I’m a recent grad and feel like I’m working too much

A reader writes:

I just graduated college in May, and landed a full-time job in my hometown in the perfect field for me, thanks to your help with resumes and cover letters! However, this job has turned out to be very different from what I expected — namely, there is no semblance of work-life balance, and I was hoping you could help me figure out what to do.

Some background: my job is at an agency where our clients are working almost 24/7. I specifically didn’t want to work in that field because I hated that 24/7 work in previous internships — something I mentioned during my interview. But I was assured that working at our agency was much less demanding.

Boy, do I feel like my interviewer (who is now my boss) told me wrong. In my first four months at this job, I have stayed late at least two nights every week, been forced to stay home both days all weekend to wait on client approval for content, been literally woken up by phone calls on holiday weekends to work, and am now (understandably, I hope) scared to make any advance plans because I’m worried I may have to drop everything and work. One time, I waited an hour to reply to a request outside of working hours because I was at a movie, and was given a pretty stern talking-to by my boss.

I’ve asked coworkers about how they manage work-life balance, or avoid situations like being chained to my laptop all weekend. People mostly laugh when I ask about work-life balance, and the best advice I’ve been given is to take my laptop with me everywhere, and use my phone as a hotspot (a service that my company does not pay for).

I’m really struggling with what to do here. I know the logical answer is to talk to my boss, but I’m worried I’ll get the same sort of laughed off reaction that other coworkers have given me. I like my company and the work we do, but I can’t work non-stop like this. While I don’t mind having high expectations set for me or working a little extra since I’m new and still trying to make an impression, this feels excessive. I have no work-life balance, at all. Family members who I consider mentors have told me to look for a different job, but I feel like I have to stick it out for at least a year, and since I love the results of our non-stop work for so long, I would want to stay longer if I could make this work.

I wrote back and asked, “When you say you’ve had to stay late two nights every week, how late is it usually?”

I usually have to stay about an hour past the time I’m supposed to get off.

Huh. Okay, that changes things for me. Based on the letter, I was expecting it to be hours and hours.

Staying an hour late twice a week isn’t a big deal in a lot of fields. Even in fields that don’t have particularly crazy hours, staying an extra hour two nights a week is pretty normal for many professional jobs (to the point that it wouldn’t even be considered working late).

Things get iffier with some of the other details. Getting a stern talking-to because you took an hour to respond to an email over the weekend is not normal or reasonable, assuming that there wasn’t something unusual going on where you should have known to be on high alert.

Getting woken up by work calls on holiday weekends — it could go either way. If someone is calling you at 7 a.m., that better be a serious emergency. But an 11 a.m. call on a holiday weekend in a field where it’s known that work sometimes happens outside of regular work hours — it might not be an outrage, if it was for something that really couldn’t wait. (On the other hand, you should be left alone on weekends if it’s not time-sensitive.)

Staying home both days one weekend to wait for client approval … it’s a thing that happens in some fields. If it’s rare (and it sounds like it’s only happened once), it can just be part of a professional job, even in fields that aren’t constantly hectic.

So this is a tricky question to answer because, unless there are details that didn’t make it into your letter, this doesn’t actually sound like working non-stop. It sounds like a lot of professional jobs that are busy but not insanely so. With the exception of the lecture when you were at a movie, this is the kind of thing that you could encounter in a lot of other jobs, even if you change fields. So that’s one perspective to have on it.

That said, given the movie lecture and the fact that your coworkers laughed when you asked about work-life balance, I’m betting that there are other details that add up to something closer to non-stop. If that’s the case, then yes, I would start looking around at other jobs. You know that you don’t want this kind of schedule, you knew that before you took this job and thought that they’d assured you that you wouldn’t have it here, and it’s making you miserable. You’re allowed to leave!

You said you feel like you have to stick it out for a year, which I assume is because you’re trying to avoid looking like a job hopper. But you’re not going to look like a job hopper if you have one short stay. Job hopping is about a pattern of behavior, not leaving quickly one time. It does mean that it’ll be important that you stay at your next job for a while, but you don’t need to be miserable in this job out of some notion that you’re obligated to stay a year. (Also, for the record, one year is still really short in most fields. A pattern of one-year stays would be a problem, and aiming for a year is not the right goal if you’re trying to avoid that. Read this for more on that. But that doesn’t sound like it will apply here, since this is your first post-college job.)

You asked about talking to your boss, and you could certainly try that, but if this is how your office works — and especially if this is how your field works, which sounds like the case — I’m doubtful that much will come of that. If these are the hours and this is the culture … well, these are the hours and this is the culture, and there’s some risk of looking out of touch.

So I’d start looking around and see if you can find a better fit. Before you make any moves, talk to people who work in whatever field you’re thinking of moving into so that you have a really realistic understanding of the norms around hours. You probably know about the fields with truly crazy hours (law, politics, advocacy, PR, and a bunch of others), but there are a ton more where a few extra hours a week and the occasional weekend isn’t going to register on anyone’s radar (and thus won’t get mentioned when you ask an interviewer about work/life/balance). So you want to really dig into the norms of any field you move toward — not just with your interviewers, but with people working in that industry. Good luck!

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 382 comments… read them below }

  1. MuseumChick*

    Very timely letter. I accepted a job a year ago where I specifically asked in my interview what my involvement in special events would be. I was assured it would be minimum, that there were only two big events each year, and of course everyone at the company was “hands on deck” during that time. But my roll in this would not be much.

    Fast-forward, I feel like an Event Assistant more than a Curator of Chocolate Teapots.

    There are some companies that will knowingly bait-and-switch you. There are others where things change so fast that what they told you in your interview was true then but not true now. And, there are companies where they interviewers honestly believe what they are saying but the reality of the job is different.

    It can talk months and months to find a job. Spend this time being really choosy about your next roll.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would add that there are companies that are telling you the truth, but you’re bringing different lenses to it. If the OP’s company actually does have saner hours than most companies in the field, it makes sense that her interviewer told her that “working at our agency was much less demanding.” That could be perfectly true, and still not be the sort of hours she wants.

      1. Blue Anne*

        Yes. That’s exactly what it sounds like to me. I’m in public accounting, and the type of hours OP is describing are very normal for our field. And I do have a particularly grumpy boss who would probably be annoyed about the movie thing, just because he’s a grump. If you asked my colleagues about work life balance, they would probably laugh… because we have it so much better here than other firms, it would be hilariously out of touch to ask about improving it.

        But for someone fresh out of college who is expecting a real 9-5 with no after-hours contact, it would seem terrible.

        1. sam*

          Yes. sometimes it’s really just the personality of the person in charge. I have worked in the same job but for different people, and the demands are night and day depending on who is in charge.

        2. 42*

          OP, I’m guessing your agency is digital marketing (sounds a lot like it)? I’m in that field too, and that’s the status quo for a good number of agencies. I left one for that reason…too crazy, too demanding.

          The bright side is that there are agencies out there that do respect work-life balance, and I’m lucky in that I found one, where after-hours and weekend work are a rarity. But in my experience, they’re mostly as you have described. Good luck to you!

          1. Clever Alias*

            +1 to this. My husband also found ” a good one” and yet there are still times when it feels like I don’t see him for a week, or a planned activity goes out the window due to a client crisis.

            Still better than his old company.

          2. Acx0106*

            I agree. From my view, it sounds like the OP has a reasonable work/life balance for the field. It’s just very different than school hours. For 10 years I worked 75-80 hours a week. My current job I work about 50 hours a week on average, which feels like vacation to me. Anyone on my team that was concerned about working 42 hours A week might very well be met with a chuckle. It’s not to be mean, but life isnt nearly wrapped up in an 8-5 package. Welcome to the workforce!

            1. Zillah*

              Hmm. I don’t think it’s quite fair to present wanting less demanding hours as “welcome to the workforce” – it may well be the norm in some fields, and that’s worth acknowledging, but being in the workforce doesn’t mean working 50 hours a week, nor is wanting a job that’s typically 8-5 unreasonable. They do exist, and it’s entirely reasonable for the OP to make that a priority.

              1. Alton*

                Absolutely. You need to be realistic about the norms in your field and the opportunities for advancement, but it’s not insane to prioritize work that has consistent hours and good work-life balance if those things are important to you. There are trade-offs, and different people have different priorities.

                I’m non-exempt and have a job with very regular hours. Sometimes it’s a pain that I don’t have as much flexibility as some of my exempt colleagues, but it’s also nice that I know exactly when I’m going to get off work and that I won’t have to work outside of business hours. Recognizing how important that balance is to me has given me something to think about if/when I’m looking for another job.

              2. Acx0106*

                It’s definitely reasonable for someone to prefer a work schedule limited to 40 hours a week. My point, which may be poorly articulated, is that in the OPs chosen career field it sounds like par for the course. That might be why her co-workers laughed at her concern about the over time. Another field or type of work may offer a more preferable schedule and is still a respectable course of action.

                1. Letter Writer*

                  Thanks everyone for your comments! I think that you’re right that I do share the fault for not knowing crystal clear that these are normal hours for this agency.

                  However, I also want to clarify that a 42 hour work week is a minimum for me, and that 99% of the time unless I am literally unreachable, like driving for multiple hours, I’m expected to be on-call. Oftentimes that leads to more overtime work, and keeps me chained to my laptop every second I’m not in the office.

                  I don’t want this to come off as me arguing with your advice, because I do appreciate your reply, just thought I could offer some further clarity. Also, hopefully that explains my burnout a little more!

    2. LadyL*

      In my experience with non-profits and museums that’s just par for the course. The ones I’ve worked at never have the resources to be appropriately staffed, bosses convince themselves that we have more than enough people, and then anytime there’s the slightest emergency (new exhibit opening, special event day that we knew about for months, grant due, community partnership opportunity, weather, etc) it becomes an all hands on deck situation. It’s predictable, but because they can’t/won’t fix it (hire!more!staff!) bosses refuse to admit it’s a problem, and are just ever so surprised each time they tell you that it looks like, whodathunkit, you gotta come in on Saturday to direct parking traffic because we’re stretched too thin. It’s so frustrating.

        1. LadyL*

          Meh. In my experience raising money doesn’t work out the way you would hope. Big donors want to see their names on plaques next to new exhibits and other fun things. People don’t want to donate to pay the bills. Hence how I worked at a place that opened brand new amazing innovative exhibits regularly, but we couldn’t find the funds to buy decent toilets.

          1. Teacher*

            So true about the bathrooms. I worked at a school that had iPad carts galore, but would not address the toilets that overflowed every single day because you couldn’t put “we have working toilets!” in a fundraising or recruitment brochure.

      1. Kj*

        Oh, god, yes, this! They always think things are fine, we are GREAT! then are shocked when we get slammed and people quit because low pay + crappy benefits + crazy hours is not worth it, even if you are “doing good”. My field is one where you pay your dues in a non-profit, then quit and the non-profits whines they don’t understand why quarterly turnover is 24%.

        1. Museumish*

          +100000. Nonprofits like these create their own problems. If you’re not willing to pay and you can’t raise the money, adjust your (and the public’s) expectations.

    3. Buried under paperwork*

      MuseumChick – can I have your job?
      The past 3 weeks I have worked 2-3 hours after my scheduled leave time, even did a day that was 16 hours, and expect al this week & next will be 10+ hour days. Toss in a Sat or two, and I know I have a meeting this week in the evening, plus possibly have to show up at an event Sat night, plus will have an evening event next week.

      At what point is it just too much and how do I push back? When I tell CEO I just have too much and can’t get it done on time, she tells me I have a time management problem. I have a work overload problem. Fascinating that others can see that, when I talk to folks n my industry they are amazed that I have these three distinct parts to my job and they can’t figure out how I do it, but other than quitting, I have no recourse.
      At a recent evaluation, I was asked “how could they make my job better” I asked for some things to be removed from my plate and was told “no, those are all part of your job, you have to do them”.

      Seriously, if I didn’t need the health insurance, I would turn in my badge today.

    4. Winger*

      I had a great job in a department that happened to include the event planning team, but I didn’t deal with them much. They are GREAT at what they do, but I have worked as an event planner before and I don’t want to do it anymore.

      So my boss in my great job left, and they promoted the event planning director into her place. I still had my “old” job but now I was fully on the events team. I applied for an internal promotion and got out of there as quick as possible. Sure enough, the guy they hired to replace me spends half of his time doing event-related work.

    5. Museologist*

      This is such a common museum problem! I did a dozen or so jobs at my last organisation and felt I could never fully focus on one. I was working 14hr days 2-3 times a week (with a 3 hr commute) and working weekends. I finally left after nearly two years because physically I was so run down and ill. It was a hard choice- rarely are there jobs in this sector but at least I feel better physically and mentally

    6. Museumish*

      Yep. Museums seem to chronically underestimate the amount overtime they need to get things done and chronically overestimate what they can get done. And we must all suffer in the name of it. And oh by the way, that grad school education you needed is never getting paid off because despite 60 hour weeks being the norm we will pay you retail wages!

      This is part of the reason I left museums, at least temporarily. I ended up sick and worn out. I work in a different industry for now. I get to leave on time and leave my work at work. It’s beautiful. I miss the work itself, but not the structure.

      That’s my advice to you LW – if the industry doesn’t work for you, try something else. It’s not worth being sick and miserable and missing out on your real life if its not what you want.

      1. Museuologist*

        I think us museum folk need a support group! My last museum lost over 50% of its staff in a year due to sheer exhaustion. All young, semi-recent grads that were bright and passionate, but just totally burnt out on the lack of structure and the multiple jobs so many were forced to do. And of course it never fell to senior management to take on twice as many tasks.

        Absolutely miss the work and the mission, do not miss the amount of extra work or structure

  2. dr_silverware*

    It sounds to me like your agency is probably less demanding than other ones in your field…and yet is still imposing on way too much of your time.

    You already know you don’t like 24/7 work, and that you want to work reliable hours and only be called upon in an emergency, and that’s totally reasonable. That may mean changing your field, or finding ways to operate within your field to keep your hours reliable–something that probably would come with more experience and more of a network.

    1. Just Another Techie*

      I used to work in a field that had frequent on-call hours and overnight work. I’d occasionally have to pull a 24 hour shift. I regular got calls at 3am which required me to drive to the lab to debug something or another. I once, memorably, was called in the middle of the night by a lab tech in a panic because he quite literally set a satellite on fire. All the weekend/overnight/on-call stuff was scheduled in advance on a rotation so I always knew when my weekends were at liberty and when I might get called in, but it was still more than I could cope with. So I switched fields and am much happier now.

    2. sunny-dee*

      Except, this honestly doesn’t sound like 24/7 work. One hour over a couple of nights a week, and an occasional on-call weekend if a customer needs it? That’s not even hitting 45 hours a week. The OP may be most accustomed to shift work, with really strict start and end times. But if she can’t handle what sounds like a normal (maybe even light) professional settings, I don’t think it’s a matter of changing jobs but one of changing careers.

      1. Miss Nomer*

        We don’t really know, though. I get annoyed when I have to stay an hour late twice a week because I’m already working about 46-50 hours by default.

      2. Super Anon for This*

        Except she was expected to sit at home, all day long, for two days, so she could be available the moment the client needed her. That’s not reasonable! Not to mention she says she is afraid to make any advance plans now, in case she is needed. That and other things in her letter makes me think the wl balance is a lot worse than OP could fit in.

        1. Hmmmm*

          To me, it sounds like its not the number of hours per se that are the problem, its the unpredictability. I know that I personally would not mind working for a couple hours over the weekend. It would drive me batty if I had to sit and wait without knowing when those hours would be.

          1. Ramblin' Ma'am*

            Yes, I agree with this! In effect it means you can’t enjoy any of your time off, if you’re literally always on call.

          2. SC*

            +1. I don’t mind working hard, but I like (and with young children, need) to be able to plan. The unpredictability might be a reasonable part of the job, but it would not be the right job for me.

          3. Letter Writer*

            I think this is a really good point, and does get to a significant part of my issue. I really don’t mind coming in early or even staying late, it’s definitely the unpredictability. Thank you!

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think people who haven’t worked in fields like this don’t understand that there are times when it really is reasonable. If, for example, the client has a legal deadline Monday morning that has significant consequences attached to it or the OP is working on a political campaign and a major story is expected to break that weekend that they’ll need to respond to, you need to be available to deal with it. There are a bunch of other examples like that, where it truly is justified by the nature of what’s happening. You shouldn’t go into fields like that if you don’t want a job like that, but that kind of work structure isn’t inherently wrong or unjustifiable. (And lot of us actually like doing work like that.)

          1. serenity*

            Are people arguing that it’s unreasonable, or simply commiserating with OP who had this kind of role before and thought she was being very direct in her interview in ensuring that this job would not involve amorphous expectations re: being on call?

            You can certainly agree that these sorts of expectations are perfectly reasonable, and also say “Nope, this is not for me” which is what I’m clearly getting from OP’s letter.

              1. sap*

                I work in a field like this, and I think that employers who expect always on connectivity via a device with a keyboard aren’t willing to pay for reasonable mobile tethering costs, which the OP says is true for her company. Like, if the *only thing* I have to do this weekend is log onto the internet for 30 minutes to review a client approval and send it onwards to wherever it needs to go (I’m a lawyer, so I would need a few minutes to perhaps enter something into the online filing system), I will end up somewhat resentful if I couldn’t leave the house *at all* for 30 minutes of work because my employer is too cheap to pay for tethering, which can be somewhat expensive. I feel differently if the employer doesn’t want to pay for tethering so that I can go away for the weekend while also doing 10 hours of research, but for stuff that’s essentially putting someone on call for 48 hours to do 30 minutes of work with 5min turnaround, yeah, the employer should be subsidizing the cost of having connectivity on a 5min turnaround if they want happy employees.

                1. sap*

                  *I think that employers who expect always on connectivity via a device with a keyboard who also aren’t willing to pay for any reasonable mobile tethering costs are fairly unreasonable.

              2. Letter Writer*

                I think this is a good point, too. I definitely still have a lot to learn, and these comments are causing me to reflect on my experience so far a lot.

                I guess if I thought the waiting at home all weekend work was critical to that weekend like a major story or deadline, I’d be willing to pitch in. But it was a simple task that was actually supposed to be done the next week.

                Thanks for your comments!

            1. sunny-dee*

              My response to the “it’s not for me” from the OP is that it means that the *career* may not be for her, especially if the response of her coworkers was to laugh. She’s implying her boss lied to her and she wants him to change … but that would be like complaining you’re working 70 hour weeks during tax season when you’re an accountant. That is literally part of the job, and if you don’t like it, you don’t like the job.

              Saying that you don’t want to work overtime or don’t want to be on-call on weekends is perfectly reasonable to want — but it may not be reasonable for her industry. And then she has to decide what is more important, working the hours she wants or working in the industry she’s in.

              1. nonegiven*

                It’s one thing to be on call one week in four or five, it’s another thing to be on call 24/7 and can’t even go to the movies.

                1. Amy*

                  Exactly, my husband is in a dept of six and they each rotate being on call a week at a time. We don’t plan things the weekend he’s on call ( and is co workers are good about switching if there is a conflict) because we have plenty of notice about it. At a previous job he was in a smaller dept and never had a vacation or long weekend where he wasn’t called at least once. At least his company paid for the wi-fi charges at our hotel when he ended up having to work part of our vacation.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            Maybe universities do a better job now of informing students what fields are actually like, but I doubt it, with the exception being students exposed via internships. Students in my field (mechanical engineering) end up in a variety of industries, but also very specific jobs in very specific industries, and our professors typically do not have work experience outside of academia.

            It’s not cool that people are spending tens of thousands of dollars on education, only to realize that their career field isn’t compatible with their life goals. Similarly, you may realize you can only be an automotive engineer in Michigan. . .but you don’t want to leave Utah. I know it seems obvious as working adults, but 18 year olds do not always seem to know this.

            1. Stone Satellite*

              I agree that it’s a massive waste of a lot of resources to educate students for a field that is incompatible with their personal requirements. However, I’m not sure that problem can be solved simply because people are notoriously bad at predicting how they will change in the future. Consider the 18-year-old who decides not to study accounting even though they are good at it because they don’t want to work crazy hours during tax season … in ten years they will be a completely different person! Maybe one who thrives in the 20-hours-a-day tax-season crucible and then months of light load (I am not an accountant, I’m just MSU on that front). Or maybe not. But no one can predict personal changes, unfortunately, not for themselves or anyone else, so no amount of caveat-giving in the educational system will be able to counteract the process of personal development and change.

              1. AnotherAlison*

                I do know what you mean. When I started school, I wanted to go to grad school and go into research. I got pregnant during undergrad, and although I still thought I would like to go into research, I knew that an academic job would mean you go where you need to go rather than stay in your local area near family, and I didn’t want that at the time.

                Even with my corporate career, I always thought I would be a subject matter expert. I ended up as a project manager, and am possibly up for a management position that is very much out-of-state. So, no, you can’t predict exactly what you will actually be great at and enjoy the most, or say “yes” to later, but the more information you have, the better decision you can make.

            2. anna green*

              OMG yes! I agree! I graduated with a degree in environmental science and no one at my university could really tell me what a career in that field would look like. This was 15 years ago, so things have changed exponentially, but its frustrating that so many college professors can’t provide real world career advice, because academia just isn’t the real world. And our college career center had no idea what my field was. It should really be required that if the college offers a degree in a certain area, that they need to actually provide career services that understand that area.

            3. AcademiaNut*

              I find it’s difficult to get starry-eyed undergrads to actually *believe* what you tell them about their chosen career.

              The biggest issues in my field (academic STEM) are the fact that you can’t expect a stable job until your mid-30s, at best (by stable, I mean employed for more than three years in the same city), that you can easily hang on until your 40s before you realize that you don’t have a future (40 is considered early career) and the conflict with family life (two-body problem, long distance relationships, following spouses, having kids before you have tenure). At 22, you genuinely believe that you’re smart, hardworking, talented and will be the one who gets it all, and you’re typically not tied to a spouse and kids yet. In your early 30s, you turn around and think “Oh, *that’s* what they meant!”.

              So I try to be as honest as possible, and really stress the need for a back-up plan, but accept that some things have to be learned through experience.

              1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

                Mine was even worse (academic humanities), which is why I jumped ship for a government job. Turns out I really really *really* like stability, very defined and reasonable expectations, and a good work-life balance.

          3. Decimus*

            I think some of this might also be “new to the workforce unfamiliarity” in that you get a bunch of things, some of which are reasonable “twice a week work an extra hour”, some of which are odd “wear purple shirts on Tuesdays or else!” and some of which are genuinely unreasonable “we must be able to reach you at any time, even in the bathroom!”

            A person new to the work force doesn’t always know which is which so can end up complaining about “reasonable” things and not realize something else that is adding to it is genuinely unreasonable. “I have to work an extra hour twice a week! Oh, and they check on me via this implanted transponder.”

            1. Letter Writer*

              Ha, I really liked this, and I’m certainly sure that new to the workforce unfamiliarity is playing a big part of this.

          4. Kj*

            I agree that there are jobs where this is reasonable- what concerns me is that I think many of us have experienced an expectations creep that goes with constant access to technology with jobs that *don’t* have that level of access as a need.

            A few years back, I couldn’t have worked remote for my job- now that I can, the expectation is my workplace is that I will and that I will work on weekends and check my email at 10pm, despite the fact that I am not paid for those hours. The expectation is that I am on-call, even if I am not told I am or compensated for it. But if you don’t do the work, you are not a team player or you don’t care. The fact that tech has made it possible for more of us to be on-call, so now we are de-facto on call, even if we didn’t sign up for it and it isn’t really needed for our kind of work.

            Obviously, one can set boundaries, but at some point, that affects your prospects for advancement so you resign yourself to working a fair amount in your ‘free time’ so you can advance at your job. It also allows employers to force one person to do the work of 2-4 employees.

            1. MG*

              At my previous job that I commented about below, I experienced the weird transition period of expectations creep, in that I was there during the advent of smart phones (was that mid-2000s?), and we were not required to have them, but many of my colleagues did. So they would be emailing at all hours, to some of us who would not necessarily receive those emails immediately. I did have a cell phone, so I would always tell everyone, “if you need to reach me when I’m out of the office, you HAVE TO call or text,” but even so, I would often end up calling someone in exasperation because she was supposed to tell me where and when to meet for an event and I hadn’t heard, and she would be like “I emailed you hours ago.” I wasn’t at my computer! I had no smartphone! Come on!

              Don’t know that it’s better that we all “have to” be connected now, but at least we’re working mostly with the same technology. ha.

              1. sam*

                yeah – i started working in 1999, and blackberries showed up a few years into my tenure. They and their later compatriots, the smartphones, are definitely a mixed bag.

                They made it a lot easier for people to find you, and expect to find you, but they also meant, for a lot of us, not being perpetually chained to our desks. Which was extremely liberating. For someone in a job like mine (biglaw junior associate), we were working late nights and weekends anyway. to have a device that let us leave the office and that would ping us when a document arrived (a document we would have otherwise been sitting around all night waiting for)? It was kind of miraculous.

                I guess it really depends on whether you had a job that, before blackberries and smartphones, truly shut off at the end of the day, or a job that kept you in the office all night back then. For the former it became a leash. For the latter it was a liberating device.

            2. Ego Chamber*

              “Obviously, one can set boundaries, but at some point, that affects your prospects for advancement so you resign yourself to working a fair amount in your ‘free time’ so you can advance at your job.”

              Forget advancement. When I (briefly) worked mobile phone sales last year, it was expected that everyone be in a company GroupMe chat that we weren’t allowed to close, even if we went home; we needed to respond to emails within 2 hours of receipt, even if we were at home; we needed to do web training at home if we hadn’t finished it at work. Anything done at home was unpaid because they “had no way to track the hours.” No one did any of this to get ahead, they did it to keep their ($1 over minimum wage plus confusing commission structure) jobs.

              I didn’t last very long at that job for some reason that had nothing to do with my refusal to work off the clock.

      3. MashaKasha*

        To me, it would feel like 24/7 work because the OP is not allowed to do anything on her personal time where she’s not able to drop everything and call into work on a five minute notice (like watch a movie!) This is not normal. It is not sustainable if you have a family, or health issues, or really any kind of life outside of work. The only time in my career I had an arrangement like this, it was clearly stated during the interview, and there were several people on rotation. And it was still hard. (I decided to get out after I was faced with a choice of whether to go on a camping trip that ten other couples had planned around my on-call schedule, or attend a friend’s funeral on the same day. Husband and I ducked out of the campground to spend an hour at the wake, but could not stay for the funeral, as the campground was going to lock their gate at dusk.) Regardless of the number of hours actually worked, it does feel like being chained to your place of work and not being able to plan your life outside of it. FTR, an extra hour a day wouldn’t be a blip on my radar. Not being able to plan my nights and weekends would be!

          1. sap*

            But these industries also typically give you the technology (like tethering) to be able to leave the house and do those things in a way that will enable you to be somewhere more than a 5min drive from your desk while *simultaneously* being able to jump back into work on 5min notice. It really bugs me that OP’s employer’s solution to this is “pay for something we should be providing or you will never be able to leave your home. Good luck buying groceries btw”

          2. gmg*

            Yes, but is it “normal” for interviewers in those job types to think that that is “not demanding” (and tell an applicant that when specifically asked)? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to just say up-front, “Well, the schedule around here can be fast-paced and we do need you to be ready to stay a bit late on occasion and to be on weekend call X amount of time”?

            If the extreme demands were intermittent instead of constant, I would say differently. But I once got to the final round for a consulting firm gig and then discovered that you were expected to be in the office 8-7 every day during the week, every Saturday for at least half a day and a fair number of Sundays (“when we’re really on deadline”). To me, that’s not “well, this is just a fast-paced industry”; what it really means is the company has chosen not to hire enough people to cover all the regular work they do. There is also ample scientific study of this issue to show that productivity ramps way down when these circumstances are the norm (as opposed to the adrenaline-fueled creativity of an occasional big push to get a project done).

      4. The OG Anonsie*

        It doesn’t, but I’ve had experiences that I think are what she may be trying to describe here. Since she’s new to professional settings in general it may be that she’s not quite illuminating the source of frustration.

        It’s not that she’s working 24/7, it’s that at any given moment of any given day she may get be contacted to do something immediately and will be in hot water if she’s busy and has no way of knowing when these things might happen. So she can’t, say, go to a movie at a time when she has no reason to believe there will be a crisis without the potential of her work trying to contact her and her then getting in trouble for not being available. That makes it where she effectively can’t ever, at any time, be unavailable to do work without potentially facing consequences which… Is whacky. I’m in a field where you may be called up like this at any given time, but you have to have arrangements to make this feasible for staff. I’ve worked places that did stuff like the movie lecture note here, and it was a management problem vs a business need. When you have a business need for constant contact, you have to have some practices in place to make it so your staff can at least sometimes be unavailable for an hour.

        When I get called at odd hours for ohmygodweneedtohandlethisnow stuff in an unexpected period, there is an understanding that I may be occupied. For the things that truly could not wait, we have rotating assignments of who is supposed to be the on-call immediate response person. Or if it’s an ongoing thing, we know this may happen during a certain period and are on extra alert. The entire staff, however, is not expected to never be sleeping or in a movie or out of town or whatever at all time every day indefinitely.

        On top of that, it sounds like she made an effort to go into one where it’s less typical and was even assured during hiring that this wasn’t the way things were going to be. It very well may be that it doesn’t get a lot better than this in this industry, but even in all day every day fields like mine there are usually some levels of management practice in place to protect people’s off time when possible. I think from the movie lecture note that this particular place is being at least occasionally crappy with how they handle this, and I understand why she would have a hard time with that.

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          To be clear, I know there are jobs where you really do need to be reachable 24/7 all the time. They are also much less common than jobs for which this is not a business need or a typical expectation but rather a management issue.

          I don’t know whether this is truly a facet of the type of work the LW is doing or if it’s an issue with her company. I’m not sure if, being new to working and newish to the field, her understanding of norms around availability are off or if the company is off norms. I’m also not sure if the manager here misrepresented their reality in the interview or if the LW didn’t know how to interpret what she said in the context of the industry. Either one is possible is my point, because I feel most of the guidance we’re giving is assuming that this is an industry thing and changing companies won’t help. It might! It depends.

          1. Letter Writer*

            Yes, both of your posts are very, very spot on. As I’ve reflected a lot more, both by reading Alison’s answer and by reading the comments, I can determine that it is the 24/7 online issue that is really bothering me.

            From my perspective, I think there was some misrepresentation in the interview of what out-of-office work looks like in this job and there was probably some misinterpretation on my part too. Definitely trying to take that into account while moving forward.

      5. Someone else*

        Or the lesson for the OP may be to ask more specific questions when interviewing. If this is less than most firms in her industry, but still more than what she wanted, it is possible there may be a role somewhere else where those extras are less frequent. If the hurry-up-and-wait for the client isn’t something she’s down with, the question to ask is how frequently will the role involve working on the weekends, and is that generally a last-minute-as-needs-arise/emergencies scenario vs something one knows to expect during a certain project and can plan around? It’s not just weekend hours, it’s the nature of how those hours come to be. The one hour late during the week thing was odd to me, but I suppose I could see how if there’s say a specific meeting at end of day on those days, and the issue is those always run over by an hour, then the issue isn’t not leaving on the dot, it’s the consistent pattern of that specific thing running an hour long. That would be frustrating, even if I weren’t expecting to leave right on the dot every day. From what we know so far I think it’s very possible this wasn’t a bait and switch and is just a matter of her definition and the company’s definition of the culture being different.

      6. Matt*

        It doesn’t sound like 24/7 work, but being 24/7 available for work. See the “movie lecture” part. I couldn’t sustain this any longer than a few weeks, honestly.

      7. always in email jail*

        It sounds to me like it’s the constant stress of feeling like she may be asked to work any minute when she’s home/out in the world. That wears on me much more than long in-office hours, personally. It’s no fun to feel like you can’t mute your email alerts for the length of a movie, or hop in the pool with your kid where you might not hear your phone, etc. all.the.time.

  3. LadyL*

    Call me lazy, but I firmly think that I work in order to support my life, I don’t want work to be my whole life (and, for the record, I love what I do and believe my work has a positive impact on society). Sadly I don’t have the money to really hold to this belief, so I work when boss expects me to, staying late or answering emails during my off-time.

    From what I understand, Americans in particular have a really warped work/life balance. I hear that in some other places even just the standard 40hrs/wk is considered a lot of hours. I personally blame capitalism, as it often feels like production is valued over human life, which I see in our treatment of disabled folks, the elderly, and anyone else who isn’t producing at the “optimal” level.

    But anywho grad, I feel ya. I hope you find a better balance soon. At least this commenter thinks you’ve valid reasons to be irritated.

    1. Applesauced*

      I believe the same thing and don’t think you’re lazy at all!
      I think OP is working more that they want – so it doesn’t matter if that’s the norm for this company, she doesn’t want it to be HER norm, so it’s reasonable to look elsewhere.

    2. Fake old Converse shoes*

      As someone who work for U.S. people: yes, their/your work hours are insane. I still remember someone who was working full time on Christmas Eve called us “lazy”, “disappointing” and “disgrace to our company” because our office in a completely different country was on contingency plan for that day (Christmas Day is a federal holiday here, and our local branch gave Christmas Eve off for their non-critical departments). He also threatened to report us to our Manager, who in turn reported him back and got him written up.

        1. Super Anon for This*

          I don’t know about that, when retail workers wanted Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day off, and protested about it a few years ago, they got called lazy and so on.

      1. JamieS*

        I think you should change “U.S. people” to “people with no sense of boundaries or norms. Both professional and personal.” That’s not normal behavior here either.

    3. Mallory Janis Ian*

      This is why I’m an admin at a university: for the most part, work stays within an 8:00 – 5:00, 40-hour week, and I like it that way.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I was, however, super envious when I learned that a coworker in another department works a 9:00 – 3:00, 30-hour week. That’s the dream, right there. And 30 hours is still considered full-time for benefits here.

        1. Caledonia*

          I am also an admin at uni and we work 35 hrs, 9-5, unpaid hours lunch. Sometimes people work 8.30-4.30.

          Does your role require you to be there for 8?

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Yeah, my hours are 8:00 – 5:00 with a one-hour lunch. My role could probably be performed in fewer hours, except for the part where people expect office coverage from 8 – 5. There is a lot of down time where I could feasibly work fewer hours if that were standard here.

            1. caledonia*

              But what I don’t understand is why people expect you to be there at 8? Why does there *need* to be coverage in the office from 8?

              1. A grad student*

                Not sure if this is the case for MJI, but University courses usually begin at 8, and professors sometimes need support for courses then. People in our department offices are forever fielding requests for room keys, aux cables, etc. I think our offices have someone get there at 7:45 so they can be there if anything happens before the first courses of the day.

                1. caledonia*

                  I’m still perplexed….your uni classes start at 8? I don’t think ours do until 9 am. As in, classes that the students attend. Mind you, if your uni/college classes start so early no wonder 8-5 shifts are the norm.

                2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  IDK why they chose 8:00, but those are the official university “offices are open” hours that all departments [are supposed to] go by.

                3. Chameleon*

                  Yes, many classes begin at 8 or 8:30. Especially in my field–I don’t know why all biology classes have to be in the morning! I really hate having to get up at 6 in order to get to class early enough to set up my slide deck and my students know that I might be a little incoherent until I’ve finished my coffee.

                4. gmg*

                  caledonia: Oh yes, the dreaded 8 am class has been the bugaboo of generations of sleep-addled US college students. (I actually managed to schedule my way around it during undergrad … only to run smack into 8 or 8:30 am starts in all four semesters of grad school.)

                5. Radical Edward*

                  As a Fine Art undergrad back in the day, 8am 4-hour long studio classes (twice a week!) were the norm. This thread made me smile, because I remember having to go to the classroom at 7:30 to get a good easel and set up all my supplies before the class started. Every. Week. For four years. (On alternate days, I was desperately trying to stay awake in a dark comfy lecture theatre as my favourite art history prof only taught those 8am slots. And he locked the door at the start of class!)

      2. Bend & Snap*

        I moved from an agency to in-house PR for the reliable schedule. We do have busy times obviously, but the work/life balance is so good that I don’t mind working late or traveling when I have to.

        1. Hillary*

          Same, and it’s the best move I’ve ever made. I worked at a digital marketing agency for years and dealt with the midnight texts on non-emergency projects, checking email during vacations, night and weekend work, etc. I moved to an in-house marketing role, and it’s night and day. So nice to work 9-5 most weeks that the occasional text message after hours no longer irks me the way it used to.

      3. Bess*

        Wow. That is not my experience in university admin. We keep 8-5 hours but often work outside those hours. But it probably depends on the specific job.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          For one department in a smaller school, I had to work after-hours events: lecture receptions, honors banquet, advisory board and dean’s circle events, and commencement. When I moved to a department in a larger school, the dean’s admin team worked commencement and honors banquet, and the advancement team worked the advisory board and dean’s circle events, so I guess these things vary depending on the department or the school.

        2. Astor*

          It my experience it totally depends on the specific job here, and sometimes even the specific office. I have worked the same job in two different units, and the hours are different because in one I was attached to their front office and in the other I’m off a regular hallway. Therefore one job had the expectation that I left at the same time as everyone else; the lights were turned off, the faculty door was locked, etc. And one job has the expectation that I’ll work in off hours if something goes even slightly wrong, because there are other faculty members milling around so of course I should also be available.

    4. Butch Cassidy*

      “I personally blame capitalism, as it often feels like production is valued over human life, which I see in our treatment of disabled folks, the elderly, and anyone else who isn’t producing at the ‘optimal’ level.”


    5. Shoe Ruiner*

      Just another voice chiming in that you are allowed to not like this and work somewhere else. You are allowed to pick a different field and work to live. I had to do this. I was surrounded by people who thought they were proving something by working nonstop, but there is no prize at the end, just more of the same.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        This is true, but I think because OP is still new and it is their first job out of college, so they feel their options are very limited.

    6. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      I personally blame capitalism, as it often feels like production is valued over human life, which I see in our treatment of disabled folks, the elderly, and anyone else who isn’t producing at the “optimal” level.


    7. Frank*

      LadyL, you are not lazy at all, and you are spot on with the identification of capitalism as the root issue.

  4. Annalee*

    It sounds to me like OP’s issue is not so much the number of hours that she’s working, but that she feels like she’s always on-call. Not being able to see a movie without answering emails? Not being able to make plans outside of work without the threat of work intervening? I frequently work 10 and 11 hr days, but when I’m not working, I’m not working. No one worries if I don’t respond to email on a Sunday.

    Maybe this is my own ignorance – do fields with 24/7 client work have protocols for this, to give some employees downtime? It seems like these fields would quickly lead to burnout without this.

    1. Snark*

      No, they just burn through employees like there’s an endless supply of them. The saner course of action would be “no, client, sorry, outside core hours we can’t ask our people to be on call for whenever you get your content together” but of course that doesn’t happen.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s worth noting, though, that it’s not always emergencies caused by lack of responsible planning. There really are fields where things pop up 24/7 that need to be dealt with immediately and cannot be put off — think about IT support, data security, some types of PR, some types of advocacy, etc.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But that doesn’t make sense in those fields, where you could have weeks go by with nothing happening during those hours. You’d be paying a staff of skilled people to do nothing much of the time (and if you tried to spread out the daytime work, your staffing levels would be all wrong).

            1. Just Another Techie*

              But you can set up a rotation of your exempt staff, so this week Mary handles any off hours client emergencies, and next week Fergus does, etc.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Sometimes. And other times not. Sometimes the person who handles the middle-of-the-night crisis needs to be the person who knows the client/account/campaign intimately. It really depends on the type of work.

                1. Jane*

                  We’ve got a similar situation (only people who’ve had a certain level of security clearance can touch certain teapots) and we pay them a modest bonus to be on-call after hours. We have a rotation so that no one is on-call 24/7/365. It works out for coverage but keeps us from feeling like we work in a capitalist hellscape.

                2. Djuna*

                  Yep, that’s how we handle it. Teapot X’s expert is on call for the week of the Teapot X Expo, Teapot Y’s expert for the launch of the new Teapot Y attachment, etc. The rest of the time, we rotate on-call (and are rarely called).

                  We do this because someone who has not worked closely with the Teapot X team often needs a lot of explanation of what happened, what they plan to do about it, and how they’d like us to communicate that. Because I’ve worked with that team for years, it’s a much more streamlined process – 30 mins for discussion and approvals vs. 90 mins of back and forth (which tends to be frustrating for everyone involved).

                  I work late once or twice a week max (a couple hours, at most), and I lose chunks of my weekend a few times a year, but my boss is awesome about making sure I take that time back (I’m salaried, so no overtime). It works for me, I like things to be fast-paced, and I’m never bored – but if my needs were different and the “needs of the business” weren’t in line with what I wanted, I’d be looking elsewhere without a shred of guilt.

              2. Kathleen Adams*

                I used to have to do a lot of media relations, and what Alison describes is exactly how it worked for me. If something happens and media want to cover it…well, you’ve just got to handle it as best you can as quickly as you can. I din’t get many night calls, fortunately, but weekends? Of course. When a reporter needs help, he needs help quickly. You can’t just expect him to wait until Monday at 8:30. Do readers or listeners want to wait 48 hours to find out what’s going on? No they do not. So reporters don’t want to wait either. But at the same time, I could easily have 2-3 week stretches where I didn’t get any reporter calls. That was just the nature of that business, and there is literally no way around it except by getting out of that business.

                1. Koko*

                  Yep, as someone in a comms-adjacent field (nonprofit email marketing), ask me how much I love our current President’s fondness for dropping stink bombs on Fridays. It’s long been a tactic of politicians trying to bury their unpopular moves, but this President has made a standard practice of it.

                  Luckily I enjoy my work and actually still after all these years find it l0w-key exciting to be racing to turn around breaking news as rapidly as possible for our subscribers. On some intellectual level I can understand why a lot of people would hate scrambling to launch rapid-response messaging on a Friday/weekend, but I’m lucky that for me it’s just exciting and makes me feel like the work I do is important and builds camaraderie with my coworkers who jumped into action with me. And I have a boss who has never watched the clock or tracked our hours, so there’s always a part of me that knows every time I log on at home in the evening or work on a weekend, it’s depositing some good will into the bank that pays for me to miss rush hour traffic by coming in late and leaving early every day.

                  It’s amazing how much being treated well can make hard work feel worth it.

                2. Anna*

                  So how did you handle things like going to movies or not being available to drop everything and handle it because you were in the middle of something? Sure media relations requires that you jump to when needed, but the idea that you are 100% available at all times of the day is not possible. What if you are at a doctor’s appointment? What happens when you are in a movie? What did they do before everyone carried a cell phone with their email readily available?

                3. Kathleen Adams*

                  When I was absolutely unavailable, I’d leave an out-of-office message telling them who else to call. For movies and things like that, I turn off my phone. I do that even now, when I really only have to do media relations when the regular person is unavailable. (I used to be the main media relations person here, but now they’re letting me focus on other stuff, and I only step in when they need me to pinch hit. :-)) I wasn’t available 24/7, and to be fair, nobody (media included) expected me to be). But I was available a lot because that’s the nature of the news beast.

                4. Koko*

                  Yeah, in a lot of these type of roles it’s not strictly required that you’re available 24/7. But because not being available can mean a missed opportunity, that means the closer you are to meeting that standard the more effective you can be, so ambitious people in those fields will do their best to be as available as possible. Being the person who pitched on Friday night to get the sole op-ed placed in Sunday’s NYT might not be a hard and fast requirement of the job you have now, but it can be what gets you promoted into the job you want to have.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  And in addition to what Koko said, it’s important to realize that most people in these kinds of jobs are there because they have some passion for the work. So it doesn’t feel onerous in the same way it would if you were required to be available for, like, your boss’s random phone calls about his commute home.

              3. Temperance*

                That doesn’t really work when people have different roles, though. I can ask some people to cover parts of my job, but the specific nature of what I do is such that the only person who can cover my job for any period of time is my boss.

                1. sam*

                  yeah – this is me as well. When I go on vacation, my boss is really the only one who can cover for me. I go out of my way to schedule my vacations during our least busy time of year, and then warn everyone I work with that responses may be delayed. That’s not to say that emergencies don’t arise that he’ll need to deal with in my absence, but my attempts to minimize them and prepare for any eventualities make it so that he’s both ready to deal with stuff and not begrudging me while I’m gone.

                  (I do also try to at least check email when possible when I’m traveling, at minimum so I can see that stuff is being dealt with or so that I can anticipate the pile that will be on my desk when I get back, but I take big trips to places that are not always connected (this August I went to Peru for two weeks, including several days in the Amazon, where there was no electricity, much less internet!)).

              4. Gaia*

                Sorry, no. When an emergency hit one of our offices and we suddenly needed one of our vendors to make a change for us very quickly I did not want to talk to someone on rotation. I needed Cathy, who knows our accounts very intimately and would understand exactly what I needed done. Unfortunately, that meant Cathy got a call from me at 2:30am her time. I clearly woke her up and I felt bad for it, but it was something that came up, could not wait and absolutely needed her attention.

                And I apologized for interrupting her sleep and sent her a thank you the next day.

            2. Meh*

              I think it depends. I briefly dated someone who worked in data security for a major company and they didn’t really have to work outside their hours. They worked a 4-40 schedule from 2 PM until 12 AM, and the company had enough business that they hired people for all of the shifts. That probably wouldn’t have worked for a smaller company, but just because 24/7 is normal for some fields, it’s not always the case even in those fields.

            3. KellyK*

              Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to staff just in case something comes up. That seems much more like a case where you need an on-call rotation, or you need to tell potential employees that they’ll need to be able to respond to XYZ situations immediately.

              1. sunny-dee*

                Not even that, necessarily. It could be that they needed to proof something and send it to the printers, and were waiting for approval from the customer. If it’s her customer, you don’t really need a rotation schedule, you just say, “Jane, keep an eye out for that customer email and call the printer when it’s ready.”

                That’s not unreasonable.

                1. KellyK*

                  Yeah, not every situation needs an on-call rotation, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have to check for an email (that you know about) on a given weekend or evening, unless the turn-around time is really tight.

                  My main point was that, if at all possible, you need to have a plan for after-hours work that isn’t just “We have no idea what could come in when, so everybody needs to be on-call 24/7.”

            4. Bend & Snap*

              There’s no graveyard shift in crisis communications. You need subject matter experts to deal with it, which means you can’t pull people off the bench.

            5. anathema*

              I have to disagree. There’s enough data in your company to be able to plan and staff for that (if you’re a start-up, there’s enough data out in the world to be able to put together a good shot at it). I know this because it’s part of what I do for a living. In some cases it means one/two people are inconvenienced for a weekend and the next other people are. In some cases, volume means there is actual 24/7/365 coverage. BUT anyone below the executive/senior mgmt level being on call 24/7/365 isn’t reasonable.

            6. nonegiven*

              You should be paid for not being able to go to the movies or hike in the mountains overnight or turn the phone off and nap.

          2. Kyrielle*

            Not necessarily. Having our IT staff here (of which I am not one) field a graveyard shift would frequently be a waste. There’s usually nothing other than routine stuff to be done at those hours, and no reason to deal with the extra hassle. But, our regular IT staff *does* work weekends about 4-5 times a year to roll out major changes at a time that won’t impact most of us, and I suspect they have someone reachable for major issues (like the data center going out) overnight. But paying someone to sit there and watch the data center when, almost every night, nothing goes wrong, would be a waste.

            Neither would it make sense to do most PR work at night…but when you have a client whose image you handle who gets stopped for driving under the influence just after bar-closing, well, *THAT* night you need to work….

          3. LSP*

            My husband is a programmer, and he’s had positions where each developer takes turns being on-call for emergencies that pop-up, so once every six or eight weeks. They don’t need to hire additional people, the potential long hours are scheduled ahead of time so people can plan around them. You will burn employees down to the nubs if you don’t allow them time to detach.

          4. sam*

            Some jobs also just aren’t “shift” jobs. Attorneys don’t work shifts. we work based on what our client demands are. And sometimes those needs are predictable, but sometimes, they’re just…not. If you’re working up against a deadline imposed by an outside party (courts, regulators, etc.), you’re going to be working long hours because you just have to meet that deadline. And sometimes the craziness is due to poor planning, but sometimes it just…happens.

            A client gets sued and you only have 10 days to respond?
            A competitor suddenly puts itself up for sale and the client has two weeks to review their entire data room (all their corporate documents) and present a bid?
            The public agency that your client has spent years trying to do a deal with comes to your client the week before christmas and says “surprise, we have extra capacity to do a deal with you, but only if you can get the entire thing done before December 31?”*

            You’re working. And while you can “staff up” to a certain extent, the client isn’t paying for faceless attorneys – they want the attorney’s they’re familiar with, and that they know “know” the company inside and out.

            *this one happened to me.

            Now that I’m in-house, my schedule is much more predictable, but predictable just means I generally know when my “busy” season is going to be and when I might need to come in on a weekend, and I predictably work 50+ hours a week. But it’s not the law firm days of “all plans are tentative until day-of”, so that’s nice.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I mean, if that’s your approach, those aren’t the right fields for you. When you go into a field like law or campaigns or so forth, you do so understanding the nature of the work. A “no” in many cases would mean impacts on the work that someone who is good at that work isn’t going to want. (And I mean real, meaningful impacts — like “the client spent the weekend in jail” or “our work for the homeless got trashed in the press with no response from us,” not “my boss is mad at me.”)

                1. Bananabiat*

                  My understanding is that clients spend the weekend in jail because courts are closed on 5pm friday , so in that case a lawyer working over the weekend wouldn’t change things.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  No, not at all. Sometimes someone might avoid spending a weekend in jail if, for example, their lawyer successfully argues to the police that there are no grounds to hold them on.

                3. Turanga Leela*

                  @Bananabiat: That’s often true (and really, really frustrating), but sometimes you get a phone call Wednesday evening that your client got arrested, so you stay up late writing a motion Wednesday, so you can run it to the courthouse first thing Thursday, so you can get a hearing Friday… all so that way your client will be out of jail before the weekend. But none of it was predictable when you left work on Wednesday!

              2. sam*

                …and when your client loses the case because you missed a court deadline/doesn’t submit a bid on time/doesn’t get to issue hundreds of millions of dollars of tax-favorable bonds/etc. because your work/life balance was more important than an outside (possibly government-imposed) deadline, do you think (a) they’re going to continue to be your client, (b) you’re going to continue to be employed much beyond that week?

                There are certainly conversations to be had with clients about reasonable expectations, and I do my own best to be realistic about how long things will take (unlike some folks I’ve worked with in the past, who, even when the clients would give us, say, a week, would pull an all nighter to get the work done in two days, setting up unrealistic expectations for the next TRUE emergency and shooting themselves in the foot in the process), but sometimes things just…need to get done.

              3. Jessie the First (or second)*

                Yeah, if I say “no means no” to a judge’s order that the parties submit briefs on whatever issue by 9 am next day, and I don’t work all night to hand in that brief, and my client therefore loses something big in its lawsuit – well, in addition to screwing over the client and absolutely losing that client’s business for all time, I would then be facing a malpractice lawsuit. I *can’t* just tell the IRS investigator who is auditing my client that no, I’m leaving at 5 pm today even if the investigation is still going on, and I can’t tell the judge no, I am going to a family celebration tonight so I won’t be drafting that brief for you.

                In some fields, you can’t always say no. Not if you want to avoid, say, a malpractice lawsuit/losing your job/disciplinary proceedings from the Board of Bar Overseers/general trashing of your reputation by a client you screwed over. Those are fields to avoid if you want 9 to 5, no creep of work into family time.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Banana, “the very limited hours govt hours are open” – the government offices I work with as an attorney are open the same as most businesses, and individual government workers are there past closing too – don’t confuse your state motor vehicles registry office with the federal IRS or Dept of Labor.

              4. NaoNao*

                It kind of grinds my gears the way that a few commentors will drop a one line, sort of snarky, “it’s so obvious” response to a complex issue and then the other commentors will have to explain “there’s mitigating circumstances, that’s a misreading of the question, and that’s not a reasonable, actionable answer or solution.”

                I’m sure it happens all the time on other blogs too, but it irks the heck out of me.

                If the solution were *so easy*, the person who wrote to a blog or advice column not only would have thought of it, they would have implemented it.

                The OP isn’t asking “how do I say no”. They are saying “is this reasonable?” and others are chiming in with perspectives.

                A glib, tossed off one liner (that has kind of gross overtones of making light of sexual assault, too, btw) is not helpful!

            1. Doreen*

              @ Bananabiat – courts where you live may close at 5 pm Friday, but that doesn’t mean they do everywhere. Criminal courts in NYC are open for arraignments until as late as 1am and used to operate 24 hours.

        1. Manders*

          This is something I’ve been curious about for a while–what happens if you’re in one of these always on call positions and you get the call when you’re not in the right state of mind to work? I have friends with rotating on call schedules and they can’t drink or get high (which is legal in my state) when they’re on call. If they’re sick enough to take something like cold medicine or a serious painkiller, someone else might have to be on call instead.

          Do people in positions where they’re always on call never drink or smoke? What happens when they get sick?

          1. LSP*

            If you get sick, you probably need to call out, and get someone else to cover the shift, just like if you were going to work, but yeah, if you need to be in the right frame of mind for work, no drinking or other mind-altering substances is probably expected. Just like a job would expect you to be sober when you’re working your regular shift.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger*

              The problem is that it doesn’t sound like the OP’s employer gives people shifts where they’re on call, they just expect everyone to be available 24/7/365.

              I wonder if the chewing out for the one-hour delay without any prior notice would make an argument for the OP being engaged to wait, rather than waiting to be engaged.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                If she’s exempt (which it sounds like she is; she and I actually had a separate email exchange about that), it won’t matter. If she were non-exempt, then yes.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Don’t know — she told me she’s read the government guidelines and meets them. I’d guess it’s that her work is “predominantly intellectual, requires specialized education, and involves the exercise of discretion and judgment” or that she’s in the “creative professional” exemption category, but I didn’t verify that.

                2. Alter_ego*

                  Avenger, I’m an electrical engineer, and I’ve been salaried since day one after graduation. So were all of my classmates. It doesn’t seem that unusual to me for an entry level job.

                3. Jake*


                  Engineers, registered nurses, Quality control personnel, etc. are all jobs that are explicitly called out as possibly being exempt within the guidelines, and all of which can be occupied by entry level recent grads.

                  I’ve been exempt from the day I graduated.

                4. sam*

                  @ persephone

                  also, anyone with a job categorized as “professional” is basically also exempt. That’s your lawyers/doctors/accountants/etc. Doesn’t matter if it’s their first day of work.

                  (lawyers are even more fun – there are some specific exceptions in the FLSA that apply only to them. Some unscrupulous folks think these mean you don’t need to pay lawyers at all)

                5. Letter Writer*

                  Hi! I actually don’t drink, and marijuana is illegal where I live, so I haven’t brought this up, but it definitely seems like a good thing to ask.

                  For the other question, I fall under the creative professional exemption category.

            1. Kathleen Adams*

              My parents (one a nurse and one a nurse anesthetist) spent a significant portion of their working lives on call. They just didn’t drink during those periods.

            2. DataQueen*

              We have a department in our org that has a Duty Phone that gets assigned on a weekly basis. Those people never drink or smoke while on call, because if that phone rings, they need to be on a plane in the next few hours. And depending on where the call comes from, they might be handling patients in the next few hours. And these aren’t healthworkers, this is a different profession, just for context, but they could still end up being responsible for someone’s life.

          2. Stop That Goat*

            I’m one of those IT folks in a 24-7 agency (Law enforcement). I can tell you that I rarely have more than a single drink largely because I’m worried that I’ll get called after I’ve had a bit too many to drive.

            In my case, if I’m really too sick to remain on call, my department will pick up the slack. If I need a night off from being on-call, I have to use a pass to have it covered. I get a limited number a year so I tend to save them for vacations, etc though.

            It’s not a fun setup honestly.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              The Good Wife had an episode where Cary took mushrooms late on a weekend night, and then one of their law firm’s big clients had a massive scandal explode and it was all hands on deck, whether or not you remembered where your hands were.

          3. Chinook*

            “Do people in positions where they’re always on call never drink or smoke? What happens when they get sick?”

            Short answer – yup. When DH was doing media for the local detachment, he was the only one available for the region. They rotated the big holidays and vacation coverage between 5 people in the province but, otherwise, you just learned that anything can get interrupted at any time. Wedding anniversary dinner gets cancelled while on his way due to bomb scare. Phone goes off while at movie theatre (he had it on vibrate and left to take it). Opening Christmas presents gets done while fielding questions about stolen ATM (who does that on a Christmas morning expecting it to have money?). Luckily DH isn’t a big drinker, rarely gets sick and smoking anything other than cigarettes would get him fired, so he never had to find last minute coverage but he also learned to just suck it up and do the job. If he didn’t like it, then he shouldn’t have agreed to do the job.

          4. InfoSec SemiPro*

            If you’re the Best Person for that emergency, but you aren’t in a state that can work it, the emergency lands on the second Best Person for it. Or the third.

            At least in my team, we try to balance off having the right person for the job and making sure the right person gets some sleep. If System X has three major emergencies in a row, the first one the X expert will work (if we’re being smart and have the spare staff, they’ll work it with a buddy for some cross training), the second one will be worked by someone else while the primary expert gets some rest/time off, and hopefully they’re back to full strength for the third. (or the expert will catch the first two, but be out for the third.)

            On rare occasions, emergencies will outstrip available staff and we will pull people back from vacations. We do have rules for how long staff can be ‘on’ an emergency and send people off to sleep and eat.

            In other work places, I know people get to work any way, even if they aren’t well or sober. I’m lucky with my group that we work to make sure that the Best Expert on different things isn’t the only option, but it takes work and it takes going back to people who thought we were going to be able to finish a project by a certain sate and tell them that no, because if this emergency, we pulled staff from your project. Other work places aren’t willing to make those trade offs and they burn people out. (faster. We still have burnout. We try to slow it downa nd ease it up, but security is a rough field.)

          5. EAH*

            I’m a one-woman social media department for a major brand so I’m always “on.” There have been times when I’ve gotten a weird premonition and only had one drink when out with friends and a few hours later things hit the fan at about 11:30 p.m. and I ended up going into the office until 4:30 am and then coming back at 6:30 am….I don’t know what I’d have done if I was incapacitated at the time! But there was another time where I was waiting on approvals and after spending an hour and a half waiting after 5 p.m. we all decided that it wasn’t going to happen that night so I left, met some friends at a bar and blew off a long, frustrating day. Two hours later the approval came in and I got the call and was WAY WAY too gone to be the public voice of a brand. I had to tell my boss who was able to jump in and do it (he very, very rarely posts for us) and he laughed at me for a week because I was drunk on a Tuesday night. That’s the only time that’s happened in four years though!

          6. anycat*

            my husband is in PR. if he has any thought that a client might have something blow up or go haywire, he won’t drink. we’ve been in situations – brunches, dinners, weekend plans, concerts – where he has had to drop everything and get to the office or a computer. it’s just part of his industry. they do have three day weekend rotations where everyone takes a turn on a crisis committee in the event that something huge happens (i think everyone in the agency gets one a year).

            LW it reminds me of when he first started – there was a lot of proving himself and cutting his teeth, so to speak. i much prefer my 8-5 with 1 hour lunches, so i never went into the PR/marketing/ad agency field. and that’s ok if you realize that this isn’t for you – major props to you trying it and realizing this!

          7. NaoNao*

            Ooh! I had a friend who worked for Shell Oil international, and every once in a while she could go out but not drink! She was on call for the next 24 hours and it was in her contract that she couldn’t be intoxicated or otherwise unfit to work. But she was only on call very rarely.

          8. Ex-production*

            Took benadryl once with a cold, of course got woken up and called out at 3am. I took a car service but was still nearly incoherent when I got to the office. We didn’t have a rule about it (entertainment industry, not safety-related), but I changed medications after that to something that didn’t make me unwakeable. I also couldn’t buy concert tickets ahead of time for years and years, unless I was willing to risk not being in the same city as the concert on the night.

            It was still totally worth it, to get to work in that field – and the crazy hours weren’t bosses taking advantage of employees, they really were necessitated by the job that needed to be done. I think if you’re not feeling that, it’s probably not the right fit.

        2. Snark*

          Oh, absolutely! I was assuming – correctly, it turns out – that LW is in more of a marketing/advertising type field, where emergency coverage is…..well, perhaps not as gravely critical as some of your examples.

      2. Susanne*

        “No, they just burn through employees like there’s an endless supply of them. The saner course of action would be “no, client, sorry, outside core hours we can’t ask our people to be on call for whenever you get your content together” but of course that doesn’t happen.”

        This is known as “how to lose a client.” I had international clients all over the globe. If they emailed during their day (my evening), it would be imprudent of me not to try to respond, even if it was just an acknowledgment that I’d follow up later. I just finished a phone call that took place at 9 am my time, 7:30 pm for our colleagues in India. (We reverse every other meeting.) That is simply life in the big city when you have a decent job and a professional work ethic. Your doctors manage to be on call 24/7; please don’t tell me that staying an hour or so past closing time is a big deal. It just isn’t, and I would have dinged anyone professionally who had that attitude. When I have clients paying us hundreds of thousands of dollars for a project, yes, you can stop watching Big Bang Theory and check your email, or take the occasional Saturday and hang at home to make client changes.

        1. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

          Your story seems quite personal, and we have no way of knowing whether it reflects the OP’s situation at all.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          My husband does a lot of conference calls with South Korea, Japan, and eastern China. There is no overlap between their core hours and New England’s core hours.

        3. Matt*

          No, your doctors are not on call 24/7. They have their 24 or 48 or whatever on-call shift, which is hard enough, I guess, and then they the other doctors in the rotation pick up shift.

          Actually being on call is much easier to handle in these typical on-call fields (like doctors, paramedics, firefighters, police, technical emergency services, whatever) because they have set on-call shifts based on a scheduled rotation and one knows in advance when they are on call and when not. Worst thing is when there are no set shifts but just everone is expected to be available 24/7.

          1. Doreen*

            Whether a doctor is on call 24/7 depends on the type of doctor, the type of practice, etc.Doctors working in the ER are not likely to be on call 24/7, but a OB with a solo practice probably is.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Hi! Recent grad/letter-writer here. This really did cut to the core of my issue a lot more clearly than I did in my letter — although Alison’s advice will definitely be helpful to me going forward. There really aren’t any protocols in place at my agency, other than everyone groaning and complaining about clients who ask us for work outside of typical hours. From my perspective, it also seems like that would be helpful!

      1. animaniactoo*

        Potential temporary solution: Would your boss be okay with you putting up an out-of-office message while you’re out of the office?

        “I am not available today but will respond to all inquiries tomorrow, Monday the 25th.”

        “I am currently out of office and will be checking e-mails intermittently. Responses may take up to 2 hours.”

        and so on? So that at least the client has been “updated” and has a timeline, etc.

        1. FTW*

          I work in a similar field. Putting up and out of office when you are not truly out of the office (e.g., vacation, all day international workshop) would be out of touch with professional norms. I’d ask around before proposing to your boss.

          1. PersephoneUnderground*

            I think animaniactoo meant an out-of-office message for all times when you’re out of the office (like when you go home for the evening and over weekends) even though that would be considered excessive in 9-5 jobs, not for while you’re actually in the office.

            1. FTW*

              That was my understanding of what was meant. There are definitely industries where that would be seen as really out of touch.

      2. Jesca*

        I feel for you. And I mean there are some industries where the you do need on call people, but those are more centered around support type positions where there can be serious consequences for not having people available. But then there are also industries that in order to compete with one another have set pretty ridiculous standards within the industry. It is unfortunate.

        Interesting note: The last company I worked for did this. After the recession, it pretty much started killing the industry. They could no longer afford to support the promises they made prior to the recession since no one was buying/using luxury goods and services as much.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      No, in fields with 24/7 client work, you’re expected to be on call. People often know you’re not available between 10p.m.–7 a.m. (local) time, but if you’re in a movie, you step out to take an email or call.

    4. k.k*

      That was my take as well. If you never know when a call/email may come, you feel like you have to be in work mode 24/7. I’ve always had non-exempt jobs, so I don’t have much perspective on this, but to me what OP describes sounds horrible. I couldn’t stand constantly being in limbo like that.

    5. Manders*

      Yeah, I think you’re right about what’s bothering the OP here. It sounds like she’s spending a lot of time waiting for people to get back to her, and then they get back to her at weird hours and expect an immediate response, so she’s not actually working around the clock but she has to plan her life around the possibility that she might have to drop everything to work. That can be anxiety-inducing in a way that goes beyond just working long hours.

      Being expected to carry a laptop and have internet connectivity 24/7 cuts out a huge range of activities like hiking and camping, attending talks and classes, going to a friend’s wedding, attending religious services, and exercising in a setting where your phone isn’t right by your side. It would also make it incredibly hard to participate in adult activities like drinking and dating. I know people who have on-call schedules who make it work, but they aren’t on call 24/7/365, they rotate their times on-call with their coworkers.

      1. LaurenB*

        Yes, I’m stunned that so many people seem to accept that as a way of life and are telling the OP to suck it up! I am regularly out of range for cell phone service while hiking and being told to give that up for the odd time a client might call would send me back to college, if necessary, for a new career. Regularly scheduled on-call times would be something else entirely.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          People aren’t really telling her to suck it up as much as they are telling her this is not outside the norm for a lot of fields. If the OP doesn’t like that, she may just need to leave the field. But I’m not really seeing people telling her to just suck it up.

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            I haven’t read all the comments, but certainly most people aren’t saying that she should “suck it up.” They aren’t even hinting that.

            They – we, really – are saying that there are some jobs that, usually for good reasons, the expectation is that there are times when you simply have to be available even when you’re off the clock. Do I ever go places where there’s no cell service? Sure. Do I turn off my phone in the movies? Sure. Do I do either of those things when I might have to take a call from a reporter? Nope.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I haven’t seen anyone tell OP to suck it up? I’m seeing people say that this is common in some industries, that OP may be working in one of those industries, and that if the first two statements are accurate, then OP should consider jobs/fields that better match their work-life balance expectations/needs.

        3. Gazebo Slayer*

          I am thoroughly horrified that there are fields where 24/7 on call for months or years is normal. NO ONE should have to live like that forever and always. Unless maybe you’re at the actual C-level and pulling in millions.

          The anxiety would literally land me in the hospital.

      2. Murphy*

        Yeah, this situation would be completely unacceptable to me. And it seems like, not only is this kind of schedule not what OP wants, but she also wasn’t expecting it given the information she got at the interview stage.

      3. Dr Wizard, PhD*

        >she’s not actually working around the clock but she has to plan her life around the possibility that she might have to drop everything to work. That can be anxiety-inducing in a way that goes beyond just working long hours.

        I agree; that sounds horrifying.

    6. Morning Glory*

      My spouse works for a company like this, where clients have tight-turnaround projects that come in any time of day or week. They stagger their staff’s hours and days work to ensure that there is always someone available 24/7. For example, spouse works 50 hours/week, nights and Sundays, but he doesn’t have to worry about checking his email/phone the rest of the time.

      It’s a good way to do it (when possible) because it allows employees to plan ahead and be actually off when they are off.

    7. Jesmlet*

      I’m in a situation where I’m technically on call 24/7 as our clients receive services 24/7. Our company is very streamlined with a very clear organizational structure. When you call, you deal with the same people and that keeps things simple. For that reason, if one of my/my boss’ client has an issue over the weekend, the two of us need to be available to deal with it. However, if we do well enough during the week, this only happens on a very rare situation, like if the care provider gets into a horrible accident, or if their child passes away (which has happened) and can’t get into work. Obviously I get plenty of downtime when I’m not in the office, but I do keep an eye on my emails just in case. I’d rather take care of issues outside of normal working hours rather than patch things up haphazardly and apologetically once I’m back in the office on Monday.

    8. Political staffer*

      I work in a field that has 24/7 work (political campaigns). I’ve worked directly for campaigns, for nonprofit work, and for consulting firms that campaigns hire. For employee downtime, it varies by campaign and firm. If you’re working in the Bible Belt, you can expect to have Sunday mornings as downtime (unless you are accompanying your candidate to church). THat usually meant laundry time for me.

      The firm I’m with now is closed on Sundays except for the last two weeks before the election. I also have the ability to do most of my paperwork, data, and reports from home and I only have to be in the office while my hourly employees are there (I’m there earlier but leave shortly after they do). I took a pay cut for it, but my work-life balance was worth it (last firm I worked at frequently had midnight conference calls and most people never slept).

  5. Kyrielle*

    And, in the spirit of finding if you can make it work, and of surviving it until you find another job otherwise, I spent many years in an industry that had me carrying an on-call phone for a week at a time, where a response time of 10 minutes was expected and anything more than 20 minutes was unacceptable. And we needed to be in front of our laptop and working on the issue.

    That’s better than your situation because it rotated between people, so we weren’t always on, just at set times. But I’ll tell you, it had some of the same impacts – being afraid to go anywhere, hauling a laptop with you, etc. I worried about grocery shopping on those occasions, never mind going to a movie, which was just not happening.

    But my coworker A? My coworker A found his zen about it and used to take shifts from others (who wanted to give them up; there was some financial incentive, but the life-cost was more important to many of us), and end up with weeks in a row on-call. And he was fine. He went to movies, he went to events, he went to Oktoberfest, he went to concerts. He did stuff.

    How? He brought his laptop, the on-call mobile phone, and the on-call wifi with him, and he just set the expectation with himself that sometimes, he’d get called out of these things and need to respond. And if that happened, okay, he did it – but it was still worth going because, hey, 80-90% of the time he would get to enjoy the whole event without a call.

    He had a lot more fun than many of us on his on-call weeks, but he did accept that sometimes he’d miss the second half of a movie he’d paid for because a call came in.

    He had advantages you don’t – we had a company-provided cell and hotspot. But I’m wondering if you can come up with a mechanism that will work for you to handle some of these circumstances so you can be doing stuff, at least until you need to do something work-related.

    Can you check your company email from the browser on your phone? I wouldn’t advocate linking it to your phone’s email client, given IT policies around that make it generally not a great idea, but if there’s a webmail client that’s accessible from your phone, that might work. Can your phone be used as a hotspot at all, or do you have to pay more for that? If you don’t have to pay extra, or don’t have to pay much extra, I’d suggest taking the laptop and being prepared to do that if you get a quick request. If you get a longer request, maybe drop in to a Starbucks (and grab a drink) or a library and use the wifi?

    Bearing in mind that sometimes (hopefully often), you’ll go do what you want and never have to actually use the laptop, because you’ll get back home without anything happening.

    1. Letter Writer*

      This is great advice, and a great story for the future, thank you! I can make my work pretty mobile as you’ve suggested here. Both from reading Alison’s reply and your comment, I can tell that is partially an attitude problem on my end — one of the hazards of being a recent grad, I suppose. But I will definitely take this into account for the future!

      And yes — the fear while grocery shopping is very real. :)

      1. Kyrielle*

        I think grocery shopping is worse than the movie in some ways. I mean, if I have to leave in the middle of a movie, I just miss the rest of the movie. But if I have to leave halfway through my shopping, I have to ask the store if they can hold my items, and if not can they reshelve them? Unless I only had a few things and can check out and still make my response time…. Argh.

        That said, this is the norm *in some fields* – and it sounds like you were clear that overtime/long weeks are normal in much of your field, and you found an exception and didn’t realize that the exception was still not perfectly balanced. It sounds, from what you wrote, like there may be other areas in your degree that don’t do this, or at least don’t do the instant-on-call-weekends all the time thing, and investigating those might be worth it.

        I’m now working at a place where I might sometimes need to pull longer hours to hit my targets, but I’m never on call. I love it. The work I’m doing is not as “exciting” but is still interesting and fun. I miss my old sector. I don’t miss my old sector’s on call, and if I could have the next-up career progression job at that company, I wouldn’t go back and take it, now. For me, the work-life balance is worth the trade-offs I made. For you, it may or may not be. That’s really a reading only you can make for yourself.

        Informational interviews with people who are in other industries/companies you might consider long term might be useful. “What’s a typical work-week like, in terms of when you work and what you work on?” That way you know if the grass is truly greener, vs. just the impression from the outside. And of course, when interviewing for actual jobs, you can also ask some of those questions. In both cases, you want to ask questions that get you numbers, not just impressions, though. Someone coming from a place that requires 80 hour weeks and always on-call is going to think that a place with 50-60 hour weeks that impinges on your weekend regularly, but never calls in the middle of the night, is awesome – and I think that’s what happened to you with this one.

      2. MissGirl*

        Don’t feel bad about wanting to leave work at work. There are industries where you’re not on call like this. The beginning of your career is a good time to figure this out. Some people hate traveling, some can’t work nights. Figure out what works for you.

      3. Blue*

        For the record, LW, I don’t think your attitude is inherently problematic. It’s ok to know your priorities, and if that’s a definitive line between work and not-work times, so be it. But you do have to be prepared to find a job that allows for that that and you have to be prepared for the trade-offs. It’s really, really important to me to have a strong work-life balance; any time the line between them gets blurry, my mental health suffers, sometimes quite dramatically, and that’s not something I’m willing to do on an on-going basis. That means my employment options are more limited and there’s a cap on my salary potential, but those are compromises I’m willing to make if it means living a healthier life.

        Kyrielle has some really good advice here. Start looking around, and really do your research into the field and into the employer. Definitely get the specifics before you commit to anything new – you wouldn’t want to switch and end up in the same position elsewhere. Good luck!

      4. Elder Dog*

        Most grocery stores (at least where I am) have free wifi. Just ask at the customer service desk next time you’re in and they’ll give you the name of the service and password (if any.) Set it up then and you’re ready should you get called (and won’t have to stop and wonder if that’s your grocery store’s free wifi or a scammer trying to trick you into thinking that’s your store’s free wifi.)

        Any place that has an instore app usually has wifi available to customers so you can download coupons. It’s worth asking places you go regularly. My dentist lets his patients use his wifi too.

        1. Kyrielle*

          True! Thank you for pointing this out. (I didn’t consider it because my personal experience would not have worked with this – maybe for some of the five minute calls, but ones that can take a half hour or more and may mean extensive phone conversations need a better set-up space than somewhere with no table or only tables for deli customers, fellow shoppers having to listen to your call, etc, and any perishable items just sitting. – but for many other situations this could be enough of a solution to get you through without leaving.)

      1. Kyrielle*

        On some of the other team members, yes. On me and still others, not so much. In my case, it was complicated by the fact that I really wanted to be doing stuff *with my family* – and my suddenly having to step out meant, either they had to also, or my husband would be handling two kids 6 and under in whatever-it-was while I worked. And if I needed to move to someplace with power for a long slog, well, either they’d leave with me or have no car.

        But I did get better about doing the grocery shopping while I had the phone. :P

        1. KAG*

          I’m interested in how you handle grocery shopping with the phone. I have yet to master this skill – in fact, it seems as though setting foot in a grocery store triggers an emergency that will result in a call after I’ve worked my way through produce.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Mostly, I used the more expensive store 5 minutes from my house, and I had a plan for what I’d do if I got a call. Stopping to think it out was part of the problem. Basically, first I take the call and confirm it’s really mine. (I sometimes got calls that, after a few questions, clearly needed to go to another team – they were for things I didn’t, and couldn’t, support.) If I need to handle it, then if the cart has X items or less (and few or none that are perishable in short periods of time) and the lines are short or non-existent, I check out; otherwise, I apologetically take the cart to a staff member and ask if they can keep it for later or reshelve.

            And then I book it home to work. As soon as I got connected and started the initial work, I could take a break to put the perishables away, or if my husband was home, he got to.

            But it didn’t make it magically easy to get groceries while on call. It just gave me a way to handle the annoying calls.

            The other thing that helps is stocking up on anything that will keep two weeks, that you know you’ll need, the week _before_ you’re on call. Then your list the week _of_ is as short as humanly possible. And, counter-intuitively, shopping more often for less stuff. I prefer big runs so I get it all done, but more frequent but smaller runs for what’s needed the next 2-3 days made it more likely I’d get interrupted, but also more likely that I’d have few enough items to check out with them and not have to go right back to the store when I finished the call.

          2. Morning Glory*

            If you live in a metropolitan area, have you considered getting a subscription to Amazon fresh, or else hiring a taskrabbit to grocery shop for you?

            1. Kyrielle*

              Ooo. Or, and this became an option after I no longer needed it, several chains have an “order for pickup” option, where your role is basically to drive up, pay, and take the stuff home. That would also probably work better, and be a little cheaper than delivery. (And at least one chain near here does delivery now, though the price is enough that I don’t use it. But on call? Maybe I would have, if it had been an option then.)

              1. yasmara*

                I’m a working parent & all of these options are immensely helpful. Sometimes I don’t think we’d eat unless the groceries were delivered!

          3. Elder Dog*

            Most grocery stores here have free wifi and a couple tables and chairs meant to be a “cafe” you can sit and work at so as to get out an immediate response, but then move home to finish up with. You just have to ask for the name of the wifi and password if they use one at customer service.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Kyrielle, was there any kind of additional compensation for being on-call, or for responding to calls? Because that would change a lot for me. It sounds like the OP doesn’t get any of that. I used to take all the holiday shifts I could because we got double-and-a-half…back when I was single and childless. And if I had to miss the end of a movie for a work call, the fact that I’d be compensated enough to see the movie again if I so chose would allow me to be as Zen as your former co-worker about it. I probably wouldn’t want to go to a professional sporting event while I’m on-call, though, because even now my loaded hourly rate isn’t high enough for a few hours work to pay for a prime ticket to an NFL game!

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yes, there was, hence A taking on extra weeks. And that does change it – except a job that expects you to *always* be on call may have a higher salary in recompense for that – I think that was mentioned elsewhere in the comments.

      2. Letter Writer*

        I really do think I’d be willing to take on more on-call shifts with extra compensation. Right now it just feels like an expectation instead of a request, and since my perception from the interview was that this was not going to be the expectation, I didn’t, well, expect it.

        1. Letter Writer*

          I should also mention that my salary is about average for entry level in my field — so I don’t feel as though it reflects the bump that Kyrielle mentioned.

    3. a1*

      [i]” …he just set the expectation with himself that sometimes, he’d get called out of these things and need to respond. And if that happened, okay, he did it – but it was still worth going because, hey, 80-90% of the time he would get to enjoy the whole event without a call.”[/i]

      I used to have a similar situation, but I was never stressed about it. I was trying to remember how/why to give tips, but was struggling. This assessment sums it up well. I just simply didn’t let it keep me from doing things, I just went to those things prepared in case something came up. And like you said, it often didn’t 70-80% of the time there was no interruption. And some calls/issues were quick, so some of that 20-30% of interruptions were short. Easy peasy. Friends and family understood.

    4. Chinook*

      “he just set the expectation with himself that sometimes, he’d get called out of these things and need to respond. And if that happened, okay, he did it – but it was still worth going because, hey, 80-90% of the time he would get to enjoy the whole event without a call.”

      This is the perfect attitude when you have this type of job and part of why DH volunteered for being media guy – the financial rewards and career opportunity was good and both he and I could live with missing part of something if he got called out (and I had to be part of that conversation because I could have made his life miserable if I resented all the interruptions). Now, if we had kids, I doubt we could have worked with this. But, as two adults, we accepted the compromise it takes.

      I think it helped that we knew that, no matter how crappy it was to miss part of something, our day was no where near as bad as the person’s who is the reason he was being called out because of.

    5. Chameleon*

      This was what I was going to suggest. So many places have Wifi now that throwing an ultralight laptop in a messenger bag isn’t a huge deal (my laptop is only 2.7 pounds!) Even places that don’t have Wifi, you can get a tablet on your cell data plan and use the cell network. You shouldn’t have to stay at home just in case!

  6. Bend & Snap*

    If this is an agency, in my experience, this is what agencies are like. If not then disregard my comment, obviously.

    It’s so important to suss this out in the interview process. I’m a lot better at it now than I was early in my career. Work/life balance is really important and if you can’t go to a movie without getting a dressing down, I’d take it as a sign that it’s time to move on.

  7. Stephanie*

    Alison’s right that one short stay won’t hurt you. I think most reasonable employers get that what sounds like a great job while you’re in college (“Wait, someone will pay me and I don’t have to do problem sets or write papers anymore?”), can be a nightmare in actuality.

    For your future jobs, I might steer clear from anything involving client work. Sometimes when making payroll or keeping the lights on is dependent on keeping clients happy, you can get rush requests or expectations that you stay until things are done.

  8. Snark*

    So….it’s pretty crappy to give someone a “stern talking to” because they’ve delayed a response an hour or so on a weekend when they’re theoretically free to do other stuff.

    But…OP….staying after work an hour or two, a couple of times a week, and being on call for emails and occasional work tasks on weekends and evenings? That’s part of the deal, my dude or dudette. Particularly at the start of your career, particularly in a client-focused field, particularly when your clients are known to be working 24/7, particularly when you’re salaried and exempt. This does not sound like the BEST work-life balance one can find, but it unfortunately sounds like the work-life balance a lot of us get. I totally encourage you to find something that’s a better fit if that will make you happier, and I think there are better fits out there, but at some point….well, welcome to what the DSA kids call late-stage capitalism. We should expect better, but we don’t, and when someone brings up “work-life balance” they get sneered at like you dod.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thanks for this reply — I think as a recent grad, I definitely came at this with a bit of naivete and optimism, and I’ll do my best to view things differently going forward.

      1. Snark*

        Now, my hardnosed attitude aside….the 24/7 on-call, bring your laptop, use your own data plan thing? That’s bonkers, that’s not normal, and if you did end up leaving because of that, I don’t think you’d find it the same everywhere, and I think your employer needs to figure out a way to rotate folks so you know “I’m on call Saturday from 11a-6p, but I’m free Sunday” and that kind of thing. Being truly on-call 24/7 is not sustainable, and your employer needs to cut that out.

        1. Letter Writer*

          The on-call Saturday, free on Sunday approach would actually be an ideal solution for me. I’m willing to step up outside of 8-5 hours when needed, but the 24/7 on-call definitely grinds on me. Like I said before, I’m going to try having a better attitude about it, too.

          1. Agent Diane*

            I’m echoing others here: there needs to be some rota about weekend work, not least to avoid burnout. It doesn’t make sense to have all your employees on 24/7 call – have a duty person or two.

          2. Belle*

            I work in politics which means we are not just on call on the weekends, we often have to accompany bosses to events. After several years of this, I could feel myself getting burned out and wanting to leave the job, and my chief of staff was really nice about trying to schedule weekend work so that I do have at least one day off a weekend. It’s not always possible, but your manager may be able to help you work something out that doesn’t burn you out.

  9. Amber Rose*

    Your firm is much less demanding, but that’s in comparison to other firms in the business. In that respect, your boss was not wrong.

    Your next interview, you should make your desires for work hours a little more specific.

    1. New Puppy Mom*

      But I have done this in interviews and lost jobs for it. I suppose in the end, it was for the best since the fit was wrong, but I still flinch when I think of this org turning me down because I asked about hours.

  10. Bolt*

    When I was fresh out of school – the concept of working anything outside of Monday-Friday 9-5 seemed like I was being overworked. I was accustomed to jobs where you clocked in the second you were scheduled to start and clocked out right at the scheduled end… to have someone call you for anything other than covering a shift was unheard of.

    I was outraged the first time my (no overtime required) job asked me to come in early for a staff meeting, or stay late to finish up something time-sensitive. I was so off-base but having to work outside of normal hours seemed ridiculous.

    When my new boss asked me to start coming back after supper or popping in on weekends or bringing a work laptop home – I almost thought he was joking. My time at home was so packed that I couldn’t let work take some away. Even though I was able to deflect that responsibility… I know a lot of employers in my field would’ve shown me the door.

    After 3 years my mindset it starting to change – I’m being considered for a job requiring overtime (some evenings/weekends but it is entirely my choice to schedule) and even travelling out of town for 5 days at a time and home for the weekend. I actually cried after hearing the work requirements (at home in bed) but it takes time to adjust to the idea of giving up personal time for professional development.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thanks for this reply! I was definitely in very strictly scheduled positions before this, which I’m sure is contributing to my problem. From reading Alison’s reply and some of the other comments, I think they’ve correctly pointed out that my larger issue is being on-call all of the time. I’ve been willing to work outside normal hours, but it’s tough when you think you’re done for the day and then you have to cancel previously scheduled plans to work, even though you stayed late in the day.

      Anyway, I totally sympathize with your feelings about strictly scheduled jobs, and I hope that your new opportunity is very fulfilling and worth it!

    2. But you don't have an accent*

      Not to be condescending, but you really shouldn’t be trying to get a job/agreeing to a promotion where the idea of the schedule made you cry.

      Work travel can be rough on the people who love to do it – don’t put yourself in a position where you are actively aware you’re going to dislike it; it will color your perception of your job from day 1 and make you miserable! I say this as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy work travel, and who has been home 4 full weeks (and weekends) since April.

      1. Bolt*

        I’ll respectfully disagree with you on that – if I always run from things that make me cry then I’d never get anywhere in life, including the front door where spiders are plentiful.

        My initial crying was out of shock and fear. To follow the career path I want, this is a sacrifice that has to be made (it is on the light side of the industry standard)… I was kidding myself thinking that I’d never have to work overtime or travel when it is the norm. Everyone in the field makes it work even though it can be inconvenient.

        The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is an opportunity for growth and will open doors that have always been locked by my rigid preferences.

        I love to travel and wish I could travel more, so this job could be amazing in that regard. It is just the shock or going from a mindset where my pjs are on by 6pm every evening to actually having to put in some more effort to get where I want to be.

        1. Not a Morning Person*

          That’s smart. And change impacts all of us differently. It’s good that you are recognizing your mind set needs to change for you to do what you want to do! Congratulations. Your story is a great example of learning as you go and deciding for yourself what sacrifices you are willing to make. Most choices require us to give up something. It’s good for us to think about it and decide rather than let things just happen. Also, it’s like Kyrielle’s example of the coworker who looked at the sacrifices of being regularly on call and decided that choice was worth it for him. You looked at your options and even though your choice requires a sacrifice, you are deciding that it is worth if for the benefits you see. Good for you!

    3. Consultant*

      I live like that – spend 4-5 days abroad almost every week. If I were you I would think it over before accepting the job.

      I would never accept a similar job again unless such travels happen not more than once a month. After living like that for 2 months I have no private life and I’m tired all the time. Not to mention that even scheduling a simple medical appointment is difficult. My colleagues have similar problems so I know I’m not the only one experiencing that.

        1. emmylou*

          I am also a consultant and I travel a LOT for pleasure (the kind of long involved strenuous trips most people don’t do, like riding a bike by myself across Latvia and Estonia) and I took a gig in August where I was on the road for 17 days and I am STILL exhausted. Work travel sucks you dry even if you are doing great things in really cool places.

      1. Bolt*

        For me the travel will only happen during a single quarter a year. When week-long travel is required, they do limit it to 4 weeks per year. So for 3/4 of the year there is no worries expect for some overtime and the remaining 1/4 has some potential inconveniencing travel.

        It is almost like a culture shock to realize people do work outside of regular hours and have to travel.

      2. Tau*

        I had a job that was 100% at a remote location for one and a half years. As travel jobs went, it was really easy on you – the job was at one fixed location, and my company rented flats so that we weren’t stuck in hotels and could stay in the remote place some weekends. All the same. Never again.

        My experience, FWIW, was that it was easier than I expected it to be in the short term but harder in the long run. I thought I’d get used to it, and I did not. If anything, it went harder as time went on – near the end, I was close to tears on Sunday afternoons.

        (I hear you about the medical appointments, by the way – I lost a number of days of holiday so I could go to the doctor. It’s absurd how *difficult* some really routine things can get if you’re never in your theoretical hometown outside of 6pm Friday – 4pm Sunday.)

  11. Mes*

    “People mostly laugh when I ask about work-life balance, and the best advice I’ve been given is to take my laptop with me everywhere, and use my phone as a hotspot”

    I feel like this is the problem, not working late. OP is on call and can never relax.

    1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      Yeah, the extra few hours is clearly not an issue in OP’s field (or most positions like hers), but the constant on-call thing feels like something you’d flag very clearly, if not in the job ad then definitely in the interview. It doesn’t feel normal. I know Alison has been talking about fields where it is, and I agree that there are definitely those fields, but generally people know when they’re in them.

  12. NCKat*

    I don’t mind working later because the traffic is lighter going home. I’ve been requested to work a few weekends and holidays and I don’t mind because I got a lot cleared off my desk each time. It’s a part of the job.

    1. gmg*

      Does your job give you time off, and then honor it when you take it? Are weekends when you don’t work otherwise your own time? I just think that because of the LW’s age, people are pooh-poohing her concerns, and then describing very different circumstances for themselves. (You have been REQUESTED to work these days, ie someone asked you ahead of time, right? Do you have to cart your laptop around 24/7 in case someone calls with a work demand, like the LW has been advised to do?)

  13. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    While you are working in this place, look at other factors. There also also important questions about salary v. exempt positions. Are you being paid correctly? Is it normal to use your own data? Do you have to use your phone for work? When you say “my laptop,” is that work laptop or personal laptop? How much equipment/services are you bringing into the mix?
    Right now you are looking at the hours you’re putting in as the only measure. While you are in this position, look at other things. Don’t take anything for granted. Really assess what you have, what you like, what you need, what you want. These are things to consider when you look for your next job.
    PS: It’s great you asked about work life balance. Now add to that when you interview next.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was wondering this as well. The employer may be aware that they are more demanding and are compensating accordingly, but since the OP is new to the workforce, she may not be aware that she is earning an above market salary.

      1. Letter Writer*

        OP here. Thanks for these replies — this is a very good point that I hadn’t included in the calculation, and great advice moving forward. I’ll definitely take it into account.

  14. AndersonDarling*

    I’m curious as to what the OP does. If the OP works in marketing and is getting “emergency” calls on holidays, then that is pretty ridiculous. But if she is a manager of a healthcare call center, then one or two emergency calls is less than expected.
    Knowing this would help construct what a reasonable work-life balance would look like for the role and if the current company is good or another company would be better.

    1. paul*

      I’m not with healthcare (social services, can be called in for disaster response) but we do have on call staff; we *rotate* it.

      Sure if things really hit the fan we can all wind up getting called in from locations far and wide (see: hurricanes, major fires, tornadoes) but that’s rare. More regular on call stuff is pretty normal (Hey, EOC’s ramping up for a situation in X county, hey we’ve got a client that gave us emergency contact who just got admitted to the hospital, stuff like that) but we rotate the people on call for those. You don’t just keep everyone on call 24/7 for that and not burn through people.

    2. Letter Writer*

      OP here. Without giving myself up too much, I work in digital advertising for clients in a very niche industry at an agency. I’m not a manager at all — I’m probably best compared to a copywriter, although my work extends upon that frequently.

      1. Manders*

        Do you have any interest in giving a different field of digital marketing a try, or is it vital that you stay in this niche? I work in SEO and have never had to deal with this. I was patting myself on the back this weekend for spending 10 whole minutes fixing something I messed up during the week. And I’m salaried, not hourly.

        I’ve also seen digital marketers drink like fish at networking events, so it’s extra odd to me that this field is expecting you to be in a state of mind to work 24/7.

        1. Letter Writer*

          I really like the results of my work in this niche, but I’d absolutely be willing to switch — and after these few months, likely will in the future.

          1. Manders*

            Yeah, I think a different niche might be a better choice for you. I know people in digital marketing who regularly go on vacations, go camping, and participate in hobbies that keep them away from electronics for 2-4 hours at a time. I’m actually alone in the office today because my boss is on his honeymoon; I think he’s currently scuba diving. Maybe I lucked out by getting into a field that rarely has the kind of emergencies only one person can fix, but this is definitely not the norm across the board.

        2. DataQueen*

          I think it depends on the niche market that she markets for – my search words change with the news cycle, so my digital agency works crazy hours trying to do SEO, get my ads up, work with international markets, etc. during emergency periods, which happen once a quarter or so but last weeks on end. The rest of the time, I might not hear from them for a week. But during that emergency, everything changes constantly.

      2. Fleeb*

        I’m trying to understand what kind of advertising emergencies would require employees to be on call 24/7. Thinking globally (which I understand is outside of the scope of this blog), I don’t think it’s very good practice. My practical advise would also be for you to find a different field.

        1. DataQueen*

          Just as an example, think about the recent hurricanes and how much advertising needed to be done there: NGOs need to set up ads to get donations, cities need to send out press releases on their emergency plans, FEMA needs to get their information out there, AirBnB is advertising their housing subsidations. Wal-Mart is showing commercials saying they support the Red Cross. The telethon needed to buy network time and advertising in prep for air. And social media is digital advertising too – so many companies use agencies for social media management, and imagine how many negative comments about the hurricanes vs. the political climate need to be addressed, how many people are reaching out to nonprofits via social media to help with their evacuation that need to be replied to. It all depends on the client, the industry, and the situation.

        2. K, Esq.*

          I remember during the Superbowl a few years ago there was a blackout. Later that night Oreo put out a fantastic ad saying you can still dunk in the dark.

  15. Sassy AE*

    I’m in agency PR, and yeah there’s some push-pull with billable hours. But honestly it depends on where you work. My agency is luckily really understanding about “off means off.” I was able to confidently take a week-long vacation and remain totally unplugged.

    So, yes, sometimes I work 10-hours a day. And yes, sometimes I have to work a little on the weekends. But, I’m also able to work home sometimes so I can take care of errands. And no one watches the clock on me so I’m free to go out and go to the bank or something. My boss is able to leave right at 5 p.m. every day to pick up her kid. My coworker can leave at 4:00 p.m. Mondays in the summer to play soccer. As long as your work gets done at the end of the day, it’s all good.

    And just because this is usual for my field doesn’t mean it’s locked-in. I met a recent contact who does marketing for a city chamber. She has a very strict 9 to 5 due to her 4-year old. Same exact field, but she just doesn’t answer emails on the weekend.

  16. edj3*

    I also wondered if your particular field has seasonal peaks for how the work comes in.

    My current company has several peak times a year, and the timing depending on what your job supports in the industry. I just switched roles in June, and our peak time is August through January. My previous role here, the peak times were April through December. There’s another big chunk of our business that has the peak times December through the end of April.

    Not saying the OP’s job is seasonal at all; but if it is, those extra hours may lessen (or grow) depending on the time of the year.

  17. The IT Manager*

    I’m torn. I thought from the title the LW might be being unreasonable. Her letter did not sound unreasonable, but am hour late twice a week doesn’t sound terrible.

    If it’s not for you, LW, you should start looking now since finding the right job can take a while. You know that you don’t like the work outside normal hours and that’s part of your businesses culture. I don’t think you have anything to talk to your boss about. Even if he consciously did a bait and switch on you, you can’t expect your workload to be reduced. While you may enjoy the work, you need to watch out for burnout hitting you and making finding a new job and continuing to do well at your current job hard.

    I work a 40 hour week and I struggle with work-life balance when it’s an active life. It’s one thing if on most evenings I’d choose to stay in and chill, but if I schedule activities for 2-3 night a week, my house gets messy and I get worn out. And I don’t want my socializing and activities to only occur on the weekends. That doesn’t even count time to work out which I should definitely do more of.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Hi, IT Manager. I was also worried after submitting my letter that I might have been being unreasonable, too. So I’m glad to see your response, as well as Alison’s. I’m sorry to hear about your struggles with work-life balance and I hope things improve for you, too!

      1. nonegiven*

        Didn’t sound like it was just not liking the work outside normal hours. It sounded more like not ever really being off.

    2. AG*

      I have the active life and messy house thing going on, too. I haven’t vacuumed in a month and now the carpet is looking matted an cheap. But I keep reminding myself that I am the one who chooses whether to have an active life, a tidy home, the luxury of 7 hours of sleep to keep my mental health in check, or more than one hobby. I just try to remember not to stress myself out by wasting time being upset that I “shouldn’t” have to make those choices. The reality is, I can’t have it all, but I do have the power to choose which of them I want. IDK, hope that helps.

  18. LSP*

    OP, it sounds like you want a Monday thru Friday 9-5 job, with little to no overtime. Those are hard to come by in a lot of fields.

    I’ve spent the majority of my career so far in state government, where , in most of my positions, I was simply not allowed to work one minute over 40 hours a week. I now work for a federal contractor, where 50 hour weeks are often standard for people. My firm gives me a lot of flexibility in terms of scheduling around doctor appointments, my kid, etc., but it’s expected that I extend that flexibility back to them as needed, which means I occasionally work late, or do a little work on weekends, etc. I regularly work through lunch, making my workdays 8.5 hours.

    I agree with Allison that some of what you’ve described is just normal for many professional fields, but I am not a fan of them expecting you to be available 24/7, even on the weekends (with the exception, of course, of a known deadline that needed someone to be available).

    I’d suggest looking at different fields that might be tangentially-related to yours and where your skill set would be a bonus. You’re early enough in your career that it’s perfectly ok to tell a potential employer that you are still figuring out what you want in a job and that a work-life balance is important to you.

    Good luck! I’d love to hear an update from you when you’ve settled on your next step.

  19. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    It would be helpful, also, to know OP’s field if OP is willing to share it. What they’re describing does not sound unreasonable to me, but that’s because I’m in a field where it’s expected that you’ll be accessible to clients almost all the time. But even when I was in nonprofit services, I routinely worked 10ish hours/day and occasional half-days on weekends, for an average load of 50-60 hours/week. If the industry norm is 24/7 availability, then OP’s schedule sounds extremely generous, which might be why coworkers are laughing at questions seeking work-life balance. It may be too many hours for OP, but if it’s much less than the field as a whole, then I can see why folks might be surprised that OP is feeling worn down.

    An extra hour twice a week in almost any field? Waiting for client approval over the weekend? Calls on holidays (which may be holidays that clients and others are working)? Those don’t sound inherently egregious to me. The stern talking-to might be unreasonable, depending on company expectations.

    It may be helpful for OP to create methods to manage how to respond to those situations, but it mostly sounds like a shift to a different industry or a different kind of work within OP’s broader field might be better for their long-term needs. This is what I did when I transitioned out of litigation, and although I still work a lot, I have a lot more control of my life and schedule.

    1. a Gen X manager*

      Great points, Princess (as usual!). In reading the post and the Comments, it does feel like knowing the industry would really enhance our perspective, the conversation, and suggestions.

    2. H.C.*

      From other comments, it seems the Letter Writer is a copywriter in digital marketing/advertising agency; so yeah, I can see a lot of sudden last minute content adjustments before pushing the ad live. But even considering that, the 24/7 on-call seems a bit extreme, unless they have clients who a) constantly late on their end of things, such as approvals/reviews, forcing the agency to do a lot of sprints & stops and/or b) have unrealistic deadline expectations, which the agency may not want to push back on much because $$$.

  20. MommyMD*

    Staying late one hour twice weekly is nothing imo and happens in many jobs. This is definitely not 24:7. If you are in advertising or the like, you are going to be hard pressed to find a position where this is not the norm.

    The movie thing would bug me though.

  21. Cait*

    When you are in a salaried position, there is no really set “done” time. There are norms and typical work hours but staying late an hour is not really a big deal in most offices. If you begin to look elsewhere, be prepared to experience this again.

    It might be helpful to talk to others in your field to align your expectations on what professional work time commitments include. For example, if you’re in the middle of a critical time or project, being accessible on the weekends is a must. Just because you leave the office on Friday afternoon doesn’t mean the critical nature of the work ends.

    For your job, maybe this is once in awhile or maybe it is almost every week. In an agency environment, this is pretty typical and maybe it is not the right fit for you. Other jobs will require this of you, unless you work somewhere you literally clock in and out.

  22. Helpful*

    A lot of this is personal preference. OP, you’re learning more about yourself and what you want in a job. It looks like you want a stricter 9-5 with no one bothering you on days off, which is perfectly valid. But are you in a field where that simply doesn’t exist? You may need to look into other fields. Think carefully before you leap– you like the work you do; are you willing to do work you may like less in order to get this balance? Doing a little self-examination now may help you find an industry with more balance and work you still enjoy. Best of luck.

    1. SansaStark*

      I was thinking this same thing. I left a field that was very similar to what OP is describing – constantly on-call. People in my field brought their laptops to funerals and weddings just in case. We weren’t doing a job like emergency responding or anything critical like that, but we were expected to be reachable by our clients 24/7. While I don’t mind the occasional late night or weekend work, I could not stay in a field where I could never really disconnect even though I loved the field.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Thanks for these replies! Sansa, I’m feeling similarly to you about my position. It sounds like you ended up leaving your job — did you find something better?

        1. SansaStark*

          After burning out pretty hard, I took a big pay cut to an admin position in an adjacent field where everything was much more sane. I repeatedly questioned in my interviews not just about work-life balance (because employers often mis-represent that either knowingly or not), but about what the expectation was about working nights, weekends, and “emergencies”, how often people take vacations/sick time, and what a typical week looked like. My low-level ‘recovery’ job turned out to be great and I’ve now been in this field for about 4 years. It took me a decade to learn what mattered to me in a job through mostly trial and error.

          Also, I know that “stick it out for one year” thing is real, but…you’re going to be answering that same “why’d you leave so early” question in an interview whether you stay for 6 months or 13. The one year-mark isn’t a magic number, so don’t feel like you need to be miserable just to get to your one year anniversary.

    2. Portia*

      It also sounds like the LW might be okay with a schedule that’s not just 9-5, as long as she can truly unplug from work sometimes. I’m a teacher, which is definitely not a 9-5, but for the most part I’m the one who decides when I work outside of school hours. So it’s my choice if I want to stay up late grading, or do it on Saturday morning, or whatever. That’s the key part to me — I would hate feeling like I couldn’t schedule my own free time.

  23. Jesmlet*

    Being a salaried worker and putting in 2 extra hours a week and occasional weekends is in no way out of the ordinary. Alison’s right that the stern conversation is an issue, but I’m curious what that conversation consisted of. Were you told to never be out of touch on the weekends or something else? What was the change your boss was suggesting?

    Ultimately though, this just might not be the right field or type of work for you… and that’s okay! No one expects someone to stay in their first job out of college for years. Hopefully this has allowed you to better understand what’s the right path for you and you can find another job that’s better suited to all that.

    1. Snark*

      The “you must be on call to begin working on a moment’s notice and at any time, including weekends and holidays” is a little much, though.

      1. Jesmlet*

        Eh, depends on your field. My comment above explains my working situation and I really don’t find it unreasonable. All it really means is I pay attention to work emails and deal with things in the rare case that it can’t be put off till later. Doesn’t mean I can’t still live my life outside of work. That’s just what my field/job requires.

        1. Snark*

          But in context, OP has to lug around a laptop and basically be ready to produce web content at a moment’s notice, not just answer a phone and pay attention to emails, and they get chewed on if they take an hour off.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Being a salaried worker and putting in 2 extra hours a week and occasional weekends is in no way out of the ordinary.

      It is at my employer, though. I work an hour or two past my usual start time maybe once a year, if that. I’ve had times when I’ve worked evenings for a few weeks in a row, but I volunteered for that business development project, and knew that it would be of limited scope, and was a good way to help out my employer and my career. (And my yearly bonus.)

      I think the key here is that this is not unusual for the OP’s industry, but still at best the employer was way off base in setting expectations. And I totally agree that the OP should consider another industry, or if it appeals to them, look for a support job like HR or payroll at their current employer. Those overhead/support jobs tend to have more predictable hours.

      1. fposte*

        Working more than 40 hours a week is still the norm for exempt employees, though. “Out of the norm” doesn’t mean that nobody does it. It’s true that if that’s what’s important to the OP she might want to deliberately make finding a workplace with a hard-40 limit part of her goal, but it sounds like the path that interests her might not get her there.

      2. Regina 2*

        What industry are you in? I’m one of those people who would change a career for a true 40 hour week. (Honestly, I’d not work at all if I could, but my need for rent/healthcare/food outweighs my abiding ambivalence towards work/career.)

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I manage websites for a branch of the Federal government. If you want to email me at thecosmicavenger23 at gmail dot com I’ll provide more info.

  24. Philly Redhead*

    This sounds like pretty typical — even light — agency work. I’ve had one agency experience, and that was more than enough to make me steer clear of agencies. I was a contractor, and it should have been a red-flag that they brought me in without an interview, without a graphic design skills test, NOTHING (all things that were standard with other contracts the agency had placed me in). Was told the hours were 9 to 6. In reality, it was “come in early, stay until 9 p.m. 4 to 5 nights a week, come in on weekends, and get the stink eye if you take 30 minutes for lunch.”

  25. Specialk9*

    OP, some of this is your expectations are a bit off, and some of it is Run Away territory. Staying an hour late twice a week is normal if you’re salaried. You can push back if you have daycare or school pickup, but you would need to give somewhere else. That’s just how it goes when you’re a professional salaried person.

    Where we get into Run Away territory is never having time off, even agreed-upon time off, because you’re de facto always on call. That’s terrible, and will lead to utter burnout. So yeah, keep looking, but with adjusted expectations.

    Another thing to be aware of is that as you become more skilled and senior, you’ll be valued more, and a reasonable company (not this one) will often work with you on schedules. I am pretty senior by now, and have lived through some harrowing work times, and so have pursued the best and hardest certs in my industry. (Frankly, they’re kinda ridiculous… But they make me someone people don’t want to lose. So I roll my eyes at myself – and work hard to keep them current.)

    I usually don’t stay past standard hours, but I check my email on the phone and if it’s important I’ll take the time to respond well, even at night. I’m also still monitoring email/responding to important issues on sick leave unless I’m literally laid out in bed. I try not to read work emails on vacation, and actually no newspapers either, because neither are relaxing, and nobody expects to hear from me if I have an Out Of Office message up. If that helps level set expectations?

    1. gmg*

      I just wanted to say thanks for this thoughtful and sympathetic take on it. I really felt that some of these comments are cherrypicking stuff the LW told us just so they could scold her and make her feel like a dumb kid. And that bummed me out, because even in a gig where you need to be on call sometimes, if you are at the entry level I just do not understand an expectation that “on call” means “24/7/365 for as long as you are in this position.” That load should be shared. LW is not the CEO. (And even if she were, in a well-functioning company only major disasters should involve waking up the CEO at 3 am, because anything below that gets handled by someone else who is, you know, SHARING THE LOAD.)

      1. Regina 2*

        I’m 11 years in the workforce and completely empathize with the LW. I HATE the notion of being on call on weeknights and weekends. The psychic toll it has taken on me, plus the destruction of my health, is not insignificant.

        I think everyone writing to say, “Just find another job,” is not being realistic. To find a job where you can only have a 40 hour work week in this day and age, in the US, is the exception, not the rule. So many employers lie or misrepresent themselves anyway. You will only get a job like that through dumb luck. I always assume about 45-50 hours is required these days, and I’m screening for 50+ hour workaholic offices at this point. To get to 40 hours would be a dream.

      2. Letter Writer*

        Thanks for your reply! I think from the variety of replies, I’m mostly learning that there are a variety of approaches and expectations when it comes to these issues. But honestly, they’re all valuable and they’re all helping me move forward, so don’t feel too bad for me. :)

    2. Letter Writer*

      Thank you for this! I can ask for real time off, where no one can contact me — I did it just last week for a funeral, and no one contacted me. (That being said, there were also no unforeseen client needs, so who knows what could have happened!) But that strict no-contact isn’t how weekends work — people will easily ask for work that could be done during the week on weekends.

      But thank you for your advice on setting expectations for the future! This reply will definitely help me formulate future interview questions. I appreciate it!

  26. AG*

    Yeah, unfortunately this is just the way the world works. Just gotta change your priorities. When I complained about work interfering with personal time, I was told that >40 hrs/wk is expected. So we just have to adjust our expectations. This is what it takes to survive, and home life wouldn’t even exist without work, so work has to be the #1 priority.

    1. Starbuck*

      This is definitely not the way the whole world works! This kind of schedule is unique to certain fields and job types. It’s not some kind of universal standard. OP might need to change fields or get a different type of job to have the kind of schedule they prefer, but it’s definitely attainable.

      Work is not, and never will be, my #1 priority in life. I say this even having chosen a field and job that was a “following my dreams” type of gig, where the work I do is very important to me on a personal level.

    2. Regina 2*

      That’s unfortunate. What is in my life, my ACTUAL life is the #1 priority?

      Some land of opportunity and choice we live in.

  27. A person*

    The problem is the 24/7 on call and getting chewed out for not being available for an hour. Why on earth would anyone want to normalize that?

    These “agencies” need to get over themselves and stop burning out their entry level employees to save a few bucks. My husband literally saves lives and even in his field no one is expected to be on call 24/7. They take turns being on call and are paid accordingly. I’d love to know what this “agency” is doing that is more critical than that.

    1. Manders*

      Yeah, I definitely couldn’t hack it in a field like this, and I don’t think I could handle dating someone with this schedule either. Not to be crass, but the adult activities I enjoy with a partner aren’t really compatible with constant email-checking. And how do you handle stuff like plane flights or power outages, when you might not have internet access for reasons you can’t control?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think you’re picturing it as more rigid than it is. If you’re going to be a plane during a time when your sense of how your work is flowing is that people might be trying to reach you then, then you tell people “I’m going to be on a plane most of today and unreachable but I’ll check messages when I land around 5:00.” If there’s a power outage and your sense is that people might really need to reach you, you text someone or, if that’s impossible, you explain afterwards.

        1. Hc600*

          Plane trips are easier to explain than orgies/group play as Manders seems to be alluding to as they’re not very welcoming to smart phone use.

          I find that being unresponsive from 10 pm on on a Saturday can be explained as having fallen asleep early though, ymmv.

            1. Chinook*

              “I just meant regular sex, but sure, pulling out a laptop at an orgy would be pretty weird too.”

              There is lies the difference between dating and marriage/long term relationships – you wouldn’t think about interrupting during a date where you are still in the “trying to impress” mode but, with marriage, you realize that sometimes things happen and, if you have the right partner, they won’t resent the interruptions because they realize it is part of who you are. Plus, if there are financial benefits to these interruptions, they also are more likely to benefit as well. Ex: DH’s constant interruptions turned into OT which then paid for our trip to Disney (and his phone stayed home). Definitely worth a missed anniversary dinner.

              1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

                I actually did have a date / sex partner leave mid hanging-out because he was a police officer, there’d been a murder in his area, and his sergeant called him in. That was fair enough.

        2. The Vulture*

          I feel like it’s prettty rigid to have to explain to your workplace every.single.time you want to do something that might put you out of service area during your weekends and after-work time. I know you’re relying on your “sense of flow” to tell you when that might be but 1. a person new to this industry may not have a good sense of when that will be and 2. it may be an industry where things/clients are genuinely unpredictable and there is no sense of flow.

          I’m sensing this is more stressful than genuinely overwhelming work-time-wise. If I had to think, “Should I contact my boss about watching a movie for the next two hours?” yeah, I think I’d be less likely to watch the movie (someone invites me to a movie, and my first thought is “gosh, do I REALLY want to contact my boss about the fact that I’m thinking of seeing the Lego Movie in theatres?”), and it would make me feel boring, worn out, and over-policed. The amount of things I can think of doing where I wouldn’t be able to see and respond to a work thing within an hour is not a small number of things.

          “I’ll be going to a drive-in movie somewhere far away from 7:30 to 10:00. I’ll be able to check afterwards at 10 but I’ll be driving home from 10 to 11.” “I have a tennis match at 10am and the match ends when the match ends, usually by 1 pm” “I’m planning on going to quizzo at the local pub and they are SERIOUS about their no-phone rule” “I’m going to dinner with a good friend I don’t see often at a nice restaurant at 7pm, I don’t know when it’ll end.” “I want to take my dog to this park, that doesn’t have service, or on a long hike where I don’t want to bring my laptop, and I may have to hike back several miles before I can get back to my laptop” “I’m going to take a nap for an undetermined amount of time and I’m a heavy sleeper”

          This is an accounting of my day that I would chafe at giving to my significant other I live with who I have a reasonable expectation of coordinating our weekends together.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’ve had a bunch of jobs where stuff could come up at any time and I’ve never felt like I needed to tell people I was going to see a movie or would be at a bar (nor seen anyone else do that, except in weird cases). Again, I think people who haven’t worked in these jobs are picturing it as much, much more rigid than it really is.

            1. KellyK*

              So, in those kinds of jobs, what was the usual expected response time? I know that might be hard to answer because it’s not always explicit in those terms. But, for example, if you went to a movie, did you need to have your phone on vibrate just in case, or could you check it in the lobby and be fine?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It depends on what’s happening. Duck out to see a movie knowing that something big could be going down that weekend? Leave your phone on vibrate. More of a normal day? Check it when the movie’s over.

          2. Doreen*

            In my experience, it’s really not like you’re imagining. If the situation truly requires a response within an hour or two and I can’t be reached, one of the twenty or so Second Best People to Deal With It will be called . The only times I’ve notified anyone in advance that I would be unavailable were the weekend my daughter got married and a week I spent on a cruise.

    2. Jesmlet*

      I think it also depends on how often you actually have to work while on call. If you’re on call and nothing happens most days, there’s no reason to be paid for that as a salaried employee. But if you’re on call and something happens literally every weekend, that’s a totally different situation.

      The field I’m in cares for the elderly – i.e preventing people from dying. If someone calls out of work last minute, I need to be “on-call” to replace them, but because the people we hire are reliable, this only happens once or twice a year.

    3. Emma*

      I get the vibe that part of OP’s issue is adjusting to the workplace… but I feel like it’s rarely ever the work and more the management at the workplace when it comes to this 24/7 on-call stuff in industries that really have no good reason for it. I have a boss that fails to see the big picture on most small issues, freaks out in the moment, and then can’t remember why she was so concerned the next day. We all know this about her and work around it, but if you’re new and get swept up in the drama I can see where you could come away thinking that everything is VERY serious and urgent and instead of pushing back on a weekend text you might jump to fix the issue.

  28. Dulf*

    Letter Writer – This does sound better than average for your field and other commenters here are almost certainly correct in saying that this is normal for many fields and the working hours (if not the attitude toward being always on call) are not that objectionable. That said, just because it is common and normative in your field or even in US working culture doesn’t mean it is something you necessarily have to accept as a matter of course. It is a legitimate thing to want a job with a different conception of availability and those jobs, while not plentiful, are certainly available.

  29. TotesMaGoats*

    LW-I feel you. Way back in the day at one of my first jobs, I got my first blackberry. You didn’t have email on your phone back then. Disconnecting was easy. I honestly can’t even remember if you could log in remotely. Anyway. So, first blackberry and much higher responsibility and manager of several physical locations meant I lived by that red light. I was quickly wearing down because I thought I had to respond immediately and panicked when I couldn’t. The stress of the first 6 months of that job wore down my immune system so much I ended up in the hospital with a horrible virus. Evidently, living through that meant I earned the right to not respond instantly to emails. My boss even made me leave it at home for vacation. Now, this place was totally unhealthy but I understand feeling like you can’t ever do or plan anything.

    I think talking to your boss can help. Now, if it’s a messy, toxic place then probably not but knowing for sure your responsibilities might help. Now, I don’t respond to email on the weekend unless it’s an emergency. I look at it but don’t respond. It helps.

  30. Althea*

    I don’t know if this also affects OP’s mindset, but I recall coming out of college and into 8-5 office jobs and feeling the difference in schedule expectations was pretty extreme. In school your schedule changes every few months, actual class time is rather low, and you have a lot of flexibility around classes to arrange your life, and you have many breaks. The set schedule of 8-5 can seem rigid and unchanging with just the 2 weeks or so of vacation. I seem to recall that it took a while to adjust to that rigidity and sameness.

  31. Hc600*

    I’m in biglaw so that definitely warps my perception of what is normal, but some tips for op:

    – keep your phone on vibrate at the movies etc. and if you get an email, step out, send a quick “will do” and then go back to your movie IF it’s not super time sensitive. Sometimes people email you because they happen to be working then, not because they need an immediate answer.

    – make plans and bail if needed

    – do what you can to make the rest of your life easier (i.e. Amazon fresh, hire a cleaner once a month)

    1. Dulf*

      I think tip 3 can only (and doesn’t always, because of things like student loans etc.) apply in cases where everyone understands (explicitly or implicitly) that salaries are higher because employees are expected to work longer and/or harder. For less specialized careers, it’s a lot to say that an employee should be using his or her salary to pay for conveniences because work should take priority over all else.

      1. AG*

        It’s not that an employee “should” use their salary for conveniences like a housecleaning service and grocery delivery, but it might make their other lifestyle choices (hobbies, movies, etc.) easier to manage.

        1. TootsNYC*

          or harder, if they have less money.

          That said, there ARE ways to come up with a semblance of that, that won’t cost money.
          Maybe you find a partner, and you clean one another’s homes in team fashion every other week. You concertedly and fiercely plan when you’re going to clean, and make decisions that make it go faster.

          Maybe you spend a little time to work out menus that are easy to shop for in a single trip, and you bulk-cook or something, to maximize the benefit of the time you do have for shopping and cooking.

          The biggest thing is to identify where you’d get the most benefit from a “service” like that, and then you put some actual energy and intelligence into planning a DIY approach to getting that “service.”

  32. Ramblin' Ma'am*

    This is the type of letter that makes me feel REALLY happy about my industry and company (even though there are plenty of things I dislike about my job). I’m salaried non-exempt and get paid overtime for anything above 35 hours. While sometimes OT is necessary because of workflow, I can decide how it’s scheduled. Maybe I want to get to the office an hour early. Maybe I want to stay late. Maybe I’ll work a few hours on a Saturday…etc. And even at our absolute busiest, I don’t think I’ve ever worked more than 45 hours a week.

    Sorry, OP. I don’t think there’s any shame in saying, “Nah, this kind of schedule isn’t for me.” I think it’s better to find out now rather than later in your career.

    1. SansaStark*

      I could not agree more. It’s tough learning where you personally stand on how much you’re willing to give to an employer. Took me the better part of a decade. Turns out, I’d rather have time and flexibility over money, but I had to be in that situation before I learned it. Also, yeah, I love being salaried non-exempt.

  33. NK*

    If you don’t like the constant on-call nature of work, I’d consider working in an industry that isn’t external client-based. Agencies in particular are notorious for their “drop everything for the client” mindset, so that is unlikely to change. The good news is, other companies love agency experience, so you can consider it a “boot camp” of sorts. If you think of it that way and can power through two years, you’ll likely make yourself very marketable for future roles.

  34. Granny K*

    I worked a contract for an ad agency during the last recession. It was an 1.5 hour commute one way, and I wasn’t allowed to telecommute at ALL because of the companies nondisclosure policies, so I was working an 80 hour week in 5 days. I kind of looked at the whole thing as ‘summer school’ (learning a whole bunch in a fast paced environment in a short period of time). I was only there for a few months but I learned a lot about what goes on in ad agencies, and how I could leverage that information when hiring them while working in a corporation. Plus I made an insane amount of overtime on a great hourly rate. Personally, I think most agencies are like this. If you need a job that has more of a reliable work rhythm to it, I’d suggest trying a marketing team in an established corporation. You might also try re-framing this as a year in the life while looking for other opportunities.

  35. Amme*

    How do you ask about this stuff in an interview? I currently work at a place that has a very long blackout period for vacation, has long hours during that time and is understaffed so that if someone goes on vacation the rest of the year, you may be working a lot more. I’d like to find out how other companies handle these things, without it sounding like I am lazy and don’t want to work. I have no problem staying late 2 nights a week or dealing with a client emergency over the weekend, or working very late during an emergency situation, I just want to know what their contingency plans are for when others are out, or if I can take time off in December.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      There are a couple of strategies you can take:

      1. Gush about the place you currently work but make it clear that one of the main reasons you’re looking for a job is the extended blackout periods for vacation, and then ask what the ebb and flow of the seasons is like at the new place.

      2. Just be direct and say “I don’t mind working hard when I’m working, but—like everyone—I need breaks to recharge. What is the work-life balance like here? What do you do to make sure your employees have a chance to feel fully ready for the busy times?”

    2. SansaStark*

      I’ve found that people often have different opinions on what constitutes a good work-life balance so it’s particularly helpful to determine what you’re looking for. I think you have a great question within your question – what contingency plans does the employer have in place when others are out and how often others are out. It’s pretty telling if no one is *ever* out.

  36. Mad Woman*

    Fellow advertising/marketing person here.
    I would try to find a smaller agency or at least one not owned by any of the holding companies. Smaller/independent usually means less “work you to the bone as a junior” attitude. I started my ad career at an agency like that and while there were a few late nights, I was always very appreciated for it, not treated like it was part of the job.

  37. Airedale*

    OP, if you want a solid 9-5, there’s no shame in that. I switched to one and am so much happier. I wish you luck in finding the best fit for you.

  38. Anonymous Educator*

    If you do leave for another job, maybe get one that’s non-exempt? At least that way you’ll get paid extra for overtime.

  39. TootsNYC*

    I sometimes like to compare our modern jobs with the “jobs” that existed back in an agrarian economy.

    Cattle go into labor on the weekend or the middle of the night. There’s sometimes the ability to predict–and sometimes not.

    Hail or a freeze can come without much warning, and suddenly you’re scrambling to harvest what you can.

    Roving bandits can be spotted in the distance without warning, and now you’re prepping defenses in a hurry.

    And entire field can be ripe and ready to pick–and you can’t put it off.

    I’m not saying we need that same mindset, and I’m all for not letting people treat you badly or take advantage of you.

    I’ve been at a place where people were having to suddenly work late, etc., and I was the push that got assigned coverage, assigned “on call,” assigned “off call,” and a clearer prediction of what disasters might be coming, so we could -identify-.
    Our OP is a newbie, so she might not have the standing to push for that sort of stuff, but it would be a good exercise for her to observe workflow and “disasters” with an eye toward alternate scheduling, advance intel, etc.
    And who knows–maybe she can say, “This is the weekend I don’t want to be on call–Boss, can I make arrangements with a colleague to swap off weekend coverage?”

    1. Letter Writer*

      This is a really unique way to think about this. I think the ultimate changes — trading on-calls, working to decrease our overall out-of-work hours — are an ideal solution for me. But like you said, I’m a newbie, so that might not be possible yet. We’ll see. Thanks for your reply!

    2. gmg*

      Those jobs still exist. And yes, farm hours are crazy (you gotta milk the cows every 12 hours — that means 4 am and 4 pm — or get someone else to do it if you can’t). But the overall pace of agrarian life was and is FAR slower than what we have done to ourselves in the office-work world.

  40. Greeny*

    There seems to be a real culture of martyrdom around work, and I’ve never understood it. I’m thankful that my field is starting to pull away from that and focus on the benefits of work/life balance. I can’t imagine the constant anxiety that must come with having to constantly check on work matters to the extent that you can’t enjoy a movie on a weekend without being chewed out.

    For those of you who work in similar environments to OP, what is your line of work? In my mind, the “not allowed to see a movie without checking your phone” should apply to ER physicians on call, where the situation is life or death. But for approval on a change/document or client request on a weekend? No one is going to die. I would just like more insight into why this is such a common mindset in many fields. I’ve been in non-profit for 10 years or so and have not yet encountered it, and it sounds very consuming.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I gave some examples above that aren’t life or death and I’ll just repeat them here so I don’t have to think up more: Your client is being arrested. Or there’s a really major breaking news story about your candidate on a political campaign. Not life or death, but if you don’t deal with them, you’re not doing your job in a devastatingly major way.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      But for approval on a change/document or client request on a weekend? No one is going to die.

      If you lose a high-paying client, it may be the “death” of your business.

      1. sam*

        But even this – most people wouldn’t think of digital advertising as something with critical emergencies, but think of all of the pre-arranged social media campaigns that have gotten into trouble because of, say, suddenly appearing current events that then make the campaign look insensitive or worse. You’d need someone to respond right away to a client calling to pull/change the ads.

        Again, certainly not life or death, but the downstream effects could be pretty devastating to a business.

      2. MillersSpring*

        If an agency loses a significant client, it might lay off people and you find yourself out of a job.

        And seriously, Alison’s examples are spot-on. All of these commenters who say “But it’s not life or death” really have no idea of the kind of critical situations that come up for people in marketing/PR. I’ve had to put out media advisories because a storm caused a wireless outage. Or the website could go down. Or the building could catch fire. Or a product could be recalled. Or you could get a social media complaint from a celebrity. Or a customer video could go viral. Or the client could be asked by their CEO to put together an urgent presentation for Monday morning for any number of reasons.

      3. Susanne*

        Exactly. “There’s been a shooting reported at one of your restaurants.” “There’s been a fire that shut down your airline’s command center so the reservations people have no access and no one can check in for their flights.” “The president just tweeted something attacking your client’s business.” “There’s a report that there was a dead snake found in a mattress your company sells.” “The client received word from the legal department that they can’t use that tagline, and the commercial was already sent to the networks to start airing tonight.” “The MRI machine that your company services is on the fritz and so now the hospital can’t clear people for surgery.” You’re darn right your PR people / your insurance company / your IT company / your digital agency / your ad agency had better jump, and NOW. And it doesn’t matter one bit if they are at the movies or intended on taking the dog for a walk.

    3. jobby job anony*

      If you work as staff of a legislative body (city council, state legislature, Congress) or for an organization that advocates to/tries to influence said body (nonprofit advocacy org, trade association, government affairs/lobbying consultancy), when there are bills moving that impact your clients or your organization’s priorities you need to be available to do the work at night or on the weekend if that’s when the voting or negotiating or public statement-making is happening.

      The primary trade-offs in this line of work are that legislative bodies usually have long stretches when they are not in session, so you will have planned periods where the work is very slow; and the feeling that the work is exciting/important/impactful which balances out the hours and randomness. With practice, you can make it work. If you are clear with the people in your life about your constraints and if you commit to being fully present with others (and, I guess, yourself!) when you are able to be, you can create a feeling of normalcy for yourself even if it’s not normalcy of the 9-5 M-F kind.

    4. Amme*

      I work in the fundraising arena and even here, there are emergencies that must be dealt with. Hurricane hits on Saturday? You’d better be coordinating with the copywriters to get a fundraising appeal out right away if your org does that sort of relief work, or you risk losing the funds to orgs that are faster.

  41. Mine Own Telemachus*

    This really sounds to me like it was a miscommunication/lack of clarification in the interview process, which is something that can come around with experience. “Our work is less demanding than others in our field” is a different statement than “we’ll ensure that you’re off work by 5 each day.” So asking further probing questions about what is considered “normal” and what happens with emergency situations that arise over the weekend (eg, client approval/rush designs, etc) will yield more of the kind of answer you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to probe!

    I’ll use my current job as an example of how this works. I’m a freelance writer on the side, and I also write books. This isn’t lucrative enough to be a full time job (I’ve tried and failed miserably because it does become a 24/7 job then), but I still like to do it. So I was very forthright in my interviews for my current position, stating that because I have these other projects I work on, I need to be able to ensure that I will be regularly out of the office at 5, and that my weekends are mine to do what I want. I basically explained that I really like the work, I’m interested in it, but I’m also not interested in having work become my entire life. And they said, “Sure, that sounds totally reasonable.” And my boss actually brought it up in my 6 month review, wanting to make sure that they were fulfilling their end of that bargain and that I felt like I had a good balance (I do and told her so).

    Jobs that respect your time in the way you want them to do exist, but you will need to be fairly explicit about that in the interview process. Remember that you need to gather data on them as well as having them gather data on you, and “You’ll be on call on the weekends” is very important data.

  42. Rich*

    Work-life balance is a very troubling idea, in my experience. It tends to imply that there’s some natural point at which the two will be in harmony.

    There is no balance. There are choices. Some people choose to (and thrive in) high-demand roles where they work long hours, are always on call, have difficulty predicting their schedules, and measure time off in hours not days. Some people need less demand, more predictability, less on-call time. Live to work vs work to live. That’s OK. People are different.

    But each job can be perfectly in balance if that’s the choice you’re making about the conditions that are right for you.

    I’m not saying this is (or is not) the right role for you. I’m definitely not telling you to suck it up and deal with it, unless that’s what you want to do. I am suggesting that how you frame your needs and your frustrations with any job can affect your willingness to embrace the job, as well as your overall satisfaction with it.

    I don’t like jobs that are sustained high-demand high-pressure, but I’ve been in them. When I get frustrated by the intrusions into non-work time, but I know I can’t fix it in the near term, this sort of framing has been very helpful to me. I’m choosing to be in this role. I’m choosing to set my priorities toward my career rather than X or Y in my personal life. Because I’ve chosen these priorities, I have to manage these consequences (I need to be ready to communicate with work on short notice, I have to be willing to interrupt activities for this but not that, I want to do this 8 hour thing but if I have to give up 2 hours in the middle of it to handle something, that’ll be OK).

    Framing it as choices isn’t just a trick to help me accept it. It makes me a participant in the process rather than a victim of it. Also, by working through those choices, I’m able to set expectations — with myself, with my family — about what I can do, how present I can be, and how we deal with that.

    Ultimately, that last one is the part that will help you set your priorities, and actually MAKE these work-life choices rather than just be steamrolled by them.

    1. fposte*

      I really like this post, Rich. I think sometimes people do act as if there’s a perfect universal set-point for an acceptable amount of work for everybody, and there just isn’t.

    2. Former Hoosier*

      I think this is very well written and I agree. I have almost always had exempt jobs since graduating from college and have had varying responsibilities outside of traditional work hours. I have spent most of my career in healthcare but in management which means that while I rarely have to actually work on holidays as nurses or other healthcare professionals do, I often have to be available. It works for me. And the rewards I get from high pressure jobs (including significant job satisfaction, great co workers, and excellent pay) have made it worth it to me.

      It is inherently wrong to want to not have to stay after your usual work day but if you feel that way you do have to realize that some career paths and salaries are not going to be available to you.

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      Work-life balance is a very troubling idea, in my experience. It tends to imply that there’s some natural point at which the two will be in harmony.

      There is no balance. There are choices.

      I disagree. I’ve worked in high-intensity, demanding jobs where there was work-life balance and others in which there wasn’t. Teaching, for example, is an extremely demanding job for 9-10 months out of the year. But, even with all the demands, you can have a much better balance if your school supports you. A school that gives your personal cell phone number to parents and encourages them to contact you at any hour of the day, that has excessive meetings for things that can be easily conveyed in an email, that gives you 5 sections and 3 preps, and that doesn’t have a structure for coverage in the case of teacher absence; is a school that isn’t allowing you to have that balance.

      The “balance” part is “I do enough of my job to get the job done well, and I have enough non-work time/energy to actually live life.” There are ways to make even a demanding job allow for that balance.

      1. LBK*

        But the point is that you determine what balance means to you and how you achieve it. Some people wouldn’t find the situation you describe to be out of balance.

        1. Ann O.*

          I think we have to be really careful with the type of thinking that boils everything to personal fit. That’s how exploitation of workers gets rationalized and normalized. It’s also problematic on a societal level because societies need both work and families, which means societies need workers to be able to be part of families (even if specific individuals may not have those obligations).

    4. LBK*

      Framing it as choices isn’t just a trick to help me accept it. It makes me a participant in the process rather than a victim of it.

      I absolutely love this and I think it applies to so many tough work situations. All too often when there’s a major negative to a job, people say run for the hills ASAP without taking the time to genuinely weigh the pros and cons. I’m sure some people would flee my job with some of the BS I have to put up with from our clients (I almost did) but I have an unbelievably supportive management team and great coworkers and I’m consistently recognized and rewarded for my performance. I’m willing to smile and nod through someone being a total asshole to me sometimes in exchange for those benefits – I made a choice that that trade off is worth it to me.

    5. DataQueen*

      This is such a great framing of this. I’m copying it down to incorporate into a discussion with an employee I have who insists on taking lunch at 12 no matter what, and leaves me in the lurch very often, and then gets upset that I’m not giving her advancement opportunities. There are choices, and you’re entitled to them, but it’s going to effect the kind of work I’m giving you if i can’t rely on you to stay late and complete something urgent, or check your email at night.

      1. bumpjump*

        I’m curious, what about her wanting to take a regular lunch break is giving you misgivings about giving her advancement opportunities? I don’t mean to ask in an adversarial way; I’m genuinely curious because I’m in an entry-level engineering position where I have made it clear to my superiors that I’m leaving at my scheduled end of workday every day, but I make sure to finish all my work in a timely manner.

        In your opinion, does quality of work suffer when a person is firm about work boundaries?

    6. Stop That Goat*

      I use the same priority reasoning when I find myself complaining about not having enough time for something in my personal life. I do have the time but I just haven’t prioritized that particular task or event among everything else. This has the bonus of admonishing myself a bit for not making certain things a priority as well as feeling like it’s my decision instead of something out of my control.

    7. gmg*

      Some people choose to (and thrive in) high-demand roles where they work long hours, are always on call, have difficulty predicting their schedules, and measure time off in hours not days. Some people need less demand, more predictability, less on-call time. Live to work vs work to live. That’s OK. People are different.

      Except when the people who thrive on long hours and never wanting time off find their way into every industry and change expectations for the rest of us to demand that we all work ourselves to death regardless of whether we want to. No thanks.

    8. Gazebo Slayer*

      This perpective really ignores the fact that this is a societal problem, and not one that has to exist. The people who make the managing and hiring decisions COULD choose to spread out the worm among the millions of people who are unemployed or underemployed, but instead they hire as few people as possible and work them to the bone. Politicians COULD pass laws limiting work hours, changing the overtime threshold, and otherwise requiring a more sensible approach, but they don’t. Nothing about this situation is inevitable or acceptable.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t think Rich is arguing that this is inevitable—if anything, he’s helping OP develop a way to identify OP’s personal preferences and then to map those on OP’s job choices (to the extent that OP has flexibility and job choice). I think he’s identifying ways to deal with the system as it is right now without commenting on the broader policy concerns/issues that might engender more workaholic tendencies in certain positions/industries.

        Realistically, OP needs a plan for right now because they’re feeling frustrated and burned out. And it sounds like OP also needs a greater sense of power over their schedule/life, which they don’t feel like they have in this job. That doesn’t preclude also advocating for more sensible workplace policies or other systemic, long-term change.

    9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is a really excellent and wise contribution. Thanks so much, Rich, for sharing this framing with us (I totally intend to steal and deploy it).

    10. Letter Writer*

      This is a really interesting way to re-frame things, and I’m looking forward to reflecting on this more as I move forward. Thank you!

  43. Adlib*

    I’ve worked in various industries, and sometimes you get better at balancing a lot of work with life. For instance, I used to work in the HVAC industry which was a madhouse during the hot summer so I’d often work 2+ hours of OT every day, and I wasn’t even a dispatcher. I didn’t like when they required us to come in for 4 hours on Saturday once a month, but honestly, it gave me the freedom to get caught up which was a nice benefit I hadn’t realized at first.

    Sometimes it happens as a result of moving up the ladder. In another example, my husband used to be on call all the time and have to jump on his laptop (which he had to take everywhere) at a moment’s notice on his assigned weekend and sometimes in the middle of the night. He eventually moved up to where he’s on a different team, still has his on-call weekend every 5 or 6 weeks and rarely gets called.

    My current job is pretty steady of 8-4:30 or 5. I have a company-provided phone and am exempt so I take it upon myself to make sure I check email while off the clock if I can provide a timely answer to someone who may still be working. I consider that a responsibility as part of the benefit of being exempt. I also have no problem logging on after hours for global conference calls. I used to be super uptight about my schedule too, but I think once you get used to it and have more experience, it won’t feel like such a hassle.

    I also echo the other commenters who say that if you want something different though with a true disconnect after leaving for the day, you should do what is best for you!

  44. JD*

    One thing that strikes me is that LW has only been working these “crazy” hours for a few months. If this is really the first job out of school and LW is already upset with these hours it seems LW might have unrealistic expectations due to inexperience. I agree that 1 extra hour 2 days a week is nothing. You really shouldn’t expect to walk out the door at 5p.m. on the dot daily. I really don’t think most people do that at all unless they are hourly. The movie thing for sure is a bit nutty but perhaps it was a very important issue you were already told to be prepared for? A lot of work life balance is YOU making it balance. If you know you have a busy weekend doing work it is not unreasonable to say to your boss “hey I need to take a little bit of a longer lunch to run a quick errand since I will be tied up this weekend with X project”. Maybe I wouldn’t be asking for that a couple months in but most managers don’t have much problem with that. I often take half a day off to get some things done when my weekend is going to be taken up with work. Most managers know that people have lives. Now, no, this doesn’t really allow for a friends party or movie date but it is still reasonable.

    This company could truly have a bad balance but LW mentioned that this is actually much better than many in the industry so I think it may be unrealistic expectations for this industry.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Hi, thanks for this reply! I actually spend most of my in office time just trying to keep up with my work, so taking an afternoon off to run errands isn’t feasible for me right now. But hopefully that will change as I continue to get used to the new job, and I’ll definitely give it a shot if it seems more doable in the future!

      Unfortunately the movie thing wasn’t a predicted need, so I was under the impression that I was not needed by the client, and then was offline. I also think you’re right that I might have had unrealistic expectations for the industry, but it’s the very fact that my boss said that it would be better than others that I think got my expectations too high. Thanks again for the advice!

  45. TheBeetsMotel*

    To me, this is my idea of working hell. I’d never knowingly take a job where there was no clear time when I was completely and totally OFF and everyone respected that.

    But because that’s so important to me, I wouldn’t go into a field like IT or law. I just wouldn’t. If OPs education takes her into a narrow enough field that some degree of on-callism is expected, she may just need to find a company that provides the amount that is acceptable to her and make that work. If her education is broad enough to apply to many fields, it could be that transitioning to a field with more “9-5, Mon-Fri” working hours as standard would make her much happier.

  46. sam*

    and just as a side note, remember that the grass isn’t always greener. I had a friend from law school leave her law firm job for a supposedly more “family-friendly” job in academia – she went into a career development role at a law school that had set hours (and took a significant pay cut in the process).

    Then she discovered that those “set hours”, as defined by her particular boss in that job meant “completely inflexible hours”, so scheduling an appointment with her OB-GYN (she was pregnant at the time) became a nightmare. Whereas at the firm, she worked all the time, but precisely because you worked ALL the hours when you were at a firm, they tended to actually be a lot more flexible when you had to run out for an hour or two for medical appointments and whatnot.

  47. sap*

    OP, have you tried being proactive about telling people you work with when you have a concrete plan or a window when you will be unavailable? In my experience, even in industries where 9a-10p <10min email response speed is expected, if you have no reason to be aware of a probable issue that's going to require you to be responding in that timeframe 100% of the time, 1.5 hours of nonresponse for an event like a movie where you are supposed to turn off your phone is usually fine, and bosses that don't like it are usually *still fine with it* if you give them some sort of rundown on your weekend plans in advance on Friday when you talk to them about your projects (I've used "hey–is there anything urgent you foresee coming up this weekend that I should be aware of? I was planning to do [x thing that may increase my response time] but wanted to check in first.") It may be that OP needs to just… be proactive about letting people know when they're going to be unavailable. If the default expectation is constant connectivity, that can generally be changed for discrete windows as long as it's not every weekend and the windows are reasonable, given the number of issues you have to deal with in any given weekend.

    You say that you've stopped making concrete plans for fear of being asked to drop them for work. Again, as long as you're not doing this every week, it is totally fine to say to your boss on the way out "hey, my understanding is that the workload for x this week is not going to require a lot of weeknight work, and I have a friend with tickets to Biggest Show In The World. Am I good to say yes to that given what our workflow looks like?"

    In my experience, there are usually 4-5 people that your boss could ask to do so something, even something that needs to be done in the next hour, and you are being selected because absent other information you should be available. If you haven't been presenting Other Information, and as long as you're not doing it all the time such that everyone else is always getting called because you always have plans, that can go a HUG distance in protecting plans you want to keep.

    1. sap*

      But also–I haven’t turned my phone off during a movie in years. I sit near the back, put my screen brightness 100% down, set everything other than work notifications to silent, and look down at my work email every 15 or 20 minutes. Is it a *tiny bit* rude? Yes, and I recognize that, but surreptitiously checking your email for 5 seconds every 20 minutes isn’t going to ruin the movies for anyone, and there’s no reason you can’t sit in the back and do this (barring some medical problem). If anything comes up, you step out, deal with it, and maybe you missed part of the movie but that way you can leave the house.

      1. sam*

        I have a smartwatch. I don’t need to take my phone out to see my email notifications. a quick glance at my wrist and I can see pretty quickly on the much smaller, less obtrusive screen if it’s work or yet another NY Times alert about how mother nature is trying to destroy us all.

        1. sap*

          After posting this comment I spent another several minutes looking to see if any of the wearable companies other than that awful wearable leaf are making necklaces again, but they’re not. LE SIGH, your solution is much better for those who can wear watches.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Hey, thanks for this reply! I have started doing this — and actually, the movie was a situation where I told my boss I would be offline in the afternoon, and got their permission. But an unforeseeable need from a client came up, and hence… the stern talking-to. So, lesson learned, I’m not relying that too much.

      On the other hand, the smart watch is a great idea!

      1. sap*

        Your boss sounds super unreasonable. It’s one thing to be annoyed about unforeseen dark periods. It’s ridiculous to lecture *you* about noncommunication your boss approved. If your boss shouldn’t have approved something, your boss messed up, not you.

  48. SCtoDC*

    It sounds like the OP just hasn’t found her groove with this job/field. It will come. You will reach a point where you simply know the norms and expectations. This is clearly a field that operates outside of a Monday-Friday, 9am to 5pm schedule. If you’re never going to be happy working a few extra hours or being on call, the solution is to switch fields.

    I’m married to a journalist. He is technically on call 24/7 because something can happen at any time. His phone goes crazy at incredibly inopportune times. The 2016 election season was awful in regards to having a life. But, you do learn to work within the norms of the industry. We still go out. We still go on vacation.

  49. Ruh Roh, Raggy!*

    Ugh. I sent a similar email a while ago, except the question was, how do I ask about on call responsibilities in an interview?

    A lot of people think being on call isn’t such a big deal – you stay near the house, you play with your kids, you – and hey, they don’t call THAT often, right? But I very intentionally live in an area where there is a ton of outdoor recreation. You can’t carry a laptop on a 10 mile hike – and even if you could, you likely wouldn’t have reception. Being unable to get that kind of escape most weekends makes me extremely anxious. I don’t mind long hours so much, or planned weekends even – but needing to be aware of my phone at all times is awful.

    It’s common to have on call shifts in my line of work, but I’m looking for companies that minimize their impact and recognize that people live here to recreate far from their screens.

    1. Matt*

      This. I too have on call shifts sometimes (and then in a scheduled rotation with some of my coworkers), but I couldn’t imagine to be on call permanently, 24/7, with immediate response being expected.

  50. emmylou*

    I have found the comments on this post just fascinating. OP, I really admire how you are listening and participating in the comments and open to hearing others. I have also really appreciated hearing how other people cope with the life-creep overload.

    My first real job — 27 years ago now, eeps! — was in a similar scenario — a PR agency where it was just standard that I was billing at least 60 hours a week (which meant I was at work at least 10 more). And as many people have said, when you have client relationships, there is no one else to share workload with except your immediate team mates and even then they have their own pile. You are the SME for that stuff, and you have to deal with it.

    I managed the agency life for about 2.5 years — not so happily for lots of the same reasons the OP notes — finding an adult life for the first time and learning how to manage running a household AND eating well AND being at work all the time AND trying to have a dating or social life — it’s hard. I feel you. I left it when a client hired me away to much more predictable hours (at a 60% salary jump, I will add). That lasted for a bit then I ended up back in agency life, which repeated the pattern of the first job (with more money).

    Over time I ended up starting my own business (not PR, but a kind of consulting that evolved over a decade from what I started out doing), and now I work what most of my friends and family think is “all the time.” But I don’t — I almost always take Saturday off unless there’s a Board meeting I need to lead, I manage to take at least 5 or 6 weeks vacation every year when I am totally off the grid, and I don’t work most evenings. I usually work a couple of hours most Sundays, but not always. Over time, you learn to manage it, in many of the ways that have been outlined here — mostly by not putting too much energy into *anticipating* that work might land on you in your off hours, but just doing if if you have to.

    I do feel for you OP — this may or may not be the right place for you, but it does get easier to let availability just kind of flow through you, not weigh you down.

  51. Green Arrow*

    In terms of working extra hours to varying degrees, I can identify with you. My first job out of high school was in IT repair/retail, which was 9-5, but sometimes I’d have to go in early to work/check on something, and other times I couldn’t leave until it was done (some of those took until 7). The earliest job I had to do was towards the end of that where I had to go in early (6 AM) to a telco outlet to change some of their digital display equipment (the irony of this is that outlet was owned by a competing store).

    Throughout this job I’d field phone calls on my day off (“What do you know about [business] setup?” “Where is [client’s] repair up to?” “Can you pretty please go and sort out an issue with [business] – we’re swamped”.) They were relatively frequent but I did them anyway since we were a Mom & Pop shop.

    I now run IT (on my own) across two school campuses and my hours are technically 8-3, but I’ll sometimes have to stay back late to work on something (one night I was here until 6:30 getting stuff done) and I’ll field emails and phone calls during the (reasonably hours of) the night and weekend. Nothing too major, and my coworkers are usually pretty apologetic about hitting me up outside of hours, but it is part of what I have to do to provide a reliable level of service.

    This isn’t insanely uncommon for IT jobs (I know fellow IT people in different industries and workplaces who put in a lot of out of hours work) and I don’t think it’s too uncommon for a lot of other jobs (graphic design comes to mind). I totally get that it can be overwhelming (especially for 18 year old me who never had a job and started working as soon as my high school exams finished), but in some industries it does come with the territory.

  52. Amy*

    I think it’s worth taking a couple different actions simultaneously.

    -Talk to your manager or a mentor or other trusted coworker. This might look something like, “When interviewing I got the impression that a normal work week here looked like ABC, but since I’ve been here, it’s been more like XYZ. I’m hoping to get a gut check on this–is this normal here?” This probably won’t lead to any immediate changes, but it would give you information, which is pretty valuable too. You might react differently to “Yes, this is normal” than to “We’ve been in crunch mode the last few months, but things are starting to calm down, and I do expect it to usually look more like ABC”. Also, it might give you a sense of what specific things you can push back on, and which really can’t be avoided here.
    -Make some lists. Of the things you’ve noted about this job, which could you live with or work around reasonably?
    Which are absolute no-gos for you? You want to know clearly where your own boundaries are. That will allow you to focus your energy on the serious problems, and also give you some clear criteria for when it’s time to cut and run, if it comes to that.
    -See what your other options are. It sounds like this field as a whole is part of the problem. Do you have prospects in less 24/7 fields? What other fields would you be interested in exploring? Do you need any licenses, certificates, specialized experience or skills, etc. to move into those fields? Having a sense of these things, and maybe spending some of your off-work time building relevant skills via classes or volunteering, might give you the flexibility to leave if this job/field becomes intolerable for you. You never want to feel trapped in one place, especially if that place isn’t a happy one for you.

    At that point, you’ll hopefully have the information you need to know if this is something you can adjust to, or if you need to get out of there ASAP. And you’ll hopefully have some directions to try and get out of there into, if you decide that’s going to be better for you. (For what it’s worth, for all that the 24/7 thing is legit in some fields, I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s not for everyone! And there are plenty of jobs and fields where it really isn’t the norm.)

  53. chi type*

    What I’ve learned from reading these comments is that there actually ARE people who will be lying of their deathbeds wishing they had spent more time at work. :P

  54. MG*

    There’s a comment somewhere up there, I think from Allison herself, about level of passion making a difference in your willingness to tolerate some of this, and I 100% agree. I used have a 24/7-ish job in the entertainment industry. I worked mostly in the office, semi-regular office hours, but we had people working evenings, weekends, in other time zones, etc, and they would need things from me outside of my own “office hours.” One notable time when a shipment to Australia went missing, I got a call at about midnight my time (business hours for them) and realized I didn’t have the info with me at home, so I put on a coat over my pajamas and went to the office to figure it out.

    The thing is, I loved that job. I would sometimes roll my eyes in the moment, I would get pretty burnt out when I had a few stretches of like a month without a day off, because I’d be working regular weeks in the office and then weekend events… But I stayed at that job for more than 10 years and still miss it. I only left because I was moving out of state for family reasons.

    My current city doesn’t have as much entertainment industry, and so now I’m in a field I have no passion for and I don’t really like most of my day-to-day work. Now if I have to put in even an hour or two of extra work, or if we have an after work event, I’m kind of bitter about it. I certainly don’t let it show – I’m a good employee and a hard worker – but I feel way more put out by the occasional inconvenience in a job I don’t like than I did with such crazy demands in a job I loved.

    It makes a real difference.

  55. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

    Thanks for weighing in, OP! You seem to be taking all of this feedback gracefully and seriously. I’m in a job where I work 8-5: no overtime and I’m not expected to be on-call 24/7. But the trade off is that there’s no opportunity for advancement, and the work I do isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. I’m fine with that because it means I have more time for friends, family, hobbies, spending the weekend doing absolutely nothing, etc. That may change at a later time, but it’s a choice I made for myself for now. Rich laid it out very well in his comment above: you do have choices here. You just have to weigh the consequences, too. I think you’ll make the right choice for yourself, whatever that might be. Good luck! :)

  56. Jennifer Thneed*

    > But I was assured that working at our agency was much less demanding.

    Letter Writer, did you actually get details? Or just the phrase “less demanding”? Because if the latter, you’ll need to get much, MUCH, more specific when you ask about this in your next jobs.

    Don’t just say “I want a good work-life balance”. Instead, figure out what that means to you: leave work at work? No phone calls on the weekend? Ability to go away for a weekend? And then ask about that specifically, and don’t make it yes-or-no questions. Don’t say, “Are there likely to be phone calls on the weekends?” Instead, say “How often do clients call on the weekends?” The way the respond to that will give you a ton of information. And don’t let them not answer. A knowing chuckle is not an answer.

    And if you can, talk to someone who is not your interviewer. Your interviewer is, at that moment, a salesperson, and therefore not someone who has your best interests at heart. They’re trying to sell you the job. (Then they can decide afterward whether they actually want you at all.)

    1. MashaKasha*

      Great advice! And I want to add for OP: know that they might fudge the numbers when they give you an answer. I remember an interview where they told me they had a “healthy work-life balance” (or something likewise along the lines of “less demanding”). I asked them how long a work week was. They looked away and said, with their eyes shifting back and forth, “45 hours” which told me right there that I needed to multiply that number by a lot. 45 by itself would’ve been okay, but the impression I got from them was that their work week was a lot longer.

      I’d take a knowing chuckle to mean “you DO NOT want to work here”.

  57. Hillary*

    OP, it sounds like you might work for an agency serving clients (digital, advertising, marketing). These places churn through and burn out young employees like yourself, demanding long hours and no boundaries. I’ve been in your same position, and it wasn’t so much the 50-60 hour weeks as the constant pings, midnight texts and expectation of immediate responses on nights and weekends that got to me.

    I’d suggest putting in your time there for a year or two, then finding an in-house position at a company with more reasonable work-life balance. Working on the brand side is much more reasonable than working on the agency side. 9-5, no weekends, only occasional late nights, and very few after-hours emails. It’s heavenly!

  58. Nikki*

    I also work in the digital ad field and started out in a very similar position as you, LW. I would work 10-12 hour days almost 5 days a week, have to be on call during weekends/holidays, received angry texts/e-mails from managers, and had to communicate with clients while being out of office. If you have a good manager, they will be helping to navigate this field with you, teaching you how to prioritize work, and working with you so you are communicating with fellow co-workers about work load/schedule outside of work.

  59. Miss T*

    It would be interesting to know what are the averages in several demanding fields. I work as a vet and for my first two jobs 70 works weeks with weekends on top and no time off in lieu were the rule. People bragged about it and we were told how lucky we were to work as vets. My current job is different, the office staff will apologise for booking things too early (8:30am) or too late in the evening (5pm) and if they need to move appointments around for an emergency. Due to the high suicide rates amongst vets in the UK the profession is taking a more serious approach to work life balance and the old guard attitude of “always on the job” is getting more criticism.
    As a relative recent grad who values life balance I understand where the OP is coming from. The fact that these things are the norm in lots of fields doesn’t mean it’s right or should be encouraged. This is also why it’s a good idea to get these things in writing so they can’t walk back after you accept the job.

  60. Anonymous for this*

    I’m boggled by the kind of industries mentioned in this thread where 24/7 access is considered necessary and normal. Compulsory on-call work should be reserved for jobs where lives are at risk! I mean internet advertising, seriously??!!

    I say this as someone who works in a field where people *do* cover 24/7 life-critical work related to military operations. Even here, on-call is reserved for specific roles, by real necessity, by proper arrangement, and wherever humanly possible by people who volunteer to do the cover. Theoretically I could be recalled to work at any time (including from overseas holidays) if it was truly critical that they needed me personally, but in 10+ years it has never happened to me nor anyone I know.

    It seems like industries that work on deadly (literally) serious stuff have a better sense of proportion than those dealing with relative trivia.

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