does work on Saturdays? – gnat Jan 29 '16 at 13:28
  • 2
    Do you know why the extra hours are being done recently? It could be a fairly short-term life-change that simply makes being at work the current preference. Been there, done that. – user2338816 Jan 31 '16 at 8:34
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    @user2338816 very good comment - sometimes being at work and staying busy is a way to keep your mind off of other things, which is tragic and may warrant someone asking the worker why in case they want to share. – Raystafarian Jan 31 '16 at 10:34

10 Answers 10

31

Should one start putting in more hours as well, (I always do it when there is some work that needs immediate attention, and not otherwise) or should I not bother with this?

Unless this is an hourly job, in every workgroup some folks will choose to work more, while others work less.

If the company culture is such that individuals who complete many more tasks (or even who just spend many more hours) are rewarded, then you need to consider if you want these rewards too, and if these rewards are worth the extra time.

Some company cultures reward a more holistic approach where team achievements are primary. Other company cultures reward individual achievements. Some companies expect overtime work. Others frown on it. No matter what you do, you need to figure out where your company stands on this, so that you can make an informed decision either way.

Only you can know what you should do. Your home situation may dictate your actions. Even if someone else is working 14 hours per day, that doesn't mean your family situation is such that you could do so, even if you wanted to.

And your career situation may help dictate your actions. In some professions it would be expected that long hours are required, where in other professions it would seem odd. And in some careers long hours would be expected early in your career, but not so much later. I have always worked an average of 55 hours per week when I loved the job, somewhat less when I didn't, but always more than 40. That was always my choice, but I also knew that it was a good way to get ahead quickly in some shops. I understood the culture.

Instead of just blindly deciding to put in 14 hours because one coworker does, take some time to think it over. What do your other coworkers do? What seems to be rewarded at this company? And how would 14 hours affect your life outside of work? Most important, do you want to work extra hours to get ahead, or would you rather find a way to get ahead without so many extra hours.

You may choose to work more. Or you may not. Either way can lead to success (although depending on company culture it may take longer, or you may need to find a different company).

(And if, as some claim, working more than 40 hours causes a loss of productivity, then your colleague is already failing in ways that should be obvious to you. Thus you wouldn't want to emulate failure. That doesn't seem to match what you are actually observing, though.)

  • 21
    55 hours a week? Somewhat less when I didnt like it? But always more than 40...Sorry but I'm glad I don't report to you...people have lives and families. – JonH Jan 28 '16 at 20:56
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    I think this is kind of nuts. I don't think > 40 hours means you are more productive in most jobs. – Ryan O'Donnell Jan 29 '16 at 4:38
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    +1 for "you may choose to work more. Or you may not". I regularly work 45-55 hours a week. It's not because I feel stressed, or out of time, or anything like that. It's because I adore my job, I love my work environment, I'm young and have the energy and my partner and I are both very focussed on our careers right now. Different things work for different people. – Andrew Martin Jan 29 '16 at 11:18
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    @JonH and others: please read the entire post instead of cherry-picking sentences and misrepresenting them out of context. Joe makes excellent points here and his central argument (you decide for yourself how much time you put into your job, some cultures and companies will expect more) is spot-on. Don't champion the 40-hour work week as the holy grail: realise that every person has different preferences, priorities and productivity levels. – Lilienthal Jan 29 '16 at 11:48
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    @JoeStrazzere How much of your team works more than forty hours a week? There's a reason why this has become "standard." There isn't something magic about the number, (it's just 1/3 of the work week), but there is a reason WHY there is a number. I tell my employees I want a good 35 hours from them. They can work flex time. if they want to work three 12 hour days, go at it, have the rest of the week off. I don't see it happening: I've worked 14 hour days before. It's insane, kills your moral even if you love the job, and gives you no time for healthy activities. – Ryan O'Donnell Feb 1 '16 at 16:49
86

It sounds like there are two problems here:

  1. There is little or no prioritization of work
  2. Your coworker (and you) have the mistaken idea that working long hours is more productive.

Prioritization

the tasks he is working on don't need immediate attention.

Steven Covey calls this the "not urgent but important" or even "not urgent and not important". Idealy you want to only work on the not urgent but important stuff.

What this will require is a prioritization from your manager. This will help you and the rest of the team to ensure things are moving along as expected. A daily standup or weekly meeting to set priorities and report on the status will work well here. If a team member is not getting their priorities completed and is working on stuff that is not a priority, it will become obvious and action can be taken by management.

Overwork

Humans are amazing creatures that can do lots of things. Working long hours and maintaining quality work is not one of them. There are numerous studies and reference that bear this out.†

In a nutshell, the longer hours one works, the lower quality one will produce and the more rework this will require. As a Project Manager, I always set a workday at 6 hours, because that is a realistic amount. 8 hours is not realistic (because humans have biological needs, for some reason). 14 hours is counter-productive. Let's do some quick back-of-the-envelope calc on the last one.

We have 24 hours in the bank.

  • Withdraw 14 hours for the crazy-long day (10 hours left)
  • Withdraw 2 hours for commute (1 hour each way) (8 hours left)
  • Withdraw 1/2 hour for getting ready in the am (7.5 left)
  • Withdraw 1/2 hour for getting ready in the pm (7 left)
  • Withdraw 1 hour for eating breakfast/dinner (6 left)

At this point, if your guy goes right to sleep, he gets 6 hours, which isn't enough to be healthy. AND HE DOESN'T HAVE A LIFE.

I'd advise you to keep your regular hours and don't try to keep up with Mr. Jones. For one, your company should not consider you a slacker because you work a normal day (a smart manager would tell the other guy to knock it off), and you need to spend a proper amount of time away from work, living your life.

† Good places to start: "Mythical Man-month" by Brooks and "Peopleware" by Marco and Lister

  • 11
    This is an interesting one. The colleague gets more done than the questioner gets done. The colleague is working so many more hours as to fall into the "extra hours are counter-productive" region. So either the colleague is just better than the questioner, or else the theory about extra hours being counter-productive fails to apply here. The conclusion's the same though: either way there's no reason to think that the questioner can expect to avoid the perils of long hours and catch up with the colleague. – Steve Jessop Jan 29 '16 at 11:43
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    @SteveJessop that's a false dichotomy; we don't know the quality of the overworker's results. It may be that at first look he's getting more done, but due to low quality it becomes less value added from either a need to redo it better, or (much more likely) the results are presenting a tech debt overhead cost on all other work going on – Daenyth Jan 29 '16 at 13:15
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    @Daenyth: I'm taking the questioner's word for it. "very reliable and dependable", "made a lot of progress", not "produces reams of garbage that the rest of us have to fix". Of course it's possible the questioner is wrong about all sorts of things, including for that matter what hours this colleague works. But generally you have to answer the question as though the things they directly report are true. Worst case when you don't, you end up with an answer suitable to some imaginary people who fit your expectations instead of the actual situation at hand :-) – Steve Jessop Jan 29 '16 at 13:45
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    I think there's probably an important distinction to be made between someone working 14 hours a day because it's demanded or expected of them and someone working 14 hours a day because they freely choose to do so. If the amount of time was the only useful consideration then every programmer that works a full time job and works on any side projects is doing low-quality work. That does not match my experience. – Kenny Evitt Jan 29 '16 at 17:33
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    You assume he doesn't have a life because his hobbies don't match up with yours. Maybe he seriously enjoys programming. So instead NOT HAVING A LIFE, the OT means he's LIVING THE GOOD LIFE. He's doing what he loves, getting paid for it, and saving for an early retirement. moreover, I know many programmers who go home after a long day of programming just to program all night on their side projects. So if most programmers are doing that, do most programmers produce shit? Doubtful. Maybe being forced to work OT in an office and working OT on your hobby don't have the same effect on quality? – Shane Jan 29 '16 at 21:53
11

Sound like this guy is not doing anything wrong

reliable and dependable and a great asset to the team

In a comment you said he is picking up extra tasks that are priority

Yes by working 14 hours a day he is putting out more work than you. Yes he should be rewarded for putting out more work if it is quality work. Most likely he cannot sustain that pace.

By the hour you are probably making more. If you want to work more to keep up is really life balance decision you are going to need to make. As other have said working 14 hours a days is typically not more productive over the long haul.

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    +1 Also, this over-worker probably isn't doing it to make everyone else look bad. Maybe his life outside of work stinks and he works himself to exhaustion every day so he can sleep. Maybe he desperately needs a pay raise and is willing to sacrifice his health to get it. – ColleenV Jan 28 '16 at 20:56
  • @ColleenV: although if it's the latter then his employers would be unwise to fall for it. Don't give someone a payrise for one unsustainable (because health-sacrificing) burst of work. A bonus, maybe, although even that encourages your staff to burn themselves out from time to time. – Steve Jessop Jan 29 '16 at 11:52
  • @SteveJessop If he is trying to get a raise, I'd say it's a failure of management that this situation has gotten to this point. Not only should workers know what they need to do to be rewarded, management should have some clue that this behavior is agitating the team. I agree it shouldn't be encouraged. – ColleenV Jan 29 '16 at 22:05
9

I would not work these long hours for the simple reason - it is not sustainable and has bad effects on your life. Both physical and mental.

I did work these ridiculous hours once in my life. I burned myself out along with losing friends. I also have an appalling diet as I start living on takeaways.

A good boss will start to recognize that the employee does not have a good life/work balance and therefore will be a liability in the future. I hope the boss picks this up.

So in summary - just because this team member is working these very long hours do not start to do the same.

7

You might actually speak to your colleague to ask if there is a reason for the longer hours - a quick "Hi Bob - I noticed you are spending a lot of time here at the moment - is everything ok?" and you may find out that he has a plan for extra days off agreed with your manager later in the month or it could be he has issues at home so wants to stay away and would appreciate a co-worker to talk to.

It could be your manager has advise him he needed to 'buck up' and this was his knee jerk response - in which case a little advice on time management may be in order as he won't be able to keep this up.

So communication may be your answer here. Best to get it from the source than worry over nothing. At least you would know where you stand.

  • Why is everybody called "Bob"? – Ed Heal Jan 29 '16 at 16:46
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    @EdHeal Not everybody is called Bob. Some people are called Alice. – nekomatic Jan 31 '16 at 22:37
2

I would talk to whoever you both report to, and ask them if this new level of productivity is what they want - since it seemed that they were fine with your output as it previously was. I think it's fine to ask, you started working there expecting one thing and now maybe they want something else; it would be good to clarify expectations.

I would also tell your common manager that this over-productive coworker is taking all the work. You said that s/he is doing work you had intended to do in the future. It seems like you need your manager to step in and do a little more delegating of tasks.

Should you start being more productive? No, I wouldn't start working at that level. You don't know if the work this person has done is good or not, or why they're being overly productive. I wouldn't change unless you have reason to feel that your current output isn't cutting it anymore.

2

You generally cannot do nothing against somebody putting more work and getting the expected reward (carrier promotion, salary increase). He will get that he wants. Even if the strict fixed working hours would be set, people may invest into learning new technologies at home and still benefit from putting more work into they profession.

A good management will not to reward him just for sitting longer at work, but if he finishes some projects faster and better than other members of the team, the management will.

However significant, persistent overtime also has a price to pay (family, friends, health, other interesting hobbies, etc). This price seems too high for many people, and they have reasons to think so. You may get less money and promotions but have other things that look more important to you, and may actually be. Stay with your choice, let him stay with his.

1

How are you and the team being evaluated? What does your boss think of your performance? This is what counts.

Maybe the only reason this person is kept on the team is because he is willing to put in more hours doing easier tasks in order to be as valuable to those working just 9 hours but getting much more critical work done (The things that pay the bills.).

If your boss thinks you're doing well, why change anything? When your evaluations indicate you're not getting as much done as expected, you know you need to work longer hours.

It just seems that either this person is evaluated differently than the rest or your manager has a very blunt instrument (checking off items on a list regardless of difficulty or importance) for evaluating people to what I feel is the detriment of the team. Wouldn't it be a shame if you left the company because you felt like you would not get a favorable review because you don't want to work 14 hr days when in fact, no one is asking you to?

1

While this is a complex topic, the only question the OP explicitly asks is the text they emphasised: "Should I work more hours.... or should I ignore this?", so I'll confine my answer to addressing that directly.

You should consider working more hours if you would be happy to do so: If it wouldn't make you miserable or resentful, if you feel you could get sufficient satisfaction from spending your life on that. Give serious consideration to the reservations raised by others about the illusion of higher productivity. You might finish more tasks per day, but you also accrue more technical debt from bad design decisions, slowing down yourself and the rest of your team over the long term. If your workplace values short-term tasks completion over long-term sustainability, then there is a case to be made for putting the hours in even though you end up hugely less productive. It's crazy, but that's working for the man.

Also, only work to the extent you feel it's well within your physical capabilities. If you find yourself regularly wishing you could grab an extra hour of sleep, then stop.

I used to work long hours on various projects. When I was young, didn't have kids, had the energy to still sustain a very active and flexible social life (e.g. could still go out at 2am even if I'd been in the office for the evening.) It didn't seem to have a cost, because I enjoyed the time I spent programming.

Now I'm 44, and can't keep that up any more. Partly because I'm a little older, and have a wife and child. But mostly because I developed an autoimmune disease that was probably brought on by the most recent period of exhaustion, during which I was working hard for a startup while we had our first kid. As a result, I now feel terrible and exhausted all the time. I'm mentally impaired, and can't concentrate or remember things remotely as well as I used to be able to. A bunch of food intolerances have cropped up, so my diet is hideously restrictive. The damage to my guts resulted in a flurry of other problems due to malnutrition. I basically can't eat out, or at friends houses, or drink anything alcoholic, etc. I've had hiccups continuously for the last two years, which is driving me crazy. When I should be helping my wife or playing with my kid, I just want to go and lie down and sleep.

It's likely this disease will last the rest of my life. I will never be a the good father I want to be for my kid, because I can never just hang out and have fun with him. My kid's only memories of me will be of a sickly old man. My wife cries because she misses the person I used to be.

Admittedly I am an extreme case. But when people say overwork puts your health at risk, this is potentially very serious.

  • 3
    While a good anecdote about the dangers of overworking yourself, this doesn't really attempt to answer the OP's question. – David K Jan 29 '16 at 16:42
  • @DavidK Hey there. Although I didn't spell it out explicitly, I think my answer does gives a strong implicit answer to the OP's question ("Should I work more hours?") My answer is "no". Although there are other considerations (work politics, desire for recognition or desire for income, etc) the consideration I describe is ultimately the most important one. – Jonathan Hartley Jan 29 '16 at 18:37
  • To people saying this doesn't answer the question - just to be clear, do you agree that the question boils down to "Should I work more hours?" – Jonathan Hartley Jan 29 '16 at 18:49
  • @JonathanHartley No, I don't think that is what the question boils down to. I think the basic question is about how to handle when a colleague's overworking is possibly reflecting poorly on your own work ethic. Your answer addresses why working more hours is a bad solution, but fails to address the crux of the issue, which is the unfair perception of being a slacker. – David K Jan 29 '16 at 18:56
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    @DavidK & Chad: That's an interesting (and not unreasonable) interpretation. But looking at he words the OP actually wrote, the only question they explicitly ask is "should I work more hours... or should I ignore this". So personally I don't think it's worth a downvote of my answer, but each to their own. Cheers. – Jonathan Hartley Jan 29 '16 at 19:43
-1

Well noticed. From what your saying, it may seem that your colleague has a greater sense of urgency to attend work that's being talked about, but not actually getting done.

I would definitely request audience and discuss the added effort and how I could pitch in. Erring on the side of caution, it may well be that your colleague has a sound notion that completing certain work sooner would have a greater positive impact on the project, work performed by the whole team.

  • 1
    " it ends up in a situation where we look like we have only completed a few things and this person has made a lot of progress." does not sound so. – eee Jan 30 '16 at 19:27
  • @h22 that is something more likely to get him in trouble than the rest of the team, if the 6 hours are being thrown in intentionally for malice as the primary motivation. I'm impressed that there are other things to be uncovered and I'm leaning towards the possibility that he is scheduling work without comms to avoid disputes. – Filip Dupanović Jan 30 '16 at 22:44
  • I don't do this often, because I do have a life, but if there's some important task that needs done, I'll stay a little late or work a Saturday to get it done. It seems at some point everyone got so wound up about "work life balance" that we've forgotten that most programmers are salaried exempt employees. We're professionals. Put in whatever amount of time it takes to get the job done. (Then leave early the next Friday.) – ThatGuy Jan 31 '16 at 12:01

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