my employee keeps working long hours even though I’ve asked him to stop

A reader writes:

One of my employees who I manage is a very hard worker – he is reliable and always gets the job done. He has a great reputation in the company, and everyone just goes straight to him for help with projects (something I came into when I started, and has been working well until recently).

But since January, he has been staying late and constantly flaunting it in meetings, to other staff members and on conference calls. I often hear him say something like “I’m going to be here until 9:30 tonight so one more task won’t matter” or “I was here until 8:00 and it still isn’t done.”

As his manager, I felt obligated at the very beginning to find out where these tasks are coming from and what I could take off his plate. Every time we met, we decided on a plan for reassigning something, or I would reach out to someone asking if the timeline could be pushed back, etc. Then, a day or so later he’s back to staying late. Just yesterday, he sent me a note that said “look at the time receipt on this email – I was here until 10:00 p.m.”

It’s frustrating when he flaunts his overtime because he’s not helping me do anything about it – we seem to have a plan and then it falls through. At this point, I’m feeling like he just wants me to feel guilty or bad for him. (He does not get paid overtime.)

I believe the problem is ineffective time and task management. He has a team he manages that does design work for the entire company, and sometimes requests come in that we need to say no to – or give a realistic deadline for completion. He wants to please everyone, which is just not realistic for this type of work. Another problem is that this workload is inconsistent – sometimes we are bombarded with requests, other times it’s very slow.

I’ve tried continuously to ask how I can help, but I think the last resort would be to have all of his tasks come through me. I hate to rob my employee of his freedom to manage his own tasks, but part of his role (I believe) is to help him to manage his work in the confines of a 40-hour work week. Any advice?

Well, first, are you absolutely sure that this is about work and time management, and not simply what’s truly necessary to get the job done? If it’s the latter and you address it as the former, you’re going to frustrate and demoralize a good employee. So before you tackle this, you want to be really clear that it’s not actually a logical and conscientious response to the workload.

But assuming that you’re sure that he really doesn’t need to be working all these hours, sit down with him and say this: “Bob, it’s important to me that we find ways to manage your workload that will allow you to work reasonable hours — meaning 40 hours a week most weeks. We’ve talked about this before and set plans, and then it doesn’t seem to solve the problem. What’s going on?”

He’ll probably say that his workload simply can’t be managed in 40 hours a week, and he has no choice but to work all these extra hours.

At that point, I’d say this: “I’m committed to getting your workload down to an average of 40 hours a week. But doing that means that we need a better system for fielding new requests. I’d like us to get aligned on when it might make sense to push back on a request or give a longer deadline so that you’re not working these sorts of hours, and I will fully back you up on setting those boundaries. I suggest that we do A, B, and C to address this. I’m open to other ideas too if you’d prefer a different approach. But I want to be clear that I do not want the plan to be that you simply work well into the evening to get it all done. That’s not sustainable in the long run, and I’d like to keep you around for a long time without burning you out. So let’s figure out how we’ll do this.”

Then, once you have a plan, be realistic about his track record of him agreeing to plans like this and not following through. Say to him, “I know we’ve agreed to this sort of thing in the past and it’s ended up not sticking. Can we agree that you’ll come to me if this starts to seem impractical to stick to or if there are other reasons your hours start going back up?” He’ll presumably say yes, and then you should say, “I’m going to count on you to do that.”

Then, check in with him a few days later: “How’s the plan for managing your workload going?” (And if you hear his hours are going back up, help him brainstorm what to do differently.) That’s going to help reinforce that you’re serious. From there, keep checking in — maybe weekly until he’s established a new pattern.

And if you hear him complaining about his hours again, sit him right down and say, “Bob, when we last talked about this, I was really clear that I wanted you to proactively come to me if your hours became a problem again. Why am I only hearing about this through the grapevine?”

You’re going to need to stay on it in this way, at least for a while. Otherwise he’s unlikely to take the issue that seriously, and he’s likely to fall back into old patterns.

But remember, first make absolutely sure that it’s really a Bob problem and not a workload problem — or you will have a rightfully pissed off employee on your hands.

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. Colette

    It sounds to me like he sees the overtime as a sign that he’s doing well, and the OP sees it as a sign that there’s a problem. I’m not sure how clear she has been that working late on a regular basis is not a positive thing and that he should stop. She’s offered to help, but if he doesn’t see it as a problem, she will need to be much more direct with him.

    1. Caroline

      It could be this, or that he likes to work overtime. Maybe he doesn’t like his home life for some reason, maybe he’s the sort who wants to work all the time, maybe he just thinks more hours mean he is more successful. The OP needs to be clear that working late is not a good thing, and he should stop unless his workload requires it, in which case, the OP will help him get his workload down to 40 hours a week. It doesn’t seem here like the problem is the workload, although it could be.

      1. Artemesia

        Most people I have worked with over the years who work very long hours are doing it to avoid their homelife. Some jobs really call for it and some people who do it are very productive. But lots of jobs don’t require it and so people who want to avoid other responsibilities stretch things out to occupy all available time and define available as evening as well as the workday.

        This person is constantly bragging about how long they work and obviously thinks he should be getting praise and appreciation for it. The first step should be to disabuse him of the notion that whining about hours is a positive thing. The second of course is to get to the bottom of the work he does — is the time needed or is the time being badly managed.

        1. Vicki

          “This person is constantly bragging about how long they work and obviously thinks he should be getting praise and appreciation for it. The first step should be to disabuse him of the notion that whining about hours is a positive thing.”

          This.

          OP – stop trying to get him to stop working late. What you do need to do is to stop him from “flaunting” it. When he mentions this in a meeting, shut him down. In email? Ignore it.

          I have a funny feeling from this letter that the employee is seeking attention – and he’s been getting it! He whines, you try to work with him to fix his workload. But his workload isn;t the issue.

          Stop providing the attention and see what happens.

          1. Maggie

            I third the “attention seeking” modus operandi of the employee. I’ve seen enough of it. They wear it like a badge of honour!

            1. Jenny

              I fourth the “seeking attention” thing. I have a guy in our office that does the same thing. Always rubbing it in people’s faces when he’s here until 10pm. When people give him attention, he usually follows with “gotta get that money” or “but who do you think will get that raise next”… it’s SO over the top.

          2. No name, no state

            I have a co-worker who frequently talks about her hours and it rubs me the wrong way, now I can put my finger on why. I think I used to do this as well (my job in the news business requires long hours), but especially as I’ve seen her do it, I’ve tried to stop.

      2. My two cents...

        this. a coworker of mine started working suuuper long hours (though he was really modest about it) and it turned out he was going through a brutally bitter divorce while he kid was loafing around the house ‘taking a year off college’.

        the ‘flaunting’ might be an attempt at fishing for some validation while trying to maintain some sanity during a rocky period in their life.

        1. Kira

          I can see that. If I were unhappy at home and working late I’d be very aware of the “real” reason I’m staying late. Because it would be on my mind so much, it would start to come through in my conversations.

          But I think the employee here feels more pride than desperation in his long hours.

      3. EvaR

        It could also be that there is some aspect of the job tht is easier to get done without interruptions or noise, which means getting it done at the end or beginning of the day makes it easier, but some other aspect of the job requires him to be in the office during normal working hours. I have never worked as an exempt employee, but a lot of our offices have had this issue- we have to be able to drop everything for customers during store hours, so taking inventory is easier before we open, or when I was an admin at an accounting service, some of our people came in during slow times or an hour or two early to work on things without noise or interruptions. I’m an introvert myself, and if I had a job where time of day worked wasn’t an issue so long as you met deadlines, I would most likely structure my day so that I would be in the office when it was quiet.

    2. LBK

      That’s exactly how I read it. Based on the OP’s phrasing, it sounds like Bob is wearing this as a badge of honor, not complaining about it. He may not think it’s a problem that this is taking so long, so I’m not sure approaching it as a “How do I help you reduce your workload?” issue is going to stick (and I’d guess that’s why it hasn’t stuck yet). I worked with someone like this – she would work 10 hour days and then work from home on weekends when it was completely and utterly unnecessary for the role, and it made her constantly burned out and on edge so that any minor issue caused her to snap.

      I think Bob’s attitude is problematic for two main reasons:

      1) It clouds the visibility of his efficiency and of the position’s workload; if Bob leaves tomorrow and someone else comes in, the OP has no reliable information about what they can reasonably expect this person to do in a week. It also means she can’t tell if she has a staffing issue, a process issue, etc. that she should be preemptively addressing.

      2) More importantly, Bob probably thinks this creates a chit for him to cash in. Like the letter we saw a few weeks ago where the LW made a point to say they’ve never called in sick or asked for a raise, people often feel they’re owed something for anything “extra” they put in, even if it’s something that no one is asking them to do or that has no real connection to their work performance. I’d be worried as the OP that at some point Bob is going to try to use his extended hours as leverage (eg “I work 80 hours a week so you should give me this promotion”) and will be angry when it doesn’t pay off because those hours are basically worthless.

      I think the OP needs to shut this down immediately by starting with a hard line “You are not allowed to work more than 40 hours a week” and then go from there if Bob has complaints about not being able to finish his work in that time period. ?Going at it from a perspective of adjusting his workload and expecting the hours to drop accordingly doesn’t seem to fit the true problem here – I suspect Bob will stretch out any amount of work to fill his crazy schedule because he isn’t trying to get work done, he’s trying to look good through his deluded perspective of what makes a good employee.

      1. MsM

        I don’t even know that “you’re not allowed” is the place to start. I think it’s more important for the LW to clarify that they see this as a sign of poor time management, not a badge of honor. And if Bob is truly too busy to get everything done, then he needs to stick to the plans that have already been put in place to address that problem, including turning down projects that aren’t a good use of his time.

    3. LAI

      I agree, and I don’t even think that the overtime is necessarily the problem here – the problem is complaining about it. I often work later hours than my coworkers (I’m not talking about 10pm or anything – in my office, working until 6pm is considered late). My supervisor has told me that this is not necessary and that I am free to work regular hours like everyone else if I want to, but I like my schedule. I get more done and it gives me the freedom to not feel guilty when I come in later in the mornings occasionally. Personally, I’d be less happy in my job if my boss told me that I could not work late and that I had to go home. But I also don’t ever talk to my coworkers about my schedule or judge them for not working late too.

    4. Mad Hatter

      I used to work 70-80 hours/week because my supervisor did, and I thought that was simply the norm for my IT support job. Turned out *he* spend all this extra time in the office because he was avoiding his home life, and I was too green to speak up that *I* wanted a better balance. I didn’t complain, I didn’t brag, I just kept playing Energizer Bunny and getting more and more burned out. I was a department of one; there wasn’t anyone to share the workload with, and there was definitely an organization-wide mindset that those who worked more hours were better employees.

      The bright spot was that even for exempt staff, they offered 1:1 comp time accumulation for every OT hour worked. Except that I never to to take any.

      We were eventually audited by an outside firm, who read the riot act to both Fiscal and HR about what a liability this policy was to the organization. I was immediately knocked down to 40 hrs/wk, most weeks. They kept the 1:1 comp policy in place, although it’s very tightly overseen and limited now.

      It was a godsend. I finally had tacit permission to triage my workload so that not everything was a goal of 24-hr resolution, but that urgent items always got done. And really, as long as the urgent was handled, no one was bothered waiting on other stuff. I gradually used all of my accumulated comp time (took me several years), and my life went from hell to humane.

      Please make sure your corporate culture isn’t creating an environment where your worker feels like he has to work OT. His “bragging” and complaining may be roundabout ways of saying “I can’t handle this any more.”

      1. Koko

        Was the liability related to your company having a pay-out policy that would have included have to pay out comp time if the employee left? I would think you could solve the issue by just having a policy that comp time is not PTO (and it’s really not – the pay is for hours you worked, not time off, you just flex-timed the hours) and thus won’t be paid out on termination and by putting accumulation or rollover caps on PTO (very common).

        1. Red

          I imagine the liability was that his salary divided by his actual number of hours worked was perilously near the minimum wage threshold. Even though exempt employees are not covered by all of the FLSA’s provisions, they are still subject to the minimum wage rule.

    5. ReanaZ

      Yeah. I’ve dated this guy. I could definitely be projecting the tone, but everything in the letter sounds like he’s gloating/reveling in working the long hours, not actually upset about them.

      In my case, my partner also had mild-to-moderate manic spells (caused by an actual diagnosed condition, not just armchair-projecting that) which made the frantic working worse and it was a bit of a chicken-and-egg with whether it aggravated his condition to work so much or if working so much was a symptom of his condition being otherwise aggravated. But even aside from this, he was just a workaholic. Other than our (overall, pretty good) relationship, he didn’t have a lot of interests outside of work. No clubs, classes, very few non-work friends, very rare church, etc. Even though I think it was not good for him to pour that much energy into work, it was his choice and he wanted to, and nothing his boss ever said made any difference.

      That said, there are plenty of reasons to not just let him work forever unfettered–he will eventually burn out and it can be bad one everyone else’s morale. But if he genuinely wants to work all those hours and takes cheerful glee in telling people he’s working all the time, you are either going to have to get really forceful to stop him -OR- you’re going to have to make it super clear to everyone in your workplace that he’s working like that of his own volition and no one else is expected to + decide how to handle it when he eventually burns out.

  2. Partly Cloudy

    I wonder how long the employee has been with the company – and the OP, for that matter. If this just started happening in January, I feel like tenure might be relevant.

  3. Bevina del Ray

    I think what might really be going on here is that this person craves praise and attention. A question for the OP–is this a person who shows similar such behavior but in different ways? (For instance, is he constantly dropping other similar ‘hints’ about how hard he works?) If this is the case, it might be that he truly needs more appreciation, or feels undervalued for being so dedicated, although clearly this is the wrong way to go about it. He may also be a perfectionist to the extreme. I’m just saying that it sounds like a little bit of a behavioral thing and that it’s one thing if someone is working consistently late to get a job done, but to keep mentioning it sounds like he either wants it to stop, or he wants to be rewarded.

    1. AnotherAnon

      +1

      A coworker at a previous job was very much this way. She would come in before 7 AM and stay until after 6 or 7 PM most days, and would drop hints to everyone that she was so tired and working so hard. She took on more and more responsibilities but always said she was so stressed and overwhelmed. I think in her case it was very important to others (especially the boss) that she be seen as a super-hard worker.

      1. Brandy

        The girl I took over this job from was this way. She was soooo busy all the time and always needed to come in on the weekend, she saw this as job security, as she was sooo dedicated. I took the job and have free time. Oh and she felt the need to save every email and paperwork (she needed 3 filing cabinets) and I save a little on the computer, that’s it. Its all about false importance.

      2. MsM

        I’ll cop to having been that coworker. And yes, a lot of the problem was self-created. I still need to remind myself to delegate, and be clear that I have other deadlines when people ask me to do stuff, and realize that it’s not getting looked at until tomorrow if everyone else in the office has gone home, so I might as well finish it up then.

  4. Dan

    Part of me wonders why his late hours are much of a problem. Salaried employees get paid for the job, not to punch a clock.

    IMHO, he’s bragging in his emails for attention. One way to quash the bragging is to write back and say nobody cares how late he stays as long as he gets the job done.

    1. AW

      Because it makes the OP look bad. Would you want to work for a manager that had his employees working 10+ hour days on a regular basis?

      It is probably also demoralizing to the team this employee is managing. It implies that he doesn’t trust his team to get to work done fast or good enough so he’s staying late to do it himself.

      Frankly, it makes the employee himself look bad. How good of a team lead can he be if he can’t delegate to his team members or manage the workload better?

      1. Kate

        Absolutely yes on the demoralizing. I have a coworker like this and she is constantly making subtle comments about her hours and how everyone else is a slacker for trying to maintain a normal work/life divide.

        1. Gene

          That one is easy. “So, what you are saying is that what the rest of us can do in 45 hours a week, you need 60?” The arch one eyebrow and be silent.

      2. AntherHRPro

        I would approach Bob as a manager of people. He needs to demonstrate to his team that excessive hours are not the expectation and is not what is rewarded at the organization. A manager who brags about working late is setting a horrible example for their direct reports. They need to model good balance and time management. His actions are teaching his team that (1) he rewards long hours, not necessarily the quality or quantity of work getting done and (2) that he does not value work/life balance.

        1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

          Plus, he’s “complaining” about his hours to his team which could lead to them feeling like they can’t come to him with a question or assistance when they need it… because “Bob is going to make me feel guilty about piling more work on his already overloaded schedule. Do I really want to deal with that?”

          1. Kira

            That’s such a good point. My supervisor has always made it very clear that she values work-life balance and has taken a variety of steps to make sure I don’t make/let myself work too much.

            But–she doesn’t supervise the other departments we work closely with. We’ve gotten used to the vague feeling of nervousness about scheduling meetings or asking another department to get involved in a project because they are all Very Busy. Tuesdays? Busy. Thursdays? Busy. Coworker B? Super Busy. But when we do ask them for something, we also know they’re probably going to make sure to finish it before they head home at 9pm.

    2. sunny-dee

      If my manager said that to me, I’d be looking for a new job.

      There are a lot of issues for this, because highlighting his amount of work seems weird. Two I can think of. 1) There’s a serious underperformer on his team or in the department, and he’s getting frustrated. Or 2) he’s feeling like he’s not appreciated by the OP and he’s awkwardly trying to emphasize how much he does and how valuable he is.

    3. KS

      Why care? Because either there’s an employee with no time management skills, they need to hire more people, or their system is borked. None of these are good to a business.

    4. AdAgencyChick

      But this guy manages a team, and it sounds like he’s accepting more requests for work than OP wants him to. Given that he manages a team, I strongly suspect he’s not the only one working late when he accepts more work than he can handle in 40 hours — I bet some of his direct reports are suffering too.

      If this is the case, I think OP needs to make it clear to Bob that she cares about the work/life balance of the entire team, and that’s part of why it’s not OK for Bob to agree to so much. Some people love to be martyrs but will change their ways in order to protect others — if Bob is one of these, pointing out the effect on his team could help.

      If Bob is exempt and he truly is the only one who’s working the extra hours, then I agree with you — a simple “no need to point that out; you’ll be evaluated based on how well you do your job, not how late you’re doing it” might at least stop the attention-begging.

    5. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      I’d be mortified if I had an employee who had to work those kinds of hours consistently because I couldn’t manage to give him a reasonable workload (or mortified because he gave people that impression by constantly talking about all of his late hours.)

      I wouldn’t stand for any of this. I’d tell him to figure out how to get his job done by XPM, no later, every single day. Let me know what isn’t done and together we’ll figure out what either not to do or how to manage his workload better.

      1. Person

        Wakeen, your comments are always so level-headed and reasonable. You sound like a great manager.

    6. TalleySueNYC

      It’s bad because:
      -it pressures the rest of the team; they feel they have to keep pace with him;
      -it demoralizes the rest of the team; they either feel guilty, or they feel frustrated and scared that they work in a place where people regularly work until 10pm
      -it makes it difficult for his manager to tell what the workload is truly like (someone else stated that)
      -it also clouds communication about logistics of the job, simply because it takes up the airwaves
      -it burns him out! Even if he’s doing it to himself, he’s going to wear out.
      -it makes him resent his boss. Again, even if he’s doing it to himself.

  5. Rae

    This is how I would address it.

    “Bob, you are a valuable employee, but you are taking your long hours in a way that damages this company. It is demoralizing to many people here, and to clients, that you have made it clear you’re putting in unpaid overtime. My job now is to help you find a way to help you balance your time here.”

    I would start to prohibit people from going to him for advice, one of the quickest ways to improve a bad behavior is to take the power from it’s root. My guess is that he has a family situation where he feels undervalued, especially since this began recently. How much better is it then to be in an office where you’re basically god?

    1. Cheesecake

      I think it is good to stop people coming for advice when person is relatively juniour. OPs subordinate is a manager himself; i wouldn’t handhold people at this level. It doesnt send a good message

    2. TalleySueNYC

      I agree. I also think the manager should go to Bob every afternoon and say, “I’m here to manage your time here at the end of the day. What do you have on your list that you think you need to do tonight? And what will you plan to do in the morning? I want to see it written down.” And then go down the list and say, “nope, nope, nope, none of these are you allowed to do tonight. Go home.”

      1. Ruffingit

        That’s a pretty good idea. Going to him toward the end of the day to check in and see what he feels must be done is smart. It will force him to manage his time better because if he has things on there that he should have been doing earlier in the day, OP can discuss with him why he didn’t get them done before. In other words, if he’s stretching work out so he can work these late hours, then it will be easy to spot by doing a check-in before he leaves.

  6. Mena

    I work with someone who can’t seem to NOT talk about how late she worked on this or that. The person is disorganized, puts reports together in the last minute and outputs are sloppy. Many of us ignore her complaining – if she can’t get her work done during the day and needs to do it at night, that is her problem.

    1. Cheesecake

      My thoughts exactly; i haven’t seen good employees (as OP described) who would showcase their overtime!

  7. Elizabeth

    Is the employee exempt or non-exempt? If he’s non-exampt & getting additional income for the unapproved overtime hours (as he should be), he’s most likely blowing up your budget. If he’s not claiming those hours, then he’s putting your organization at legal risk. My organization has fired people for both.

    Have you told him that the overtime hours are unacceptable and must stop? He may have interpreted your previous conversations that it is at his discretion, based upon his workload. If that’s the case, it may take a more direct & forceful conversation to change his point of view.

      1. Natalie

        True, but that could still mean Bob is non-exempt and hasn’t been putting his OT on his timecard, which is a BFD.

  8. einahpets

    I like Allison’s advice on examining whether it is something that can actually be addressed by the employee on their own.

    In my case, our department is understaffed and we manage time sensitive projects that at times just mean we have to work the extra hours. Fortunately, my manager doesn’t harp on me for sending the occasional deliverable or email after hours. It would be totally demoralizing to be told that I need to be better about time management when I am doing what I need to (on a more limited basis than the OP’s worker, mind you) to satisfy our project timelines.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      COMPLETELY agree — although what makes me suspect that OP isn’t being unreasonable is her mention that Bob is a people pleaser who takes too many things on. I think OP would prefer Bob to say no to more requests and/or ask for more generous timelines on those requests he accepts.

      And if I’m reading that right, god bless OP, because managers who want to keep their staff to reasonable hours and understand that that means not everyone can get the work they want exactly when they want it, are rare and wonderful.

    2. Just Another Techie

      Completely agree, but presumably you aren’t doing things like putting in your emails “Look at the timestamp on this message.” That’s just weird and indicative that there’s a serious problem going on for the OP, not just a dedicated employee occasionally putting in some extra time.

  9. Cheesecake

    i am confused he is bragging about the overtime. Not about the workload, but about hours. “Look, i sent email at 10!” “What shall we do about it?” “I am too busy to discuss this”. How is his team doing? Are they all happy top performers?

    1. Michele

      Sometimes it doesn’t matter if the team is happy or top performers. In some jobs, facetime is rewarded, and people who spend all of their time talking about how hard they work are rewarded more than the people who spend their time working. Bob might have worked in a culture like that at a previous job.

      It could also be that Bob feels he isn’t being recognized for the work that he has been doing, and he is trying to force the issue.

      1. Cheesecake

        We had a case of a “good employee, pulling a lot of workload, everyone comes to consult”. She used any opportunity to complain about overtime. You could say “the weather was great this weekend!” and she’d reply “you know, i couldn’t enjoy it as i was working blah blah”. Now, funny thing is she had a team who she did not assign a single big task or train (they were new).

        i just can’t imagine a truly good employee complaining about hours like that. so i was thinking to dig a bit and talk to the team.

        1. Michele

          Ah, I didn’t understand that you were saying the OP should talk to the team directly and find out what is going on. That is a good idea, but she needs to use the information from those discussions discreetly, or it could backfire on anyone who opens up.

  10. Michele

    If Bob’s workload is reasonable, then it is one of two things. It might be that he enjoys playing martry. I work with a couple people like that. They will be as inefficient as possible so they can put on a show of staying late every night. These people love the attention of “working” later than anyone. If that is the case, it is important not to reward him for being the last person out of the office.

    It could also be that he doesn’t want to go home. Maybe he has nothing going on outside or work, or maybe his wife just left him and the house is empty. I have seen people do that, too. For them, work becomes a sanctuary where they feel needed. In that case, it is best to just let them have it. Don’t reward the behavior, but don’t try to put a stop to it.

    1. The IT Manager

      he enjoys playing martyr

      That’s my first thought. He wants praise for all his long hours since he keeps announcing it to everyone and he’s resisting attempts to decrease his workload. It’s odd that this is a new thing though. I wonder if he’s trying to build a case for a raise.

      But I think there’s context missing from the letter. Why did this start in January? Did the workload actually increase in January? Why does LW think this is poor time management if the guy is a hard, reliable worker with a good reputation?

        1. Alex

          My first thought was martyr as well. I’ve known a few people who take this form of martyrism.

      1. MissDisplaced

        Hmmm… yes I was thinking this as well due the to the bragging about it and the many mentions of his OT. It may be true though that he does get a lot of last minute design work, which would certainly require staying a bit late, but UNTIL 9:30 OR 10:00? I don’t think so!
        He may be one of those people that just can’t stop in the middle of something.
        OP says there are times when they are slow, what does he do then? Does he go home early or stay? Does he take his vacations? I would also look at all of that as well to determine if this person is “the martyr” or really does have too much work to finish.

    2. Dang

      Yep. Most likely self importance and martyrdom. If he was actually worried about the amount of time he spends at work, the effective way would be to go to you and ask what could be done about it. What he’s doing is like humblebragging, and it’s damaging to the rest of the team.

  11. Rat Racer

    Who works 40 hours a week anymore? I wish I worked for a company that cared if employees were working round the clock!

    1. Brandy

      We work just the 40 here because the company doesn’t want to pay OT. Also my company they control the hours for working. We used to have people come in at 11, midnight, but they weren’t productive, they messed around, but now with the flex time its anytime between 6 and 6. At 6 in the evenings IT runs backup for the day so you cant work in the system so work wants us out.

    2. LBK

      Out of my department of 20 people, only one person that’s not a manager works over 40 hours. Same thing on the last team I was on. I don’t think it’s as uncommon as you think, depending on your industry and role.

    3. A Definite Beta Guy

      Thinking the same thing. Exempt worker, 40 hours a week? Huh? Among my social group, all 2o-something Finance and Accounting gentlemen, 45 hours is a light Summer week. From what I hear, this never used to be standard, but starting in the mid-aughts, Fortune 100s slashed the non-revenue generators to bare-bones budgets and upped the workload (OMG SAP! Internet! I need DAILY reports about my paper clip variance on Line 27 of the plant in Yukon Territory!)

      My Mother (an industrial plant controller) and her colleagues now work 80 hours weeks regularly, which was ENTIRELY unheard of just 15 years ago for any accountant not in the Big Five (or in tax season).

      1. KTM

        You should come over to engineering then :) My coworkers and I, along with many people in my field, typically work 40-50 hours in a week

        1. periwinkle

          Must be an engineering thing. I work in an engineering-dominated company, albeit not in that role, and we do 40 hours. If we work extra one day, our manager insists we work a shorter day to compensate. Work-life balance is important here!

          (Or maybe our manager is simply damn good. Which he is.)

        2. BananaPants

          Yup, I’m in engineering and a 40-45 hour workweek is the norm for my colleagues and me (all exempt workers). Managers have more like 50 hour weeks. I put in a 50+ hour week maybe once a year (or when traveling).

        3. Have courage and be kind - Austin, TX

          Yup — I work in tech, and in both Fortune 100 and small companies, never saw anyone go over 40 hours a week on a regular basis (when a project has a tight deadline, we can go to 45 hours a week, but then get comp time when the project is finished).

        4. Connie-Lynne

          I work in engineering and “stop working so much” is a conversation I am lucky enough to have to have often with my teams. In the case of my teams, it’s not martyrdom, it’s simply that the knowledge “the work is never done” drives them to frequently pick up “just one more thing” or get immersed in problem-solving and lose track of time.

          OP, here’s some things that have helped me get through to my teams:
          * I am sure to take time off myself and generally finish up on time. Modeling good behavior is step one.
          * Set up a process with them for handing off unfinished projects or updating the team of WIP.
          ** This can be via an email, ticket updates, a shared notepad/Gdoc, or a kanban board like Trello or Leankit. The important thing is that everyone updates, acks handoffs, and speaks up when they need help.
          * Encourage them to set aside time during the day where they are not available via IM and they exit their chat clients or put them on DND.
          * Help them identify and reduce frequent context-switching.
          * Sit them down and explain that their long-term work happiness is the most important thing to me as their manager, because I value them as an employee. I’d rather some things go unfinished than that they burn themselves out trying to deal with the stress of always working late or missing personal events.
          * Further explain that work going un-done regularly because they don’t have time is an indicator to me as a manager that there is _too much work_ , rather than being an indicator that they are failing in their roles. Point out that it allows me to advocate for headcount, which benefits the whole team.

        5. A Definite Beta Guy

          That’s what my Dad told me to do. But, NOOOOO, I had to study Economics. And then Economics from a mid-tier state school doesn’t lead to anything but working in the Grindstone Department of Generic Big Company A/R.
          #badlifechoices
          I do like the numbers and the spreadsheets. I do not even mind the extra hours, provided they are compensated. I DO mind wasting my time meeting an arbitrary metric with no business value. Which happens a lot when your job is cranking out reports.

    4. Windchime

      I do. A normal week is 40-45 hours (closer to 40 if I’m being honest). We may occasionally work longer hours but it’s not the norm at ALL. We are all salaried/exempt, and our employer is a strong believer in a work/life balance.

    5. SLG

      I would seriously love to see an informal survey of AAM readers on this. I work in marketing, and it’s been explicitly said that 50 hours a week is expected, and subtly implied that 60+ is the minimum for getting interesting, career-advancing work. (As in, “Yes, that would be great if you take on that extra project that will get you good visibility at the company. Unfortunately, nothing you’re currently doing can be delegated to anyone else, but you’re welcome to add it to your plate. Thanks for taking so much initiative.”)

      Like Rat Racer, I wish I worked for a company that told me to limit hours to 40!

      1. SLG

        Upon re-reading I realized this comment comes across as more sarcastic than I meant it to be. Although it would be nice to work only 40 hours a week, I really am interested in what’s normal for AAM readers. (And OP, good on you for caring about this employee’s work-life balance!)

    6. Dr. Doll

      I have straight up told people with whom I was applying for jobs that, although I will work damn hard, I am not interested in 12-14 hour days on a regular basis. Nothing — *nothing* — in academia is that critical.

      My current boss and I decided that about 50 hours is reasonable, including emails from home, etc., but I try to be more efficient and get it down to 45 on a regular basis.

      People who work 60, 70, 80 hours are not doing themselves or anyone else any favors. As Rosa Brooks pointed out in “Foreign Policy,” “When did we come to believe that crucial decisions [about foreign policy, money, and people’s lives] should be made by people too tired to think straight?”

      Working this much is not a badge of honor, it’s a badge of powerlessness for most of us. If smart finance people think it’s good, then gee, maybe I should put my money in my crawl space, it might be safer!

  12. Juana

    I wonder if something about the corporate culture encourages this. I worked for company where people were encouraged to work late because it was thought to show dedication to the client. The ones who stayed late and sent e-mails from home at 1 in the morning were always the first to be promoted, given the good projects, recognized by senior management, etc. It was never explicitly stated, but quite clear to me.

    My manager and his boss had the attitude of “we are paid a salary so should be available at any time.” OP thankfully doesn’t seem to share that! It’s a big part of the reason why I left there- I wanted to sleep and have some kind of work/life balance!

    1. AW

      I wonder if something about the corporate culture encourages this.

      IIRC, there have been at least 2 letters about this in the past week.

    2. MissDisplaced

      “We are paid a salary so should be available at any time.”
      Ick and double Ick. What a horrible attitude. That place must have had no limits on intrusiveness. Bet they expected you to answer your emails while on the potty too.

      1. Juana

        I once got an e-mail from my manager at 5:00 on a Saturday and he was angry I didn’t reply right away… although to be fair, that was the horrible manager more than the company. I left very soon after that!

    3. Girasol

      My company has a stated policy of rewarding excellence, but a history of praising, raising, and promoting for long hours in the office. Is that the case here? Is it possible that Bob saw someone get the praise/raise/promotion that he wants, and he understood that the reason was going “over and above” in terms of hours? Or has someone been let go and he perceives that the reason was clock-watching? The bragging suggests his problem isn’t poor time management or marital trouble. He might stay late for those reasons but wouldn’t he be inclined to avoid flaunting his dirty laundry?

  13. AW

    I know some people hate this word but does this employee feel empowered to say “No”? I’d ask him what’s happening when people send him requests. Are people even asking him when he can get something done or are people just telling him when they want something done and end the conversation there? Are people are going around him and assigning work to his team directly because they know the team members won’t push back?

    He may be constantly talking about his overtime because he’s hoping people will stop a) constantly interrupting him with requests for advice and b) expecting such fast turnarounds.

    The thing is, this is going to demoralize his team members too because his constant staying late to finish tasks implies that they aren’t fast/good enough to do it themselves.

    1. Ama

      This is a good point. I worked at a job with an overwhelming workload — but the very nature of the job was general administrative support, so I actually *couldn’t* say no to the constant stream of coworkers at my desk. I could (and did) push back deadlines on non-priority requests but I couldn’t do anything about the people above me in the hierarchy who “dropped by” my desk on Friday at 4:45 to ask a question that couldn’t wait until Monday and required at least an hour of work on my part.

      My boss once asked me to track any “out of scope” questions I received (thinking that mission creep was part of the problem) and I had to point out to her after two weeks that it wasn’t mission creep, it was sheer workload.

  14. fposte

    I’d straight up ask him what the comments are about. I wouldn’t assume it was bragging just because he didn’t respond to directives to change–that can be a really hard habit to let go even if it’s making you tense.

  15. Chriama

    Also: as long as the long hours truly aren’t a requirement of his role (does he need more employees?), you need to explicitly tell him: “Bob, when I hear how late you’re staying, it doesn’t impress me. Long hours are not indivative of a good employee, but rather one with poor prioritization and time management skills, and it sets a bad example for your employees. You need to start working realistic hours and making sure your employees are doing the same.”

    If you tell him that everyone has heard his ‘humblebrags’ but nobody is impressed by them, he might be embarrassed enough to cut it out.

  16. Laurel Gray

    I wonder if there may be a personal life issue at play here.

    I have to wonder about someone who comes in and stays late regularly for work that has no real urgency and what they have going on outside of work? Most exempt people with large workloads like the flexibility to work from home so they may leave at 4 but be back online and working by 8pm. Is it possible this guy just went through a break up and doesn’t want to go home? Possibly a separation? I’ve watched unhappy people and recently single throw themselves into work which specifically included increased office face time.

    1. Michele

      I wondered that, too. I have seen that. I have also seen people work past the age when I would want to retire because they have nothing outside of work to keep themselves going.

  17. Zach

    I wonder if there are things going on at home that makes him not want to go home.

    Maybe he’s bragging about the overtime as a way of deflecting any inquiries about that situation, trying to orient the long hours toward a work need, rather than a desire to avoid personal problems.

  18. JMegan

    Here’s a question: Have you actually told him that you don’t want him staying late?

    Every time we met, we decided on a plan for reassigning something, or I would reach out to someone asking if the timeline could be pushed back, etc.

    I’ve tried continuously to ask how I can help, but I think the last resort would be to have all of his tasks come through me.

    I see that you have talked to him about prioritizing and re-assigning his workload and so on, but I can’t tell from your letter if you have explicitly told him that he needs to work 40 hours and stop working overtime. It could be that he hasn’t followed through with the plans because your offers of “help” are missing the mark, and you’re trying to solve a problem that he doesn’t even realize he has (ie, he thinks you’re trying to help him get his work done, but his work IS getting done, and therefore he doesn’t need your help.) He may not understand that the hours are the issue, and not the quality of his work.

    1. LBK

      Totally agreed. Even if you’re helping him reassign work, he may not realize the intention of that action is to cut down his hours, so he’s just inflating his remaining work to fill that same amount of time.

  19. Allison

    Out of curiosity, when your company gives someone public praise – i.e. awarding the employee of the month, giving special recognition at quarterly meetings or annual events – and someone gives a glowing speech about how hard they worked and how dedicated and passionate they are, how often do they mention that the employee worked late, or came in early, or worked weekends, to get the job done? “This guy could be seen in the office at 8pm working diligently on the project, and I had to tell him ‘Jim, go home! it’ll still be here tomorrow!'” or “this woman gave up her Saturdays to make sure everything went smoothly.” Now, the key here is that these people worked late temporarily, because they wanted to ensure the success of a particular project, BUT a lot of people hear that praise and they think the key to success at the company is late nights and lots of extra hours. I know I did, once upon a time.

    Now, there are other reasons why someone may put in more hours than they should, or more than they need. Maybe their home life is crap, or if they live alone, maybe they’re bored and lonely and work is the only thing they have going for them. Maybe they place a ton of their self-worth into their professional success. Maybe they worry about where they stand at work and this is a desperate attempt at better job security – they figure, when they need to make cuts, they’ll cut the slackers first.

    1. Jillociraptor

      This was the path I wanted to explore. The letter made me wonder if Bob is actually feeling validation for what sounds like is generally solid-quality work.

      One challenge I’ve run into in my organization is that we get way more kudos for quantity of work, and for putting out fires, than for quality of work and consistent performance. I’m kind of a fixer, like Bob sounds like he may be, and thinking back on the recent feedback I’ve gotten, almost none of it even referenced the quality of my work, and that’s kind of a bummer.

      Reading again what the OP says about Bob, it sounds like he’s someone who takes his professional reputation very seriously, and is a really good, reliable problem solver. But I wonder: does he have clear expectations for what he’s on the hook for/what OP is managing him to, and then does she take actions that reflect those expectations? If Bob, or people in general in your company, only ever get lauded for how much or how hard they work, of course he’s going to seek out that feedback, right?

  20. Anonsie

    But remember, first make absolutely sure that it’s really a Bob problem

    A Boblem, If you will.

    Agreeing with others that the only people I’ve seen do this are people who manage their time poorly, are generally unorganized, and don’t turn out high quality work. They cover for this and cultivate the Big Problem Solver mantle by constantly taking things on and then, in my experience, playing the “I’m so swamped” card at people until they take chunks of work or reorganize something to accommodate the martyr. They appear to be always handling everything but its a bit of a ruse.

    1. Sharon

      I’ve encountered some of those people in my travels. I call them arsonists. They are perceived as valuable firefighters and management generally doesn’t see that they are setting the proverbial fires that they then put out in order to look like heroes. They let everybody know how they spend SOO much time putting out fires that they don’t have time for their normal work.

      I joined a team with one of those many years ago, and when I started, the computer was crashing several times a week, programs would die, all heck breaking loose. As I got my feet under me and figured out what was going on, I removed all of the little “landmines” he set (bad programming and he never fixed the known bugs, and he never maintained the system so it would crash from full disks and other really stupid things), the computer stopped crashing and the programs became more reliable. When I left the place (long after he’d left) the computer system never crashed and the programs only failed on rare occasions for truly unexpected reasons.

      1. Anonsie

        That’s a good analogy, and it’s pretty accurate. I’ve seen people spend the afternoon circling the office telling anyone who would listen about how X Report is a nightmare and here going to be there all night for a week until it’s done and blah blah blah when I’ve done X Report in the past and know full well it would only take an afternoon or two to do perfectly well. Then when I see this person’s version, it’s really sloppy with a lot of spelling or layout or factual errors because they spent way more time trying to convince everyone the project was difficult than actually working on it… And often way past deadline as well.

        1. Anonsie

          BUT, the hero part. While they’re going on about how awful it is, other people are working to accommodate them on other things and not giving them additional work. Then even when they turn out a mediocre final project they’re still getting commended for handling a big scary thing all on their own. And if they pause to help someone else for a minute, then they’re a superstar for balancing both

        2. Laura2

          I had almost this exact experience with a former boss. She started handing tasks off to me because she was “so swamped” and warned me they’d probably take days, when really they’d take anywhere from a half hour to a few hours, once I’d figured out she was doing everything the hard way.

          Then there were the tasks that were just totally unnecessary, like sending reports full of nonsense (both written and data-reports pulled from software) to people who were too busy to read them.

      2. BananaPants

        A saying I’ve heard is, “If you reward firefighting, you create a culture of arsonists.” I’ve definitely seen that happen in my organization.

    2. LBK

      A Boblem, If you will.

      This is unrelated but there’s a Cascade commercial where they refer to “dish issues” and every time I hear it, I get mad they don’t call them “dishues”.

      1. Heather F

        I thought I was the only one who expected that line! Every time I hear that commercial I say “dishues” to myself because I can’t help it.

    3. Kira

      I feel like my personal history is an exception to this type of Boblem. When I was working too long too often–before my boss intervened and got me to stop–I was still doing good work. I just believed that I could get everything off of my to-do list, that tomorrow I could come in with a blank slate. I felt bad when I got asked for something and couldn’t turn it around in a heartbeat.

      But my coworker definitely had a Boblem. She’d ignore a task and then, just before the deadline, do it wrong. So then she would have to cancel appointments (work, not personal) and stay late to fix the thing she did wrong.

  21. Lizabeth

    Most ad agencies/printing companies I’ve worked at have had a short “daily” production meeting just to go over project status and when new pr0jects coming in. It doesn’t have to be an “all hands on deck” type of meeting; probably project heads plus OP, that way you can monitor the workflow.

  22. Scott

    tell him to shut up? Nobody cares. If he thinks his workload is too big then try and reduce it. otherwise zip it.

  23. Woo!

    I had a coworker whose job was his life. He literally didn’t have anything else going on at home. He’d work long hours, weekends even, and complain that “no one else was going to do” the work. Well no, because he wouldn’t let them.

    At first I felt bad that he was working such long hours, til I realized he liked it.

  24. I live to serve

    time for the dreaded time study. Bob can clock his hours on a spreadsheet by tasks in 15 minute increments.

    OP can meet with Bob to see what can come off his plate.

    I work all the time. I am very productive. My staff puts in their 8 hours. They are very productive. As management, I have the opportunity to work as much as I like as I am implementing my own projects. Good news is I can go home at 5:30 and work all night if I want. No one, not the least my supervisor cares how late I work.

  25. Lurker

    I value the work/life balance and my boss knows it. When it comes time to actually work additional hours to get specific projects done, I let my boss know that my workload is increasing so she can use that in her decision-making about other priorities. It’s not to brag, but to keep her in the loop. Perhaps the same is happening here?

  26. Sara

    I read this too as a person who thinks that working extra long hours makes him impressive, and to some managers it might. I worked with a woman who did the same thing — worked crazy long hours, whose actual work was less than impressive, but she thought being at the office late made her better than everyone else on the team.

    To steal a quote from the late, great John Wooden, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

  27. Joey

    Id say something like: “Bob, I’m concerned that you’re working so many hours. Either we need to talk about prioritizing what you’re working on or you’re taking too long to get things done. Let’s go through what you’re getting done on a day to day basis and why you feel the need to work so many hours.”

  28. penelope pitstop

    Honestly, this seems to me as if it could be a manufactured problem on the part of the manager. Bob has a great reputation, reliably gets his work done, is a go-to guy for others. He’s an adult, presumably, so if he wants to stay late, who cares? Maybe he values work/life balance differently than the manager and as long as there’s no performance issue or organizational impact, is that really a problem that requires fixing?

    It’s also interesting that this apparently started in January. That might be worth digging into a bit with Bob to see if it’s symptomatic of a bigger problem (or personal issue) that the manager can support or help with.

    As for the issue of “bragging” of staying late, I’ve worked with people like this and it’s been internal. Personal workstyle preference–not something they’re looking to others to replicate, nor something others – even those who report to them – feel obligated to emulate.

    I’d say the potential problem is perception for OTHERS–if they feel devalued unless they put in the facetime. But if it’s truly just an issue with Bob and there’s no impact to team performance or organizationally, why not let it go and continue to observe from a distance? Tell Bob you value and support him and be present if he comes to you, but stop trying to take it upon yourself to change him. Not everything requires manager intervention.

    1. LBK

      Maybe he values work/life balance differently than the manager and as long as there’s no performance issue or organizational impact, is that really a problem that requires fixing?

      But working 60-80 hours for a 40 hour position is a performance problem in and of itself. It means he’s either horribly inefficient or he’s not good at prioritizing and setting reasonable timelines. It’s also possible that this is a staffing problem and that the OP needs to hire someone else to split the work, but either way someone working well over their expected hours is an issue itself that needs fixing. It’s especially problematic that Bob is broadcasting his extended hours as well for a number of reasons – resentment among his coworkers who have to listen to his bragging, a false perception that those hours are expected, and incorrect assumptions by Bob about his value as an employee are just a few possibilities.

      If we’re talking +/- 5 hours on a regular basis, I say let people do what they want. If someone needs to regularly work 50-60 hours during a particularly busy period, no problem. 60+ hours as the standard? Huge problem.

      1. AntherHRPro

        Different organizations have different norms for how many hours of work a position should have. At my company an average of 60 hours a week is not unreasonable. BUT, in this situation, the OP is saying that at her organization Bob’s hours are excessive. That is what needs to be addressed. Not “more than 40” but more than what is the reasonable norm for the company.

        1. LBK

          I’d argue that a norm of 60 hours is a cultural and staffing problem except for in certain industries where it’s potentially justified by business needs (I’m think medical and other emergency fields mostly) but that’s a separate discussion.

  29. Dr. Pepper Addict

    My wife worked with a lady that was hourly and would come in an hour early and work off the clock (even though she was told not to) and stay and work late after she had clocked out. After my wife got to know her, she was just someone who felt unappreciated in her personal life and after discovering this we both realized she was doing this to feel important and appreciated, even though what she was doing was really odd and unnecessary.

    Having said that, OP do you do a good job of praising him for his good work? Some people are more needy in that area of life. The glowing praise you gave him in the first few paragraphs of your letter, does he know you feel that way? It could just be he’s trying to feel appreciated or wants to be recognized for going the extra mile. His comments to others about how late he stays seem to indicate this is the case.

  30. MaryMary

    It sounds like Bob is a manager and an experienced employee, so I’d push back to have him come up with solutions to solve the problem (assuming he really sees this as a problem and isn’t attention trolling or playing the martyr, as other people have suggested). I’d say something like, “Bob, we’ve talked a couple times about ways to improve your work-life balance and cut down on the number of hours you spend in the office. I’ve offered some suggestions, but they don’t seem to have gained traction. So tell me: what do you need? How can I help? Is it a staffing issue? Do you need back you up when you set more realistic timing with the sales team? Is it a work flow/timing issue?” Really encourage him to brainstorm, even if he believes the problem is something you can’t fix. For example, maybe he spends his days in project planning or client meetings, and can only get to his design work after 5pm. It’s an expectation for someone in Bob’s role to do this, so he doesn’t thing it’s anything that will change. As his manager, you might be able to identify another resource to attend the meetings, make the meetings less time consuming, or block off no-meeting time for Bob to design.

    If he can’t identify a specific problem, let alone a solution, I agree with the other posters who say Bob may just enjoy working late. Some people are workaholics. I also agree with the people who suggest checking on the rest of his team. If your culture isn’t a workaholic culture, I have to wonder what the people Bob supervises think of his late night emails.

  31. Anx

    This a bit tangential, but how should you approach work in a situation like this if you are slow?

    My best work performance has been in jobs where I can do a little preparation after hours or put longer hours in. I have periods of incredible productivity, but they can be unpredictable and typically occur in the late afternoons, evenings, and nights. I tend to get very little done in a typical work day but get a lot done in a typical work week. To be honest, I have a very hard time buckling done and just concentrating on things, so I tend to get the most done when fewer people are around or when I wake up a little bit (toward the end of the day).

    I am nervous about job searching knowing that I’m not the fastest worker.

    1. ReanaZ

      I think it depends on how much of a big deal you make of the fact that you work late. If you put in the facetime people want, if you get your work done, if you just quietly stay at the office late on the regular, I don’t see why it would be anyone’s business. This depends on the job and office, but I don’t think it’s a big deal. I share an office with 2 other people, all exempt. I work about 7.5 hours a day (as stipulated by my contract). One person is a peer, and he regularly works 1 extra hour than I do, because he is a very slow worker (I think I actually produce more work than he does in less time). One person is in a different role (and head of a department), and she regularly works 2 or more hours more than me. I think she is a bit busier and she does get interrupted all day, but she also just works best at night and doesn’t have family local, a partner, or whatever and is happy to stay.

      I imagine a few people notice that I leave early and she stays late, but at the end of the day, no one is tracking our time and I only know their exact work hours because we share space. We all get our work done, people are generally satisfied with all our work volumes, and the exact hours are not that big of a deal.

      (Of course, this assumes you’re exempt. Obviously, no one’s goign to want to pay you extra if it takes you 9-10 hours to do an 7-8 hour job, and employer can get in trouble if you regularly work more than your logged/paid hours. But even then, I think if you know you’re working extra because you’re slow or slacked off during the day, a quiet hour at home getting things lined up for the next day may still not be a problem.)

      1. ReanaZ

        Meant to point out explicitly–the real problemI have with Bob in this letter is the humblebrags and all the time he spends telling people how much he is working. If Bob was quietly working late on occasion and totally happy to do it, I don’t think anyone would be writing about it (or it’d be a very different letter and response if they were).

        Also, protip for late workers: Use email scheduler tools (native to Outlook, plenty of others) if you want to write emails late in the day but not give the impression you’re working at weird times. I had a manager who used to work at 2am sometimes because it was a really productive time for her, but she would write all these email responses to go out at 8:00am, so people got them at a normal time, didn’t feel pressured to check/response at stupid-o-clock, and no one knew her work schedule was weird. I only found out because I commented once when I got multiple 8am email and was like, Damn, you’re fast! and she confessed they were prewritten and scheduled.

        1. Anx

          That’s a great suggestion! My old school email had a scheduler in it. I work through the night for school all of the time and felt weird sending out emails in the middle of the night.

          I will definitely look into doing that again.

  32. Ed

    This person sounds like a martyr to me. In IT, I have worked with at least one person like this at every company I’ve worked. They tended to be more senior and were hard workers and very knowledgeable but they simply can’t give anything up. Even boring, mundane tasks with no glory whatsoever were not delegated. Heck, I would delegate refilling my coffee if I could. I used to feel sorry for them but I quickly realized they LOVED IT when they were woken up by a 3 AM phone call to fix a problem or asked to stay late because something was broken. I always make a point of asking if I can help but say OK and leave without hesitation when they turn me down.

  33. LCL

    OP-thank you for trying to reset the expectations of salaried employees. You are a great manager for taking this on.
    I have seen people try to work above and beyond what is legal-there is always something going on in their lives, and it usually ends with a spectacular flameout.
    It sounds like there is some computer work involved in his job. Is it possible for IT to limit the hours he can access the company systems?

  34. Case of the Mondays

    If you take out the bragging, is this really a problem? I’m not the most productive worker. I need a lot of mental breaks. I get all my work done but I spread it out over more hours than most people. I like it that way. I would go crazy working at a high mental level 10 hours straight. I’m exempt though and I don’t brag about my time. In fact, i tell new people they don’t have to keep the same hours I do and that I keep those hours because I take more breaks during the day. If you figure out that Bob just likes stretching out his work, tell him to cut out the bragging and then he can have at it.

  35. AnotherFed

    Another thing to think about – did Bob’s team or scope change recently to trigger the change you noticed in January? Even if the team workload and number of people stayed the same, there could be a staffing problem if there are new people, bad performers, or unexpected absences that messed up the balance. It’s worth looking at the overall team – if Bob has a couple of new people to train at the same time or had to take over tasks of type X from someone, he could just be too stuck and too swamped to get someone else up to speed on doing types of tasks. He could also be trying to cover for less experienced/productive people (whether new or bad performers), who can sometimes take several times as long to do a task as an experienced person. If Bob thinks OP’s problem is getting the specific tasks done or Bob’s team management skills rather than Bob’s hours, he might not have even realized that he needed to point staffing problems out.

  36. Jeanne

    I wish I had this manager. I was the employee with the experience. People came to me for help. I often had to stay late for projects. Once I had to work 33 hours straight. I begged to not have to be the one staying late. But I got the projects and my boss left at 4pm every day.

    You are doing the right thing by trying. Find out if he has people asking for work without going through you or after you’ve gone home. Maybe the work should be shared among more people. Maybe he thinks it won’t be right unless he does it.

  37. neverjaunty

    The short version, OP, is that Bob is telling you there’s a problem.

    Whether it is a Boblem, a workload issue, a dysfunctional work culture or some combination, you will need to figure out. But something is wrong.

  38. LQ

    Are Bob’s employees all performing as well as they should and can? If he is leading a team is he delegating enough work? Is he delegating work to the appropriate people. (Don’t give design for sports things to the person who draws romance novel covers and don’t give the person who believe’s the 50’s were the best decade in ever the sci-fi-techno products – bad examples, but run with it…) Does he have enough people? I think taking into account if he is saying “No” or giving realistic timelines is good. And work may need to be run through you just so you get a handle on what it is. I know that for a while my boss (who is very well thought of) had all his work run through his boss because a lot of people who were higher up tried to put pressure on to get things done. Just the threat of having to go through boss’s boss made people stop and go, maybe this isn’t that important. So even if you do end up going that route, it doesn’t have to be forever, it can be, we are going to try this until you can get everything on your team sorted out so that no one is working an unreasonable amount of hours and the business knows how many staff is really required to do this work. Then pass it back to him.

    1. RVA Cat

      It sounds like what ultimately needs to happen is that you and Bob create reasonable expectations for turnaround times. If there is an agreed-upon SLA (service level agreement) that Chocolate Teapots will take 3 business days while Truffle Teapots take 5 days — and everything submitted after 2 pm counts as the next business day, that could get a handle on workflow. My group does something similar. One big help is that any requests to expedite have to be approved by a manager — effectively the OP. That could help put a stop to the requests at 4:45 pm that they want done tomorrow morning….

  39. Ann Furthermore

    Ah, yes, the martyr. I worked for someone like this once. It took me awhile to figure out what she was doing, but I finally caught on. She would come in at the normal start time, but then spend all day screwing around and socializing. At about 4:00, she’d go into her office and start working. People would always tell her things like, “I saw your email from 2:00 this morning! You poor thing!” It was how she got her validation.

    I suspect the same thing is going on with Bob. He’s a person who sees the number of hours he works as a badge of honor, and wants everyone to fawn all over him for working soooo hard. The comments like, “Well, I’m going to be here until 9:00 tonight so one more thing won’t matter,” are self-serving and designed to make others either feel guilty or in awe of his dedication. If he really was overwhelmed, and wanted to do something about it, he would have gone to the OP on his own and said, “Hey, my work has really been piling up lately. Is there something we can do about that?”

  40. TootsNYC

    I have two stories of this, from different sides. Both of them tell me that Allison’s advice is spot-on.

    AS THE MANAGER:
    I had a worker whose workload I *knew* about; and I knew that she shouldn’t need to work late. Most of what she did involved calling people at other companies on the phone–they weren’t at their desks at 7pm! And yet, there she was, in the office. Partly I got results from saying, directly, “I want you to go home at quitting time, I don’t care if something’s not done.” And I also said, “I know that there is no way you are doing anything of value, because the other people aren’t answering their phones. The next time I see you were here late, I’m going to call and ask you what you were working on.” And i did
    I didn’t care if she stayed to surf the web on the computer, or to write a story for someone else in the company, both of which would be “on her own time.” But I didn’t want her counting it as “work” and then resenting me for it. And I very directly told her that: “I don’t care if you want to…but you cannot call it “working late” to other people, or even to yourself. That’s not fair to me or to our department.”

    AS A WORKER
    We were working until 2am on a weekly deadline. And started squawking about it (nicely). Our top manager decided we needed to just go home. And he came and said to us, “Go home now, that’s an order.” Our reply was, “How can we possibly do that, when the printer is expected these 8 files, and they are not done? We can’t do them tomorrow.”
    Or, “If we don’t do them now, we will not have time to do them tomorrow either. And so we’ll rush and do a crappy job, or we’ll be late then, and the whole department will be in trouble.”
    In that case, it was a workload issue, and we found it pretty frustrating that his solution to fixing our late-nights was to pressure us, and not to apply pressure to the decision-making and task-doing that happened earlier in the process.

    I’ve been in that role many times, as the person at the very end of the process. My deadline is hard-and-fast; there’s NO give. So when I’m backed up against that deadline, I have to do whatever it takes. But, I can’t start anything until other people give it to me, and if they don’t give it to me. . . I can pack on as much extra staff as I possibly can (I’m a middle manager), but even then I can’t necessarily affect much.

  41. TootsNYC

    Also, I think I’d stop framing it as “helping Bob’s work-life balance” and make it be about how it’s damaging to the organization and to the manager.

    1. AntherHRPro

      Yes. If Bob is happy working those hours, it isn’t a problem for him as far as work/life balance. The issue is he is setting a horrible example.

  42. Dynamic Beige

    The thing with designers is that everyone has their own style and their own strengths so some people are just better suited to certain types of projects compared to others. Also, if people know that Bob is going to be there late, then they may be less inclined to manage their own deadlines as they know they can just drop it off on Bob before they leave. This can result in Bob getting the best projects if he’s a good designer, or the props for being there to take care of things and not let those balls drop.

    At OldJob, the account executives used to be able to pick the designer they wanted to work with and, as with all things, everyone had their favourites. Jane was particularly valued for her work so she was often tapped to take on this project or that project and, like the Bob in this story, worked a lot of hours (no bragging, though). It was partly a problem of no one knew what Jane’s workload was, and she was a perfectionist who wouldn’t hand stuff over — “it would take longer for me to explain what I want done than to do it myself” kind of thing. Eventually, she started to burn out and wound up leaving the company (no great shock). After an assessment was done and they saw who was doing what, they decided to hire a scheduler who would farm the work out and no one was allowed to go and pick their favourites/friends any more. There were still times when people had to work late, but the burdens were spread out more evenly.

    So, IMO, this may not be about removing an employee’s freedom to pick their own projects, but stepping in for their own good. Bob is not going to be able to work like that forever and unless there is tons of work to do, he may be depriving other people of the chance to do certain things by hogging the best projects for himself.

    Also, I know some people for whom it is a badge of honour or something to say “I haven’t slept in 4 days!” because they’ve been working hard on some big project. I just don’t get that. I would be more impressed to know that everyone was getting 3 meals and 8 hours of sleep, instead of running around looking like death warmed over.

  43. jesicka309

    My one up line manager is like this. He gets dragged into meetings all the time, which means face time with him is limited, and often he won’t get to check his emails until 4 pm. Yesterday he stayed back until about 9.30 to finish up emails.
    The problem is that the rest of the department has come to a grinding halt as we wait for him to check an email and approve something, and can’t get any face time with him to actually give us feedback/give us more work. Currently, my team is waiting approval on a workload change (as we are seriously underworked), and it’s absolutely killing me that we are waiting for him to have time to review our suggestions because he is too busy. He is literally too “busy” to evaluate his work load to let us help him! It’s getting beyond ridiculous and a number of us are ready to walk because we are so sick of seeing our manager run around like a crazy person while we are twiddling our thumbs.

  44. Elder Dog

    For all OP has said, Bob could be working fewer hours than he has been all these years. OP is concerned about all of a sudden, since January, Bob is mentioning how late he’s working during conference calls, meetings, emails and so on.
    I don’t think the problem is Bob’s hours, or his workload, or any of that. I think the problem is he’s all of a sudden announcing to all and sundry how late he stays.

    That’s what needs to be addressed, and directly. “Bob, why are you all of a sudden complaining about your hours?”

  45. Jamie

    I know I’m way late to this, but I read through all the comments (I think) and didn’t see this addressed.

    Is it possible he has a lot of tasks (managerial) to do during the day, but has highly focused work that’s much easier to do when al0ne in the office?

    I know I’m more productive at certain tasks when no one is here and can knock them out way faster and more accurately without constant interruptions. I come in later when I know I’ll be staying late to work on development projects, etc – but I used to come in early and still stay late because it was too aggravating to try to focus during the day. I don’t know the OP’s work set-up, but I’d look and see if Bob does need space and quiet for concentrated work he has a place to go and do that during the day – not all open office plans have this available.

    Maybe he does his best work later in the day – if that’s the case maybe there is something that can be done with his hours – at least some days a week coming in later so he can work later.

    This is a pretty common way for people to manage their environment so they can get the focus they need.

    1. Lipton Tea For Me

      What Jamie said is what I was about to say. I am a highly sensitive person, so the constant barrage of noise, lights, odors, talking, people walking about, etc., make it really difficult for me to focus. If there is something that needs to be written up like a Performance Appraisal or notes on a meeting or a teach list on a Subject Matter Expert training, then I need time to focus. I cannot just do it in my cubicle and as there is no printer at home, work is where it gets done. And yes, I should probably get paid for it, but I cannot do it in the environment provided to me.

  46. Jessie

    One thing to be aware of, even though it probably doesn’t apply here, is that voluntarily staying late when no one else is working late is sometimes cited as a red flag for illegal activity. Or at least it is on the government side (especially when we’re talking about security clearances).

    I only bring this up because what you’re describing sounds a lot like a former employee of mine. Guy had a great reputation as someone who could get things done. He would stay late all the time in order to get work done, even though he wasn’t being paid overtime. He also made a point of letting everyone know that he was staying late because of his workload, just like the person you are describing, but would shrug off any attempts to reduce his workload.

    It turns out he was stealing money through a travel system he managed and was staying late so no one could see him do it.

    I’m not trying to say I think that’s what’s going on. But I didn’t think about working late as a red flag and never thought too much about it. If I had looked into it, I might have caught what he was doing sooner.

    1. MashaKasha

      Valid concern, but I don’t think it’s the case with “Bob”. Why would someone who’s engaged in an illegal activity on company property, after hours, keep notifying their manager about it? (“Look at the time on this email, I was here until ten pm, laundering money!”)

      1. TootsNYC

        Because they’re not saying “I was here laundering money”; they’re saying, “I was here working so hard!” They know that they’ll be taken at their word.

        If they don’t say anything about why they were there, Boss is going to say, “What were you doing here?” and wonder.

        1. Jessie

          Exactly. If he makes a point of shoving it in everyone’s face, he’s a lot less likely to look suspicious.

  47. C Average

    If it is a workload problem, it might be worthwhile to talk to him about the possibility of getting some help for him. And sometimes the only way to quantify the overload in these situations is for Bob to stick to 40 hours and start dropping a few balls.

    A couple years ago I was much like Bob–busting my ass to do way more than one person could sustainably do. When my manager came on, she asked me to scale back to a 40-hour week, which necessitated my saying no to certain projects, shifting priorities, setting more realistic timeframes, etc.

    It frustrated me at the time, because I’d always taken pride in keeping all the balls in the air. But in time I came to realize she was playing a long game: she was building a case for hiring a peer for me. She successfully made her case, and my workload became sustainable again once a second person was hired for my role.

    1. TootsNYC

      “And sometimes the only way to quantify the overload in these situations is for Bob to stick to 40 hours and start dropping a few balls.”

      That’s also sometimes the only way for pressure to travel upstream to get someone the help that they need! Either in more timely decisions, reallocation of workload (a la the “you don’t get to pick your designer anymore; we’ll assign you based on workload” approach above), or additional staff.

      I’ve been there, where we were contemplating missing deadlines in order to create pressure above us. Hard to do–we chickened out.

  48. Ariel

    I do not condone anyone whining by any means, especially if someone takes it upon themselves to work long hours for ego boost or whatever. However, there could be a situation with the OP that is analogous to one I went through a number of years ago. I was working a minimum of 60 hours a week and still not able to get my workload done, mainly because the company had scaled back my team of 6 to 3. My two teammates worked 40 hours and just let work pile up – as was their privilege, being exempt – and since management had the attitude of “it will get done when it gets done”.

    The problem is that our function resulted in contractors being paid. If I didn’t get my workload finished, paychecks wouldn’t go out to them. They would take up quite a bit of time for each team member because of alarmed phone calls asking “where’s my money?” (and you certainly can’t blame them for that!).

    I said many times to my manager, “I am coming in at 5am and leaving at 7pm and I am STILL behind because my workload has almost tripled since Jane and John left, bills aren’t going out and the contractors aren’t being paid”. I wasn’t whining, I was straight up telling her that even with all those hours, clients weren’t being billed and contractor pay wasn’t going out in a timely fashion. Her response was to just tell me “they can wait”. (She said this, literally.) In some cases, their pay was overdue by WEEKS, not days. Clients would sometimes complain about our haphazard billing, too. It was horrible.

    It wasn’t a case of “they will hire more team members” because they had laid off half my department, causing the problem in the first place. My manager did not work over 40 hours, and she didn’t know how to perform any of the tasks that my team did, anyway.

    It was agonizing. Contractors would literally plead with me to get them paid. I had to leave the company because it was was just too depressing.

  49. Loremipsum

    I have someone like this. Let me begin by saying that when they arrived at the office for their interview, they said they had actually arrived two hours early, and said that they learned from the example of one of their parents, who unfailingly showed up at work at least 90 minutes ahead of time.

    They now show up at least an hour early. I realize that they are trying to make a good impression. I can’t imagine a manager telling someone that they don’t need them around, but given the skill level and our workday production cycle we don’t really need someone there at that time.

    Our office varies in that there are people who work remotely, people who work from home on set days, managers who are omnipresent in the morning and in the evening, and some people that I’m unsure of if they go to lunch.

  50. LH

    I think I lost my last job because of doing too many hours. I came from a company where it was well known we were understaffed and so had to work long hours. It was expected and not rewarded which was why I left. When I started my new job I was desperate to be seen as a hard worker and conscientious so I worked very long hours at work and worked from home. they kept telling me off for it so I stopped sending emails at night so they wouldn’t know, but I really wanted to go above and beyond.

    However, I was told on the side after I was let go, that my long hours didn’t make me look like a hard worker, they made me look like I couldn’t manage my time properly. I was spending so much time on jobs to make sure they were done properly and being very diligent. But they didn’t see that, they saw a job which should take an hour taking 4. This was because I was putting new processes in place and fixing issues which I found. Once sorted the job would take 10 minutes not 4 hours.

    They didn’t see this, they just saw me spending hours on what they saw as a simple job. :(

    In futre, I will plan my day and when I find issues which need fixing I will explain and show my manager so they know why I am doing it. I certainly won’t be advertising my long hours again that’s for sure

  51. David Kimball

    I worked 147 hour weeks (21 hour days, 7 days a week, from 3:00 a.m. to midnight) for almost 5 years as a writer (exempt position) for an engineering company. And that’s with no breakfast, lunch or dinner breaks. Ate at my desk while working. My weekly output was equal to that of 3 or 4 highly skilled writers. That was 15 years ago. I wasn’t stretching out the work. There was that much work to do. And I never said a word to anyone about it. My boss didn’t even know. To this day, I still don’t know why I didn’t quit and look for other work.

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