can I ask employees to stay late during busy times?

A reader writes:

I am curious about the “rules” of requiring extra work from employees.

I own and operate a small (eight-person) business in the publishing field. The work flow is typically manageable within a 40-hour work week. However, there are peaks and valleys. Occasionally an important project comes in with an especially tight deadline. This happens about once a week, but affects a different person each time. So it’s not the same person getting hit week after week. The projects never engulf the entire office.

As the general manager, I have difficulty asking employees to go the extra mile for that day or two when needed. To be frank, I’m not even sure what constitutes a fair request. What are the “rules” about this? I almost always decide that I will take on whatever extra work is necessary myself, rather than ask for any extra push from employees. My logic is that I will “save it up” for when something is really, really, REALLY critical. Of course that day never comes.

Taking on the additional work from employees in this way has become highly distracting from my primary job, which is to manage the general operation and direction of the company. I also suspect that it leads to a loss of respect. I find that I am frequently taking meetings with my employees in which I end up promising I’ll get to this or that “as soon as I can” or “just give me the weekend and I’ll have that done by Monday.” It feels a bit inverted.

A couple of details to note: (1) all but one of my employees are exempt. They all have project management duties that require setting schedules, working with outside vendors, managing budgets, and so forth. (2) Hiring an additional person is not an option because the extra work does not always pop up in the same operational area, and typically the work overflow requires deep knowledge of a particular project, process, or client. (3) Rejecting overflow work is also not a very viable option, as that is the income that makes up for the valleys that inevitably follow.

Under these conditions, is it appropriate to ask for an occasional extra push? If so, how do I go about asking for that?

Yes, you absolutely 100% can ask and expect that people make an extra push when it’s required.

If that’s happening all the time and people are consistently working significantly more hours than they signed on for when you hired them, or if they’re regularly having to cancel plans, etc., then you’d need to step back and look at whether there’s something bigger you need to change. In that case you’d want to ask: Do you need to hire additional help? Do you need to set expectations differently at the outset so people know what they’re signing up for? Do you need to be open with people that the needs of the work have changed (and hopefully change their compensation accordingly)?

But when we’re just talking about an occasional need for someone to put in a few extra hours that week, that is very, very normal for most professional positions (especially exempt ones), and it’s something you should be able to expect people to roll with.

But you need to tell them that you need it!

Sometimes that means just straightforwardly assigning the work. For example, “Can you do X by Thursday?” Depending on the context, you might add, “I know that’s a tight turnaround — unfortunately it didn’t come to us until today” or “Let me know if you need to adjust any other deadlines to make room for it.”

Note that you don’t necessarily need to announce “you will need to work extra hours to do this” — because maybe they will but maybe they won’t. In general, you should be able to trust professionals to figure out how they’ll need to manage their schedules and their workflows, including if that means deciding to put in some extra hours. (The exception to this is your one non-exempt person; make sure to talk to them about how to handle overtime. For example: “This may require a few extra hours this week. Because you’re non-exempt, we’ll pay you overtime for those hours. Make sure to log them on your timesheet.”)

But if you want to convey that the person should expect to be entering a busier period: “The next couple of weeks are going to be pretty crunched and I’m going to be sending you more projects than usual. It might require putting in some additional hours, but it’ll just be until the end of the month.”

If anyone pushes back on this, you can say, “There are natural ebbs and flows to our work, and there may be times when you have to work more intensively and times when the workload is lighter. The goal is always for those more intensive periods to be short-lived and for most of your weeks to be around 40 hours — but occasionally the nature of the job is that you might have a longer week here and there.” You could add, “If you’re ever in a situation where that more intense period doesn’t seem to be letting up or feels like your new normal, talk to me and we’ll figure out how to reprioritize.”

That’s it! Most likely, you’ll assign the work that needs to be done and people will roll with it without thinking it’s weird. This is a normal thing to happen in professional jobs, and you don’t sound like you’re at all in danger of abusing it.

{ 219 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber T*

    The one other thing I’d make sure is that your exempt employees have the flexibility to step out of the office (for doctors appointments, errands, etc.) without using time off. I regularly put in more than 40 hours a week, but I’m also never worried about having to come in late or leave a bit early, or step out in the middle of the day, if I need to.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, nothing worse than having someone check a clock as you walk in and out, then demand you stay two hours late for a contingency.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      Yes, this. I’m thankful I never had an exempt position that made us use PTO time for stuff like that given I’ve always had periods where working 40 hours wasn’t enough and, thus, did more. It made it more likely that I’d be willing to voluntarily take on more work/work longer hours if needed during crunch times.

    3. Spreadsheets and Books*

      This is so important. I don’t mind at all staying until 7 or 8 when there’s lots to be done because I know I can come in late if I have to go to the dentist or step out at lunch for a doctor appointment without any pushback.

      My company also does vacation time on an honor system. There isn’t any formal tracking and employees are expected to be adults and do the right thing.

    4. juliebulie*

      Completely, totally agree. Overtime is much more tolerable when there’s a little leeway for occasional “undertime”!

    5. Alexander Graham Yell*

      This! I was warned coming into my job that right before major deliverables it’s normal that we have some really long nights (and that the costs we incur for those are billed back to the client, so don’t hesistate to order dinner or an Uber and not to get on the train if we’re leaving at 1am), but that if your workload allows you to leave a few hours early one day, do it and don’t look back. I don’t mind 3 really late nights every other month in the push to do something important when I know that nobody cares what time I come in as long as I don’t miss a meeting, and that a long lunch here and there is no big deal.

      1. Snark*

        Nothing is quite as great as when your boss comes into your cube and goes, “Yo, beat it. This week was heinous.”

        1. Jadelyn*

          Truly, it is a gift from the Work Gods to hear the “go home” call at 2:00 in the afternoon.

      2. OP*

        Noted. I do this in a very laissez-faire way, but you remind me that it can be very powerful to be more proactive about it. Thanks!

        1. Lance*

          Absolutely; as long as the work’s getting done, your employees will definitely appreciate the direct message that they’re not obligated to stay there just to be there.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Remember relative schedules when sending people home too. If Jane works 6 to 3, John works 9 to 5, and you send people home at 2:30, Jane’s getting a much smaller treat. Consider telling her to come in late the next morning to even it out… or telling both of them to come in late on alternating mornings during your lull.

          1. Anne of Green Gables*

            This is an excellent point, and one I struggle to get my supervisors to understand. (I’m basically the middle manager and my staff have start times varying from 7am to noon.)

            1. whatthemell?*

              I must admit that I get slightly annoyed when my associate (who comes in every day between 10:30-11:00 am and immediately sits in the break room for coffee and breakfast then starts his day around 11:30) gets up and leaves by 5:30 pm on the nose when I get in 2 hours before him and stay until, well, until I’m finished with my work. And that is always after he leaves. I’m baffled by it because my boss doesn’t seem to notice his stunted hours, but when I mention that I’m leaving for the day my boss immediately looks at the clock on his laptop. It’s like an auto response to hearing that I’m done for the day- I don’t think he even realizes he’s doing it.

              I know I need to stop being bothered by it. But it just gets my goat!

        3. JSPA*

          You can also use it to connect the dots:
          “get rested up and relaxed in case we get slammed with a tight turnaround on X or Y in the next couple of weeks, as I may need you to stay late for that.”

          There are limits, mind you. If the kids and spouse are not home until 6, letting them go at 3, unexpectedly, is not always a huge thrill. And getting more time on Tuesday afternoon when they’ve had to burn a Friday night–with plans, no less–won’t help much, either.

          So give them good hours, give them as much advance notice as possible for both late hours and “take yourself some time”-time, and acknowledge that this is a change that’s meant to let you get the business back up to speed.

          And don’t wait until a health crisis forces you to say, “on doctor’s orders, I can’t X, so please handle it.” Because otherwise, that’s where this leads. (If it’s already there, go ahead and say it.)

      3. Quinalla*

        Agreed, letting folks know they can be flexible with coming in late when they need a plumber or to go to an appointment is great, but actually telling people they can go home at 2pm or whatever really helps drive home that you are serious.

      4. Kat in VA*

        End of quarter is something folks look forward to in my sector. “Calling it” at 2:00PM means we broke or exceeded our quota!

    6. NothingIsLittle*

      Great point! Publishing is one of those industries where peaks and valleys are pretty expected. As long as you’re letting them take advantage of the valleys and giving them the flexibility to get their work done at their discretion (within a reasonable timeframe), I don’t think there’s any problem letting them know when there’s an urgent project.

    7. OP*

      I agree. We basically have a full-day PTO policy here. That means that if you take off anything less than a full day, it counts as zero PTO; it’s functionally equivalent to having worked a full day. That means that people can and do come and go pretty much as they please. Indeed you don’t even have to say why or give any sort of excuse, although most people do. The idea is that when there’s a little extra work needed, you’ll remember all those times you stepped out to meet the refrigerator repair guy, to pick up the kids from a play date, or to get in line early for concert tickets.

      1. Snark*

        This is rad. Good job on that one, OP. Just balance it out by making it clear that the bill comes due come crunch time.

      2. Yvette*

        Well than it sounds like you are fair, and flexible, and have more than laid the groundwork for your very reasonable request for a few extra hours here and there when necessary.

      3. ThatGirl*

        That’s great of you, and as has been pointed out, means you absolutely should request/expect them to stay a little later when needed.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Good! I would definitely not do comp time for a few hours then — this is just the other side of the flexibility you’re offering, and if you throw comp time in the mix for an occasional late night, you’re really muddying that message. (I wrote something about this below, but especially think it with these additional details.)

      5. Artemesia*

        I think your problem will be that you have been a timid manager taking the extras on yourself rather than ‘bothering’ or ‘imposing’ on your workers and so you want to make this a gradual transition if you can. Perhaps a low key announcement in staff meeting that ‘we are coming on some busy times and you will need to occasionally work late to get projects out the door; I’ll let you know when that is needed.’ And then consciously implement this slowly. Maybe calling on one person or two at a time and making sure it rotates a big so that it is occasional but done without acting as if it is a terrible imposition. You need this to be a matter of fact thing. And it helps when it is a real all hands on deck situation that the boss is working along side. NOT every time someone has to stay later, but when you are in major crisis mode.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Agreed. Since this will be something you are asking for that you haven’t asked before, you may need to sort of introduce it in some way. Mainly just so folks do get that you can’t take their overflow on anymore and they may need to step up from time to time. It doesn’t need to be a big thing, but don’t necessarily think jumping straight to “We need this by Thursday” will register as “You may need to stay late Wednesday to have this by Thursday” when in the past that has meant “Tell me what you need me to take on to get this by Thursday.”

        2. Sam.*

          I agree that consciously alerting them to the changing expectations is key. I worked in an office that, as a general rule, did not expect staff to work past standard business hours, and it was considered as a major draw for most of us. If that had changed, people would’ve been upset, but they would’ve been much more upset if they didn’t know it was coming and didn’t realize that it was going to be an on-going – if infrequent – expectation.

          1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

            This, absolutely. However 100% reasonable it is to ask them for the extra time, the first time it happens is still going to break their expectations held from the past. So, rather than just doing it, it’s a good idea to proactively frame the change in the way you want them to understand it.

            Possible draft script for an announcement to the group:

            “I’ve recently been reviewing my own workload, and I’ve realised it’s unsustainable for me to be the person who picks up the slack at crunch time. I’ve taken soundings about how other organisations handle this, and what’s more common is for the owner of the particular project to be the one who puts in a few extra hours if necessary. So that’s how we’re going to handle those situations going forward.

            “It will mean that [occasionally / every now and again], you may have to work outside of the usual 9 to 5.

            “I don’t foresee this being common, and I don’t foresee having to spring it on anyone at the last minute, because you should be able to see for yourself from how the project’s going whether that’s likely to happen.

            “Because [person X] is paid hourly, they’ll get overtime pay where relevant, but for everyone else, I expect you to count it as part of the normal flexibility we already have.

            “I still want the workload to fall fairly on everyone. So if you notice that you’re having to stay late noticeably more than anyone else, please do bring that to my attention, and we’ll see if something needs adjusting in terms of workload, or whether it’s just a matter of sharing ways to get ahead of the crunch.”

      6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        You’re running the ship right and you shouldn’t be worried about asking for “more” from them in this case. As long as you’re truly flexible and treat everyone like adults, reasonable people aren’t going to be upset by the notification that they need to put in a few extra hours some weeks.

        Instead of comp time given the set up, I would encourage you to spring for company paid for dinner delivery on days you do need them to say longer. Just as an extra “perk” for their longer days. You can expense it and the extra $50-100 spent will make them really feel taken care of. It also gives them more flexibility since I’m ready for dinner right around quitting time, so if I have to hang back, if you throw me some pizza, I’m going to be extra happy to hang back to finish up.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Pizza pays for a lot. If you hit insane deadlines during extreme weather, the best treat for a person with a long commute might be a room at the hotel down the block. (A parent might have to decline, but when I was single I loved it.)

          1. Sally*

            And even better is when you let people order food for themselves (from someone with dietary restrictions).

    8. Dina J*

      Amber T’s comment is critical. I’m an exempt employee and have documented over 400 extra hours. Yet, I’m not allowed to take a lunch break unless I stay late. Once, I asked to take an earned half sick day for a doctor appointment and was denied. So, this needs to work on both ends. If you are an exempt employee there should be flexibility both ways. It’s unfair to be an exempt employee and still have to punch a clock.

      1. Jojo*

        Our management are salary. When ww travel they put in plenty extra hours. If we gone 3 weeks the manager might put in an extra weeks worth of hours. He/she gets comp time for it. Mostly used at their discretion. Of course the usual jockeying for holidays off..

    9. Tigger*

      This. I work about 55 hours a week (45 minimum) and I had a doctor appointment yesterday that ran about 30 minutes over my lunch. This morning HR got on me about turning in the paperwork for using sick time for that time off. It was so demoralizing since I never take lunch

        1. Jadelyn*

          Yeah, this is time for the “I’m just going to go sit in my car and read a book for an hour” approach. They clearly don’t appreciate you working through lunch most days, so stop doing it.

          1. Kat in VA*

            Malicious compliance at its finest!

            I never take lunch. I eat right at my desk while I work. I’m in at 07:30AM most days, and out at 4:00PM. I’m also checking on calendars and reading emails right now in another tab and it’s almost 8:00PM. I also login on the weekends. Hell, on Christmas Eve, I was working alongside our FSO to get a last-minute classified site visit rammed through for my exec and an account rep on December 26th.

            If someone told me that I had to clock the time I take for a doctor’s appointment, or decide to bug out at 3:30 instead of 4:00PM and somehow “make it up”, I’d tell them to stick it (professionally)…and then keep a tight eye on how many hours I donate to the org every month for the next time that ridiculous demand came up.

            However, I’m salaried, professional, and work with a bunch of adults so this isn’t an issue. Salaried + clock watching down to the minute negates the whole POINT of being salaried.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Ew. Ew. Just ew.

        My toxic boss did that kind of stuff. Despite working 60hr weeks, they’d nickle and dime my PTO/Sick pay for an hour here or there if I gave them notification. Like I was able to even take a sick day, since my phone would blow up.

    10. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Absolutely this. Being flexible in their quiet weeks will engender the goodwill to support extra hours in busy weeks. Whether that’s formal flexitime or informal understandings, the principle goes a long way.

    11. T2*


      He is doing the right thing by being a leader. And if there are legitimate ebbs and flows, and this is not a normal thing, I have no problem in working longer to get the job done and happily do so.

      But, if I get nickeled and dimed every time I need to work less for personal things, or if it happens every single week, I will look for better options for employment.

  2. Anonymous Poster*

    Yeah, this is pretty standard. Generally it’s not a big deal and many exempt workers in the U.S. expect occasional unpaid overtime.

    Just make sure not to nickel and dime paid time off, and allow for leaving early or arriving late, or whatever flexibility you can. That is, expect some 37 or 38 hour weeks here and there, as long as workflow isn’t being interrupted, in return for the times you really need folks to stay late.

    1. Snark*

      I just think it boils down to: respect their time. It’s valuable to them, just as important as your business needs are to you. Proceed from that general mindset, and you’re solid.

    2. Kat in VA*

      I just looked at – and dismissed – a job ad that said “Must be comfortable with 45+ hour weeks”.

      Translation – we will work you to the bone and look askance at you if you have to leave early for a kid’s doctor appointment or an oil change.

      No thanks.

      1. JSPA*

        It it had said “occasional,” that might have been different, though? Or, “actual work time demands averages 38 hours/week, but ranges from 34 (with broad flexibility given) to 48”?

  3. Alli525*

    I would add that offering exempt employees some comp time, free dinners/cab fare for late nights, or other relatively minor benefit often does go a LONG way to keep morale up during a busy period.

    I used to run conferences and, even though I would put in maybe 25 hours of overtime over the course of a month or so (I was exempt so I never actually calculated it), being able to come in just 2-3 hours late on the morning after the event was such a relief, even though it wasn’t even close to a 1-to-1 match regarding comp time.

    1. Snark*

      My old boss went to get dinner for us one night working late on a rush project – not just some greasy pizza, but to-go PF Chang’s. That was solid of her.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        The few times I’ve had to come in on a Saturday, and my job was hourly, the manager made sure there were bagels for those of us working that day. Also, one of the perks of working on Saturdays was being able to listen to music without headphones, and being able to wear jeans and a T-shirt.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One caveat though: don’t offer comp time for a single late night. If you do that, you’re signaling that there’s something exceptional about occasionally having to work a little longer, and that sets up people’s expectations incorrectly. But someone who’s having a lot of late nights, or a whole Saturday of work, or so forth, yes.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. Flexibility to not have to log a doctor’s appointment is the natural payback for the fact that as an exempt employee you sometimes work late. Strict comp time has an hourly mentality you don’t want.

      2. MC*

        Am I the only Canadian here who is a little baffled by the concept of being “exempt” in the U.S.? I just don’t understand how the law can make it okay to hire someone for a 40 hour work week and then require that they work as much as required to complete the work they are given if it is more than 40 hours. I work in consulting, and we are not paid overtime unless it is a significant amount (which is pretty common in this field), but it’s not legal, and some companies do get caught. And if an employee refuses to work overtime, it’s their absolute right. Sure, they won’t get the biggest annual raise and are unlikely to get promoted, but their boss could still be happy with their performance.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Welcome to life in the USA! Land of no worker protections!
          For “exempt” there is not really a standard 40 hour work week. On the books, yes it is the norm, and for hourly workers (or you pay overtime), but being exempt means you are a “professional or managerial” and you often have to work more than the standard 40 without being paid overtime. Now, at GOOD places that also means you get paid the same salary when you work less than 40 hours: meaning on occasion you can leave early on a Friday, have a doctor appointment, take a long lunch, etc., WITHOUT having to use your PTO. [Oh, and also many places will charge you 4 hours of PTO for a doctor appointment, even if you were only gone 1 hour because it’s deducted in “blocks”].

          At BAD places, you may be “required” to work 50-60 hours and they’ll still force you to take PTO or write you up if you’re late or want to leave early. Yes, you can try to “refuse” overtime, but if you do that often it is very likely you will be fired.

        2. Devil Fish*

          The purpose of exempt classification is to give employers the option of paying (some) workers for completing their deliverables rather than paying them based on the number of hours worked. It’s mainly useful for jobs that have a significant ebb and flow to the work, to guarantee a steadier paycheck.

          This tends to be misunderstood by employees and abused by employers because we’re taught to default to an “hourly” mentality instead of considering what each individual employment transaction is supposed to be exchanging in each job.

        3. Bree*

          …are you sure? I’m Canadian, working salaried office jobs, and I’ve often worked more than the standard work week during busy times. Most of those places had some kind of lieu time system, but I always applied it fairly loosely in exchange for the kind of “it evens out” flexibility people describe. I know plenty of people who work long hours and I’ve never heard of it being illegal. Maybe going against a union contract? I thought the only time it would become illegal would be if it put you below min. wage.

          1. JSPA*

            In the US, I’m pretty sure it does sometimes put assistant managers of places like dollar stores and fast food franchises below minimum wage…your hours are not tracked; your duties are, and they are never-ending.

        4. Asenath*

          I think the terminology and the distinction between types of work is a bit different in Canada. There are jobs to which hours of work legislation do not apply – management, many jobs in transportation, some professionals (doctors, lawyers etc) don’t fall under these rules. We don’t call them “exempt”, though. Many people who fall under the hours of work legislation (which is most of us) in fact have some flexibility – sometimes a bit informally. Technically, I work a fixed number of hours a week, and get paid overtime if I do any extra. In fact, my supervisors are very flexible, and both my daily start and end dates and leaving a bit early for personal reasons and staying late the next day (or something similar is OK. There are certain quarterly events and one annual one for which I stay late or work on a weekend and get time and a half in lieu. I should get overtime, but my employer doesn’t like authorizing that. I could refuse to stay – and I have, a few times – with no repercussions. Well, if I didn’t put in the time for the big annual event, my supervisors sure wouldn’t be happy, but they couldn’t stop me from doing so because it’s outside my normal working hours. I wouldn’t, though, It’s too much to my advantage to have a bit of time off in lieu to use instead of official time off for the little things in life that come up. So, even under our legal system, there is the possibility of putting in extra time as OP needs – but us workers like to have some flexibility in return. And, I think, in Canada, there seem to be more jobs in which OP couldn’t insist on the extra work, at least from some of his workers, because they’d be within their rights to refuse.

        5. Jojo*

          Where i work if given at least 4 hours notice overtime can be mandatory. However, some will get waved off if they have to meet kids bus. But next day they better have arrangements for their kids. Cuz they will overtime. Only mangers are exempt. Anything over 40bis time and a half that payperiod. Exempt are paid salary. They SHOULD get comp time for extra hours unless upper, upper management.

      3. Mike C.*

        It’s incredibly messed up that you think this sets “people’s expectations incorrectly”. I’m exempt, I get full comp time within the two week pay period and standard time (plus a small hourly bonus) for overtime. Every other professional I deal with in life expects to be paid for their time, why should we be any different?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Exempt employees are paid for their work, not by the hour. Comp time and overtime aren’t typical for exempt employees outside of unusually long hours for that reason; if you get them, you have a great set-up but it’s an outlier.

          The OP has said she already lets people work fewer hours when their workload allows it without charging their PTO.

      4. workerbee2*

        My manager is a clock-watcher (literally – she examines the times we swipe in and out of the building) and expects a full 40 hours each week, no exceptions. If we need time for a doctor’s appointment, etc., we have to use PTO or make up the time. Her idea of “flexibility” is giving us the choice.

        Because of this, on occasions when I need to work 2-3 hours over in a day (typically because I’ll have a full day of work off-site at a location several hours’ drive away), I push for comp time. Is that not reasonable?

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      Yes, comp time and free food are usually what I’ve received in exchange for “overtime” as an exempt employee. Even bi-weekly bonuses – that was when I was a property claims adjuster during hurricane season and had to work massive amounts of OT just to tread water. Management wanted to give us time-and-a-half, but since most of us were exempt, they were told the checks would have to be cut as bonuses and couldn’t be folded into our regular pay.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree that dinner and cab fare are important to add on whenever you have late nights. This way you acknowledge that you’re asking more from them, so you take care of their very basic needs that drain you when you’re stretched thin.

      Whenever we do have to run a weekend shift, there are always lunch provided because then nobody has to be bothered to pack an extra lunch or search out food on their own like it’s just a normal day with the normal grind.

      1. Cassie*

        Definitely – I carpool to/from work, so if I have to stay late, I’m going to be stuck on a bus at night which is not my idea of fun. A free cab ride home would be greatly appreciated (or even a hotel room nearby so I don’t have to go all the way home – wishful thinking?)

    5. AnotherAlison*

      My company pays OT to certain exempt employees. You get paid straight time for any hour over 45, if approved in advance. Typically, “mandatory” overtime that the boss requests or ongoing OT because of staffing shortfalls will be approved. I’m not eligible, but it’s been useful because I have had to have my team work a bunch of OT this past month.

      I do get where the OP is coming from, though. As a lower level engineer, I had to work mandatory OT, but as the person doing the telling, I feel like it’s such a big ask and “who am I?” to ask, even though I put in plenty of unpaid time myself. At my previous company, I was about 5 months postpartum, and my manager put me on mandatory 5-10s for several weeks. I asked if I could do Saturdays instead because 10 hr days with a newborn aren’t really feasible, and he said no. I left there 6 months later, and I don’t want to create personal issues like that for my people.

    6. Avasarala*

      So true. When I ran conferences some coworkers tried to save money by skipping ordering coffee in our break room, ordering the cheapest/grossest lunches and skipping dinner. It was so demoralizing to have to be “on” from 5am to midnight for days without extra coffee or eating enough–and it’s not like we could step out to get some.

  4. Snark*

    In addition to all of the above excellent points from Alison, I also suggest considering the following. Not saying you don’t do this! But if you’re not, you should.

    – Do your employees enjoy reciprocal flexibility? If they’re in a slow period, and someone needs to leave early to run an errand or have a beer, do you grant them that flexibility?

    – How much lead time are you giving people before you expect them to stay late or come early? On the day of, that’s a genuine imposition. Give a week of lead time, that’s easier to plan around.

    – Do you, and how do you, show your appreciation for the extra time and effort? If people have to work overtime for a push, do they know that you value their sacrifice of their personal time and outside priorities? Doesn’t have to be the stereotypical Starbucks gift card – even a heartfelt and personal thanks is great.

    – And, just to reiterate: if this is happening often, or if working lots of overtime on pushes is a regular, routine thing for your people, you need more people.

    Speaking as someone who works a typical straight 40 with a 70-minute RT commute and still feels like he has no time, taking more time away from the rest of my life is a big ask. I’m willing to do it, but I’m not happy if it’s taken for granted or expected of me. You want to avoid that perception, if you can.

    1. Close Bracket*

      “If they’re in a slow period, and someone needs to leave early to run an errand or have a beer”

      I often need to leave early to have a beer, and I would appreciate this flexibility. :)

      1. Amethystmoon*

        I’ve had a lot of slow times lately, but am hourly and would get in trouble for leaving early without using PTO. I would love to have a job with this flexibility!

    2. Clay on my apron*

      That’s pretty much what I came here to say. Especially the first two points. I already have something planned for my free time, don’t assume it’s available for work stuff. If you start messing with my work / life balance or you disrupt my family’s routine, I’m going to push back. Make sure I have time to plan for the extra work hours and be as accomodating as you expect me to be, when there’s not so much work to do.

    3. cam*

      Agree about the lead time. When I need to work late it makes a big difference if I know ahead of time rather than at 3pm that day. I think this will be particularly true as they transition from OP covering the extra time.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Oh, yeah, that’s huge. If it’s tied to a regular type of deadline, now is the time to make that expectation known so that as people see those deadlines on their calendars they can plan to be available. If I know that the 2 days before X report is due mean spending a few extra hours in the office, then I can plan for that – whether it’s arranging childcare, rescheduling plans with friends, or just packing extra snacks.

      2. workerbee2*

        Also, if you give someone a decent lead time, they might be able put their nose to the grindstone a bit more in the intervening time and not even have to work that much extra time. If I knew I had something big coming, I’d clear my plate to the extent that I could. I wouldn’t be able to do that if the extra work is sprung on me without notice. If the employees are leaving promptly at “quitting time” every day, it’s likely that they have some wiggle room.

      1. Snark*

        Sometimes, as here, that’s not actually a necessary or appropriate practice. When there are lots of low-intensity periods when you can peace out early without taking PTO, and per OP there are, the crunch times generally work out fairly without a lot of clock-punching.

    4. cncx*

      late to the comment game here but yes. i work in a field that has crunch times and not so crunch times. my boss is definitely all about the reciprocal flexibility. we don’t have to butt in chair when we don’t have to. i had a job once prior to this one where we were expected to put in long hours, but got nickled and dimed for doctor’s appointments when it was slow. Nope.

  5. Theelephantintheroom*

    At my company, tight turnarounds are par for the course. Most of us don’t mind working late, but we are also given the freedom to do any extra work from home, which plays a key role in keeping any resentment at bay. If this is possible for you, I highly recommend it.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      This. Frankly, I was shocked that people in publishing wouldn’t have naturally expected/assumed they’d have the occasional crunch time (lord knows we do in the proposal writing world) and would proactively work on their own tasks so OP wouldn’t have to. OP, does your staff even know about these last minute assignments, or are you just taking them on without telling them because you don’t want to impose?

      1. OP*

        Thanks Fortitude Jones. I agree with you. Reading these responses has made it clear that I have set up some very bad and unrealistic expectations. They do know about the “rush” projects. And they really aren’t as last-minute as I made them sound. They are in full view of everyone, and anyone who will be affected by it can generally see them coming.

        What typically happens is we meet about the project, say, 3 weeks before it’s due. It’s usually obvious at that point that it will require extra effort *somewhere* along the line. That’s when we get to the awkward silence, which I usually fill by saying, “Ok, just let me know if you can’t get to X, Y, Z and I’ll take care of it.” This tacitly gives them permission to consider any extra work/overflow my problem and not theirs. It’s clear that I’m the one who is perpetuating this dynamic.

        I am re-evaluating everything based on responses here . . .

        1. Snark*

          Yeah, you definitely don’t need to volunteer as tribute. Let them fight their own battles. And then when they have a free afternoon, let ’em go get the groceries or whatever.

        2. Lance*

          Yeah, instead of a ‘let me know’ sort of script like that, I’d just go with Alison’s base advice, and straight up ask them if someone’s willing to pick up a bit extra. If not, there’s nothing wrong with making the request; make it the new norm that you won’t be the one to pick it up every time, and you should have a much better time of things.

        3. Fortitude Jones*

          Yeah, OP – you need to let that language go and start assigning the tasks to whoever was originally working on the project. It’s nice that you were trying to help, but your team needs to take more ownership of their own work. I wouldn’t even think to sit quietly when post-proposal work came out when I was a PM and just let my manager handle it. First, she wouldn’t have volunteered it, she would have just said, “Hey, there’s an interview scheduled for next week, so I need you to work on the PowerPoint for the sales team and I’ll work on the placemat,” or whatever. Second, I wouldn’t have wanted my manager handling the post-proposal work anyway because I knew the ins and outs of that opportunity better than she did, so I wouldn’t want anything to be missed.

          Your team needs a total reset. I’m glad you’re taking the feedback in and I hope you can implement positive change here – you shouldn’t be shouldering all of the extra work here.

        4. Dasein9*

          Can you ask three weeks before a crunch comes what the team leaders plan to do to avoid the crunch being so very crunchy? The people who do the work will be best positioned for finding areas with processes that can be made more efficient.

        5. Librarianne*

          I’d suggest explicitly asking specific people, in some kind of rotation, to do the overtime if possible. If you throw out a general ask for people to work late, some people will shoulder all that burden while others won’t–and it often plays out in gendered/ageist ways. (For example, in the places I’ve worked, younger women tended to pick up more overtime because they have the most to lose by being labeled “not a team player,” a clock-watcher, etc., while the men felt free to leave at the regular time.)

          1. WellRed*

            She said in the letter it’s pretty project specific so not easy to rotate people in and out.

            1. Kira*

              That actually seems like it could make this easier. Instead of throwing out an open “Any of you 8 want to do this?” the focus can be more on “You two are the ones who can do this, I’m assigning it to you this time around.”

        6. Artemesia*

          THIS This is the problem. You don’t ask them if they want to do it. You assign them as needed. This is far too timid and it will take some thoughtful strategizing to turn it around since you have taught them you are a pushover. but it shouldn’t take too long if you are clear and unapologetic. Don’t tell them you are sorry. Tell them ‘ we need to get this done’.

        7. Mike C.*

          Are you actually taking advantage of modern project management techniques and process improvement methods? If this keeps happening, it’s almost certainly likely that you can save yourself a ton of time, cost and risk by looking into these techniques.

          And in the mean time don’t be afraid to pay people for overtime.

        8. JSPA*

          I’d give them a head’s up and broad flexibility in how to schedule the extra hours, then. They may want to go home, put a toddler to bed, then come back. Or if paying for a good screen and a different license for the software lets them do some of the task as WFH, consider that. Don’t let it get to the last night, then pick the sacrificial lamb on the spot. That just won’t go down well.

      2. Beth Jacobs*

        Completely agree! It would never occur to me to leave unfinished work behind and leave on the dot.

  6. TootsNYC*

    If you can at all, offer them comp time.

    This is what I–who work in publishing–do.

    My rule is that I don’t give comp time for things that are the equivalent of them taking a long lunch, or leaving a little early one day..

    So if quitting time is 5 and they stay to 5:30, I’m not giving official comp time. They’ll get that time back by waiting for the locksmith one morning, or something.

    But if they stay more than an hour past, then I start counting.

    I also insisted that comp time be used before the second-next monthly cycle. Its purpose is to return your life to you, not to pad your vacation time. To let you get caught up on the laundry you missed, or the family time you missed, or the sleep, etc.

    Especially in publishing, especially in an exempt position, and especially when they have project management duties, it is fair to say, “You may need to stay late to hit the deadline; I can’t do it anymore, and it’s not the best allocation of skills or effort. Please stay aware of the progress of your projects, and start forecasting when your project might need late hours. Keep me posted, and of course, take steps early to avoid them.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        For what it’s worth, I strongly disagree. You’ve written that you’re really flexible with people on their hours when they don’t work full days. You should not be doing comp time for a couple of hours here and there. You should do it for unusually long periods of heavy hours, or someone working a full weekend day. You do not want to signal that anything over one hour gets comp time, because that’s not how exempt positions work (especially the way you’re doing flexibility, which is a good way to do it). Otherwise you’ll (a) have people working a four-hour day on Tuesday because they have a doctor’s appointment and then getting comp time when they work 10 hours on Thursday and (b) misunderstanding the expectations around hours, and thinking they should be recognized for doing something extraordinary when they’re asked to roll with normal ebbs and flow.

        1. TootsNYC*

          It’s interesting because I did have that problem in a way, with an employee who was counting 15-minute increments. And that’s when I decided that it needed to be more significant.

          My cutoff was probably more like 2 hours (though not on days I flexed their start time), and it was an hour-for-hour thing.

          So if you only worked 2 hours overtime for a crunch time, you got 2 hours specifically identified at some other time. Sure, you could come in 2 hours late about any time you wanted, but I liked the morale effect of specifically labeling the comp time.

          But in general, it wasn’t a matter of 2 hours here or 2 hours there–if there was enough work to make you stay more than an hour or so, then there was enough work that you were there until 2am.

          1. TootsNYC*

            For my specific team, I didn’t really run into the idea of them saying, “I worked late on Thursday, and my dentist’s appointment on Tuesday doesn’t count.” We all tended to look at it on a weeklomg basis. That one employee was really the only person who tried to take advantage, and she was pretty easy to handle.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I agree with this. For up to an hour late… Pffft! Not really comp-time worthy.
      But if they work say 50 hours that week, give them a day off or let them leave early the next Friday.

      Conversely, if you have gangbusters weeks followed by slow weeks, you could do it that way. However, as you’re a small company there might come a time when you no longer have those slow weeks! A good thing, so it’s probably better to have some type of comp time accrual system, even if the hours are Like for Like.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      “I can’t do it anymore” is key to realize and communicate both up and down.
      Don’t burn out from regularly shouldering all the OT.

  7. Sarah N.*

    The only thing I’d add to this is considering whether it makes sense to think about a comp time system here (even an informal one) — especially if you’re changing things from the setup that employees were used to previously, it could make sense to say something along the lines of “We have a big project due this Friday that may require working late for a couple of days — you can keep track of the extra hours and take an afternoon off without drawing on PTO once the project is submitted.” Or whatever makes sense in your context. This is one the things that drives me INSANE about my husband’s workplace — he can work 60 hour weeks for two weeks in a row for a big project, but then they’ll still charge him PTO to take a day off the week after. To me, it feels very unfair and nickle-and-diming to operate that way (although he seems fine with it — and in fairness, I’m used to a much more flexible workplace). Still, if this is possible in your workplace context, I think it’s the right thing to do for employees. (Obviously this would only apply to exempt people, as I don’t think you can legally shift hours like this for a non-exempt person, and they are being compensated with OT pay anyway.)

    1. Old Cynic*

      I worked countless hours of overtime on a project one year and then went to take 3 days off. But only had 23 hours of vacation time available. How did I want to handle that last hour?, they asked.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, charging the employee a PTO day the week AFTER busting your ass for two weeks like that sucks. It’s HORRIBLE practice, yet perfectly legal. Companies hate “comp time” because it cannot be tracked on the books.

      I’m lucky right now my job and boss are pretty loose about that (even if it’s unspoken). Technically, we’re not supposed to take comp time, but it’s just not tracked. We have a lot of people on my team that travel, do trade shows, etc., and you can rack up some long weeks. So it’s kind of understood you might have “light” days after those weeks or WFH or what I notice is that people “disappear” Friday afternoons. LOL!

      1. whatthemell?*

        Not only is it perfectly legal, it’s been the only practice I’ve ever seen at any of the 4-5 workplaces I’ve spent time in during my 30-year career. I think it really depends on the industry , because when I worked in entertainment we literally did 55-60 weeks every week for 4-5 months every year (it was mandatory and simply part of the business) and literally not a single hour of comp time was given, ever. We used vacation days if we wanted time off AFTER those 5 months passed (we weren’t allowed to take any time off during those 5 months, period.) So not only did we work insane hours for months at a time, but we weren’t allowed to take time off, then once the busy period passed we used our vacation time. My associate actually had to plan her pregnancy around the busy period. I shouldn’t say she HAD TO but if she wanted a job to come back to after maternity leave, she had to.

        I’m reading these comments about comp time and flexibility like I’m reading about life on Mars. Simply baffling and mysterious. It’s half pissing me off and half making me so happy that I’m not in entertainment anymore!

  8. Grandma Mazur*

    Does there need to be any recognition (in those conversations where people are being asked to go an extra mile, as it were) of the fact that employees previously have not been asked to work these occasional additional hours and that going forward things will be different? I’m imagining there might be at least one or two employees who were hired after hearing that the office culture was pretty much 9-5, “no one ever needs to work longer hours”, etc, and that’s why they joined…

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      I’d also add that with that acknowledgment should come compensation in some form. Expecting to work 40 hours a week at $80K/year (for example) is a very different thing from expecting to work 45-50 hours a week at that same rate. You’re effectively being asked to take a pay cut, even if you are technically “exempt”.

      The idea that this is part of being an exempt employee, and there will be crunch times and slow times so it all evens out, only works if that’s actually true. And expecting everyone to work more hours every week than initially hired for sounds like it’s not actually true.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I read the letter again, and OP mentioned that it’s occasional but in the next sentence said it usually happens once a week. That doesn’t seem all that occasional to me! But I guess if it’s not the same person who gets stuck staying late every time it could be considered occasional.

          1. JSPA*

            It’s a different person or team each week. Sounds like your individual crunch may only come around once every 3, 4, 5 or 6 weeks. That’s “occasional.” But OP should log it, to figure out if it’s really true that different people are taking the hit.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      This is what I was thinking. In the past, employees haven’t (presumably) been asked to work overtime and they assume it’s a 9 to 5 job, so there may be a bit of pushback in the beginning. They’ll likely think business picked up a lot when actually it hasn’t–OP has been taking on all that extra work because she didn’t want to impose.

      1. Tupac Coachella*

        OP, as long as you follow the other advice here (clarify where this “new” work came from, how often they can expect it, and allow the flexibility to flow both ways), the grumbling will probably be short lived and minimal. I work in a notoriously peaks and valleys field (higher ed), but my boss gives me almost complete autonomy over my schedule as long as the work gets done in a timely manner. As a result, I don’t bat an eyelash at the occasional Saturday or evening obligation, because I know when they’re likely to be coming, and if I want to duck out at 3:00 on a Friday and my inbox is empty, it’s no problem.

        Conversely, in my previous job, I was expected to be in and ready to work at exactly 8, not leave one minute before 5, and was often asked to stay late or expected to work through lunch. Then we were told one of us had to cover Saturdays during peak seasons. When we pushed back, we were told “you’re salaried.” I think my boss could have literally slapped me and I would have been less offended. I did not work there much longer.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, she could say, “I’ve been picking this all up myself and have realized it’s not sustainable and needs to be divided differently. So going forward I may call on you to handle some things that could occasionally require a few extra hours one week. It’s likely to be once every couple of months, however, not the new normal.”

      1. TootsNYC*

        And I would also link it to their own project.
        “I’m going to need you to handle the deadlines that come with your own project.”

        That way they have an incentive to move things where they can, to send up flares early, and to feel as though their own actions might be able to influence when they need to stay late.

        1. TootsNYC*

          though, if it IS possible to spread it around, then yes, do so.

          I had a job in which someone regularly needed to be late. People were assigned that night as a potential late-night. Sometimes they lucked out and nothing came through. But they were always ready on their night.

          I did have to watch that Joe wasn’t always winning the gamble, because Wednesdays were seldom late, while Jane frequently lost because other people got their text in by Thursday.

          So use whichever system works best for you–a “your project/client” system, which lets them have maximum influence and awareness, or a rotation that lets people make plans in advance.

  9. IT Department Relationship Manager*

    I agree with the advice. I think most people would probably work a bit harder during the day or find ways to manage it. If you let people know that it might take longer than 8 hours to get it done, then let them know.

    I highly agree that if you have ebbs and flows where the workload is light, have a flexible time policy where people can go home early, take a long lunch, come in later, see a doctor, etc without having to put in vacation hours. If you expect people to work OT without being paid extra, the least you can do is give them their time back.

    I wouldn’t nickel and dime time for exempt workers (unless it becomes an issue with performance and output). If they get the work done and are performing the tasks you set out for them, don’t fret if they leave for home an hour early when they stayed an hour later the day before.

  10. The bad guy*

    Great answer. I’d add that people are way more likely to take this in stride if you’re not a “butts in seats” organization. I don’t mind putting in 3-4 60 hour weeks per year since my boss doesn’t bat an eye if I take off at noon on a couple Fridays a year or take a two hour lunch once a month when things are slow.

  11. Quickbeam*

    I’ve been exempt most of my career. Can I add that exempt staff should be treated fairly and not just leaning on those without kids? Don’t make the single person or the person without kids/eldercare the go to for extra hours. If it’s spread out evenly, the burden is a whole lot less for everyone.

    1. TootsNYC*

      a single person I once worked with said, “How am I ever going to GET kids, if I keep being asked to do all the late nights in favor of the people who already have them?”

      I (the one with the kid) was the one who pointed out that taking a night class or doing laundry was important too.

      (We didn’t divide late-nights that way there; she was speaking in general terms.)

      1. Devil Fish*

        ““How am I ever going to GET kids, if I keep being asked to do all the late nights in favor of the people who already have them?”

        Duck Club, duh.

    2. Mary*

      But also bear in mind that some of your staff simply may not be able to work late because of kids or other caring responsibilities, or may need significant lead time to organise care. If your staff have always worked Mon-Fri 9-5, and have their lives set up that way, you need to be careful how you make those changes.

      1. pcake*

        This ↑

        When I took care of my elderly mother, there was literally no way I could have stayed late. I could maybe have done extra work one day a week at home, but that could get iffy as my mother had dementia and sometimes things way beyond my control happened that required immediate action and left me exhausted and brain dead.

        A single parent with a parent or sitter who takes care of the kids but who can only work till a set time would be another situation where those extra hours just might not work out.

    3. Science Lady*

      Having been the person who got a whole lot of “well you don’t have kids and I do, so I can’t stay late and you can” at my last job, I cannot stress this enough.

    4. Librarianne*

      Yes, this. Elsewhere in the comments I suggested asking specific people on a rotating basis to do overtime if possible–otherwise gendered/ageist lines tend to be drawn.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think it’s best to link it to the project itself, or the client.

        Link it to something they can observe and control–don’t take Joe’s client’s project and give it to Jane because it’s “her turn.”

        Sure, keep an eye out for whether Joe’s got the jerky client and gets slammed all the time, and then mitigate somehow.

    5. blackcat*

      But if you have a lot of people with kids on your team while requiring extra work in the evenings, it’s important to do things like allow people log back in late at night if that’s at all possible.

      SOMEONE has to get my kid before 5:30. Sometimes, I have regularly scheduled commitments that mean I can’t possibly do pick up (like teaching a class) on a certain day. My husband 100% can’t stay late without notice on that day. Can we get a sitter to do daycare pick up? Yes, but it takes at least two days of lead time to arrange. It’s really frustrating when someone says at 5, when he packs up, “Can’t someone else get the kid?”

      No, there is no one else. If we knew two days ago? Yes, there could be someone else. Not no, now there’s literally not a single person in our lives who we can call who is available and has an appropriate car seat in their car. In a true emergency, we have a few friends who could drop everything (and, realistically, our daycare provider would keep our kid in a true emergency). But that’s like a both he and I got hit by a bus level of emergency.

    6. Autumnheart*

      I would go further and say, don’t make any one person the go-to. Create a formal rotation and make sure everyone gets a turn.

  12. Daniel*

    Yes to the operational flexibility.

    In general, being except doesn’t quite mean “40 hours a week, 9-5 each day.” It’s more akin to, “you average 40 hours a week, most of which are between 9-5. There will be some 10-hour days that will be balanced out with some five- or six-hour days where you can go to (your physical/a dentist’s appointment/meet with the utility guy) without dipping into leave, and especially during slow times.”

    Meanwhile, being non-exempt really means sticking to a 40-hour week (and an eight-hour day, in California), so make sure you decide whether to pay overtime or whether to cut them loose for the week once they hit 40 hours. But there is flexibility for exempt staff, in both directions, with the assumption that the *average* work week length stays stable.

    1. Daniel*

      Coming back to add that some commenters like Sarah N. and The Man, Becky Lynch are mentioning that you could establish a more formal comp-time system. For a company as small as the OP’s that might be more than what she needs, but it’s definitely worthy of consideration.

  13. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    We rarely have more than 40hrs for exempt individuals as well but it is known that if something comes up [we have a couple yearly things that require more time than standard hours specifically], it has to be done and that means extra hours are added.

    What we do to make this more palatable is to offer comp time to those folks. So if they work 50hrs that one week we have our auditors here, then they get to bank that 10 hours overage and use it as needed. This way they don’t drain their PTO or sick pay for things like coming in late from a medical appointment or running out to get a kid from soccer practice that was suddenly cancelled.

    That and the fact everyone has a flex schedule, so that besides core hours, they can start/stop whenever it suits them best on most days. That way those times you really need to ask for them to invest more time and effort, you are compensating them in some way, even if it’s not extra money.

    If you’re paying them decently and treating them well, the majority of people want to do whatever it takes to do their jobs well, even if it means a couple late nights every few months.

  14. MoneyBeets*

    But please bear in mind not everyone has an outside-of-work life that allows them to be available for no-notice extra hours. My job frequently comes up with Urgent Tasks after regular close of business *that same day.* I stay when I can, but as the primary caregiver/transporter for my two kids I sometimes simply do not have the freedom or capability to be a Team Player and suck it up and stay late to help, no matter how guilty I feel walking out the door. It seems that the concept of giving people a day or two (or more) of notice, so they can work out any logistics they need to work out, is something managers never even consider. Those of us who DO want to be Team Players, but whose circumstances outside the workplace are not very flexible or forgiving, end up looking bad (and we know it) when often all we need is a bit of notice to make it work.

    1. Daniel*

      Yup, this is true. I had to turn down a stay-late request last week because it conflicted with volunteer work I was doing elsewhere. However he has understanding and had someone else who could do it. The key is to show that you can work hard as you can, while you can.

    2. MoneyBeets*

      I don’t like how I worded the bit, above, about my kids. Everyone’s after-hours needs are important, even if it’s your running club or trip to Starbuck’s after work or whatever your after-work thing is. If I didn’t have kids, it would be easier for ME, personally, to stay late on no notice, and I find my own management seems unaware that kids sitting at a school can’t just sit there all evening – there is a hard “out” time in that particular circumstance. But I did not mean to imply that someone without kids doesn’t have a right to their after-hours time, too.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I think you were fine – I took it the way you meant it. Not “but I’m a parent!”, just “sometimes people have inflexible commitments, and for example, my kids are mine.”

      2. hbc*

        Nah, it’s cool. There are potentially heavy penalties associated with some after-work commitments–your dog peeing all over the carpet, the daycare calling the police to pick up your abandoned kids, your new mortgage falling through because you weren’t there to sign the papers. Kids are simply the most common reason, and while I wouldn’t be cool with missing my Thursday night soccer game on a regular basis, I can skip that more easily than most others can skip out on kid pickup.

      3. Avasarala*

        Well I think it’s OK to draw a line between “I want to leave on time for a commitment I made to myself” and “I need to leave on time because someone else is depending on me.” Running club/a trip to Starbucks after work is in the first category, picking up your kids/a second job is in the latter.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree. It doesn’t matter what the activity after work is either, be that care giving or a weekly bowling league, it’s important to give people advance notice. If I hear “Thursday is a late night for us” on Monday, then I can adjust for it easily enough most of the time. I can call in a substitute for my turn to host game-night or arrange for someone to go give my cat his dinner, etc. It’s all about understanding that people’s schedules exist and they typically are going to schedule things things as they see fit or what works with their typical work/week setup.

      1. Snark*

        Exactly. Yes, even if I plan to sit in my back yard watching my kid play (just in case 30-50 hogs show up, ooh yeah twitter in-joke) and have a beverage, you still need to ask nicely before taking that time and give me some notice to plan. Because it’s my time.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I guess I’ll have to go find the source.

            1. Snark*

              I feel so smug right now, because usually I am the one going “what the hell, please explain meme”

          1. juliebulie*

            Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I didn’t know. Now everything makes sense. Sort of.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          OMFG now I get the random “Wild Hogs” posting I saw randomly the other day.

          However yes, that’s seriously it.

          This is why I also always ask someone about when they want their reimbursements, what works for THEM and THEIR money. “Do you want a check today or do you prefer it’s on your next payroll [payroll is direct deposited].” Most of the time they want it on payroll so they don’t have to cash a check but I don’t make assumptions that they don’t want that $15.97 for tacos tonight or medicine for their toddler, not my business. My business is making the employees know that I respect their lives and their money/time.

  15. Beth*

    I’ve had jobs that needed this before (as I think most of us have!), and it was only a problem in a couple circumstances. First, last-minute requests were hard–I don’t have kids, but I do have pets who need care, and I also do have evening plans a lot of days, so staying an extra couple hours with no warning could be difficult. (That could be resolved with a day or two of notice, or by letting me handle my own schedule and workload so I could predict the heavy days myself.) And second, that time where my previously-around-40-hours-a-week job jumped up to closer to 50 and then just…stayed there for months, with no end in sight and no any extra compensation. (I resolved that one by leaving; at some point it was clearly the new normal, and I wasn’t on board with it.)

    If you’re giving people a heads up that something might take extra time, and you’re making sure that things are balancing out in the long run, you’re probably just fine.

    1. texan in exile*

      Yes, Laverne expects to be fed at 5:00 promptly every day and she starts warning me that 5:00 is approaching starting at 3:30.

      I want to save my neighbors from the noise of an annoyed Siamese cat and I also do not want my cats to be hungry.

    2. CMart*

      Letting people manage their own workload is a really important point!

      It’s been discussed at length several times on this site that many (most?) office-type workers are not working at 100% capacity 100% of the day. We take little breaks to read AAM (ahem). We spend a few extra minutes chit chatting with colleagues after lunch. We spend some time staring into space and contemplating existence. It’s also been generally agreed that this is perfectly okay – optimal even.

      It very well could be the case that many of the OP’s employees could actually get all this extra work done in their standard 9-5 day as long as they knew it was expected of them. Maybe they’d work through lunch, or come in a little earlier, or not leave lengthy comments on workplace advice blogs that week. Or maybe just get their regular tasks done with more speed than usual because there’s incentive to get more done that week.

      Knowing ahead of time what the expected workload is will help everyone.

  16. Working Mom Having It All*

    This happens once a week? Put everyone on a 45-hour a week schedule (or however many hours will get it done) and build some overtime pay into their rates. Having to work more than a strict 40 hour week is not unusual, at all, as long as it comes with some notice and is fully compensated. Even if they are technically exempt, pay them for the extra time you know they are working by building it into their salary. Exempt shouldn’t mean a pay cut or not being paid a competitive wage.

    Alternately, if this would require more than a few extra hours per week, or the overtime pay would add up to too much, have you considered hiring someone else to make up the slack? You mention that it’s in different areas, but there may be a way to, for example, hire a part time admin to take some tasks off of their plates.

    For the record, I work in a field where it’s understood that overtime happens sometimes, for various reasons. I’m fine with this understanding, mainly because it is OCCASIONAL. I think I’ve worked over 40 hours maybe, like, twice in 18 months? Also, my current workplace is pretty generous with PTO, doesn’t nickel and dime us about things like missing work for a doctor’s appointment, and there’s a lot of respect for work life balance in general. To me, being expected to work extra hours weekly would be a stretch, as would continuing the current expectation but also my employer becoming more draconian about work schedules in general.

    1. Snark*

      It happens once a week, to one person – they said the push times never really included the entire office. So presumably for any particular employee, it happens once every couple of months.

      1. OP*

        That’s right. It happens this week for Jane. Next week for Frank. The week after that for Diane, etc. It’s not always a perfect round-robin. It *can* happen for the same person in one week and then again 2 weeks later, but that’s not typical.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Then I’d tell the team that, going forward, when post work comes due, whoever was originally assigned to the project will be completing said work since they will have the most knowledge about the project. If it ends up that someone has to do it two weeks in a row, so be it – that’s the nature of project work.

          1. TootsNYC*

            this will require some keen foresight, but one great thing about this is that if it’s Frank’s project, hopefully he can see trouble coming.

            And if he gets efficient, or heads off trouble by “recruiting” the work earlier, then he wins!

            (My daughter’s college house split up the supper-making by having people do both cooking AND cleanup on their night; that way the guy who used a lot of ingredients wasn’t dumping his many dishes on someone else, and the person who was efficient enough to cook a meal with few ingredients got the reward for that. They also only had to set aside one complete night, instead of parts of two nights.)

  17. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Give as much advanced warning as possible — a full day at least or week if possible. Don’t hit someone with “You may need to work overtime” at 3:00 pm on that same day. If you know your business has busy times then let them know that: “For the next 6 weeks there may be days where you will need to stay late to complete the tasks.” “We are expecting XYZ project to start at any time and I anticipate this will require some overtime to stay on schedule.” This way they can manage their expectations and personal life in advance — perhaps to not make important plans, or line up last-minute child care options.

  18. MAB*

    It’s kind of strange to me that employees with project management duties wouldn’t intuitively and automatically give an extra push to get their own project/portion of the project done. Maybe you don’t have the right team.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      I said something very similar upthread, except for the last bit. I would think that anyone who works in publishing would know they would occasionally need to stay late – it’s kind of a facet of the industry.

      1. Snark*

        Maybe so, but the boss is still jumping in and handling it when it happens. They need to communicate clearly what their needs are, because they’re not – “hey, in this industry, there will be times you get hammered and have to stay late for a night or two a week, and I’ll try to give you as much lead time as I can but I do need you to go the extra mile when necessary.”

        1. Vimes*

          I agree with the fact the employees may not be realizing that the overtime is so frequent or is their responsibility because Boss jumps in to do it so the expectations should be made clear. I would also ask OP if any part of the reason they feel the need to jump in is because they aren’t 100% confident it will get done and/or done correctly with their current team composition. That may not be the case but I’ve been in situations where management or high performers would rather work overtime than have to work overtime later on top of the first employee’s overtime to fix a partially completed or not correctly done project.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            I would also ask OP if any part of the reason they feel the need to jump in is because they aren’t 100% confident it will get done and/or done correctly with their current team composition.

            Well, OP said upthread that her team kind of just sits back and waits for her to volunteer to do the extra work, so if I was her, a part of me would be concerned about this for sure. People who don’t even pretend like they’re interested in doing their own work usually aren’t sticklers for accuracy or timeliness. Still, OP needs to start pushing back here because her method will lead to burnout for her.

    2. NW Mossy*

      And they may very well have started out that way based on past industry experience, but the OP’s style of absorbing these extras is implicitly teaching her staff that this isn’t the way it works in her company.

      Work environments absolutely bend the behavior of the people in them, and sometimes in ways that aren’t obvious unless you consciously look at them from the right angle. The OP’s situation is a good example of how a rescuing leader unintentionally undermines positive behaviors like initiative and proactive time management.

    3. OP*

      MAB, you’ve really hit on something important here. I think my team is *capable* of taking that kind of responsibility. I just think that my own actions have undercut any incentive to do so. Part of this also is that it so happens that overall I have a very young workforce. For at least 3 of them, this is their first professional-level position. They are used to always having the buck stop somewhere else, not with them. I’ve definitely played into this.

    4. Beth*

      It makes me wonder if OP is preempting them–if they jump in and handle it without even letting their employees know that these tasks are ready to go, or get them done on Tuesday evening when their employees had been planning to stay late on Wednesday. If that kind of thing happened for long enough, it could easily become the new norm, to the extent where everyone just assumes those overflow tasks are OP’s job since OP always handles them.

    5. TootsNYC*

      or maybe it’s not the team, but that the boss has stepped up so much that they’re willing to go along with it.

      1. OP*

        Yep. You and Beth have hit the nail on the head, I think. I have been so timid or unsure about what is “fair” or “normal” that I have always erred on the side of not “imposing” on anyone. I have created a culture where you lose nothing by shrugging off responsibility.

    6. londonedit*

      I was going to say something similar. We don’t have exempt etc in the UK, but most office-based jobs are salaried rather than hourly. However there’s invariably a clause in your employment contract that requires you to opt out of the EU Working Time Directive (which specifies no more than 48 hours’ work in one week) meaning you can be required to work unpaid overtime (a standard UK full-time job is usually 37.5 hours a week).

      I also work in publishing, and it’s my responsibility to manage my own workload. I have books that are my responsibility, and deadlines to get those books approved for press so they hit their publication dates, and it’s up to me to work to those schedules. A book missing its publication date is a HUGE deal that pretty much cannot happen without extremely good reason. There are busy times of year where I’ll be juggling various different things at various different stages of the process, and I know that if that happens I might need to work longer hours to get everything done. That’s totally fine. However the company I work for is also flexible and it’s standard that if you come in early and you don’t have a lot on your plate, you can leave early, you don’t have to take holiday allowance for medical appointments, you can work from home, and because we’re in the UK we get 25 days’ annual leave that’s purely for holidays and nothing to do with sick leave. Occasionally we may need to work at a special weekend event, and if we do that, we get a day off in lieu. My employer treats me in a reasonable manner, which means I think it’s reasonable to give more of my time when necessary.

  19. Anonymous Poster*

    I want to note that I had a job that generally did this thing well (there were other things they didn’t, but I guess that goes to show that every job is at some level a mixed bag). They would sometimes have surprise events where we’d have to work an extra 8 hours, or come in at midnight and work until the afternoon, and things of the sort. We were responding to real time problems that if we didn’t respond to, would lead to a multi-million or billion dollar loss of equipment. I’m sure any operations folks on here know exactly the kinds of situations where these come up.

    In these cases, they were very good about making sure we’d be able to take a day here and there, or half days, or whatever we wanted so that the work would get done and the emergency fixed, and we’d be able to get the rest we needed. They were also very clear that these situations happened with absolutely no notice, and we were expected in the office within 30-60 minutes to assist in resolving the problem.

    I’d also suggest making it clear to applicants, and current employees if this wasn’t done, whatever the expectations are in your workplace, and how much notice they may have. It helps them plan around these sorts of things. You can also consider setting up a rotational system where folks that need Friday nights to themselves for whatever reason, agree to do that so someone else can guaranteed have Wednesday nights.

    You have lots of ways of mitigating the effect this has on your staff, and I wish y’all all the best!

    1. House Tyrell*

      I’ve always wondered how people who work in jobs that have a lot of these no notice events handle things like vacations and being sick. Did that company have multiple people who were cross trained or in the same role so that you could take a vacation or be sick or were you expected to be on call at all times to handle emergencies?

    1. Isabel Kunkle*

      Eh, I think that’s a different situation: “You may need to stay a couple hours late once every couple months, if things get rushed, and it makes no sense to have a separate person do this stuff,” isn’t the same as “We’re asking you to work a day you specifically requested not to, for the foreseeable future, which we used to have someone else doing but then decided we don’t wanna.”

  20. SierraSkiing*

    This is totally normal, just give as much heads-up as possible! I’ve never begrudged my boss the occasional “hey, we’ve got a proposal due in two weeks, you might need to put in some extra hours”. However, I could have strangled him the time he texted me at 5:00 pm to ask me to make a presentation for an 8:30 a.m. talk the next day – a talk that had been on his schedule for months. As long as employees feel like you’re being respectful of their time, giving as much notice as you can, and only asking for this when necessary, most people will roll with it as a normal part of work.

    1. Confused*

      THAT is the worst. And that’s what kind of got me about this letter – I had a boss who would come into my office at 5:30 and just dump tasks on me. She could have hired a deputy, she could have prioritized her staff…nope. Lots of late nights for no reason at all.

      1. OP*

        Thanks Confused. I should dispel the notion that we’re talking about no-notice late work. Usually the affected employee can see it coming at least several days ahead of time. After all, they are creating the production schedules. It’s just that sometimes things line up to where, oh boy!, we have to deliver A, B, C, and D within hours of each other. That’s when I’ve typically jumped in and said, “Ok, don’t worry about D, I’ll handle that.” When in fact, I should be pushing back a little harder.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I’ve been that person who sacrificed myself for my team members, and it’s not the best thing.

          This is actually (since you said earlier your team is more green) a great opportunity to help them learn when it matters to stay late, or to do the big push. (In my publishing field, I often point out that the time to stay late and get things done is EARLY in the process–the manuscript edit, or the First Proof. There’s an art to picking the time to apply pressure. Your team could probably use some coaching there–and that coaching could help you frame this.)

        2. Confused*

          That’s fine then. As long as they have notice and you more or less stick to the production schedule (and don’t let people get away with missing deadlines that affect it) then it wouldn’t bother me as an employee.

      2. De Minimis*

        I had a former boss that did this. He generally stayed late every night [he routinely worked 10-12 hour days] and I think he didn’t even really start doing any work that involved me until late afternoon, so he often started giving me work around half an hour before I normally went home. Most of it were things that could have been done several hours before had he just bothered to give them to me.

        My current job is more typical in that there might be extra hours when we have certain deadlines but they’re known about well in advance. Even then, it doesn’t happen super often.

        1. Asenath*

          In our situation, the admins are often working for people who are on different schedules and at different sites. Mostly, we manage by communicating by email and/or phone calls, plus an occasional actual meeting. Some years back, once of my co-workers worked with someone who liked to meet with her right around her end of work – but not on all days; at unpredictable intervals. They frequently met as one was leaving and the other arriving; at least once they met in the parking lot. She always went back to the office to take care of the work he brought. But as I mentioned elsewhere, there was a lot of unofficial flexibility, and she (and the rest of us) could leave early or come in late from time to time. I don’t ever recall any repercussions if the admin actually reached her car and was driving away by the time the supervisor arrived! They all knew their hours were crazy and didn’t match up with ours.

  21. Anon for reasons*

    I want to push back on the idea that you can’t take on extra staff, as the extra work happens in different people’s areas, because if there’s an emergency every week that requires *you* to work late, it sounds like you’re not staffed fully. I’ve got a friend who was working at a bigger publishing house than yours for a year, on a temp contract, working across teams, picking up projects/slack where needed. So sometimes she was doing bits of editorial work, sales, marketing and admin as necessary. It sounds like you could do with a post like this, that could troubleshoot across the office, or take over some of the less-specialist tasks so your staff can focus on the things only they knew.

    It wouldn’t need to be a full-time post, but if you were paying them hourly, with a minimum number of days (and may it clear you might ask them to do more paid hours in busy periods) then it could solve the problem.

    I think a lot of workplaces do their employee to work calculations based on (eg) 5 full time members of staff = 5 times 40 hours/week. But it’s not like this – the calculation needs to take into account when staff are on holiday/off sick/on maternity leave/training, and that there will always be unexpected problems that make work take longer than it should.

    1. Me*

      I like this though process a lot. If the work is in different areas so no additional person would help then it doesn’t follow that the boss could be picking up the slack effectively either.

      OP can probably benefit from looking at the workflow again. Perhaps hiring someone doesn’t make sense to pick up overage, but maybe it can in a different way. Like say taking duties from people earlier in their work process, which frees up their time to handle those peaks.

      Or not hiring someone but perhaps there’s ways and places it makes sense for existing staff to cross train and provide support in a different area when something pressing is going on in llama grooming but llama shipping is quiet.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sure, in theory. But it’s also just not that weird to expect that an exempt professional will work 43 hours instead of 40 once every couple of months.

      1. Anon for reasons*

        I get that, but downthread OP said it’s more like an extra 5 hours, spread over 2 days, which feels different to me than just staying 2 hours late and skipping lunches.

      1. EM*

        It seems really unnecessary to hire someone to cover say 5 hours a week so that everyone only ever has to work maximum 40 hours (and sometimes less if they’re taking a morning off for the doctors or something). Most people in full time roles would understand that when it’s their protect, and they’re in control of the deliverable, it might require a bit more effort – as long as the workplace also doesn’t care that it’s quiet two weeks later so I went home early on a Friday. Which sounds like is the case.

  22. Anonymous For This Comment*

    I also work in publishing. The way our company is set up, everyone has their projects–if they don’t do the work on it, the project doesn’t get completed. So if the company is publishing a book, but I don’t edit it and get it back to the authors for their revisions, the book isn’t going to publish. There’s a high degree of personal responsibility, which means that everyone understands our basic rule: We work 40-hours most weeks, but our goal is to publish good books. If that takes more than 40-hours, then you put in more work.

    This works because:
    (1) Our work fits well into a 40-hour workweek. The vast majority of the time we can come in at 9 AM and leave at 5 PM. No one is consistently working long hours. Our boss makes sure he is out the door at 5 PM regularly so that there’s no pressure on anyone else to work long hours for face time.

    (2) If you don’t do your work and that’s why a book doesn’t publish, it’s pretty clear to everyone who dropped the ball. Everyone will put in the work that they need to on their own, without being asked.

    (3) Our office hours are slightly flexible (one hour on either end of the day) and we have the flexibility to take time for appointments during the day. Worked an extra hour today? Come in an hour late tomorrow.

  23. Confused*

    I have had a job like this. It’s fine, as long as you clearly communicate it as far in advance as possible, and if the employees actually have work to do in these late nights, and if they have to physically be there to do it. I don’t mind staying late against a deadline if that has to happen sometimes, but what annoyed me was when it could have easily been avoided with proper planning and when I was just waiting around for clearances and could have finished my part at home. If you are an otherwise reasonable manager who manages their time (and employees time) well most of the time, I think they’ll be fine.

  24. RandomU...*

    Question for the OP, (some of this may not be applicable based on your business of need)

    Do you have enough work to justify an extra ‘floating’ employee, either at part time or full time? It sounds like there’s ‘overflow’ pretty consistently, but with different employees.

    You’d get the added bonus of an extra person who is cross-trained for PTO coverage.

    To your original question, yes it’s ok to have have people work extra when needed. But as others have said be flexible when you can be.

  25. Richard Hershberger*

    For any given person this comes up what, every couple of months? This is nothing. Particularly if there is warning. I, as an employee, have two criteria for this sort of thing: (1) If crazy hours are the routine rather than the exception, then this is simply an understaffed and abusive employer; and (2) The occasional long hours have to be due to some external reason, no poor planning by management. It sounds like you are fine on both ends.

  26. HailRobonia*

    The problem I am facing is that my current job has a busy season all summer; we are expected to stay late, come in early, etc. with the understanding that parts of the year are less busy. Now we are having more and more programs the rest of the year, so now my “less busy” periods are still extremely busy.

  27. Allison*

    I don’t mind working late where I work now, because historically, that work has been appreciated and rewarded. It also doesn’t hurt to go home after the evening rush is over, the game at Fenway Park has started, and the green line isn’t a crowded shirtshow. I also haven’t been required to work late at the last minute when I already have tickets to a movie or concert, and I haven’t booked anything on ClassPass for that night that I’d need to pay $15 to cancel. I generally know when things are about to heat up so I can plan in advance, and work late on free nights so I don’t need to on nights where I have a commitment.

    You know what job I didn’t want to work late for? My minimum wage, part-time college bookstore job. The manager was walking around asking people to work late, I declined because I’d had a ride lined up at a specific time and for some reason it seemed too complicated to ask to be picked up later, or take the train home and get picked up at the station when I was done. Honestly, I just didn’t want to. But while the manager accepted this and didn’t push back, she also admonished pretty much everyone for not working late when asked, because she expected us to all say yes. I was new to working in general, so if she had said “no, I need you to stay late because we need extra hands tonight, go call your ride and figure out a new plan” I would’ve done exactly that. That said, I also would’ve been grateful if she’d said to me before that shift “I see your shift ends at 7 on Thursday, but it looks like we’re getting a big shipment that afternoon and I may need you to stay until 9 or 10” so I could’ve put together a contingency plan in advance.

  28. Claribel*

    It would be thoughtful to give them as much notice as possible for extra hours, in case people have to arrange childcare or rearrange other plans.

  29. FinallyFriday*

    I agree with all the statements here but want to add one more point. Make sure your employees are working and prioritizing together well and that the person who’s stuck working late isn’t there because someone else failed to earlier in the process. My job depends on others, and very little makes me more frustrated than watching other people leave on time day after day and then ask me to stay late to get a project done on time when I was pending information from them. Like if I have to work on a presentation for Thursday and someone else doesn’t get me the information until late on Wednesday when I’ve been reminding them and I have to stay late it drives me nuts.

    1. Anon for reasons*

      “Make sure your employees are working and prioritizing together well and that the person who’s stuck working late isn’t there because someone else failed to earlier in the process.”

      This is super important – and it’s also worth looking at the full process to see if there are any common pinch points that could solve things, and/or internal deadlines need to be changed/enforced. It would be maddening for the people who layout/copy edit/prep for printing if they are the ones who end up staying late, just because people don’t take internal deadlines seriously.

      And it might be worth checking there’s not a culture of seeing internal deadlines as less important, because if they slip, you do all the staying late/trouble-shooting, so staff don’t see the impact.

  30. ArtK*

    Years ago I had a job interview that went like the following. Don’t be like this team!

    Hiring Manager: We’re on some extended hours now. 18 hour days and 60-70 hour weeks are common.
    Me: Ok. I’ve dealt with “crunch time” before. How long do you think that this will last?
    HM: For at least the next 2 years.
    Me (mentally): Bye!
    Me (verbally): Oh. I see.

    1. OP*

      Awful! Yeah, we are nowhere near that. “Crunch time” for us usually means an extra 3 hours one day and 2 hours the next. It does make for a couple of pretty long days, but it doesn’t go on indefinitely.

  31. Desperately seeking cute kitty*

    I’m not based in the US so YMMV, but overtime pay made the biggest difference for me. I was the first employee at my company and I brought up overtime pay as soon as I got the offer because I had experience freelancing in this industry and I knew there was no way in hell it would be 40-hour weeks all year round. I got full overtime pay, as does everyone else who’s joined us since, and it’s been a major deciding factor in how willing I am to work overtime when we’re busy. Now that I’m involved in interviews, I also talk about the work patterns during the interview so candidates can decide if that’s something they’re OK with.

    And employees get the same flexibility – my boss lets me work remotely from another country (with no obligation to ever go back to the country where the company is based) and we give working parents flexibility with their schedule. So I’d say definitely give the flexibility you want to get, and if at all possible provide overtime pay.

  32. Overworker*

    The biggest factor for me as an employee is how 1 sided the flexibility is. My current job has weeks of insane workload, I often work overtime and come home exhausted.


    When workload is light my boss is fine for me to spend extra time “building rapport” which for me is just chatting. She’ll let me leave an hour early if there is nothing to do or if a long day wrapped up earlier than expected. When work is busy she will make sure i’m still getting lunch breaks and sometimes even bring office treats.

    Basically I am happy to put in overtime for a manager I like and someone who i feel really cares about me and the work I do

  33. Sleepy*

    Late comment here, but–doesn’t this really disadvantage certain workers? Like, I don’t have kids so I can stay late if need be. But if I needed to pick up my kids from day care, I can’t just be like, “Hey kids, stay at day care until 8pm tonight.” It’s simply not an option. Yes, some jobs may allow you to do extra work from home, but at some that’s not possible due to company rules, computer systems, etc. The reality is that women are disproportionately more likely to be responsible for these kinds of tasks and I don’t think that should be ignored when working late is expected, even occasionally. In fact, it’s more disruptive to have a sudden late night thrown on you, whereas someone in a job that regularly expects long hours would naturally have already made child-care plans for those hours.

  34. msk*

    Long story short–don’t nickel and dime people their time and they usually are happy to pitch in when necessary. Some managers think that you have to run a tight ship or employees will take advantage==the old “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” But in reality, when you treat people like adults and let them work from home, or not have to take their PTO for doctor appointments and be understanding and flexible when they have emergencies, people will give you so much more when you need it. It’s an investment that reaps great benefits to the business.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      And if they do start “abusing” something, you speak to them and tell them to knock it off or there are consequences. Consequences = fired.

      Don’t take something away that everyone else isn’t abusing because one jerk can’t stay in the lines.

      1. msk*

        Absolutely! We had an employee who abused the system and she was dealt with directly, and those employees who were working effectively did not lose any of their freedom.

  35. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Yes, we expect to work late in crunch time… just don’t pull what one VP did to me. I worked an 11 hour day my 3rd day there, because he asked my manager late to do his conference presentation slides. VP was back&forth between his office & my cubicle for hours. Three days later, he didn’t return my hello when I greeted him in the hallway between my cube and his office.
    I never warmed up to him after that.

  36. LGC*

    I swear I did not black out and write this letter.

    Anyway – with the one non-exempt employee, make sure they’re approved for OT if they’re subject to the crunch time. In general, I don’t think this should be a problem, but some companies are pretty restrictive.

    Other than that…OP yes please delegate. And since it seems like it’s pretty short notice, yet an overall regular occurrence – this is a time you need to be proactive and let everyone know that you’re asking them to take on these tasks (or otherwise delegate)! You shouldn’t (and quite frankly, can’t) take on all the crunch work by yourself, and I think it’ll be much more efficient to have different people stay late rather than you trying to do it all.

    If I were writing this email, I’d probably say something like, “Hey everyone – effective today I want you to help complete [overflow tasks], which may require some occasional extra hours to meet deadlines – roughly once every couple of months, on average. If you’re not able to work extra hours when needed, please let me know so we can arrange coverage.”

    Alternately, if the task is that high priority, can you reassign lower-priority tasks from that employee to someone with more free time? Or is it usually that every employee already has a 40-hour workload and then gets stuff piled on top of it?

  37. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    This is merely wordsmithing, but I don’t think you necessarily need to ask/tell your employees to ‘stay late’. I never ‘stay late’ in the office and I rarely work through lunch, but I will come into the office (or do work at home) from 5am onwards if I have additional work or calls with overseas clients. I’m just NOT an evening person and by 4pm I am done for the day, but at 5am I am alert and awake and raring to go!

    So no, don’t tell your staff to ‘work late’. Give them the flexibility to manage their workload to meet the deadline.

  38. Someone commenting*

    As you shout into the forest, the forest shouts back.

    If you are reasonable and don’t make people use PTO for things like midday short doctors appointments, failure in childcare, etc… then the same employees won’t mind staying a bit longer on occasion.

  39. workerbee2*

    Since OP said that they usually see the extra work coming a few weeks away, OP should just start assigning the work to the person it rightfully belongs to (the one who’s in charge of that project). I think OP might be surprised what happens – I’d wager that the employees find ways to create efficiencies to minimize the amount of extra time they have to put in. Right now they have no incentive to do that because OP takes on all the extra work. The commenter above who said that the employees need to take more ownership of their projects is right on the nose. These are tasks that should be part of their normal duties because they’re for their projects, not something “extra” that is a favor to the boss.

  40. WinnaPig*

    8 person office, overtime requirement once per week per person – at minimum an “emergency” every 8 weeks (assuming that every staff person is required to handle them). That is not “occasional” anymore.

    As I understand it, a salary over $23K per year is what qualifies a person as exempt? That is just barely over the poverty line for one person here, even adjusting for the exchange rate, and hardly the executive salary the concept of exemption should apply to.

    I think a complete re-working of what constitutes a 40 hour week (likely moving to a condensed work week of some sort, with banked time available for whatever purpose the individual needs it for) and a hard look at the income generated for the number of staff employed, as well as a review of the efficiency of the planning cycle if these “emergencies” are happening once per week would be in order.

    A reading of Jim Collin’s “Good to Great” might be helpful.

  41. Keener*

    Give as much notice and/or flexibility as possible. My profession sometimes requires extra work to complete projects on time. I am managing my own projects so generally know when crunch time is approaching which allows me to proactively manage my schedule and minimize the impact on my personal life. Sometimes I’ll work extra the weekend before to get ahead, sometimes I’ll leave work on-time to full fill a personal commitment and then work remotely later in the evening. Other times I’ll just start work at 5:30am.

    If possible OP, don’t default to staying late on the day of the emergency as the only way to get the work done. Being as flexible as possible will also better accommodate parents that have fairly rigid childcare responsibilities.

  42. Cassie*

    OP – is it definite that someone *will* have to work late? What I mean is, could someone conceivably give up lunch, not take breaks, work faster (if possible) and get the work done? I carpool to work and I don’t have an easy way to get home (or come in on the weekends) so if there’s a deadline I have to meet, I will do everything humanly possible to get the work done by my usual quitting time. That’s not to say that I don’t stay late or come in on the weekend when necessary (e.g., I’m in charge of a conference and have to be there at least until the food is delivered and set up because if the caterers don’t show, people will be unhappy), but if I don’t have to be physically present, I’d rather not be. I would be a little less than happy if my boss insisted I needed to work OT because stuff needs to get done (it does, but I probably can manage without putting extra hours!).

    Make it about the deliverables – getting the work done by X dates – and let your qualified exempt staff manage their time as they see fit.

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