I am in quite a difficult situation at my workplace and I’d like some objective opinions.

I am an engineer at a startup company. I work between 10.5 to 11 hours a day, not including 3 hours commuting. It’s very difficult, but so far I manage, somehow.

  • Until not too long ago I’ve worked with team A and my boss was Alice.
  • But now another team in the company—team B under Bob—has a lot of work and stress coming.

Since I have a very particular set of skills, they asked Alice to “lend me” to them for the near future, and she agreed and so did I as I find the work on Bob’s team to be more interesting.

Sadly, Bob and I don’t see eye-to-eye on working hours.

I feel that I am at the limit of what I can do, it is a huge burden on me and I don’t want to sacrifice more than I already have been. Bob doesn’t agree, and it has been brought to my attention by a co-worker that after I left today (at 17:30, after 10.5 hours of intense work) that Bob asked where I was, and then said he will scold me tomorrow about leaving early and not working enough.

How do I tell Bob I am not willing to work longer than I am, without antagonizing him?

I don’t want him to fire me—and I don’t want to sound like a I’m a cry baby or spoiled—but I really am at the edge of my abilities working the schedule I already am working.

It should also be noted that I am unwilling to start working later, as the traffic delays connected to that would be a huge waste of time for both me and the company. I start early to avoid the traffic, and I leave earlier than most because I start early. But I still work as many hours as everyone else, if not more.

  • 46
    Bob may not realize how early you are starting work, so be prepared with a note of hours worked for the last few days. 10.5 to 11 hours a day is far too long to work for maximum productivity for more than a few days at a time. You would probably get more done with a shorter working day. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 25 '17 at 17:26
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    If you allow yourself to be treated like a doormat, that is exactly how people will treat you. Ask Bob point-blank, "why do I have to work more than 10.5 hours, which is already more than the average?" Be entertained by his response. Oh, and by the way, start sending your resume to places. People like Bob are best left to die their own death. – Masked Man Apr 25 '17 at 17:32
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    Bob is an idiot, it has been studied repeatedly for more than 100 years and all the studies agree that working longer hours causes less productivity. So if he wants things to take longer and have more bugs, he should continue on that path. – HLGEM Apr 25 '17 at 17:47
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    One thing to consider - why was Bob looking for you? Maybe he needed to ask you a question that only you can answer. In that case, it inconveniences him that you have different working hours than he does. You can offer to make yourself callable when you're away, and that may solve his problem. Establish some rules, though, otherwise you'll end up on-call 24/7, and you're already doing plenty of work. If you go this route, make it clear that you provide more time on the phone with the understanding that you have to provide less time at the desk. – Scott Mermelstein Apr 25 '17 at 20:23
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    As a side note, and purely from my perspective and experience, 10-11 hours of active work in a startup company is a pretty loose schedule (I'm often doing 16 hours here, and I've been often doing 11-13 hours long before deciding to start my own company; and yeah "it's compiling"). – John Weisz Apr 25 '17 at 20:33

First, wait to see what Bob does.

If he gives you a hard time, take this directly to Alice and let her know what is going on.

If Bob scolds you about what's going on, explain your situation and mention that you already work more than 50 hours a week, and that you can always drop back to 40 if he wants you at specified hours, as the rest of the time will be spent on commuting during peak hours.

Nobody can force you to work yourself to death. Don't be intimidated and don't let them bleed the life out of you. If he insists, then get yourself "unloaned" to him because it will be HIS backside that gets burned for haranguing a employee with a rare skillset.

He has FAR more to lose than you.

  • 23
    @RickJoker hello interviewer, my last position, which I excelled at, expected me to work 14 hour days. Every person on Earth will tell you that you've made the right decision. – easymoden00b Apr 25 '17 at 17:54
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    @RickJoker No, you don't need him. Trust me on this one, I've probably made worse mistakes than you ever will. Once you let a job damage your health, you will NEVER get it back. No job is worth your life or health. Another job you can find, you can never recover shattered health. – Old_Lamplighter Apr 25 '17 at 18:11
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    I think OP should talk to Bob before going to Alice, both because Bob might have misspoken/been misunderstood or may calm down after sleeping on it and may give OP a fair chance to work out a mutually agreeable arrangement, and also so that if it does end up going a disagreeable way he can send an email to Bob confirming the content of the meeting while ccing Alice, and thus creates a chain of evidence. – IllusiveBrian Apr 25 '17 at 19:25
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    @RichardU I borderline stood up and walked out of my last permanent position when I was asked to do something unreasonable, a situation entirely perpetuated by my then-boss (he wasted 3 weeks coming up with a design and expected me to build it in 14 hours...after I'd already been at work for 4). I said to myself, "Me, you don't need to put up with this. There are other jobs out there." The stress during those three weeks ("why aren't you working on X?" "Have you figured out what X is yet?" "Haha! No.") was infuriating. Smartest move I ever made, dropping that like a radioactive potato. – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Apr 25 '17 at 21:29
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    @RickJoker If you really as critical to the company as you claim, then stop commuting, buy a camp bed, and just live in the office 24/7. But don't expect the management to reward you for doing that! – alephzero Apr 25 '17 at 21:56

This company is lucky to have you. Don't be afraid to sound like a crybaby. You need to push back.

If you need help with that, use this book: When I say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith. Don't assume you know what's written in there from the title alone, read some of its Amazon customer reviews.

I won't repeat the advice of Richard U, which is perfect already. Definitely, speak to Alice. Push back with Bob. You may even want to preemptively send a quick email to Bob telling him at what time you arrived the previous day (in case he doesn't know that already).

But in case you're willing to be creative without increasing your number of hours, stop commuting for a while. Have the company pay for a nearby hotel, a good one. Or have the company pay for a chauffeur, maid service, or a bunch of other things that would allow you to claw back some of your personal time so you can get more sleep and more resting time.

With the outrageous number of hours you're already working and commuting, at the level of concentration that is required of you, I assume you already don't have a family or a domestic partner to go back to each night. My apologies if that's not the case.

Remember that you have all the leverage. You have the work record and you have the skillset. The other employees of that same company don't. And hiring a competent replacement is probably far more difficult for them than you can imagine. And even if they could, I would imagine they'd probably burn that person out too.

  • Don't just email Bob to tell him when you arrived -- SEND emails to Bob, as close to daily as possible, as one of the first things you do when you get into the office. The timestamps on them will be more direct evidence of your arrival time. (Ideally these would be emails you would naturally be sending him anyways.) – hBy2Py Apr 25 '17 at 19:56
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    @hBy2Py: You can send emails from anywhere, and it wouldn't be hard to fake the originating host if you can remote connect into your office workstations. So, this is not a good way to prove that you are in the office (plus it comes across as .. I don't know the word, but odd). Mind you if Bob is as stupid as he sounds then it may be effective lol – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 25 '17 at 20:01
  • Saying and proving are two different things. Personally, I wouldn't even try to prove anything to him (unless I gave him a reason not to trust me). Because that's a slippery slope and it sets a bad precedent that can never be undone. You're a professional. You're already working more hours than everyone else. Why should you have to prove your hours to him? If someone tried that with me (assuming I was already working your kind of hours), I would go back to working 8 hours and not a minute more. If someone wants to treat me like an hourly employee, then I'll act like an hourly employee. – Stephan Branczyk Apr 25 '17 at 20:36
  • from comment by OP on the question: "I doubt he doesn't know the hours I put in as we have a system that keeps track of these things" --- i.e. OP's hours are already provable – Jeutnarg Apr 25 '17 at 21:03
  • @boundaryImposition If Bob is the type of person who would suspect you would take the time and energy to fake work emails in order to appear busy... don't work for Bob – user52991 Apr 26 '17 at 17:52

So this is, unfortunately, not uncommon among startups. The entrepreneur(s) who start the company are passionate about it, they are devoted to it and can't fathom a world in which they aren't working in it and for it every waking hour of the day. They try to find people who share the dream, typically in exchange for equity, and often hire people like yourself. They can get tunnel vision focusing on the company and fail to realize the effort or dedication their employees are putting into the business. Not everybody is an entrepreneur excited about working 80 hour work weeks, and a good employer shouldn't expect that of their employees.

In situations like this, where the employer is upset with a hard working and skilled employee, it is important to calmly remind the employer of your skillset and your devotion to the company. While you may leave "early" you're working longer hours than anybody in a normal work environment. ~55 hours a week (70 hours away from home including commute). This is on par with someone who is running their own company, not working for someone else. The expectation that you should put in more hours is unreasonable, and furthermore your expertise and ability to provide quality work is diminished by the hours you work.

Bring with you some information about how long your days are and emphasize the sacrifices you're already making (in time and possibly salary?) to work at this position. If he still doesn't see eye to eye with you on this, then this is a red flag indicator that he is lacking in proper management skills required to run a smooth business and the company may struggle later on as a result.


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