my new office works torturously long hours

A reader writes:

I started a new job at a boutique consulting firm a few months ago. This was a big career switch for me, and I was so excited to get this opportunity … but there are cultural elements I’ve been struggling with, the most pressing being brutally long hours. Though it’s not crazy all the time, this week my team has already worked 40+ hours in three days, and yesterday we were in the office until after midnight. (Last week, another project team was there until 3 a.m.) I know consulting can be unpredictable — I’ve been in consulting my entire career, albeit in a different industry — but this, to me, is shockingly bad.

I know I can learn so much from this job and really want to make it work, but I’m not sure that I can. I’m an early bird — normally asleep by 10 — and very conscious of my health; getting home close to 1 a.m. when I need to be back at the office by 8 a.m. isn’t a viable option for me mentally or physically. In previous jobs it’s never been a question that I could be successful at work while also … having enough time for sleep. (It’s crazy that I even have to write this, right!?)

There’s very much an attitude of these hours being unfortunate but necessary to deliver great work, and when people aren’t seen as “team players” they seem to be ostracized (e.g., one older team member fell asleep in the project room the other night and was talked about quite negatively for it). When I’ve tried to raise my concerns with my team lead, I’ve gotten fairly brusque “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” vibes. (I don’t have a direct manager or anyone else I’d naturally approach about this.)

One of the reasons we’re at the office so late is that teamwork/collaboration is really prized here, so it’s not really an option to work from home or on your own timing — the night we were there past midnight, I asked around 9:30 p.m. if I could leave and start working again by 6 a.m., since that’s more aligned with my personal timetable, and was told absolutely not.

For additional context, if it matters: I took a pay cut for this job, and we don’t get paid anywhere close to other companies in our field. Part of the reason I accepted this job was I rationalized that with such a lower than average salary, their work life balance claims would have to be legitimate. Unfortunately untrue, and a mistake I won’t make again!

I’m at a loss for what to do. Is there anything I should try, any way I can attempt to make this sustainable, or do you think should I admit defeat? (I hate that I’m even writing that! I know logically it’s not about me quitting or giving up, but it still feels like a failure.)

If defeat is accepting that you need a full night’s sleep, and also that you don’t want to live at work, then yes, declare defeat. And then take a long nap.

Because this sounds crazy. It’s certainly true that with some jobs, you know going in that long hours are part of the deal, but even in most of those, working 40 hours in three days or working from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. is not normal or reasonable. (There are occasionally exceptions, but they’re generally very short-term situations — the week leading up to Election Day on a political campaign, etc. — and again, you know going in that that’s part of the deal.)

If this just happens for a few days once or twice a year, fine. Not great, but maybe not worth changing jobs over if everything else is good. But if this is routine — like a few days every month — there’s nothing wrong in deciding this just isn’t for you.

Your office also appears not to recognize that different people have different working styles — that not everyone will do well working late at night (as opposed to earlier in the morning) or, uh, working on three hours of sleep. I have to think they’re severely limiting the candidates they’re able to attract, because there are loads of great people who would get one look at these hours and run.

And I’m curious how much they’re really getting done during these marathon midnight sessions. I’m sure some people can be productive in their 16th straight hour of work, but many/most people can’t.

I also really dislike how they responded when you asked about it. When someone asks to go home near midnight and gets told no, it needs to be accompanied by an explanation. They should be willing to have a real conversation about it with you — about why they operate like this and why it’s important and why they’ve found they can’t be flexible about it, with a sincere inquiry into whether that’s something that will work for you or not.

If you really want to see if you can make it work, you could look around to see if anyone seems exempted from these awful hours. If there is, you could talk to that person and find out how they made that happen. Who knows, maybe you’ll find out that if you put your foot down or cite family commitments or something, it’ll be accepted.

But absent something like that, it sounds like the culture there is fully bought in to the idea that people aren’t committed if they don’t work ridiculous hours … and that even if you find a way to get out of it, you’ll be harshly judged for it, which could affect things like your assignments, raises, and other opportunities.

Throw in the under-market pay and it becomes even more NO. It would be NO regardless, but underpaying you and expecting round-the-clock commitment makes this even more ridiculous. And you accepted the pay cut in part because you thought you’d find the exact opposite of what the conditions turned out to be! If you wouldn’t have taken the job if you’d had all the facts, staying now would be doubling down on the wrong decision.

Find a job that lets you sleep.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 374 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules*

    can confirm – this is more often than not the culture for consulting firms.
    It isn’t enforced that you have to work late, but everyone does.

    I think this will be a culture/personality clash that you are going to have to decide if you can make fit or if you should look into something else. I’d look elsewhere personally, unless the work is literally the entire joy of my life, which doesn’t sound like the case for you.

    1. blackcat*

      I have friends in consulting, and this seems worse than normal. 8am-midnight? Yes. 8am-3am? NO. For less than average $$$$? Hell no.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            I used to buy into that ‘If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen’ mentality. I had something to prove. Now, I’m more of screw your kitchen kind of person. I can take the heat just fine, but it doesn’t mean I have to. You don’t have to keep doing this, OP.

        1. Myrin*

          I’m not a native speaker so I need to ask – what are boutiques? I only know the word for something like a high-end clothing store, but I honestly don’t know what someone would work on in there until 3 in the morning, so I’m guessing I’m thinking of the wrong thing?

          1. Snark*

            My feeling is it’s sort of a “we don’t have many clients, we tailor our consulting to your business, and our employees will literally start hallucinating or light themselves on fire to establish that we’re taking your business super seriously” thing.

          2. El Esteban*

            Boutique in the context of creative/consulting agencies means small. By analogy, think buying clothes at a small boutique vs going to Walmart. Same idea in an agency setting.

              1. Comms Girl*

                Our company (a consultancy) got described as boutique the other day, and to some extent we really are, but even in our boutique world our top bosses are the first ones to send us home and sleep, encourage us to take a walk during lunch time, etc.

                This company is bad news, OP. I strongly recommend finding a company:
                1) more suited to your perfectly sane working habits (morning person here too!) and
                2) which understands that, although everyone is different, exhausted people will often produce subpar work.

          3. OlympiasEpiriot*

            I’m in a specialist engineering firm and, when I joined, the managing partner described us as a boutique. I think he was semi-sarcastic; however, it means specialist. In our case, we have an excellent reputation, have been in business for over 100 years and have a broad client base, so, we don’t need to stress as much as some places.

            We don’t generally require excessive hours. We even have Summer Fridays! (Very old school here, including about who gets promoted. :-/ )

          4. Myrin*

            Wow, thanks guys, I totally got the wrong idea then, it seems! (And apparently have all the time when the expression came up before here; learn something new every day!)

            1. fieldpoppy*

              We call our firm boutique because it’s small and specialized and the partners work on every project rather than overseeing juniors who actually do all the work — our clients get the people with the names when they pay for our firm.

            2. CM*

              You’re not wrong; a boutique is also a small high-end retail store. This use of boutique, I think, came from that original sense of a little shop that sells something precious.

            3. LabTech*

              For what it’s worth, I was under the same impression as you, and I’m a native English speaker. (Maybe boutique is also commonly used to refer to clothing stores?)

              1. Dove*

                It is – a boutique clothing shop is one that, usually, does high-end couture or extremely custom clothing (with a price tag to match). It’s also usually quite niche in what it sells (a shop that sells bridal gowns or prom dresses is usually boutique, Old Navy is not) and there’s often a lot of focus on the experience the customer will have while there.

        2. EPLawyer*

          What they are proving to the client is they can’t manage their time. Or they have set unrealistic deadlines of when they can produce something. if everything is a time crunch that requires working insane hours, it’s not the work, its the process itself that is the problem.

          How much collaboration is really being done? How productive is it? Are you there until midnight because you spend half your time rehashing decisions already made? Or are you genuinely working but you have 3 days to do something that should take 5?

          1. Sciencer*

            This was my first thought too. If they’re regularly (or even more-than-rarely) working insane hours, there’s an issue with project management somewhere. Maybe it’s a leadership issue, maybe it’s individuals who procrastinate and set everyone else back, maybe it’s a combination of things. Most of us learn in college that always scrambling to finish big projects at the last minute is a sign of poor time management. It’s ridiculous for a company to pretend such scrambles are normal or a sign of dedication/diligence/work ethic/team playing. I hope OP can find a way out sooner than later.

        3. Kalamet*

          I work for a small, specialized consulting company (35~ people), and we have a 40 hour workweek written into our client contracts. Reasonable companies exist, and I hope OP is able to find one. :/

        4. FTW*

          This isn’t always true.

          I would all colleagues if these hours are topical for the firm and/or this particular project.

          My hours are generally pretty good (for a consultant) but there have been a few projects that pushed the boundaries. This project may not be typical of normal work (or it might be!).

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Totally agreed. This is the rationale in law firms, too. If you’re going to work insane hours like this, you should at least be extremely well compensated.

          1. sam*

            This. I did the white shoe law firm thing for a decade, and worked crazy hours, but…not all the time. It was crazy when we were closing a big deal, but then…we’d all sleep for several days, or go on vacation, or get back to a relatively normal/sane schedule for the rest of the time.

            And part of the deal was that I was extremely well compensated for this craziness (and especially if you consider that our bonus were based on if we billed over a certain number of hours.)

            And the other thing was that everyone recognized that the crazy late nights, etc. were not “normal”, even if they were sometimes necessary.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            Exactly – AND the expectation should be conveyed clearly in the interview process. I don’t lie to people about work-life balance at a law firm – the lack of it is what the money is for. I assume that any large/prominent professional service organization where customer service and responsiveness (and the billable hour) is critical will be the same.

            That said, this sounds like an awful situation. I work somewhere that requires nutso hours and will wear people out, but it’s typically sporadic leading up to big deadlines (save one insane practice that has their own payscale) and we are smart enough to rotate team members to share the love/pain. I would also strongly prefer not have someone falling-down tired working on a client project – that’s a mistake waiting to happen. (That said, deadlines are deadlines, and if we’ve got to have something to the court or miss our opportunity to file, everyone needs to hit the espresso machine and power through. But, again, sporadic, not every single day.)

        2. Seriously?*

          Yep. I’ve looked into consulting as a career and they usually pay very well to justify the insane hours. Even so, most people I know do consulting for a few years and then move on to something with better hours.

          1. user15803*

            Just the best ones do (MBB mainly; few others). When you think about consulting you think about these three companies and are impressed by salaries, but most companies don’t pay anything like MBB. Especially now, when consulting is growing so fast as a sector.

            Actually, that’s why I left consulting.

            I just had an interview with a consulting company (not MBB) a few weeks ago. I got an offer. If I accepted, I would be paid 10% more and expected to work 40% more. I’ve turned it down of course.

        3. blackcat*

          Right! One of my friends went into insane consulting right out of undergrad and did it for 4 years. Paid off $80k in student loans, put his sister through college (so she wouldn’t have debt) and built up enough funds to be funemployed for 2 years while he figured out what he wanted to do with his life.

          It was a trade off, and he doesn’t regret it. But he wouldn’t have worked those hours if it didn’t come with a lot of money. A. Lot.

          1. the_scientist*

            Yeah, I have a friend who did the whole management consulting thing right after he graduated with his MBA. He worked for one of the big global firms and was doing the grinding 4-day-per-week travel schedule: out on the first flight on Monday morning, back in on the last flight Thursday night, and in the office all day Friday. However, the company pays a retention bonus for every year you stay on and he made enough money to pay off his loans in three years. Once he’d gotten his last retention bonus he was out and into something more sane as fast as his feet could carry him.

        4. Jen S. 2.0*

          This, this, this. Most places with some really undesirable element (crazy hours, awful location, wild expectations, extremely specialized training needed) pay you well and have great benefits to make up for the awfulness. Then they still understand that most people will stay a few years to build up their bank account and then get out. They don’t treat you badly AND underpay you.

          OP, leaving this job doesn’t mean that you failed or gave up. It means you realized how much better it would be somewhere else. Staying doesn’t mean you won, either; it just means you suffered longer than necessary. Get out.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            IMHO leaving this job for something better is a win. Someone who stays would be a martyr who doesn’t know any better. :/

        5. The New Wanderer*

          Right – if you take your salary and calculate your hourly rate based on actual hours work vs. the standard 40 and you’re not making a reasonable amount (aka worth your while) per hour, get out. You’ve just become cheap labor, not a well-compensated valued employee.

        6. aebhel*

          This. If you have insane hours and you’re not offering a VERY generous salary, you’re going to be quickly left with a staff consisting entirely of people who can’t find work elsewhere.

        7. beth*

          This is what I thought! Consulting is one of those fields that entered my consciousness as “Terrible work/life balance, absolute nonsense, I don’t think I could do that many hours without stressing myself into a nervous breakdown–but hey at least they make good money.” If you’re not even getting the money side of the equation, why put up with the nonsense?

    2. epi*

      The OP says that they have worked in consulting their entire career and this is way worse than what they experienced elsewhere.

      It’s possible that this is the norm for consultants in their new industry, but the terrible hours don’t seem to be just because it’s a consulting job.

      1. Essess*

        I would go to the person that made those work-life balance claims and ask them about it directly. If it was in the job advert, I would ask HR about it. If it was stated in the interview, I would ask the person who did the interview about it. I’d explain that I took this job based on the work-life balance assurances in the interview and that the current status was not what was represented, and ask for a salary re-negotiation based on the lack of one of the major benefits that was touted.

        1. MCL*

          I’m not sure that there was a conversation between the OP and a company rep about work/life balance. The letter reads like OP assumed there would be a better work/life balance as a trade off for the lower salary, but didn’t necessarily have that culture discussion before they accepted the job.

          1. OP*

            What I was told during the interview process was “on typical days, most project teams wrap up by 6 or 7pm,” which sounded reasonable and quite aligned with what I’ve experienced in the past. However, there are two important caveats that weren’t mentioned: 1) there actually aren’t many so-called “typical” days, and 2) there’s no “wall” on how late people are expected to work. In previous consulting roles I’ve been in, there’s been understood that barring a completely unforeseen emergency, 10-11pm was about the upper end of how late anyone would ever be expected to stay in the office. This has DEFINITELY been a lesson for me to be incredibly targeted in my questions next time around and not to accept vague, best-case-scenario type answers!

            Also, it’s worth noting that the person who was in the recruiting role has since left the company. What I’ve heard, albeit secondhand, is that they were getting heat for not bringing in “the right kind of people” who would stick around (I don’t have the exact numbers, but I’m fairly sure that of the ~6-7 people hired for this role in the past year, only 2 are still here).

              1. designbot*

                on the other hand, if the recruiter was up front about the insane hours they’d be able to screen out candidates who weren’t up for that. So, both.

                1. gmg22*

                  I’d lay a bet that if the recruiter WERE upfront about the insane hours, he or she would get a scolding about it from management for torpedoing good candidates. Rock and a hard place …

                2. pcake*

                  If the recruiter was up-front and told candidates that the work hours were insane and the pay was sub-par, I wouldn’t think the company would get any good people to burn out – they’d only get people who were desperate for a job.

            1. Greg NY*

              Then they’re misusing the word “typical”. It means the majority of the time. By definition, if most days are long, that’s a typical day. In any case, the end result doesn’t change: this is what it is in this job, and if you can’t handle it, get out. And by no means do I mean this in any bad way. If this was me, I would’ve been out already. Long hours are good for you only if you can earn a lot of money doing it (and even then, not at the expense of health, including sleep), or if you can parlay it into a higher level position that will mean a more flexible schedule plus financial security.

              There’s no reason to work yourself to the bone if you aren’t going to have anything to show for it either in the short or the long term.

            2. MCL*

              Oh my goodness! Then you are totally justified in being extremely irritated with them for deliberately misrepresenting the workplace culture. That is extremely misleading and you are completely in the right for being very annoyed. If those are the typical working hours, they’d better be compensating you way more to make up for all your time.

            3. Twenty Points for the Copier*

              If they are facing a 70% turnover rate, this is clearly a “it’s not you, it’s them” situation. They are not paying enough for the time commitment they are expecting and they are misleading candidates and pressuring employees rather than offering a workplace and/or wage that would be competitive in the job market.

              Quitting now is not giving up – it’s realizing that after gaining information that was withheld from you, this job is longer was competitive relative to industry norms. They deserve to be losing people at a high rate because of this (and clearly are) and realizing this is not a failure on your part.

            4. CM*

              This gives you a good explanation when you leave (which you absolutely should; I put up with expectations like this for years and it took a toll on my health and family. You’re smart to pick up on this early!) — you can say this job was not as advertised.

            5. BlackBear*

              Get out! I was recently in a position like yours. Not the same industry or job type but I took a less paying job because of the false promises of work-life balance and I liked the job description. I loved the job itself. But we were chronically understaffed and the view of corporate was that we were salaried so it didn’t matter how much we worked. And it was in the medical field, so we would get emergency calls in the middle of the night and on weekends and then still be expected to work long days. It was brutal. I got really sick and my relationship suffered. Get out early. Some companies just don’t care. When I got my new job, my number one concern was workplace culture, even over job description and salary. And life is so much better now!!!

        2. Opting for the Sidelines*

          I’ve found HR to be exceptionally talented at gaslighting people on this. When HR was challenged at my last job on work-life balance and our complete lack thereof, they would come up with a List of All the Wonderful Things We Do For You or the If You are Working Late You Must Not Know How to Manage Your Time.

      2. OP*

        Hi – OP here. I’m lucky enough to have access to lots of contacts in this industry, even though I haven’t personally worked in it before, because I went to school in this part of the country and have been able to reach out to alums. I’ve gathered data from about 20 people working in similar roles to me at companies my organization specifically calls out as their competition (as in, “We’re a mix of the best of company X, Y and Z”). The impression I’m getting is that these hours aren’t completely unheard of at these other firms, but they’re exceedingly rare – closer to once or twice a year than once or twice a month.

        Thanks for your thoughts – really appreciate everyone’s feedback here!

        1. anonbecausebig4sucks*

          Hey OP! I will give you my perspective as someone who works in an industry where what you are describing is totally normal. I have and my social circle still does work in public accounting (big4).

          Working 100+ hours for a month (or two) straight, working every weekend (for 4 months of the year) and considering 8am to mid-night a totally normal schedule in “busy” season.

          These companies foster a culture of – we WORK – it’s IMPORTANT – they will quickly ostracize and coach out anyone who doesn’t fit that mold. I was one such person, I am much happier working 50 hours a week.

          The trade off – you get to work on cool stuff (best for career development), they have amazing benefits, like WFH, tons of PTO, ect. it’s also a culture, some people are work-a-holics, and they thrive.

          It’s okay to “scrub out” I get crap all the time for *gasp* wanting to work 40 hours a week! They have drunk the kool-aide. it’s okay to say, you know what, the career progression/opportunity is not worth it.

          1. designbot*

            Agreed. I’ve worked in product consulting, and this was super common, these hours would happen once or twice a month at the office I was at. Since much of the industry is like this, I’d focus on making sure you’re getting what you need to out of it, which to me is:
            1) good portfolio pieces/a platform for future career development. This one for me is the absolute drop-dead dealbreaker. If all the projects are NDA’s to within an inch of their life, or if they’re just not that good in the first place, there is literally no reason to put up with any sort of non-ideal conditions.
            2) $$$$. If you’re not getting paid what you want, figure out how long you can put up with that for, and tap out at that point.
            Either way, you’re going to tap out eventually, it’s just about deciding how long you’re going to put into this. Look at your financial situation and at project potential, and set a date for when.

    3. Celeste*

      I worked at a consulting firm like this once when I was younger. It was like college days at first, in that rush of practically pulling an all-nighter and then surviving the next day on caffeine. They did give us overtime pay and they brought in snacks to the breakroom, but it was still awful. And then going home at 2 a.m., I woke up just before I hit a construction barrier.

      This is not sustainable. There are other jobs.

      1. JustaTech*

        My dad worked for a consulting firm when I was in high school. (A new firm, he’d worked in consulting for years.) One time someone screwed up and he, as a senior person, had to pull an all-nighter. I was really concerned (not least because he made me drive with him to school to keep him awake in the car) because maybe young people have the physical reserves to pull the odd all-nighter and still be OK, I knew if he kept working like this at *best* he would get really sick, and at worst I was worried he’d have a heart attack.

        Now that I’m older my opinion has shifted to “no one, regardless of age or position, should be expected or required to pull an all-nighter”. Who does good work after 18+ hours?

        1. pleaset*

          I can see all nighters once a year or so for exceptional reasons – WITH the expectation that the next day you’ll just wrap things up and not be super-productive.

          But frequent work past midnight? No. That’s bad planning or bad relationships with clients or bad levels of staffing or bad internal communications so everyone has to be on-call all the time.

    4. CleverName*

      Here’s my biggest question – how does she frame this when she interviews and they ask why she’s leaving?

      A job that is drastically different than what was promised is a legitimate reason to leave. However, in interviews, I feel like citing any issue with how your current company is run casts suspicion on the candidate’s expectations and work ethic. The interviewer has no reason to trust that what the candidate is saying is legitimate, and if the candidate provides too much context, that can come off as whiny and unprofessional.

      I’d love to hear how you should answer the question “why are you leaving your current position” when the real reason is crazy hours, a micro-managing boss, an issue with the corporate structure or problems the company won’t address and can’t be fixed by the candidate.

      1. Antilles*

        In a case like this, I think you’d be completely fine answering it honestly, as long as you did so in a purely factual non-judgmental tone.
        “When I started with this company, we were assured that the hours would be reasonable and the company valued work-life balance. However, upon starting, I quickly learned that working from 8 am to midnight or later was the norm. I asked my boss about it and they said that they expected such hours as a matter of course. I’ve worked in consulting before for X years and while I understand that our industry sometimes has crunch times and I am fine with that, this level of constant-crunch was well above anything I’ve experienced before in the industry and just doesn’t seem like it’s for me.”
        Something along those lines would be perfectly fine IMO. Most reasonable interviewers’ response to that wouldn’t be to wonder about your work ethic, but instead to empathize and immediately jump to reassuring you that we try to stick to a more regular schedule around here…unless the interviewer himself has similarly unrealistic expectations on hours – in which case, better to know that now.

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          You also can frame it to focus on on what you’re looking for, as opposed to what you’re leaving. People can make whatever leap they want as to what that means about your current situation. “I’m looking to leave my current job because I’m hoping to find a new situation with challenging projects and increased responsibility, as well as a culture that values employees’ contributions and skills. A great work/life balance would be ideal as well.”

          1. Richard Evans*

            I think you may also find that the person you are talking with has already about this situation at your current company and understands why you are leaving.

            1. ChachkisGalore*

              I had this happen to me my last round of interviewing. Apparently the department head (and sr departmental staff) had a very well known reputation around my industry. I had one recruiter just laugh (at my well-rehearsed diplomatic speech explaining why I was looking to leave) and respond with “yep, I’ve heard your boss is a not a nice person at all”.

          2. Lindrine*

            As a hiring manager I would be fine with hearing they had taken a job and the hours were way beyond the norm. I would also ask a few follow up questions to make sure my company’s idea of work / life balance and theirs were aligned. “Great” means a lot of different things.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          If this has been going on at current company longer than ~2 months, the interviewers have probably already heard about it.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        I’d think they could blame the move on the change in industry — “As you can see, most of my experience was in X area, so I took a chance working in Y area, but I’ve realized I much prefer X. [or even, now I’m interested in exploring Z.]” Nothing about the actual job/firm.

        1. Natalie*

          I don’t think that’s a good option when you’re leaving the job after only a few months. That’s unusual enough to warrant explaining why you’re leaving that position, specifically.

      3. Anon for this*

        When I was interviewing to leave my last job, I answered “Why are you looking to leave?” with “My previous boss with whom I worked very well just left, my new boss and I have very different working styles and we’re not a good fit.” In general, the people I interviewed with didn’t ask a lot of questions. However, the people I interviewed with for the job I ended up taking asked a couple of questions about her management techniques, realized I was actually saying she was a maniacal micro-manager, laughed hysterically and said they didn’t have time for that.

      4. MsMaryMary*

        I left my previous job because the hours were crazy, although not as crazy as OP’s! I was polite but straighforward. I told interviewers that I wasn’t afraid of hard work, but I was working 60-70 hours on a regular basis (more during busy periods), and that those kinds of hours are not sustainable for me long term. I was getting burnt out, which meant I couldn’t perform to the level I expect of myself and it was starting to impact my relationships with clients and coworkers.

        Most interviewers were very understanding. I think quantifying the how many hours I was working helped. If I said “I needed more work-life balance” or “I was working too many hours,” I think people might have assumed I wouldn’t be willing to do anything outside of a straight 9-5. When I phrased it more like, “I can’t keep working 70 hours a week,” people nodded and said that was understandable.

        1. OhNo*

          Agreed. Especially in a case like this, where the expectations for working hours are so egregious, most interviewers are going to completely understand. I think all the OP would have to do is say that it’s a regular expectation to work past midnight, and that it’s just not sustainable for them in the long run.

        2. Mad Baggins*

          Seconded. Especially if you’re coming in to a new industry or changing roles, or you’re extra concerned about a culture fit, it helps to have a concrete number to make sure you share the same idea of what “a lot” of overtime is.

      5. Seriously?*

        I don’t think citing crazy hours is that bad. Since she would not want another job with insane hours anyway, any company scared off by that reason is one she doesn’t want to work for. She should say that she understands long hours are normal in the industry and give concrete examples of what she can and cannot do hour wise though. “I’m used to working long hours, but I regularly have to stay in the office until after midnight in my current role. While I can do that a few times a year, I am looking for a role that has more flexibility for me to come in earlier in the mornings or work from home after X:00.”

      6. ChachkisGalore*

        I’m not in consulting, but I am in an industry that can be known for crazy hours (I’d say it’s about 50/50 – half the industry prides itself on having the most brutal hours/greatest commitment, the other half makes a big deal of “work life balance” in an effort to pull in high performers).

        Ended up in a role with crazy ridiculous hours – 12 hours days were the norm (8am-7/8pm) plus I was expected to be on call 24/7 to handle specific things that needed to be taken care in a very specific time frame (it was necessary due to the nature of the biz, but it could have been handled so much better). I left for a myriad of reasons, but the hours were the easiest and most accepted thing to say within interviews.

        Told interviewers exactly what I wrote above – that 12 hours days were the norm with 24/7 coverage expected. I always added that I’m not a clock watcher and have no problem keeping an eye on emails outside of the office or with some late nights/weekend work as needed, but the expectation there was beyond what I had been lead to believe when accepting the role. I don’t remember a single person questioning it or getting any feelings of disapproval.

      7. JM60*

        I think saying that the job ended up being very different than what they were told would be a very good way to explain why they were leaving. Plus, I don’t think any employer worth working for would hold it against her when they hear the details of that difference, i.e., that she was expected to work from 8am to 3am, when she was led to believe in the interview process that the position offers a good work/life balance.

      8. Nea*

        “I am specifically looking for a position with a predictable schedule. This was not part of the culture of my previous job.”

        I’ve said as much in job interviews of my own with “I left my job because the company moved me to the proposals group – and while I accept that occasionally there may be a need for overtime, I am not temperamentally suited to regularly pulling all nighters.” I’ve never found implying “I need my sleep” to come across as whiny.

        1. CM*

          Being direct like this may cause some jobs to filter you out, but that’s a good thing if you can afford to be picky. You will get fewer job offers but they will be ones that you’ll be happier with.

    5. Persimmons*

      What does a consultant DO? I often see the term thrown around as a vague catch-all to describe fictional characters, but…what are they?

      1. Seriously?*

        There are many different types of consultants, so there isn’t one catch-all answer. The people I know who are business consultants work for a firm that is hired by other companies for specific projects. For example, if the business is having some problems, sometimes they hire a consulting firm to get an outside view of what needs to change. Other times they hire a consulting firm to look into the market viability of a product they are developing. If they need a specialized skills set that their current employees do not have, it can be cheaper/more efficient to hire a consultant than try to train or hire people who have that skill if it is a short term project.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Yup–specialized skills for a short-term project. I know someone who did materials science consulting–“We make this washer in our washing machine out of this material; is there a better material?”

      2. Katelyn*

        In my industry, they are specialists who understand the complexities of regulations in a specific area. In finance that could be almost every area, since international tax law, anti-money laundering compliance, international trade finance, etc. are complex fields, and if you only touch on them tangentially in your daily practice then bringing in an expert short-term to help set up policies/procedures/controls can be worth it.
        They are expensive, but you’re paying for their expertise and to not have to pay for an employee with that level of expertise on an ongoing basis.

      3. SongbirdT*

        I was a software consultant for a long time. My job was to work with my client to understand their goals, then give them expect advice and recommendations (based on experience I gained over my career) on how to best reach those goals. If they liked my advice we’d move to the next phase and design a detailed technical solution. Once they are happy with the detailed design, we’d start building it. After it was built, we would test, train, and launch it. It some cases, we provided post-launch support.

        Consulting can take many forms, but the basic idea is the same. Because business leaders don’t have time to be experts in everything, they hire consultants and rely on their specific areas of expertise to accomplish a thing.

      4. Lora*

        *laughs hysterically* Makes a lot of PowerPoint slides out of things employees already told their bosses several times over.

        No, I mean, it depends? I used to do pharma consulting and it was mostly this:
        -due diligence on a potential acquisition
        -writing protocols and reports on how the company was going to remediate some regulatory problem (e.g., FDA says “you need to do better environmental monitoring in your manufacturing area”, I write a nice protocol and SOP and train their staff on how to do air and water sampling)
        -reviewing a manufacturing process to see how much it would cost to switch to single use plastics when they currently use metal tanks that have to be cleaned all the time
        Like they needed a little one-off thing done, but they needed it done by someone with experience who knew how to do it properly.

        If it’s one of the big consulting companies, like McKinsey or BCG or PWC, they get called in to address a larger problem or analysis, but they tend to be a lot less specialized and can make major errors that are only obvious to someone with specific experience. You have to be careful when hiring them, that they include subject matter experts who will be assertive about “no we are NOT doing that because that is illegal” or whatever. They typically have a small handful of actual people with experience in the field and a whole lot of people fresh out of college with zero experience in any given field.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I’ve known/heard about people working for a huge international consulting company – not one of the ones you mentioned – and it’s always young men out of college with plenty of energy and stamina, who don’t mind traveling all over the country to stay a few months/year in one place, then on to another. Yes, it seems like they wouldn’t have a lot of specific expertise. I think this company is mostly business and finance and I always assumed they trained these men, but maybe not.

          1. user15803*

            At most big companies you receive a short course. Like a week or two, full-time.

            At some of them you don’t even receive it at the beginning of your employment, just need to do it in your first months.

            The recruitment is normally quite classist, at least in my country. You need to show you’re extremely self-confident and have “charisma”, which in our sexist capitalism is normally ascribed to men rather than women. That’s why there are many more men than women in the industry. In my (Western European) country, just about 5% of employees in management consulting are women and “the higher, the worse”.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              I think this company/situation skews to young men because young men are more adventurous and don’t mind not having a real home, always traveling and moving place to place. IME women are less likely to enjoy that, though I’m sure there are some who do.
              After a few years they get tired of it and get a job where they can stay in one place and be more settled.

              1. user15803*

                This is sexist. There are both men and women who apply for jobs in consulting.

                Everybody, men and women, tend to quit their consulting job after a while. Only a small minority stays hoping to become partners one day.

              2. J.B.*

                In my experience the difference has to do with attachment. I had no issue putting in long hours in my twenties. Once I had children, I will no longer do so. Neither will my husband (except on specific occasions). But I add a lot more value because I know a lot more than in my 20s.

    6. Dr. Doll*

      What the hell do consultants DO? I’ve always wondered that.

      And now I wonder even more! If I’m paying craptons of money for your wisdom, I want it to be actual wisdom, which sure can’t possibly be the case with lunacy like this.

      1. The Grammarian*

        Consultants give advice on how to change something that is not going well on a project, or the consultants work on implementing the change for the company on a specific project (like a software implementation that involves training workers on new processes and on new-to-them software).

      2. Pudgy Patty*

        What I’ve never understood is that the big consulting firms hire kids out of the elite colleges out of undergrad — what on earth do they have expertise in?? I know they also hire MBAs, but honestly, even most of those folks have less than a decade’s worth of working experience, at least when they start.

        My brother ended up doing the consulting route after graduting from one of the top two MBA programs in the country, so I get that these are smart people who know plenty, but I never understood consulting and was too scared when I was in college to consider it. I kept thinking, “How on earth could I consult on something when I’ve never had a full-time job before?” And yet even after 12 years worth of experience now, I don’t feel I could be a consultant. I frankly think for a lot of the big firms, it’s just a culture of elites who work in a world that is otherwise impenetrable, and this kind of slog is the only way to get in. I have no doubt they develop the expertise as they’re there, but I can’t wrap my head around how they get started.

        1. pleaset*

          “kids out of the elite colleges out of undergrad — what on earth do they have expertise in?”

          Reading a lot quickly, listening to a lot, and being able to talk/write/analyze cogently about all that quickly and at high quality.

          I don’t work in consulting but went to an elite college (after going to a brutally hard high school) , and we had boatloads of reading and assignments in the average- and more difficult courses. It was possible to avoid this kind of hard work sure, but I think you’d be weeded out in the application process.

          “it’s just a culture of elites who work in a world that is otherwise impenetrable”
          For sure there’s a lot to that. There are certainly plenty of people from other backgrounds who have the skills I mentioned above, but can’t even get in the door due to lack of connections/different backgrounds.

          1. Elfie*

            Also, the companies that hire the consultancies end up training these guys. I’ve worked with a number of consultancy companies over the years, including some of the big ones (I’m in the UK), and I can honestly say that although these guys are smart (it is almost always guys), they’re not any smarter than me and the other smart people I work with. And they don’t come up with anything that we haven’t proposed already. We’ve got Deloitte with us right now, proposing an initiative that me and my boss proposed two years ago, and now they’re the ones gaining traction. Well, I guess if you pay 3 or 4 times the amount of money for an opinion, you tend to listen to it 3 or 4 times as much. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am! But I work in IT, so we have a load of software and management consultancy to deal with, and in this industry at least, the consultants don’t usually come in with new ideas, just new products to sell us.

    7. Lavender Menace*

      I have some friends who work in consulting, including a few at the MBB firms. They do work long hours, but this seems excessive even for them. And then they get paid handsomely for the inconvenience.

    8. DanniellaBee*

      I worked in consulting for 8 years and at times we had crazy work hours but to expect this type of schedule regularly is unsustainable and ridiculous especially when there is no flexibility on working for home or start/end times. Get out now author! This is a toxic environment. Start brushing up your resume again and find another job because this place will burn you out fast and sounds incredibly unsupportive.

    9. PizzaSquared*

      Since most of us are anonymous here, would anyone be willing/able to give us examples of how much people actually get paid for these jobs? I see several metions of it being a lot of money in the comments, but everyone has their own concept of “a lot of money.” Maybe I just want to ease my FOMO, but I’m very curious about what the reality of the income is in these consulting jobs that work you to death…

          1. PizzaSquared*

            I agree. I make well into those ranges, and I have a very normal (some might say leisurely) schedule, never work nights or weekends. It doesn’t seem worth it at all……

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            I think for a lot of places like that a significant amount of the pay comes in the form of bonuses, which that article notes is not reflected in the listed salaries.

        1. user15803*

          And these are 3 probably best-paying companies. They are considered the best and the most prestigious.

          Most management consultancies pay much, much less.

      1. Sienna S*

        Depends heavily on industry, and location.
        I suggest looking up the salaries of the top consulting firms on glassdoor for a start on getting ideas of salary.

  2. Myrin*

    Oh my goodness, OP, I’m an early riser (and as such an early sleeper) as well and this sounds like an absolute nightmare! (Or not, since you, you know, don’t even get to sleep.)
    Hail thee to another place of employment, I say!

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I would have lasted exactly zero days in an environment like this.

      Please, OP, find a new job where you can actually sleep.

    2. Lavender Menace*

      Yeah, same. I would much rather come in at 6 am than work until midnight. In fact, I think my brain would shut off around 6 or 7 pm and then I’d be useless.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      The best situation that I ever worked in was the one where my peer was a morning person (I am a night owl). She would always leave by 11 p.m. and be back at the ass-crack of dawn whereas I’d stay until 3 a.m. and roll back in around 10. At no point did anyone we work with insist we both had to work the hours the other one did, rather we were complimented a number of times on making sure that the group always had coverage.

  3. otterbaby*

    I’m curious to know what their work-life balance claims were in the job posting? Whatever they wrote must have been a blatant lie, because I can’t see any balance happening here! I’m tired just thinking about it!

    1. ContentWrangler*

      Yeah that’s the part that makes me really angry for OP. It sounds like they must have flat out lied. Very under-handed to lure people in with that and pay poorly, and then pull the rug out from under them once they’ve taken the job.

      1. BRR*

        I get really mad about this. Either be upfront about things or change your expectations if you need to lie about them. There’s no way this work schedule could be described as providing work-life balance. And if they do think this is good work-life balance, what would they consider bad work-life balance.

    2. OP*

      OP here. I will say this has been a huge lesson for me to never again take vague claims of work-life balance at face value.

      What I was told during the interview processs was “on typic days, most project teams wrap up by 6 or 7pm,” which sounded reasonable and quite aligned with what I’ve experienced in the past. However, there are two important caveats here: 1) there actually aren’t many so-called “typical” days, and 2) there’s no “wall” on how late people are expected to work. In previous consulting roles I’ve been in, there’s been understood that barring a completely unforeseen emergency, 10-11pm was about the upper end of how late anyone would ever be expected to stay in the office.

      What I should have asked, and will ask next time (though I’d appreciate any suggestions on how to word these questions in a way that don’t imply I’m looking to shirk work, which isn’t at all the case – I just will do my best work in a sustainable environment):
      1) What’s the latest you’ve worked here?
      2) Under what circumstances would anyone at this company be in the office past midnight? Past 3am?

      1. Tardigrade*

        I think it would be fine to say something like, “would I be regularly expected to work post-midnight hours? I find that I perform at my professional best when I can wrap up at X time on a usual day. Would that be possible here?”

        1. BetsCounts*

          this seems like good wording- I am a CPA and am used to working stupid hours in the weeks leading up to a deadline, and I cannot imagine regularly working much past midnight.

        2. Not a Blossom*

          And if you are worried about looking like you are trying to shirk work, you could ask about flexibility of timing. Say something like, “I find I perform best when I come in early rather than when I stay late; is that an option?” You could even give an example of saying that if you have to work long days, you do best working from, say, 6 am to 9 pm (or whatever makes sense to you) rather than 9 am to midnight.

      2. Ranon*

        I work in a different field (also project/ deadline driven) and I like to ask:

        “What does a typical day look like?”
        “Obviously there are times where there is a bigger workload than others (deadlines, etc)- how does the firm plan for those times?”
        “What does a day when you’re working towards a deadline/ big push look like? How often do those days happen?”

        If they answer the second question with “oh, we just all do what is needed” instead of talking about staffing, planning, or anything indicating that deadlines are things that can be anticipated and planned for in my industry, it’s a huge red flag.

        1. Cheryl Blossom*

          I work in a different field, but “Can you describe what a typical day would look like?” is my favorite question to ask in an interview. It really encapsulates things that don’t necessarily get covered when talking about work/life balance and job duties.

          1. dovidbawie*

            I always ask that question. My previous, very short-lived, “dream” job just said, “Oh, every day is
            so different!” and some other generalities. They were awful, noncommunicative, and had zero processes or rubrics in place to judge output.

            Current workplace answered, “It changes a lot, but most of the work goes through the product management software in this queue. Some big ones will come from this source though, so we do XY when that happens because it will probably get crazy. When the designers make the next collections around Z season, then we do ABC work as well.” These people have been AMAZING to work with.

            So yes, very important question for me.

            1. Cheryl Blossom*

              I don’t really judge places where they give the “every day is really different!” caveat as long as they also have an answer– what will I be expected to do? To know? Who will I be answering to? These things all make a huge difference!!!

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP, it sounds like they straight up lied to you. I don’t think this was a failure on your part to do due diligence.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          Yeah, I was trying to think of a nice way to say this, but there’s no nice way. They were intentionally misleading in this case.

      4. MsMaryMary*

        Do you have billable hours targets? If you do, or if the role you’re interviewing for does, I’d ask what the targets are and when most people meet their targets.

        At OldJob I met my billable hours target in July one year.

      5. MissGirl*

        Rather than ask questions they may not answer forthrightly, leverage your network to find someone who works there you can talk to. This is where LinkedIn is valuable.

      6. Greg NY*

        OP, I highly value work-life balance. I firmly believe work is a part of life, not the majority of life (and shouldn’t take over your life for more than a temporary period, such as during a known busy time of the year or one position in your career as a stepping stone to a better schedule for the rest of your career).

        I always ask, as one of my questions as the end of an interview or sometimes during the offer process, specific questions about what kind of hours people work there most of the time, how fast or slow paced the workflow is, what kind of flexibility there is in work hours or time off, and what happens when either I or a colleague is sick or goes on vacation (does the work pile up, are you expected to cover for each other, are you expected to do some work while on vacation or even at home sick when possible, etc.) If I don’t get answers that match what I’m looking for, it’s not the right fit for me.

        If I were you, I’d get out, because this is unlikely to change. An embedded culture is difficult to crack and I have stopped trying.

      7. Greg NY*

        Ask very specific questions and don’t be shy about why you’re asking. It is very normal to ask about things that are important to you. I ask about work-life balance issues every time. If you find out that the culture at that employer doesn’t match, the position isn’t the right fit for you. Anyone who judges you for wanting to get proper sleep and have proper rest is not someone you want to be working with. There are such cultures in some American workplaces, but there are enough of them without these cultures that you shouldn’t feel compelled to accept this.

      8. Anonymeece*

        You might press them, “Can you tell me how many days per month, typically, you would be expected to stay past 7?”

      9. Someone Else*

        I’d probably go with something like “how frequently are staff expected to work past 9pm? What about midnight? Have you ever worked hours later than midnight?” or something like that. And if you got a vague answer turn it around so it’s clear you’re asking how many days per month. (But I wouldn’t open with the “how many days per month” because ideally, they’re going to react with surprise and make it clear right away that it’s something that almost never happens but if it’s at all wishy washy, ask for concrete numbers). I do like your “under what circumstances” question, so it’s not just frequency, but why would it even happen in the first place.

    3. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I don’t think they were lying; I think they have no idea what the term means. (See my original comment below.)

      Ten years ago, I saw a job in DC that required seven years of experience but only paid $27K. The ad said the pay was “competitive.”

      I’ve heard managers complain that no one thinks outside the box, but when these same people got an unconventional idea, they rejected it and couldn’t articulate why.

      My own boss constantly talks about work/life balance and the need to disconnect from work, but when he emails you on nights and weekends, you are expected to respond immediately…which means you have to constantly be checking your email.

      Everyone here is using popular terms they know will resonate with people while simultaneously stating their needs. No, it doesn’t make sense at all, but I think they really do believe that stuff. If someone was lying to you, I’m not sure they would be so utterly contradictory about it. They’d at least do a better job of trying to mislead you.

      1. OP*

        Yes – this seems to resonate with my experience. I don’t think anyone was evil-cackling “ha! she’s fallen into our trap and accepted our offer. let’s make her miserable” – I think for a variety of reasons (one being that most people with power here have been at the company for 10+ years and may not have a clear grasp on standard norms), they genuinely believe the value proposition they offer is fair.

    4. Antilles*

      Work-life balance is a completely meaningless phrase, enough so that it’s probably worth just skimming right past it to ask about specifics. After all, EVERY company says that – even the most unreasonable companies generally wouldn’t come right out and say that “no, we don’t believe in work-life balance; our most successful employees all hate their families so much that they’d prefer to work 20 hours a day and sleep at the office rather than go home”.

      1. Elsie*

        Or you’re in a big law firm (or similar) and they make no bones about that. The implication is that your “life” balance is your insanely high salary that will fund a housekeeper, nanny and the ability for your spouse to be your child’s primary caregiver and the super-fancy vacation you can take maybe once every 2 years while still being on-call all waking hours.

  4. Snark*

    Oh god, OP, get the hell out. These people are insane. Even for “work to live” types, this is insanity, and there is nothing you are doing that justifies these kinds of hours. Even people running nuclear submarines work in shifts.

    This is the kind of situation that makes me think we need work hour and overtime maximum law.

    1. Tardigrade*

      This is the kind of situation that makes me think we need work hour and overtime maximum law.

      Yes yes yes!

      1. Miso*

        In my country we have a law of how much time there has to be between your shifts. Of course there are exceptions for like hospitals and whatnot, but still.
        The number is 11 hours, btw.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Yes. This is so not normal. And LW is already questioning whether quitting is defeat or not.
      OK, it is. You lose. You lose a game with no rules, like being decent to each other (bad mouthing someone who fell asleep?) and no compromise (nope, you have to work at 3 AM not 6 AM because we say so) and really no finish line. Does everyone take gee, a day and half off between projects or do they overlap and you’re never done.
      So ask yourself, if your best friend came to you and described this situation to you, would you say, “don’t be a quitter!” or would you say, “GTFO of there now!” I don’t think you’d say “sign me up.”
      Look for a new job. Oh, and take the time you need to do it, as well. Don’t let this job burn you out so much that you have nothing to give to a job search and interviewing and even networking.
      Bad fit. No harm; no foul. Shake it off.

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, this is not a defeat. You got sold a bill of goods, you work with lunatics who are going to be burned out like meat road flares in a few years, you’re endangering your health and wellbeing….peace out, no harm no foul, byeee felicia.

          1. Snark*

            Well, they’re going to be burn out quickly, brightly, with a lot of heat, leaving nothing but a charred interior. And they’re made out of meat.

            (We probed them all the way through. They’re entirely meat.)

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes, and all of that “losing” for undermarket pay. Seriously, on no level does staying appear to benefit OP.

      3. Persimmons*

        Even if it IS defeat, defeat here is inevitable. Would you rather lose sooner, and bounce back into a more reasonable and better-paying job? Or would you rather lose later, after you destroy your health and your finances?

        Don’t sunk-cost fallacy yourself into a hospital bed.

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          This! Defeat here is inevitable. You’re not going to do a one-woman turnaround of their culture. You’re not going to make them see the light. You’re not going to magically never need to sleep or to have any time to yourself. So staying as long as you possibly can accomplishes … what?

          There is a reason “If you’re going to fail*, fail fast” is a thing. I also believe everyone gets a get-out-of-job-free card every decade or so. They wildly misrepresented this job. Use the card. (*and leaving a terrible job is a success, not a failure.)

          These are not your people. This is not your job. Save yourself. Get out.

        2. RVA Cat*

          This. These hours are past excessive, they’re outright dangerous. I’m imagining the OP falling asleep behind the wheel at 3 am and dying.

    3. gmg22*

      “This is the kind of situation that makes me think we need work hour and overtime maximum law.”

      Absolutely. The extremity of this example, and the realization that OP has no recourse whatsoever other than to leave her job, makes me think back to the recent post on the pros and cons of unions …

    4. Magenta Sky*

      Consultants get paid to “get the job done,” and don’t normally get overtime.

      Consultants also normally get to set the own hours.

      I know in California, there have been lawsuits in which courts have ruled that consultants who can’t set their own hours are actually employees, and thus, must get paid overtime (and anything over 12 hours in one day is double time, to boot). Sadly, not every state is so enlightened, and federal laws are much looser.

  5. JKL*

    Can confirm that this the norm in a lot of consulting firms, especially boutiques that want to make an impact. It’s very draining because there is no work life balance and there’s a lot of burnout that goes with it.

      1. Treecat*

        Right?? There are LOTS of studies that show that overworking employees actually delays deliverables. Companies that still cling to the attitude that more hours = more productivity are absolutely doing it wrong.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          For professional services companies, often more hours = more billable hours = more $. In some spaces, clients are beginning to cotton onto this and use more predictable measure for budgeting and fee alternatives to hourly fees, but it’s only just starting to make a dent in the industries.

          I worked in a law firm job once that discouraged efficiency because they made less money. I do not miss those days and am glad that efficiency is now expected.

    1. pleaset*

      There are big differences between working till 8pm, 11pm and 3am.

      Are you saying 3am is normal?

      I don’t work in consulting but can’t imaging 3am being normal more than every several months.

      1. OP*

        Hi! No, this is not the norm every single day. From what I’ve been able to gather, there are a few projects that fall on the extreme end of good (not working past 9pm), a few that fall on the extreme end of insane (one coworker described their last project as “a month of 3pm lunches” because 3-4pm was the midpoint of their day – meaning they were regularly at the office past midnight), while most fall somewhere in between.

        Someone else mentioned that what’s soul-crushing for one person is tolerable for another, and I completely agree – I personally prefer working regular 50-60 hour weeks, knowing I have a modicum of control over when and how I complete that work, versus working fewer hours overall but with unpredictable and extreme spikes, if that makes sense.

        1. InfoSec SemiPro*

          That makes a lot of sense!

          I’m the opposite – my work is extremely flexible, until it isn’t. If bad things happen at 2 am, well, then I’m working at 2 until my part is done (or I’ve been working 10 hours, when we have hand offs). But then I’m out for the rest of the day (or the next day) Bad issues can mean living on a phone bridge and my computer for a week or two, but that happens a couple of times a year and the rest of the time I can take my kid to swim class every Friday morning. The spikiness works for me because it comes with a lot of personal flexibility.

          But you can’t be on like that all of the time. Its inhuman.

  6. Ruth (UK)*

    In the UK, we have this rule (I got this from the UK gov site): “Workers have the right to 11 hours rest between working days, eg if they finish work at 8pm, they shouldn’t start work again until 7am the next day.”

    Now, this isn’t strictly followed in all jobs, industries etc (eg. one of my past fast food jobs didn’t follow this) but generally speaking most companies either follow it or keep to it closely enough that they can be seen to be following it.

    I’m guessing you don’t have this rule where you are, but I still think it suggests a good guideline of what is a reasonable amount of time between the end of one working day/shift and the start of another.

    In other words, I’m basically trying to say that your working hours are outrageously high, and that’s not just my personal opinion – I’m backed up by the UK government’s opinion on reasonable breaks between work.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, it’s the same in Germany (with some exceptions, although if the break is shortened, it needs to be lengthened on another day to make up for it); I wanna send these people a strongly worded letter. >:|

      1. Candy*

        The law in BC is that workers are required to have 8 hours of rest between shifts but it’s set in our collective agreement that we get 12 hours. When I used to work nights (until 10pm) and was asked to cover the opening shift a couple times (9am) my manager was required to get me to sign off that I was okay with just 11 hours rest between shifts

    2. Undine*

      I wonder — is that UK law, or is it from the European Union? Alison, I know this is difficult, and maybe no one knows, but is there any chance you could find someone to write about what in British labour law could change when they leave the EU?

      I remember you did a good summary on the impact of the changes to exempt employees a while back. This won’t be as clear-cut, but even a sense of, “These things are from the EU and could be affected by Brexit” would be interesting. Even if laws don’t disappear right away, will they be up for change?

      1. Discordia Angel Jones*

        British lawyer here! The main issue is we have currently got no idea what’s going to happen and it is very dependent on what happens with the Brexit negotiations. It’s probably not possible to do a summary like that until after March 2019 unless it involves a substantial amount of guesswork.

        Also, to stay on topic – the working break thing is in fact EU law.

        1. Adereterial*

          Government official here – I’m anticipating they’ll stay in force on withdrawal, at least in the short term. If the transition period is agreed they’ll remain for that as a minimum. If we crash out, there will be more important things for the government to worry about (like trade, and Northern Ireland) before they get to that. I think it’s very unlikely to change before the end of this Parliament. Unless it’s called early, which it might. Hopefully not.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          And of course any bad news runs the risk of being labeled “project fear” and dismissed…

      2. Adereterial*

        It’s a bit of both – Working Time Directive is the EU law, transposed into UK law in the Working Time Regulations, some specific regs for specific professions like civil aviation, and a pile of amendments to that. There are some exceptions but they cover the majority of employees in the UK. I think there’s some minor differences between the two but the EU Directive sets the minimum required standard and the UK meets them. And will continue to after Brexit, at least in the short term.

        An individual can opt out of the 48 hour working week (though not all – there’s no opt out for delivery drivers and the like who have very stringent rules on breaks and rest time), but you retain the right to opt back in if you wish. Technically you can’t be penalised for it, either… in practice is a different matter.

      3. Flash Bristow*

        Well there’s the EU working time directive which says no more than 48 hours a week. Unless you sign a waiver to opt out. And companies that want you to do more than that will pressure you to sign the waiver…

        I’m guessing we’ll lose that directive come Brexit. (not getting into Brexit politics but by heck its a mess and I don’t think *anyone* really knows whatll happen yet…)

    3. :-)*

      In Belgium as well.

      Norm: 8h/day
      Sometimes exceptions: 11h or 12h/day
      And those hourse should be between 6am and 8pm for daywork. Working after 8pm is considered working in shifts and gives you an extra financial bonus. After 10pm is Nightwork (and also extra financial bonus).

      I know at my dad’s workplace it sometimes gets really busy and he’ll be doing longer workdays for a week or two (at around 11h or so). But they try to limit it, and has a certain end-date as well.

      Also, the 11hourse rest between “workdays” is also a must here (I think this is a European right)

    4. AKchic*

      There is a rule for trucking here in the US, but I don’t remember the specifics (sorry, I don’t really work that industry, I just have relatives in it, and I’m exhausted after a long, painful night. I’m not much help today).

      On the north slope (oil field, US/Alaska), there’s also restrictions on how long a person can work and under what conditions (I used to work HR for a construction, catering/cleaning outfit and we had a contract up there), but I haven’t actually done that work in a dozen years, so I know things have changed a bit and my brain is a bit fuzzy on the particulars. Plus there were different rules for different people (unionized positions had better protections).

      1. The New Wanderer*

        For commercial pilots too – most of the global regulators have mandatory rest periods. There’s sleep/fatigue research out there to show that productivity, performance, and focus drop off very quickly after 10 hours on task. It might not be unsafe for consultants (just bad business), but it’s a huge risk for anyone operating machinery.

      2. aebhel*

        There are rules like that for jobs where an exhausted employee falling asleep or making major mistakes would be a public safety risk, but I can confirm from experience that they’re not always followed. And apparently it’s totally safe to force someone to come in on three hours of sleep a night as long as they’re not driving a company vehicle…

    5. Dragoning*

      There are actually laws like this in the US (I think the minimum between shifts is 8 hours.)

      But salaried employees are exempt from this law.

      1. Grouchy 2 cents*

        There may be laws for certain groups of employees in certain industries (trucking, airlines, medical, other unionized industries) but for most shift work like retail/food service workers are frequently scheduled to work either back to back shifts or to work closing one day and be on the schedule for opening the next. That’s if you’re given a schedule at all and not just given the whole on-demand on call thing.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yep. JerkManager at my nadir-of-the-financial-crisis job loved scheduling people for back-to-back close-opens. We were retail and in a state with very low worker protections, so he could do whatever he wanted with our shifts and we had to suck it up.

        2. Sal*

          I worked as a public defender with semi-frequent night court shifts that had me working 9-5 on (weekday), 5-1 am (that night), and back at work (next weekday) at 9. There was unofficial flexibility for being late the morning after night court but it stank. Especially so when I wouldn’t make the subway before it started running local and my normally 35 min commute took an hour instead. Worst ever was when I had night court before spring daylights saving. Finished in court at 1, hour commute home, but now it was 3 am instead of 2 am. We also had to work weekends and weekend nights, with each lawyer having about 2-4 of this type of shift every two months (on top of a regular 40 hour week).

          Guess what was never disclosed or discussed during the interview process? I never thought to ask! (Still bitter several years removed from that job, sigh.)

  7. Dee*

    Not even close to being worth it. If they were paying you well, maybe you could justify doing this in the short-term. But being that short on sleep will eventually affect your health.

    1. The Original K.*

      100% agree. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture for a reason. Leave as soon as you can and feel good about it, OP. This work environment will actively harm you.

  8. EchoSparks*

    One of the most important working lessons I’ve learned is that the pros/cons of any job will weight differently for each person. Something tolerable for one person could be soul-crushing for another. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with either. Individuals have different temperaments, priorities, interests, and motivations that all add up to a unique experience for each person even under the exact same employment conditions. It’s not a weakness or a failure to recognize your own limits and look for something that’s a better fit! Plenty of people wouldn’t be able to work that schedule, myself included.

  9. Former Consultant*

    Unfortunately, these hours are very common at boutique consulting firms. Especially the part where teams work late together. I had monthly 3am nights (mornings?) and quarterly all-nighters – 90 minutes to shower/change before a client meeting. Even if my piece of the deliverable was finished, we were all expected to remain until everything was finished.

    It’s worth it for the experience, high salaries, and the year-end bonus. If you’re under market pay, take your skills somewhere more lucrative.

      1. Former Consultant*

        The idea is to provide another set of eyes in the final review and to ensure the recommendations to the client are consistent. So, even if my work is “finished” I need to make sure my team mate isn’t saying something contradictory in her section of the report. It was the most miserable part of the job by far.

        1. Faith*

          I agree that the waiting is the most miserable part of the job. At least I had the gym at the office, so I can send my stuff off to someone two time zones behind, go to the first floor and work out for an hour, take a shower, and come back to review their comments/questions and complete my work. I had a lot of late-night workouts.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          This, or when the visionary on the team decides to change direction at 2 a.m. and you have to redo all your contributions. It’s nuts.

        3. Michaela Westen*

          Or, they could have a manager or supervisor or review dept. review all the materials in plenty of time for follow-up on discrepancies, and schedule the deadlines and review so no one has to work longer than 8-9 hours, and then everyone involved will be functioning well and the work will get done right without all this torture. This makes me wonder if there’s an element of creating drama and trauma for excitement. :p
          If you want excitement go out dancing, or hiking, or running, or climb a mountain, or play a sport…

      2. Tardigrade*

        I guess the people who are done sitting around watching everyone else complete their unfinished work is somehow motivating.

    1. Ehhhh*

      What the hell are you consulting on? And why don’t any of these firms (and there are many based on the comments) better manage their time, resources, and staffing? If I’m a client and I find out that the team had to work all night to finish just before our meeting, I’d be concerned about management. This sounds like first year college all-nighter garbage —which doesn’t end well for students.

      1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

        Right???? Why would I take your advice if you had to be up until 3 am for the past week to get it to me?

      2. Dragoning*

        I’d be so concerned about the quality of work you handed me.

        “I did this at 3am” is not normally a sign of quality. Rather, when handed something with that qualification, I expect it to sound like a drunk person wrote it.

      3. CheeryO*

        This is what I don’t understand. My experience is in engineering consulting, which I know is its own thing, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want someone who hasn’t gotten good sleep in a week to be designing anything that has to meet a long list of regulatory requirements in addition to, you know, functioning properly. I’m sure the same thing goes for other types of consulting firms.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        Clients don’t care as long as it’s done by someone with the requisite skills on time and the quality of work is high. Most are much more focused on results and the budget than how you make the sausage.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          Yep – if the client had someone who could actually tell the quality of the work being given to them, they wouldn’t need to outsource it.

          1. Elfie*

            This absolutely isn’t true. What I find in my industry (IT) is quite often the client (i.e. generally my employer) DOES have people with the skill to review it (and quite often the skill to produce it), but what’s that saying – you can’t ever be a prophet in your own land? The allure of the consultancies is all too real, and eye-rollingly predictable.

    2. No Mas Pantalones*

      Tax firms too. I worked for a boutique firm specializing in “high net worth individuals” (read: obscenely rich mfers) and 6 months out of every year (Feb, March, April & August, Sept, Oct) we were on mandatory overtime. We’d get an email each week with minimums: 60, 65, and then “as many as possible” because putting 80+ was advised against. I was lucky in that I was paid overtime, but 100 hour weeks were not fun. I had to Amazon Prime clothes, underwear, toiletries, etc. to work because I didn’t have enough time to do laundry.


      1. NW Mossy*

        This reminds me of a story courtesy of a college friend who moved to NYC for a consulting job after graduation. About 3 months into his job, he reached out to a mutual friend with the following request:

        “Hey, can I pay you to fly out to help me for a couple of days? I haven’t had time to buy furniture for my apartment, so I’ve got an air mattress and a cup. If you could pick out the stuff and be there to receive it, that’d be great.”

        This was the story that confirmed for me that despite my dad’s encouragement, consultancy was emphatically NOT going to be my career of choice.

      2. RVA Cat*

        Umm the jobs where people really are needed around the clock like that, they live in a barracks, or they have beds and a kitchen in the firehouse.

    1. WannaAlp*

      Can confirm (currently experiencing the after-effects from several years of overwork). Stress, including physical stress from overwork, can play havoc with the immune system and you can develop auto-immune disorders. In addition, the more you are subject to stress, the less your resistance to stress becomes. You’d think it would be the other way round, but it’s not. So you end up in a situation that even fairly normal major stressy life events can have a catastrophic impact. I am now in a position where my quality of life is substantially impacted, and it’s all traced back to the overwork I suffered for years.

      In other words, OP, please don’t think you can handle the long hours. You won’t know until it’s too late what the impact on you will be.

  10. Detective Amy Santiago*

    People would not want to be around me if I wasn’t getting adequate sleep (or food – are they feeding you during these ridiculous hours?). Get out now.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      Yes, food! 3pm lunches above? I’ve never heard of a company that keeps people long hours and doesn’t bring in food. Especially if they’re not even feeding you – but then you’d probably all be dead by now…

  11. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    If that’s their expectation for long-term performance (like Alison said, not “the week before election day and you’re working a campaign” or something similar) then they’re nuts. You don’t get good work when you’re running people like that! It’s a more efficient use of the company’s time to let people go home, go to bed, and come back refreshed and ready to work.

    It honestly sounds to me like they’re more focused on the optics (“Look at me being here for so many hours!”) rather than the output, which just has to be utter crap by the time you’re hitting your sixteenth consecutive hour at work.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Yes! In my experience, when you work extra hours, you then spend the first few hours the next day cleaning up the mistakes you made while you were fatigued at work. Overall, less productive work is done than by a well-rested worker.

  12. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Your employer is screwing you over big time, OP. Here’s why:

    1) It’s one thing to pay your workers low wages. It’s quite another to pay them low wages AND expect them to work crazy hours. They’re benefiting twofold there because they get more work out of you for less.

    2) Work/life balance is a term that has been so bastardized that I don’t even know what it means anymore. That’s the problem with a lot of office jargon. People user it as a filler word when they want to impress someone but they don’t really know what it means. Other terms include: competitive pay, flexible hours, fast paced work environment, teamwork. Seriously, I’ve seen people use these terms and then say something right after that that is *the exact opposite of what they just said* without realizing what they’ve said.

    3) There is an unfortunate misconception in the American work world that if you work a zillion hours round the clock, then you must be productive and dedicated. In my experience, the people who do this are the *least* productive because they don’t know how to manage their time and/or workload. You clearly work for an employer who values butt in seat rather than actual results as evidenced by your desire to go home at a somewhat decent hour. If your butt needs to be in your seat, there’d better be a good reason why beyond what you were told.

    I wouldn’t bother trying to understand this madness; I’d find another job that pays well AND values your time. Don’t ever buy into the BS that if you’re not working until 3 AM, then you’re not a good employee. It’s not true.

    1. Geneva*

      Well said! Run for the hills OP! Your office culture is batsh-….oops, I mean bad.

      Also, I agree 100% with your statement on American work culture. Unfortunately there are still a lot of bosses out there who penalize employees who quietly handle their business before heading home at a reasonable hour in favor those who appear stressed and scattered because sweat = success in their minds.

      I’ll add to that that these bosses can also be quite manipulative to prevent you from questioning their logic. E.g. saying things like, “there’s plenty of other people who’d love your job,” or “Why can’t you be more like John? John goes the extra mile for his team?”

      Uh-uh, NOPE. Start job searching OP

    2. KHB*

      “Work/life balance is a term that has been so bastardized that I don’t even know what it means anymore. That’s the problem with a lot of office jargon. People user it as a filler word when they want to impress someone but they don’t really know what it means.”

      So for employers who genuinely do value work-life balance, what’s a good way for them to express that? One of the things I like most about working here is that the workload (almost always) fits comfortably into a 40-hour week. I’d like to use this as a selling point for job candidates, but I don’t want to do it in a way that leaves them thinking that I’m selling them a line of BS.

      1. Chameleon*

        I would just give specifics. “We make sure our workloads fit into a 40-hour week, so you shouldn’t expect to exceed those hours more than X times a year.” That gives a concrete expectation that they can calculate, rather than a vague subjective term.

    3. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      OP, you sound quite unhappy with this situation, and I think it’s justified. You didn’t say many positive things about the job, only that you can learn a lot. Is that learning experience worth putting up with the crazy hours and being underpaid? Do you not believe that you could get a similar learning opportunity elsewhere, with more reasonable hours and adequate market-rate pay? Is this job something that you can put a stopwatch on, and commit (to yourself) to work there for a particular period of time (for example, one year) for the valuable learning experience, then move on to a different employer?

      Regarding “work-life balance”… I’m afraid this phrase is so widely used now, as required jargon without justification, that it no longer means anything. If you want to know about the hours during an interview context, ask to speak with an employee currently in a similar role and ask that person about their real working hours. In my experience, work-life balance is just lip service from HR, and it can also be quite variable even within a company.

  13. Dr. Pepper*

    I’ve had jobs with insane hours. Days where I worked 7am-3am were not the norm, but were regular enough that I just expected it. It was crazy, but I was young, loved the work, and needed the money. If I was asked to do that now? I’d probably pass out from laughing. No effing way. Money is great, but I need my sleep.

    1. Dwight*

      Unfortunately employers take advantage of the fact that for many people: Sleep is great, but I need the Money.

    2. Bea*

      I could pull any hours and no sleep up until about 27, now my body starts shutting down by 8pm. I recall going to need at 2am and getting up at 7am ready to roll. Last time I tried that….it failed and it caused us to delay Thanksgiving until way late. Whomp whomp whomp old age.

  14. Episkey*

    I’m just thinking of the demographic here, and it must be very similar ages/etc with no kids — I have a 10 month old and there is no way I would be able to do this even if I wanted to. (I wouldn’t want to with zero kids, but I’m just saying.)

      1. Anonymouish*

        OP didn’t say this outright, but I wonder whether this is a coveted/’desirable’ part of the industry or boutique — the surest way to get people working crazy hours for no pay is to assure them that ‘A million [people] would kill for this job’.

        Which usually means, young people with no other responsibilities who are willing to use work as a social life as well as a work life.

            1. Anonymouish*

              Yep, I figured. This is also the kind of place where you’re given X amount of vacation but good luck actually taking it, because it’s never a good time for the team.

            2. Jen S. 2.0*

              Welp, let one of the other 499 people have this position. Someone else might be fine with this, but you are not, and there is nothing wrong with that.

          1. Brett*

            In the age of internet applications, it is not that hard to get 500 people to apply for a job posting.
            Now, if it was 500 _qualified_ people, that would be impressive.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Unfortunately, this is really common for boutique consulting firms. It’s this super fratty/intense culture (I see it also at investment banks and big NYC law firms) that you’re only dedicated if you abandon all of your outside life, and women and folks with caretaking responsibilities are hit particularly hard. I meet consultants in their 30s with heart problems from caffeine overconsumption (and who have had heart attacks as a result), coke and Adderall addictions, and I met one person who developed a heart disorder at 25 from the no-sleep-lots-of-energy-drinks culture. And even after heart attacks, none of those folks left the industry. In theory, the money is supposed to offset the insanity, but from what I can tell, it really doesn’t seem worth it (to me, at least).

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        Or any parent of a young kid who wants to actually be a part of that kid’s life, or any parent who doesn’t want their spouse or co-parent to simmer with resentment constantly. Every stay at home parent I know would resent the hell out of their partner working hours like this, even if the money was good.

        1. Positive Reframer*

          Shoot most spouses/partners would resent these kinds of hours. Sure there’s the inconvenience of having to take on the lion’s share of tasks but most people are in relationships because they want to spend time and communicate with the other person. Kinda hard to do that if they are barely getting time to get a functional amount of sleep.

        2. Sign me up*

          I love my intense workplace! Not everyone things that Kids Are Great and that all workplaces should tailor themselves to the needs of parents.

          With this said OP should do what works for her and if they pay is low she should go elsewhere.

  15. Some Sort of Management consultant*

    Unfortunately this sounds like a lot of consulting firms. The chance that you, OP, could change this is very slim.

    And it isn’t worth it if you’re not one of the few Teflon people who never seem to be affected by anything.

    (I’m at a Big4 firm with good w-l balance. I worked 48 hours last week and got a text this morning from my boss AND our staffing manager asking about my workload and if it would settle down soon and if I needed extra help. )

  16. neverjaunty*

    LW, it doesn’t matter whether long hours are common in your industry so much: this is a bad company. They apparently lied to you about work-life balance and they underpay you. Companies who pull this are not great fonts of in-the-trenches experience; they’re just poorly run.

  17. Bunny Girl*

    I’ll be honest; I don’t really get this seemingly new fad of having to run yourself into the ground to prove yourself at work. I know some industries it’s the norm and long hours are required and part of the culture, but I don’t really get companies that have and implement that culture pretty much just to have that culture. During my last job hunt, the company recruiter mentioned that they really enforced long hours (for an office/admin job???) and when I said that just didn’t work for me because I have other commitments (school, volunteer work, a couple hobbies) the guy basically shamed me and said that if I “lacked the motivation” then I probably wouldn’t worked. He got his ass chewed out about that cute little response.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        By me. I would have just let it go but he was so rude and condescending about me not wanting to work 60 hours a week with everything else going on and I was just like Woah we don’t talk to people that way.

    1. Grouchy 2 cents*

      It’s so bizarre. I see admin jobs all the time where they’re flat out saying you’ll be at the office for 12 hours a day (without the salary to match naturally). And I mean, DOING WHAT? The last time I pulled crazy hours like that it was because I sat around twiddling my thumbs for four to five hours while the big boys got their shit together. They then went off for drinkies at 1 or 2 am and left me to finish creating the actual reports for the next morning.

      Even the “regular” hours now seem to be 8-6. Which honestly explains why so many people are screwing around online all day – butts in seats.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        That’s what I’m thinking!! Even in my busiest roles, I’ve always been able to get my work done during my 40 hour week. In the multiple office roles I’ve had, I’ve only had to stay late once and it was because I worked in emergency services and something HAD to get done that evening. Otherwise, I don’t understand what people fill their support roles days with. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but in the role I was talking about, I couldn’t see it.

  18. rosenstock*

    i’m in a support role at a biglaw firm and our hours are like this about 25% of the time, but attorneys get paid a LOT and support staff all makes overtime, which makes a huge difference. also, it’s biglaw lol

    1. LawLady*

      Yeah, I’m in biglaw. The hours are enough that most people would think I’m crazy. But the pay is commensurate with the expectations and everyone knows before starting work, so it’s fine.

      To me, the problems here are: 1. the expectations weren’t conveyed and 2. the pay isn’t high enough to justify this kind of work.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Exactly. Everyone who goes into BigLaw knows the hours expectations, and they often know which practice groups are more/less intense. But low pay and inaccurate estimates? That’s not really fair or worth it.

  19. peachie*

    I’m season planning for a theater at the moment, and I just read a play about a workplace that sounds exactly like this. I thought it was exaggerated parody, but apparently not. This sounds like my actual personal hell.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      First of all, your job sounds fascinating.

      Secondly, reality and fiction seem to be blurring together more often of late and it’s bizarre. Someone once told me that they worked until 3am once and I was just amazed that they’d actually stayed in the office – she was a city slicker, I am most decidedly not (up with the cockerels, in bed with the sun going night-night). I get that the pressure of the environment and the need for work stops people from pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation. Maybe when I was first starting out, I would say anything but now I think Alison has trained me well to react appropriately to these demands.

      (This isn’t a knock on you, OP – I think you’re a little blinkered by the fact that late hours are something of a norm in your industry. This is cray-cray though.)

  20. giraffe*

    R U N away, OP! I’m amazed that they’ve managed to brainwash people into working these hours without even getting paid a lot. I know a few people at the big consulting firms who work hours like these occasionally, but it’s not every single day and they get paid a TON. Run away and find someplace with better work/life balance, and stop thinking of it as a defeat. They are the ones who misled you about their culture; this is all on them.

  21. Bea*

    I pulled 12hr days, 5 days before but they were early starts more than late stays. I can do it only with the proper team in place who recognizes this is batty hours to keep for a long haul. These attitudes and being negative over someone passing out from the exhaustion, nope nope nope.

    These are cultures that do not change. Run run run.

  22. Mike C.*

    I will never understand why these firms feel like they’re too good for standard techniques for planning/scheduling/implementing projects on behalf of their clients. Companies who use these techniques print money and are known by everyone. It’s not some secret, it’s fundamentals.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah. This is not commitment and sacrifice for the client. This is sheer human effort being used to subsidze awful-to-nonexistent project management, understaffing, and overpromising.

    2. Naomi*

      Given that we know the company is both underpaying employees and milking them for every hour they can get, I suspect the real reason those hours are necessary is that the company is too cheap to hire enough staff. Penny wise, pound foolish. (The hours being “necessary to deliver great work” is a feeble cover story; how great can the work be when no one who produced it was getting any sleep?)

    3. Genny*

      Amen. I never understand why late hours are used as a badge of honor. It’s not impressive that you worked a 16 hour day; it’s sad that that’s what was required. I often wonder what employment figures would look like it companies hired the people they needed instead of relying on a small cadre of employees to work ridiculous (unpaid) hours.

  23. Akcipitrokulo*

    Making the decision “I am not willing to do this” is not being defeated – it’s making a mature and perfectly reasonable choice for your wellbeing. That’s the opposite of being defeated :)

    (For reference – and I know employment laws differ, just giving backup to how ridiculous they are being) – where I am it’s actually illegal to work those hours.)

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      Ooo, excellent point.

      This is setting good and healthy boundaries for you. You’ve decided that this is unacceptable and enforcing that decision makes you a winner, definitely.

      1. BookishMiss*

        Yes. You win your health (physical and mental), a new, hopefully respectful and honest ish workplace, and reasonable pay. All wins.

    2. Rosemary7391*

      You could also frame it as being about work quality. Because if those are the normal hours, significant amounts of work are getting done whilst people are sleep deprived. I prefer quality work over a quantity of poorly done work.

  24. Justin*

    I once had a phone interview with a place that not only said ten hours were required but that we had to be logged in and keystrokes could be monitored. And they didn’t even pay well.

    You’ve been kidnapped by the Armitages. Brain surgery is coming soon.

    In other words…
    Get Out.

    (But yeah, as far as looking for other jobs, be explicit, no place that wants to treat you well will run away if you are explicit.)

    1. Fergus*

      I had an interview with a company back in ’92. I was told for 42K the norm was 60 hrs / week. I didn’t walk, I ran.

  25. Leslie*

    Alison is absolutely correct. If these kinds of projects and work hours are the norm – and not a one-off when pulling together a proposal, for example (and even then, it could be a red flag) – then this type of work environment doesn’t respect professional boundaries and expectations for employee commitment from bosses and coworkers will always be warped. If you try to protect your boundaries, you’ll be the first to go. Your expectations may become warped in the process. You may need to be re-educated when/if you leave. It’s a cycle that feeds itself. What makes it even more difficult to recognize or act against is your bosses and coworkers may be very nice and competent people, too.

  26. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

    There’s a few separate issues here.

    First, if you want me to work long hours (or be available 24-7, or whatever), you had better pay me.

    Second, what the heck are they doing that necessitates working such long hours? Is everyone twiddling their thumbs during the day? Who is managing the work flow and how??? Some jobs do require 24-7 coverage, and other jobs have random emergencies that might mean everyone is sticking around (Lehman Brothers’ dissolution comes to mind since it was 10 years ago). But if you aren’t in health care, the military, fire/ police, or I don’t know, oil rigs, and your work requires that many hours half the time or more frequently, then you’re 1. Woefully understaffed 2. Doing a terrible job managing how work gets done or 3. Convinced that late hours are the way to stay ahead. None of these options bode well. Move on. You thought the job was one thing and it turned out to be a mismanaged mess.

          1. gmg22*

            Right. Nurses often work 12-hour shifts, but that’s on a “two days on, three days off” rotation or similar. A better comparison, I suppose, would be medical residents, but their culture of overwork has also been questioned pretty harshly (do I want emergency surgery performed on me by someone who hasn’t slept in 30 hours? Hmm …).

    1. Lily*

      If by any chance they ARE in the medical field or firefighters etc, they are even more terribly understaffed and actually dangerous to their “clients”. If someone needs to save your life you want them to be reasonably awake and well-rested.

      1. ginger ale for all*

        Do you know the case in Dallas where the officer shot her neighbor when she thought she was in her apartment but was actually one floor above in his apartment. It turns out that she had just gotten off of a 15 hour shift at work.

        1. zora*

          Not a great example: this was a much more complicated story with history between the two people, and the “tired from a long shift” story is likely a cover-up.

          Just to let you know this is not a valid data point. I don’t think we have a valid example of working long hours making someone shoot a human being.

    2. Hobbert*

      I’m in public safety and I’ve found some of the strictest limits to working hours here. Currently, I work for an employer with 12 hour shifts. We’re limited to a max of 16 work hours per day with a continuous 8 hour break between shifts. We also aren’t permitted to work more than 12 days in a row. The only exception to that is an extreme emergency and that’s only occurred once in my 15 years here. The schedule the OP is describing sounds like a killer- literally! That’s terrible for your health and I can’t imagine why anyone would stay more than a few years.

    3. Stone Cold Bitch*

      I’m in fire and rescue and if a shift has a lot of calls or are dealing with a major fire/accident that takes several hours to handle then we call in replacements so they get a break or go home, depending on the situation.

      And they never work more than three shifts per week. (Unless they actively choose to swap shifts with someone else.)

  27. Knitting Cat Lady*

    So, if all employees work crazy long hours very often your management’s work load planning sucks big time.

    And if they can’t find enough people to do the job without crazy hours they suck terribly as employers.

    We have very strict work hour laws here. If, during and inspection, it comes to light that employees worked longer than 10 h in one day the company will get a very hefty fine for each infraction. 5 figure sums per infraction.

    And if they can prove detrimental health effects on the employees jail time of up to 3 years is possible.

    And if you’re in a union job constant overtime is frowned upon. Because if all your employees work overtime all the time you clearly have enough work to hire more people.

    That aside: If you’re constantly overworked like this you’ll inevitably deliver shoddy work.

  28. it_guy*

    I think it’s incredible that you had to take a pay cut for this job. Typically when companies work their employees to death, they pay over the norm to keep the people slaving away. If you have to take a pay cut for this kind of environment, you really need to get out.

    I would be curious as to what says about this company.

    1. OP*

      What’s fascinating to me is that GlassDoor has fairly positive reviews – but upon closer inspection, most of these positive reviews…sound exactly the same (e.g., suspiciously identical phrases).

      The few negative reviews are horrifyingly bad – and also, powerful in their specificity – and I should have taken them much more seriously.

      1. Anonym*

        Slight derail (apologies), but Alison, would you be open to people sharing their experiences with the accuracy or inaccuracy GlassDoor and similar reviews?

        And thanks, OP. You’ve just gotten me to take some concerning reviews about a job I’m applying for more seriously. As you describe, the bad ones are deep and detailed, the good ones not so much. Good luck deciding what to do!

          1. Lumen*

            I’d love this. At ToxicJob, all the Glassdoor reviews that are positive are from current (usually brand-new, given their turnover) employees. All the negative ones are from ex employees. They are long and highly detailed.

            And the company has a tendency to reply to all reviews, and the responses they leave on negative ones (while cheerily written) make it clear that they know exactly who left it. Which, in turn, hints to current employees that they’d better not write anything negative on Glassdoor, because “we’ll know it was you”.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        “most of these positive reviews…sound exactly the same (e.g., suspiciously identical phrases). ”
        Another indication of deliberate deception! They deliberately deceived you to get you to take the job. A huge, flashing, neon-red flag. Nothing good comes of people like these. Leave!

  29. Anonymouish*

    OP, it sounds like you’re grappling with ‘Should I stay or Should I go’, but if you’re looking for coping mechanisms in the meantime, I would say that generally places that require 100% attendance at night are usually lax with starting times in the morning, look the other way about excursions to get lunch or dentist appointments midday, etc.

    Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with you that all of those things (late arrival, midday ‘stress relief’, etc) contribute directly to everyone being there later at night — but it might be that you’re holding yourself to a more stringent behaviour during the day that doesn’t actually ‘count’ as much as the facetime during the all-nighters… and in my experience managers who don’t know better will point to this daytime flexibility as ‘work-life balance’.

      1. Greg NY*

        I’ll add that certain states require that an employee have a certain amount of rest each week (such as a 24 hour period), and there are a few exceptions in certain industries such as aviation and trucking, but other than those, any individual day can be any length. Of course, good employers realize that there are diminishing returns per hour as days get long, but employers are often short-sighted.

        1. BookishMiss*

          Yep, NYS requires 12h between shifts if I recall correctly. Not that retail, fast food, etc, actually follow it.

  30. CRM*

    For me, no cause or amount of money is worth working those hours on a regular basis. The fact that you’ve gone on this long despite taking the job for it’s supposed work-life balance (while being under-paid!) is proof of your fortitude and work ethic. You’re not giving up, you’re getting out of an objectively bad situation. Good luck!

  31. MBB Anon*

    I’ll be honest as a consultant 40 hours in three days didn’t make me raise an eyebrow. I’ve regularly worked 9 to 7, taken a break for dinner/gym, then worked 9-midnight. (Honestly I consider that a balanced weeknight). However, I would have been able to do the evening work from home or a hotel room and am paid at the top of the market. I also did not work late on Fridays or on weekends unless I chose to prioritize my work that way.

    To me the hours alone here aren’t the issue, it’s the inflexibility around when the work gets done and where. It begs the question whether they’re really working efficiently or thoughtfully. Also not being paid top rates or having the benefit of being traveling (when working late is at the expense of little else) is an obvious issue.

    I agree with trying to push back on the late night collaboration expectations. Being an early bird could be such a benefit.

    1. Snark*

      Even paid at the top of the market….you do have to realize: your “balanced weeknight” sounds like cult-like insanity to anybody on a normal schedule.

      1. MBB Anon*

        I do because I have friends who don’t work my hours (and I read this blog). But I get to do incredibly interesting work with great people, at a point in my life when I’m responsible only for myself. Three to four nights of working and being paid what feels to me an insanely high amount isn’t that costly.

        Honestly I often wonder what people do on random Tuesday (watch random network TV?) and whether they enjoy their work for the 40 hours they do it… I don’t mean that to be snarky (or a pun :) I just mean I share your disbelief from the other side.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          As someone who enjoys work (but works the hours you’ve described only 25% of the time) and has a bff who works the hours you’re describing in consulting, I can tell you that folks who work fewer hours often enjoy their work and also enjoy their “random” Tuesdays. :)

          It’s just that we enjoy doing different things during our “downtime” than folks who work your kind of hours, and oftentimes the things we’re enjoying are more productive than watching TV. And in some cases, we’re similarly compensated for working fewer hours, or we consciously take a salary hit in order to preserve our non-work time.

        2. Marlowe*

          I’m a little confused. There are tons of things to do in the world outside of work. What do you do when you’re not working? Do you just sleep?

        3. Snark*

          Oh, I enjoy my work for the 40 hours I do it. The work is vital, the culture relaxed, it’s in my wheelhouse, I’m paid well for it. But I’m not watching TV when I’m not doing it. I leave work, I hit the trail for a run in the late afternoon, I come home, I have a beer, I play with my son for a bit, I make dinner (cooking being my hobby and main passion), we eat, the kid goes to sleep, I get an hour to chat by the fire pit with my wife or work out or read a book or whatever….and then I go to sleep for 7-8 hours.

          I get that right now, “interesting work with great people” is all you need or want to be responsible for, but I know 50 year olds who have nothing but their interesting work with great people….except they’re burned out on the work. Don’t forget that life has dimensions and needs no work can satisfy.

          1. MBB Anon*

            Just to clarify, I’m not meaning to attack anyone’s lifestyle who is finding fulfillment in a 40 hour or less week. I’m just saying for 53-60 hours of work on average, a totally free weekend, and a lifestyle without a family or kids at the moment I’m feeling very well compensated and fulfilled by the way I allocate my time and resources.

            I appreciate the caveat about letting an okay right now thing get in the way of developing what I may need at a later age. Totally agree. I know the milestones I’m working toward to change gears and accommodate my family. I got two years of grad school to recharge my batteries, so it works for me (clearly not looking to suggest this should be for everyone.

          2. Close Bracket*

            And you know what, there are people in their 50s with wives and sons who regret it, get divorced, buy a sports car, and date inappropriately young women. Who knows, you might end up one of them, but I bet you would blow a gasket if I told you the wife and son were probably a mistake. “You might not like this when you are in your 50s” is not constructive advice.

            1. Snark*

              Well, the person I was exchanging posts with it seems to have taken it in the spirit it was offered, and managed to respond gracefully. The whole topic of this thread is work-life balance tilted heavily towards the former, and a conversation was started with me on the topic, I offered my thoughts on that. Your weirdly hostile tone is much more out of place.

              And no, I would not blow a gasket at that suggestion, if offered thoughtfully and in a context where it made sense. I’m bothered more by your condescending tone, honestly.

            2. Ol' rough and ready*

              “You might not like this when you are in your 50s” is not constructive advice.”

              Exactly. And this harping on about “I get 7-8 hours of sleep every night after making dinner and putting the kid to bed” isn’t necessarily the mundane lifestyle that everyone covets, either. (Personally, I’m a “carpe diem” type of person and want to spend my time on this planet doing great things, Teddy Roosevelt-style.) If that’s what floats Snark’s boat, so be it, but that doesn’t mean his advice is for everyone.

              1. Snark*

                Don’t even bother claiming your average Tuesday is a great deal more exciting, there, Bull Moose. I’ve climbed three of the Seven Summits, bought an AK-47 by accident in Peru, and rode on the roof of a bus at 17,000 feet in Ladakh. And today I will go grocery shopping and stop by the UPS store. No matter how richly embroidered, life’s tapestry does have a background.

        4. Rosemary7391*

          I enjoy my work. I also enjoy my time off.

          2 hrs wouldn’t be enough for me to get home, cook a nice meal, go for a run and shower. Maybe 3 hours depending on the run length (can happily be an hour).

          I have lots of hobbies I enjoy – cake decorating, sewing. I also have a lot of responsibility at church and with our community project so I’m out for meetings at least 1 evening a week, plus another evening usually doing other work associated with that. TV never figures into that equation (I actually don’t have a TV license, which is ever a source of bafflement to people).

        5. Chameleon*

          I really like my job, but I would hate it if I had to do it for more than 35 hours/week (with occasional spikes of more). Heck, I would hate doing *anything* for more than 40 hours a week. I need variety, and I need downtime. (And yeah, I do watch TV. It’s fun and I like talking about the storylines with my husband.) (I still don’t get why Joy is so mad at Danny.)

        6. Lily Rowan*

          I do enjoy watching random network TV after I get home from work by 6, yes! And my work is super interesting and pays plenty.

        7. hbc*

          It’s cool if you like your work week to be packed with work, but can you seriously not think of what people do? When I was childless, my weeknight schedule was Monday and Thursday kung fu class, Tuesday and Friday coaching peewee soccer, and every other Wednesday was platelet donations. And that’s just the scheduled stuff.

          Meet up for band rehearsal, art class, team sports, book club, scuba certification—there’s a million things to do on the weekdays. You’re probably only thinking of irregular things because the concept of being available for 6:30 pm poetry slam nine nights out of ten is so far from your experience.

        8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Housework, hobbies, gardening, hiking, reading, taking care of family, taking care of pets… Music shows, art shows, science lectures. If you are really curious, you could go on meetup and do a search for all events that start at 6 or 7 PM.

          I guess I could see myself selling out and working 70-80 hour weeks for “an insanely high amount” for a year or two, to catch up on my savings. But I would really not enjoy that. I do not like the feeling of working every waking hour, it makes me feel trapped, no matter how interesting the work is. It is also a safe bet that the most interesting work in the world (except maybe in a hypothetical world where I was working for myself, at my business that I’d founded based on an especially great idea that I had) would stop being interesting to me after about 60 hours/week. And I would probably stop being productive after about 10-11 hours/day.

        9. NW Mossy*

          For me, it’s about diminishing marginal returns. Sure, if I worked in a longer-hour, higher-stress occupation, I could make a lot more money. But I’m in the exceptionally privileged position of making more than enough currently to both live as I like and save for the future I want, with minimal risk of being felled by financial catastrophe.

          I’ve seen this from the other side too, because my dad was very much a high-hours-for-high-pay guy. He traveled constantly when I was a kid, and he did some legitimately very important and interesting work. But I saw and felt what it cost him – the health problems, the stress, the weakness of his relationships with friends and family. It’s only been very recently (say, within the last two years) that he’s started to truly recover from the harms that came with his career. He turned 74 this year.

          I made a decision quite early in my adult life that I’d make a different choice. I went for work that would keep me in one place, knowing full well that I’d earn a lot less and wouldn’t get the glamour of a jet-setting career. On balance, I’m happy with that choice. I live in a place I love, with people I love, doing things I love. I wouldn’t turn down more money if someone offered it to me, but I don’t need it to be where I want to be in life.

        10. Bea*

          I loved having 3 jobs at once. 60 hour weeks are lovely.

          I binge watch Lifetime Movies when I’m not on the clock. I’m on a bit of a break from crazy hours to lick wounds from an abusive job I left last year. So many Lifetime Movies.

        11. Michaela Westen*

          I have to make my food because of allergies, so I spend 10-12 hours cooking on weeknights. I watch TV while I cook. The only time I get to sit down and watch TV is if I’m sick!
          I do most of my errands during the week too. Doing cooking and errands during the week keeps my weekends free for my favorite thing: music and dancing, and seeing my friends there.
          So what it boils down to is, I use my non-work time to arrange my life for my favorite hobby and friends. :)
          It’s cool that you enjoy your work so much, it sound like you don’t need a hobby at this point.

      2. Windchime*

        I agree. My workplace is very balanced; it’s very rare that I work over 40 hours in a week and in two years, I think I’ve worked on two weekends for just a few hours. I need time for family, housework, hobbies, and most of all–SLEEP and relaxation. In past jobs, I’ve done the “work till midnight” thing and I can only last a few days before I start feeling anxious and upset and foggy.

        I don’t know how (or why) people do it.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Same, same. I don’t function well in the “work-sleep-work” mode. I don’t feel healthy, I don’t eat healthy because I never have the time for grocery shopping or cooking, I don’t have enough time to pursue my hobbies, and I spend the odd free nights and weekends catching up on all the sleep, rest, and housework that I missed while working long hours. Last time I spent several months working in this mode, took me another month or two to recover after the busy season was over. And that’s 12-13 hour days. On a schedule like OP’s, I would probably end up in a hospital before the first month is up (one of my older coworkers did at an OldJob after an extremely busy week. I took it as a sign to get out, before it happens to me too.)

  32. Willlis*

    Find a new job. Even if you found some way to make the long hours sustainable (adjusting your sleep schedule, telling them you have to go home, etc.), why bother? This company well knows it’s overworking people and it’s not going to change. Plus, you’re being underpaid for the field. It doesn’t sound like there are many or any pluses here. Managing to stay in a job where you’re working too much for too little pay is not a win. Finding a better job is.

  33. blink14*

    OP – if you don’t have a direct manager, who said you weren’t allowed to leave at 9:30 pm that day? Is there no middle management and you are answering to a high level director or even an owner? It seems like part of the problem is poor management – I doubt every situation truly calls for such late nights.

    Also in the industry you are in, is there a busy season? Perhaps this is it?

    Either way, run, run run away.

  34. Cordoba*

    I’ll cheerfully work excessive hours in exchange for truly outrageous pay. Of course, I’ll only do it for a year before I use the savings from that outrageous pay to bankroll a relaxing break and a nice leisurely job search.

    Absurd hours for below-market pay? No way.

    These people are unreasonable, it does not reflect poorly on LW to take their ball and leave.

  35. Existentialista*

    I had a professor during my MBA who had previously had a senior role in one of the well-known consulting companies, and I remember him remarking once during one class, “If you pay people more than they think they’re worth, you can make them work a lot harder.” So, I thought, that’s the approach at the big firms – pay salaries that seem huge on paper but then expect 100+ hour weeks – but if your new company hasn’t figured out the money part of the equation, I think you’re better off getting out of there.

    1. MBB Anon*

      Such a good way of putting it! Definitely easier to work 55-65 hour weeks when I feel this way. I’ve rarely worked more than 70 hours so I feel particularly well compensated.

  36. :-)*

    I consider it a defeat if you stay, because those workhourse can become your ending. Perhaps a bit too hard, but sleepdeprevation can become really dangerous. So, OP, my advise is to RUN.
    Your health is way more important than this job.

  37. Ali G*

    This is not normal. My husband is a consultant in a “boutique” firm, and while he does work long hours (more often that we would like), he has never, ever, been in the office well into the night.
    If he has to work on something during nights/weekends, he brings it home (and this is even for stuff he has to have security clearance to work on – they have safeguards and procedures so he can do that). So it sucks that sometimes he’s here, but working until 10 or 11 at night, or working all day Sunday, but he’s working at his own pace and then once he hands it off to the next step, he’s done.
    He’s expected to bill 45 hours/week in order to qualify for annual profit sharing. So the baseline is higher than normal, but he’s also very well compensated, gets a lot of vacation time, actual flexible hours (meaning he dictates the flexibility), and works from home quite regularly (he just came home actually to work the rest of the day).
    So, OP, you do not have to settle for this. Take your skills elsewhere where you will be treated well and fairly compensated.

  38. Caitlin*

    Honestly, the fact that their pay is not competitive and they don’t have anyone thinking about how quickly this kind of environment generates a wrongful death lawsuit makes me think that they don’t have any actual money.

    I think you’ve learned what you were supposed to from this experience, and that you can safely move on :)

  39. Van Wilder*

    Big 4 accountant here. Certain teams are currently working till 1-3am in advance of our 9/15 deadline. This happens for a couple weeks, about twice a year. Some of the schedule depends on what clients you’re on and who you work with (some managers want everyone to work the same hours, some don’t care when you work as long as the work gets done), and of course, your level and tenure.

    I’ve done some experienced hire recruiting here and when we’re interviewing we *always* emphasize that we work long, long hours. Especially if someone is coming from a job that we suspect might be normal hours. We don’t want someone to start the job and then end up quitting when they see the time commitment. It’s messed up that they didn’t extensively warn you.

  40. AdAgencyChick*

    You took a PAY CUT to do this shiz? NOPE.

    I’d get out as quickly as you can. It’d be one thing if your career path required you to “pay your dues” with crappy hours for a few years, but you’re rewarded financially for it and eventually it ends. (Still wouldn’t be my choice, but some people think it’s worth it.) But if you were making more money working reasonable hours…I’d want both of those things back.

  41. JustLagom*

    I worked for a similar sounding company (consulting and with frequent long hours) when I first graduated. Before I started, I remember people telling me about the turnover rate and how most people left after 2 years. Whenever I’d ask why they left, it was because of “other opportunities” or because they “couldn’t handle the heat”…. Well it turns out they didn’t WANT to handle the heat. I left before the 2 year mark and have never looked back. Not worth it in my opinion – health is more important. I know one coworker who actually got Gout while working – as in the nutrition deficiency that commonly ailed 17th century kings.

    Oh and I also think the “we do it to produce the best product” thing is complete BS. A well managed project that’s appropriately planned and executed (and truthfully communicated to the client), does not require the entire team to work past midnight on a regular basis.

  42. Genny*

    What kind of kool-aid can this company possibly be serving to both underpay people and require ridiculously long hours without having massive morale and turnover issues? As someone who needs sleep and alone time to function at my best, I’d recommend finding the nearest exit. Everything you described sounds utterly insane and isn’t going to change.

    1. TCPA*

      In public accounting, they send all the interns to a Disney World resort for a conference in Florida (all expenses paid), pay you to do fun stuff and interact with 2,000 other 20-somethings, and give you a job offer for after college graduation. (Sounds ridiculous typing it out, but it’s true – one of the days I went to Harry Potter World and actually got paid for a day of work…) That was some pretty strong Kool-Aid! I only made it two years before the hours and culture got to me, though.

  43. Colorado*

    I worked in consulting and this seems ridiculous! I understand being an accountant during tax crunch or an attorney during a critical case, etc. but unless your consulting on a 24 hour face replacement surgery or other life saving setting, to me it’s an example of a poorly run, inefficient company. It is not accepting defeat, it’s having a life.

  44. LadyByTheLake*

    When I was a baby lawyer I was “involved” with a deal where experienced attorneys stayed up all night negotiating a deal. I went home at about 11pm, slept and came back the next morning. I was barely competent to make copies, I was so new. The next morning, two attorneys with 25+ years of experience each were arguing over a provision. The argument went on and on for nearly an hour while I sat there twiddling my thumbs. Finally, bored, I looked at the provision and listened to what they were arguing about. I spoke up and suggested that the provision be rewritten, and my (two weeks out of law school) suggestion resolved the issue. From that moment forward, I learned that it never makes sense to skip sleep — all of the work has to be redone. Throughout my career, I’ve never pulled an all-nighter, and I’m known as being unusually smart and perceptive. My secret is that I get enough sleep!

    1. Lumen*

      I tell people this ALL THE TIME. Putting off lunch won’t let you work hard and get more done – your brain cannot function without fuel, and the more irritable you get from hunger, the less focused you’ll be on doing good work. Putting off sleep won’t let you ‘commit’ more to what you’re doing – the failures in cognition we experience on even a little bit of sleep deprivation are significant.

      The work you do when you’re tired, hungry, and sick is not good work. That’s the bottom line. We (and our employers and teams and shareholders and customers) get NOTHING out of pushing ourselves like this.

      But we’ve all gotten so used to thinking it’s ‘normal’ that a well-rested, well-fed person has a good idea and it shocks us. Imagine what we could accomplish if everyone who gets praised for their exhaustion was actually getting enough sleep!

      1. Tal*

        “Putting off lunch won’t let you work hard and get more done”

        Please speak for yourself, and do not generalize your experience to others. I for one am much more focused and energetic if I eat a sensible breakfast and skip lunch. Indeed, if I eat food after, say, 11:30 am, I tend to get drowsy in the early afternoon. If I skip lunch, I rarely feel hungry.

        1. Panda Bandit*

          Our brains need breaks periodically. They have done studies about this. Whether you stop to have a meal, a cup of coffee, a glass of water, walk around the block, or play games for a few minutes on your phone, they’re all helpful.

  45. ArtK*

    Reminds me of a conversation I had with a hiring manager during an interview.
    Me: What is a typical work week for someone on your team?
    HM: We’re putting in 70+ hours per week, generally 16-18 hour days.
    Me: I understand crunch time getting a new product out the door. How long do you think this will last?
    HM: Oh, at least for the next two years.
    Me: … ?

    My advice: Bail out now. Some people thrive in that kind of environment, but it doesn’t sound like you will. Get out *before* your health starts slipping due to the stress and lack of sleep.

    1. Rosemary7391*

      Thing is, when they say stuff like that.. I don’t believe they actually *work* all those hours, not for 2 years straight. They simply cannot, even if they slept at the office. Assuming they all looked vaguely fed and washed, they spend time doing those things. They probably spend a lot of time talking, messing around with nerf guns and similar. Very few people can be on all the time like that, and you’re unlikely to find an office full of them.

    2. Pudgy Patty*

      I just want to know — WHO thrives on it?? I would love to hear from someone who loves the 70+ hour weeks.

      Unless it’s, “I just wanna make a ton of money,” I literally cannot understand how that kind of environment gets someone going.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Workaholics. I’ve known a few. It’s perfect for them. They don’t want to be away from work anyway.

  46. Faith*

    I was in a similar position once, and my breaking point came when I was driving back from the office at 6 am listening to a morning show on the radio, with the expectation that I would be back at the office by 9:30. They kindly allowed us to go home to take a shower and change. I’ve also walked into the office at 9 am to see my coworkers leaving after pulling a 24 hour working marathon. We were not a consulting firm. The reason for late hours was poorly organized processes, self-imposed unrealistic deadlines, and the inability of management to push back on unreasonable demands from C-suite or external auditors. But at least they were throwing a lot of money at us and we had the ability to take pretty much unlimited time off during the slower months of the year. However, the bad times were frequent enough to where they made any kind of social or family life impossible. I would regularly cancel plans for date nights, concerts, weekend hang-outs with friends. I also got diagnosed with severe vitamin D deficiency because I have not been exposed to enough sunlight due to spending all those hours in windowless office. I finally left and never looked back.

  47. KX*

    I applied at a company* that advertised flexible hours, and it was during the phone call with the outside recruiter that I asked about flexible hours (included in the job ad) and what it meant, and he said that people could take their laptops home after 6:30PM so they could finish their work at home instead of the office. I asked how late they were working and he said they were highly talented people who were doing excellent work in groundbreaking spaces blah blah, and then he started to insult my ability to work hard and then my work ethic. He was snotty about how I was trying to get him to promise a good work life balance and that he would never tell me that there was a good life balance, and that maybe I just didn’t have what it takes. During the phone screen! It was laughable.

    *I had seen this job post two times with slightly different job titles, and the postings were up and down so quickly I didn’t hesitate to apply the third time because it legit sounded interesting and they were advertising a high pay. Turns out the first two times they’d hired quickly and then fired within three weeks. The recruiter’s explanation for that was that the company team just weren’t good at hiring good people, so they’d enlisted the services of a professional recruiter. Uh huh. They only picked bad people. I’m sure they had terrible luck. Your heart breaks.

    1. gmg22*

      Oh, man. We are in a state of cultural brainwashing if this is how this many white-collar Americans think, aren’t we? Work yourself to death, please, and if you don’t want to, something must be wrong with YOU (not us). It’s the WASP work ethic gone haywire.

  48. Michaela Westen*

    If I understood correctly, they told you they have good work-life balance and that’s one of the reasons you took a pay cut to work there.
    Then that turned to be a huge, glaring, everything-on-fire lie. IMO this level of disrespect and manipulation is abusive. This alone is reason to leave. It might be worth asking if you can you get your old job back or if possible, leave without another job lined up to protect your health.

  49. TheMouse*

    I could never set myself on fire like this for any job, and to be honest it seriously bums me out that there are people (including OP’s co-workers) that not only consider this normal and expected, but will also shame anyone that doesn’t as being “uncommitted”. I hate that that way of thinking is increasingly normal. There has to be a direct correlation between the level of anxiety experienced by the workforce and the expectation of absolutely killing yourself for a job

    1. Lumen*

      I agree 100% with this. There frankly IS no amount of pay that makes this kind of life ‘worth it’, at least in my opinion. And then to hear that the OP took a pay cut for this? Appalling.

  50. Lumen*

    That they have convinced you that ‘needing to sleep’ or thinking ‘this job does not pay well enough or make me happy enough to put up with insane hours and negative comments’ is DEFEAT is honestly just as big a red flag as the fact that they are fine with their employees being constantly sleep-deprived and courting burnout. That’s a very toxic, warped mindset that they’ve given you, and you should leave before it cements itself in your brain and follows you for the rest of your career.

    Chronic sleep deprivation is dangerous. Even a few hours’ loss of sleep isn’t that far off from being drunk. So they’re fine with their employees getting behind the wheel at midnight, exhausted (and then at 6 am again, exhausted)? They’re no less morally (and potentially legally) liable than if they got all of you trashed on bourbon before sending you home.

    I have a coworker now who loves to tell the story of a previous job she had at a very big-name financial company. They were requiring people to work insanely long hours, and absolutely shaming them the way you describe. So one night one of the exhausted managers drives home, gets into a horrific wreck that she luckily (though barely) survived. I don’t know all the details, but the company was actually found liable. They had to pay for her months and months of medical treatment for her injuries. They changed their policies real fast after that – though some of it was simply that they would pay for taxis and ride-share. And to my mind, that is not even close to good enough.

    Leaving this company isn’t ‘defeat’. It’s getting out of the burning building before the boilers explode.

    1. Empty Sky*

      Chronic sleep deprivation is also a brainwashing technique, along with a strong emphasis on putting group needs above personal ones (check) and bonding through a sense of shared adversity (check). That might explain why they have been able to continue operating despite the punishing schedule and below-market rates. In other words, it’s a cult. Get out while you can.

      1. Lumen*

        I’m so glad you brought this up. In a workplace setting I think this is a far more apt description than calling it abusive. (Not that it isn’t abusive. But this raises it to a whole new level.) Not to mention: sleep deprivation is also a literal torture technique.

        Now… I don’t want to come across as dramatic. My point is just that we shrug off and laugh off things like chronic stress and sleep deprivation like they’re normal, but there is absolutely NO reason they need to be. There are seriously few jobs where it is life-and-death necessary to push that hard, and those jobs typically are very aware of the dangers of it and try to mitigate the damage for employees*. I’m pretty sure whatever type of consulting the OP is doing, it’s not life-and-death.

        *I’m talking about soldiers in combat, emergency medicine, and things like that.

  51. The Doctor*

    Since you took a pay cut AND you work hideous hours, it’s time to do a little math.

    Look at your most recent paycheck. Divide the gross pay by the ACTUAL HOURS WORKED during that pay period. The resulting number is your ACTUAL HOURLY RATE. Now decide if that hourly rate is still worth the stress of not having a life. (If your actual hourly rate is below the legal minimum wage for your area, then that is a different problem.)

  52. A Nonny Mouse*

    I once worked for an attorney who liked to “burn the midnight oil” when she was in the office (which wasn’t frequent, thank God), so both me and the other paralegal were also required to be there late – sometimes working from 9am until 3am because she would wait til the last minute to do deposition prep, revising and rewriting questions over and over.

    Even when she wasn’t in the office, if she needed something digital, despite the fact that she had remote access (neither me nor the other paralegal did, other than to email), one of us had to go into the office to get it for her. I take a medication that makes me sleep – trazodone – and I told her that after 10pm, I wouldn’t be able to do that kind of thing because of the medication. She told me it was my responsibility to be available to her 24/7, as when I took the job (as a paralegal/office manager), I was told there would be “occasional personal assistant work.” I didn’t realize that meant 24/7 access, for $45,000 a year. Broken down to hourly, assuming I have to be available 24 hours a day, it worked out to $5 an hour.

    Needless to say, I did not stay in that job long. It was just not feasible for my mental or physical health.

  53. Ben*

    While I have to admit I’m not necessarily the best at thinking it through before doing things I might regret, if I asked to go home at 9:30pm and was refused, I’d go home anyway. That’s if I even bothered to ask.

    And, as mentioned, the least you should be able to expect, as an adult, is to be given an actual reason for why they’re saying no.

  54. Lexi Kate*

    The hours for consulting firm work in my experience has always been like this, the pay, bonus, and perks were what keeps people there at least for a little while. My husband started back at a consulting firm we are saving for a summer beach condo and at the consulting firm he will make close to 30% more and the bonus is usually is awesome, as well he gets a company car, and the firm covers all food and drink while he is working, it’s not something he can do without getting burned out he has a 3 year max. Get out if you are not making good money or getting experience, the hours won’t change and if you can’t keep up you don’t want to be let go.

  55. la bella vita*

    Did I go back in time to 2011 and write this? Ugh, it’s so frustrating, I feel your pain – I had a partner who would put meetings on the calendar for 12am (and it wasn’t a mistake), he truly did not think people needed more than 3-4 hours of sleep per night (or a life). One time I worked through the weekend, including until 4am on Sunday night on a client presentation a few hours later – I left at 6pm on Monday because I was about to collapse and he told me that, in the future, if I was going to leave “early” I needed to clear it with him. He also told an analyst who landed in the hospital that his doctors were ridiculous for suggesting chronic lack of sleep could make you sick. Plus, there was the added bonus that the CEO was a misogynistic psychopath who enjoyed screaming at me. I lasted 7 months and I was out. Best thing ever. You should definitely escape ASAP.

  56. Fluffer Nutter*

    So…. at the risk of sounding daft- when OP is working 18+ hours a day, physically in the office, how does s/he get away to do interviews, esp witht he protracted interview process in the US now? Cuz I’m guessing this isn’t a “call in sick” kind of place. Is this a circumstance where you have to use your “quit without something lined up” card?

    1. Equestrian Attorney*

      I worked at a law firm with similar hours and just kind of randomly disappeared for interviews. The pros of my insane job was that no one really cared where you were during the day and I frequently had to go meet clients so it wasn’t unusual for me to be gone during normal business hours (but god forbid I be gone from 6-9pm). I was lucky in that most interviews were downtown near my office so I could schedule them in the morning or around lunch. I did call in sick once (for my current job actually – which is not downtown and has much better balance).

  57. OlympiasEpiriot*

    I have to say that when I hear stories about people working insanely long hours and have bosses that scream at them, my mind goes to horrible memories of some individuals in the 1980’s cocaine country days.

  58. RAM*

    So let me see if I’m getting this right: Lower pay, longer hours, bad environment? What exactly is keeping you there?

  59. OHCFO*

    My husband works for a big (non-boutique) Consulting firm in their business development section. When he’s working on a live proposal (about half of the time) the hours OP described are totally normal. 8 am starts so they can fill the 8-5 day with meetings & reviews with senior partners & such (who work regular hours) and then another 8 hours to actually work on the project. It suuuuuucks. But it pays unbelievably well, which is what makes it worth it for our family. I say, if the pay ain’t commensurate with the hours worked, it’s time to walk away (and take a long nap).

  60. Jordan*

    Hi LW! First, I want to say: Alison’s answer is as usual spot in, listen to her. Second, I wanted to chime in as someone in a sometimes-crazy-hours industry similar to yours (agency) where I feel I DO have a good balance, and what I believe that looks like vs does not look like.

    1. Late nights are truly unavoidable and necessary: IE a client has just given us a Request for Proposal (RFP), it is due in two weeks (fairly standard at our office), and there is a lot of discussion/collaboration/preparation necessary to submit a winning proposal on time.
    2. Management makes their decisions to participate/not participate in these late nights as an organization (whether due to a proposal, a tight timeline for a project, etc) based on a sensible understanding of return on investment, which includes considering: actual money being paid, actual human working hours expended, but also availability of resources in terms of time, skill, etc, coolness/award-winning-potential of the project, how much people will resent working on the project on a tight timeline, etc. In other words, “will this be another straw on the camel’s back of what is becoming a shitty overtime culture” should be a serious consideration at the leadership level.
    3. These decisions are made sparingly. Good management, from the upper levels to the individual project levels, means setting expectations with clients that let a smart team do good work for a fair price in a reasonable amount of time.
    4. If someone wants to hire you for or hold you to an unreasonable timeline, and there aren’t extremely compelling reasons why you should, managers are willing to say “no.”

    1. Late nights happen that could have been avoided with better preparation
    2. Late nights happen due to an unbalanced concept of ROI / managers agreeing to stuff they shouldn’t have (ie, doing things on a tight timeline just because a client asked for it and no one wanted to say no, or any kind of “that’s just how the industry is” excuses – the industry is made up of people, people make decisions, crunch time is not a natural phenomenon that humans encounter in the wild) – to me this especially indicates managers have a totally skewed concept of how much their peoples’ time and work satisfaction is worth, and how long good work takes, both of which are major red flags of people who are among other things just not that good at their jobs
    3. These decisions that lead to crunched timelines and late nights are made ALL THE TIME. This means the deciders don’t care about your satisfaction, they’re OK with exploiting you, and/or they are terribly at judging workload and refuse to learn.
    4. No one ever says no or tries to negotiate/advocate on employees’ behalf for more time to do better work. Again, if you’re client-facing, saying no is a vital skill and part of your job. If your managers aren’t doing it, they are not that good at what they do.

    I hope that helps put your situation into context, and evaluate for yourself where your line of reasonable vs unreasonable is. Late nights and crunch times totally do happen, but your pushback against becoming a ground-down cog is absolutely not a personal failure. It is a spidey sense that honestly many industry people never develop, that overwork culture is not only personally destructive, but also just a completely absurd and unproductive way to run a business and means the people around you are bad at their jobs.

    Good luck LW!

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