I resist pressure to work long hours — but my coworkers don’t

A reader writes:

I’m hoping to get some advice on fending off pressure and comments to fall in line and work unpaid overtime.

I work a public job in the health sector. I have really good boundaries about taking my breaks and lunch and leaving when my shift is done.

However, it seems like there’s an industry-wide problem, including all my coworkers, who do not take breaks and who eat lunch at their desk while working. They often come in early, stay late, or come in on their days off to catch up on work.

I’m lucky at my current job that I do not receive pressure from management to do the same thing. However, my coworkers do make me feel guilty sometimes, saying it must be so nice that I can take my lunches or venting to me about how much unpaid overtime they have to do to keep up. Whenever I suggest or remind them that they should not do so, it is like talking to brick walls. I also encountered issues in both my practicums (private jobs) where both my mentors worked unpaid overtime, and both even told me to expect to have to do the same. My industry is infamously bad at never approving overtime, rarely giving coverage when taking time off from work, and not having enough or any casual support when you’re behind.

I’m hoping to get some advice on how to deflect these comments and ways to professionally communicate back that it’s an inappropriate expectation and prevent myself from falling to the pressure of doing this.

Frankly, I’m sick of people glorifying having poor boundaries when it comes to work/personal life and putting themselves on a pedestal for overworking all the time as a sign of being a good worker.

I wrote back and asked, “I’m curious whether you’ve experienced any blowback in your career from having those good boundaries (other than from coworkers) — like in terms of pressure from managers, trouble getting raises/promotions, etc.? (You shouldn’t, of course — but knowing whether you have or not will help me give you a better answer.)”

Thankfully not. I’m lucky enough that most of my feedback from management has been on my eagerness to take initiative and problem-solve and my adjustability in a team setting. I just feel it looms in conversation sometimes, if that makes any sense?

What’s interesting here is that you seem to have found the secret pathway that your coworkers haven’t: You’re just ignoring the overtime pressures that they’re giving into and you’re not experiencing the professional repercussions that they probably fear.

Which is fascinating — and also not that unusual! Often in industries and office cultures where people work these sorts of hours, you’ll see people who simply decline to do it themselves, and they’re still fine. Not always, of course — there are fields and offices where declining would harm someone professionally and ones where it even would be impossible. But there are more cases than people realize where you really can just nope out of that stuff and nothing terrible happens.

It helps to be really good at your job, of course. If you’re good at what you do and have good boundaries, people are more inclined to accept it as “yeah, Jane is really disciplined about leaving every day at 5” and maybe even “good for her.” If you’re not so great at your job, it’s more likely to be seen as part of a broader pattern of not being invested enough.

You called yourself “lucky” twice in your letter — but I think you’re just asserting boundaries, being good at your job, and finding that that’s fine. I don’t think you’ve found some magic elixir that makes your management not notice you’re not working the same hours as everyone else; I think they’re genuinely fine with what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, and your coworkers could do more of that too.

It would be a public service if you tried to communicate that to them. When they tell you how nice it must be to take lunch, say, “Yes, it is. I know there’s a culture in our field of working through lunch and doing unpaid overtime, but I want to tell you — I don’t do that, and it’s never been held against me professionally. I hope you will experiment with it yourself — I see a lot of people assuming they need to work awful hours, but a lot of that pressure goes away when you don’t buy into it.”

You might also talk to coworkers about what strategies you use to deal with lack of coverage and lack of support when you’re behind. Those are both real problems, but you’ve found a way to maintain boundaries in spite of them. Talk to your coworkers about how! (For example, maybe you’re more willing to leave work for the next day rather than working late into the night, and maybe you’re more proactive about prioritizing or communicating with your boss early on so that doing that doesn’t cause problems.)

It’s also possible, of course, that you’re faster than most people or your workload is lighter. Or you might be given breaks that other people don’t get (for example, if you and your boss are the only white men on your team, come from the same background, or click way more than anyone else does, it’s possible your coworkers face pressures you’ve been exempted from). You’d want to take an honest look at that before applying the advice above so that you don’t end up demoralizing people or seeming out of touch.

But if your real secret is a resistance to cultural pressure, that’s worth spreading around.

One caveat: None of this may change anything. You might say all the right things and your coworkers won’t change anything they’re doing. If so, then all you can do is know you’ve been forthright with people, and how they respond to that is up to them. In that case, when people vent about their hours, express some sympathy (real sympathy — it sucks to feel obligated to work long hours), don’t feel too frustrated or guilty, and vow to take more concrete action if you’re ever managing people in this field.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 218 comments… read them below }

  1. Elenia*

    THIS IS SO PRESCIENT! WTF! I was literally complaining to my husband this week about this. None of my peers seem to take regular time off, they all save it up for the end of the year, they work all hours, they answer emails on the weekends. Nothing we do is so critical. I resist constantly, not just for me but for my staff too, because I don’t want them to feel pressured too.

    I feel like the shift is getting stronger, too, more and more people want to work more and more hours. Ugh!

    1. TootsNYC*

      Because we’re more and more afraid of being seen as superfluous.
      And we’ve ended up busy enough and disconnected from our communities, and we think our only value comes from work.
      Think about it: you don’t deserve health insurance unless you’re employed.

      1. Nancy Pelosi*

        I work at a government agency that has a hospital. I tell my coworkers all the time “there are literally people down the hall saving lives. We are not. This assignment can wait til tomorrow”

            1. Viette*

              Even when you do work in a hospital! Obviously in times of crisis (either brief or prolonged), things spill over and you make serious sacrifices, but the rest of the time things are scheduled! You can plan for them! Some of the work is important, but some of it can still wait.

        1. PeanutButter*

          When I did work in an ER I was always dumbfounded by the number of people we’d get in during ice storms who tried to go to work and injured themselves. Like, let us emergency responders take the risks of traveling, we’ve got contingency plans in place to get everyone here to take care of patients. The McGillicutty account can wait a few days, geez.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Depends on where you work. Sometimes the boss notices the people who don’t come in and they’re on the list the next time the budget gets cut.

      2. ampersand*

        Oh wow, this resonates with me–it makes a lot of sense when you put it that way! (And it’s obviously a damaging mindset, but it helps to hear it stated like this.)

    2. Minimax*

      Yes! Especially the increasing pressure.

      I’m in a similar boat to op except I am also exempt. Sometimes my managers also try to pressure me, but its always been passive aggressively. They never actually punish me and my performance reviews have been great. Usually its peers and less sr staff who really lay it on thick. I call them “office martys” in my head.

      Sometimes I give into the pressure and the results are the same. I work a bunch of OT. Get no appreciation or recognition for it, then my resilince for dealing with co-irkers drops. I say something stupid and get punished. That helps me to reinforce the boundaries.

      One thing I have learned, silence is best. I use to push my coworkers who complained to work less and that almost always increased those complaints or resulted in some passive aggressive manager comments. “Some people are getting paid a lot to work so few hours.” “This is not a 40 hour a week industry…” etc.

      Plausible deniability is sadly the best course here.

      1. Done_at_4OP*

        Yes I can say I found this too, at first I tried to encourage co-workers to take their breaks, end at 4. But it did not help some live on the matyrdom of it. Others simply feel they keep bending to the pressure. Now I cheer them on when they choose to have a break, but remain mostly quiet when they go “oh woe is me.”

    3. Quinalla*

      Interesting, there has been a big culture push/shift at my work away from overwork. We’re all salaried professionals, but much more than 45-50 hours a week is not sustainable long term and while some of the folks who’ve been in the industry forever are grumbling, the rest of us are on board for reasonable hours. We know there are times we have pushes and need to work more, our work has deadlines, but we also are a big enough company that we are usually able to spread out the load over other teams.

      Also, my job I could probably work 24/7/365, there is always something else I could work on whether it is billable work, learning, developing internal tools & processes, etc. You HAVE to put up some boundaries or you will burnout. That’s not to say I don’t feel pressure sometimes, I do, but I really try and put it in perspective. Is this actually urgent? Can it be delegated? Can I put in extra time today and take back that time later in the week when the deadline is over? I also evaluate regularly if I’m letting work creep too much into my home/free time. Am I still getting in my exercise, sleep, family time, etc. ? If some of those are starting to slip, I firm up my boundaries again.

    4. HS Teacher*

      At the first school I taught at, the teachers had a big martyr complex. They would brag about how early they had arrived and how late they stayed, and how they were grading papers on weekends, and they attended all these educational conferences.

      I was adamant that wasn’t going to me. I did all that stuff when I worked on the corporate side, but I was paid three times what I was making as a teacher. If they wanted those kind of hours out of me, they’d have to pay me a lot more money. I worked a little extra since I was still learning curriculum, but by and large I was free on weekends and not shy about using my (very generous) PTO.

      I was happy to come to my current school. Our dismissal bell is at 3:45, and by 4 pm the parking lot is a ghost town. I knew I’d found the right place for me.

    5. Quill*

      Want? Probably not but the increase in employment insecurity has not done any good for people’s boundaries.

  2. CatPerson*

    What I find to be the case where I work is that most of the people who claim they are overburdened and have to work too many hours seem to have plenty of time during the day to talk about their kids, vacations, future vacations, tv shows, etc. Sounds like the LW knows how to get the job done and should hold feel serene!

    1. Allypopx*

      I see this a lot too. And people who stretch their hours more than is strictly speaking necessary for the glory of martyrdom.

      Obviously that’s not true in all industries, teams, or cases…but it’s probably more prevalent than we’d admit.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        You and CatPerson describe almost every work environment I’ve been in post-graduation, lol. Funny how I had just as much work as the rest of them did, yet was able to get what I needed done in 8 hours – that’s because I actually sat at my desk and worked.

    2. ACDC*

      You should check out Adam Grant’s podcast “Work Life.” He did an episode this week about procrastination and it touches a lot on this very example you just gave.

    3. sacados*

      It’s absolutely true. As a general rule, people will take as much time to complete a task as they’re given. If you’re always thinking in the back of your head “Well, I know I’m going to end up staying till all hours anyway no matter what I do” then it becomes that much easier to justify spending twenty minutes messing around on your phone or commiserating with Fergus about how overworked you all are.
      Whereas if you’re committed to getting everything finished by 5pm and walking out the door, then you tend to be much more focused and productive.

      I saw this all the time when I was living in Japan — in addition to the cultural work style differences, my company/industry at the time was notorious for lots of overtime and crunch. It was incredibly common to stay until 10 or 11pm every night, and a good bit of that was certainly due to a workload that was just that heavy. But you would also pretty frequently see people taking naps at their desk or a billion smoke breaks. Because when you know you’re gonna stay incredibly late anyway, there’s no incentive to be more efficient.

      1. Chili*

        Yes! I saw this while I was in college. I would just kind of study for the amount of time I needed then leave it and have fun and do other things. So many of my classmates turned school into their whole lives and were constantly studying, worrying about studying, just generally being super anxious and all about school all the time. A lot of them assumed I was a slacker but were surprised to find out I was actually an A-student with a heavy course-load. I was all about “single-tasking”– I studied when I studied, but I didn’t study at all when I wasn’t. A lot of my peers would spend 12 hours in the library on Saturday, but they weren’t actually working most of the time– they were socializing, surfin’ the net, etc.

        I’m currently not the best at that with my current job (as exhibited by commenting now), but this is a nice reminder that I was a lot happier when I just focused and got shit done.

        1. sacados*

          Oh god, college. Yeah that totally ruined me for productivity, haha.
          There’s always something that you could be reading/studying/prepping for, there’s never a set time when you’re “off” which lends itself all too well to hours sitting on the couch doing “reading” with the TV on ….

          1. Elenia*

            Going back to school in my thirties really delineated this for me. I worked 40 hours! I didn’t have time to study all day! so I would come home and study/do homework for approximately 3 hours, spend the same amount of time on Saturday and Sunday, and passed with a pretty good GPA. It’s almost better when your time is defined strictly!

        2. DistantAudacity*

          Yes, I have experienced that myself, and even done it deliberately.

          I am from Scandinavia, where it is commonly accepted to have a good work/life balance. Generalising quite a bit, we tend to do our work reasonably efficiently, have 30 mins lunch break and then Go Home between 4 and 5 in the afternoon.

          Some (10?) years ago I did a stint working in Spain (I´m a consultant). The Spanish have much longer hours than we do, starting (from our Nordic perspective) late, having unecessarily long lunches and staying late even if you had done your tasks for the day. Think regular days 0930 – 2030, at least in our office there. There was a lot of «not leaving before the boss» going around. So, culture clash.

          Due to my being there on behalf of a client from my location, and being sufficiently senior, I was able to say (think) «f*** that» and leave at 7pm. Even so, I had to deliberately slow down my work because I knew I was going to be there more hours, both to avoid burn-out working at «regular» efficiency and also because I did not actually have more things to do.

          (Apologies to the good people of, and my very good colleagues from Spain! It was just a major culture clash between north and south Europe, even within one global company!)

    4. mcr-red*

      I’ve seen that too. I worked with someone who used to stay over HOURS. He was seen as a dedicated employee by the bosses. But what they didn’t see that I did – he took forever doing one or two things, and passed large bits of his work that had to be done immediately on to me! There was literally no reason for him to stay that long. Another person in the department was the same way – would stay all hours, come in on weekends, etc., and say, “I just haven’t had a day off in weeks.” He would literally come in and immediately get on the phone and talk all day long. About his problems, about how he worked constantly, about his plans, etc. for the entire work day. All day. Chat chat chat. Hang up the phone, it would ring, start all over again.

      1. Quill*

        I often do need a few minutes delay to switch tasks or reduce anxiety, but… there’s a point at which you also need to build that in to your estimation of your timelines!

    5. Time to get that arranged marriage my parents want*

      I was wondering if it was just me who noticed this! My office mate talks about how overworked she is, but spends 2~ hours a day socializing…

    6. KRM*

      I saw kind of thing in grad school–students were expected to stay late and work some weekends. Professors would complain if they saw people leaving before 6. The practical upshot of this is a very long lunch or coffee break (esp if the prof was teaching) so that they would have something to do while having to stay that late!! I eschewed that attitude because I had been working in a lab for 4 years, normal hours, had several publications (note: would only expect to have one, maybe two, as a grad student in that time frame, so I wasn’t deluding myself), so I saw no need for the crazy hours. Ended up leaving the program for a large variety of reasons (many centering around the career path I realized I actually wanted) and just felt bad for everyone I left behind.

    7. Viette*

      This is so true, and it’s true in every environment. I have a lot of colleagues to end up at work really late all the time because they have to finish all their paperwork or make phone calls or whatever when they could be getting through a lot more of it during the day. They could be creating and using templates, saying “no” to low-yield vanity projects, keeping track of short phone calls that need to be made and doing them between tasks, all this. Instead, they lean against the wall and tell me about what they did over the weekend while I chart.

      I’m not going to stop getting my work done because they want to talk about their kid’s volleyball tournament! If they want to talk about that instead of doing their own work, well, that’s on them.

    8. Lady Heather*

      In my high school Economics class we once had to read an article that concluded that in countries where the work week was thirty-five hours, people did actual work 34.5 hours a week, and in countries where the average hours at work was 45 hours a week, people did actual work 33 hours a week. The rest of the time was spend on personal mail/calls/projects, internet, and socializing with coworkers. (I’m making up the numbers here because I don’t know them exactly – but I do remember that the absolute ‘time spent working’ was lower when the ‘time at work’ increased, not just relatively (in percentage), but absolutely (in hours).)

      It has stuck with me since.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        I mean, that makes sense. There was a study that people have the capacity for productivity of something like four hours a day. Four hours of efficient, productive activity, spread out across a workday. If you expect people to produce efficient and productive work for more than that, either they burn out or they don’t produce the work.

    9. MT*

      I’ve seen a variation of this. I’m hourly so I work my 8 hours a day and go home but my core group of collaborators are all exempt, some of whom worked crazy hours. It would piss me off because I knew that they would be staying at work until 6-7 pm every night but they would come in 30 minutes later than their start time and take 1.5 hour long lunches several times a week, to keep their sanity. I could never find them during the day! I go home at 3 and I take a standard 30 minute lunch and some times if we had a lot of conflicting meetings, I would have to wait several days to talk to them.

    10. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      Yep! While I have seen people who were truly overworked (usually managers pulled into 8-10 meetings every day who also had their own projects and reviews and approvals outside of those meetings to take care of) I more commonly see people just stretching out their small breaks during the day.

      Where I will go refill my water bottle in the kitchen and then get back to my desk, my coworkers will get up to get water, chat with a couple people, go get a snack from the vending machine, stand and check their phones etc… a 3 minute interruption turned into a 20 minute interruption.

      I don’t see anything wrong with that, on its face. If you have the time to do so then why the hell not? (I don’t waste a lot of time with water cooler chatting, though I do some of that, but I do waste time commenting on AAM…) But I also take the breaks that allow me to finish my work in the 9 hours I’m in the office, whereas it seems that other people’s breaks make them end up needing to stay for 10-11 hours daily.

    11. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      I also see this a lot. Plenty of people love to complain (brag) about working sooooo hard and soooo many hours, but they really aren’t working much more than anyone else.

      Reminds me of an old slice-and-bake cookie commercial where a woman let her family think she slaved over a batch of cookies she “made.” She sprinkled flour on her face and looked all downtrodden when she brought the cookies out to them. There are people in the workplace that do the equivalent of that. Haha!

    12. Richard*

      In my experience, these people have one even bigger timesuck that is keeping them late: complaining about how much work they have to do.

    13. Done_at_4OP*

      I had asked this question and since then had someone close to me point this out too! They spend quite a bit of their days socializing, some of them do not manage their time well as a result. I’m less bothered that I don’t stop and chat, I am not everyone’s closest friend because I spend most of my day focusing on my work.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Some of them are just getting caught up from when they were doing three people’s jobs in 2010, and being told to be grateful anyway. Don’t worry, when the next recession comes you might become one of them.

  3. TootsNYC*

    I was told once that when you work a 40-hour week, you get about 35 hours of work done. When you work a 42-hour week, you get 38 hours of work done. When you work a 50-hour week, you get 40 hours of work done. When you work a 60-hour week, you get 40 hours of work done.

    I see it–people who work long hours as a matter of course will waste time, choose less efficient ways of working, etc.

    I had a guy working for me who left a quitting time on the dot. My manager was the one who determined raises and filled out evaluations for the people who worked for me, and she made a mention that she didn’t think he was dedicated. (First, he’s being paid to work, not for his emotional buy-in.)
    I really pressured her to see what I saw: someone who came to work promptly, who checked in before he left if things were busy (and would have stayed if I’d asked him to), who volunteered to work on a holiday because the project he was in charge of would have a deadline that day (per the calendar). I had to really argue that it was GOOD that he left when the normal day was over.

    I personally told him, in my own evaluation, that I VALUED the fact that he left when the day was done. It kept us all honest.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I hate the “dedicated” BS.
      I like my job, I think they do good things, I will choose my life and my family over them every time. That is who I am “dedicated” to. All you get from me is good faith and a genuine effort to do the best I can.

    2. Batgirl*

      I had a boss who used to see this for the time wasting it was. He’d stop by people’s desks before leaving and say “If you’re still here then you haven’t met your deadline for today”.

    3. Construction Safety*

      We have internal data showing the decline in productivity past our standard 50 hour work week. It is dramatic.

      1. RUKiddingMeeds to disabuse*

        That you say “ standard 50 hour work week” makes me sad. When did 50 become the default?

        My personal goal is ~3 hours a day. Yeah…I know.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It isn’t default across the board.

          It will always vary depending on industry. Construction is notorious for OT but they also have dry seasons where they don’t have work and downsize crews drastically. Just as an example given the comment you’re responding to.

          Just like how average work weeks in public accounting sky rocket for tax season.

          Then there are the notorious positions who require upwards of 60hour weeks like doctors and nursing staff.

          But there’s still plenty of places that are 37.5hrs to 40 hour work weeks.

          1. RUKiddingMeeds to disabuse*

            Well if you’re gonna go all Math Ninja on me… LOL.

            I definitely get the whole X=average thing.

            What bothers me is that so many employers, and consequently employees are thinking 50/60+ is necessary when it’s so not.

            Because “dedication ® ‍♀️

          2. TardyTardis*

            Ah, tax season, where you work 10 hours a day during peak and lunch is a piece of pizza out of the fridge back behind a cube wall…

        2. James*

          “When did 50 become the default?”

          As I understand the history, about 150 years ago. Before that, the standard for the construction industry was “What do you mean ‘time off’? Don’t you want to eat?”

          It’s not as bad as it sounds. If you’re traveling you generally don’t have much to do in the evenings anyway–it’s not like you’re going home to your family, and hotel walls start to close in on you after a few weeks. And the mixture of physical and mental work makes it easier to work 10 hours on a construction site than 8 hours in an office (at least that’s what I and several hundred of my fellow workers have found).

          It does take a certain kind of person to do this. I think our company had a 90% turnover among staff with 3 years seniority or less. And it’s REALLY easy to get stuck in the field mentality, making it hard to break into office work (and thus shorter work weeks).

    4. Koala dreams*

      In many cases it’s not a choice to waste time, either, it’s just the effects of exhaustion from working long days. Or simply a lack of planning in general.

      There is the same thing going on with students. When I was a student, doing group projects with students with children or other outside accomplishments was the best. They usually did their work in a timely manner, so they could leave in time to pick up their kids or whatever, and also put some pressure on the rest of the group to do the same. It’s weird how it’s easier to get things done with limited time, compared to having the whole day.

      1. Tabby Cat*

        “In many cases it’s not a choice to waste time, either, it’s just the effects of exhaustion from working long days.”

        This. Not so much now, but definitely when I was a student. It’s a vicious cycle: you don’t have the energy to work efficiently, so you take unnecessarily long breaks, so you have to work longer … and repeat.

    5. Finkfink*

      When my partner had their first annual evaluation, their boss sincerely complimented the way they always left at 5:30. My partner assumed it meant that the others worked less than 8 hours, but their boss reassured them that no, the others worked longer than 8, and he was happy that my partner didn’t.

    6. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      I used to be lucky enough to work a 30 hour week (6 hours a day). I got as much done as my full time colleagues. I didn’t hang around the coffee machine chatting and I made sure I was available after I’d left the office. It was important to me that my boss had no reason to question whether my 30 hour week was viable. The only reason I went back to a 40 hour week was money.

    7. Panthera uncia*

      My aggravation with the “dedicated” nonsense is that it’s a top-heavy system, meaning the hours kept by upper management are seen as the “right” ones. Those of us who start before 7:00 and leave at 4:00 are the slackers, while people who wander in after 9:00 and stay until 6:00 look better but do less.

      I have a skewed early day because I collaborate closely with our Shanghai office, so a little late on their end and a little early on my end gives us a workable compromise. I’m not keeping 12-hour days because Joe VP thinks staying until 6:00 at night is the “right” time.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Your comment is so on point. My last company was like this. Most of my colleagues came in at 7 and left at 4; however, the executives, including the company’s president, would come into the office around 10 and then make passive aggressive comments to the middle managers about how dead the office was when they’d emerge from their offices around 5-6pm. I was usually still there, as was my boss, but that’s because we both came in around 8:30-9 and I took hour lunch breaks as well. Even still, I’d roll my eyes when I’d hear these “jokes” and think, “Well, maybe if you came in at a normal time, you’d see the rest of the staff hard at work” because they were.

      2. Artypical_Mind*

        I used to have the opposite problem: I’d be working 11:00 – 7:30 ET to support west coast offices and people would make passive-aggressive remarks about coming in late.

      3. TardyTardis*

        I worked in the opposite kind of office–people would come in at 6:30 am, and those of us who had a later shift so there was coverage were the evil slackers.

    8. Minimax*

      I actually tested this on myself (can you tell I am an analyst?) and found that after 45 hours my productivity tanks. Once I reach 60 my output is similar to 45 hours but my moral is bottomed out.

  4. CupcakeCounter*

    Depending on their location, OP could also answer “well of course I take my breaks and refuse unpaid OT – that’s illegal and I wouldn’t want to get the company in trouble”.
    A bit passive aggressive (and moot if they are salaried exempt) but might help reframe what the coworkers are doing.

    1. Manon*

      That’s what gets me about this letter: OP’s coworkers are literally helping the company steal from them.

      1. Daffy Duck*

        They are VOLUNTEERING to have the company steal from them. The company may not even want them doing this. It really skews the future planning and budget numbers when folks do this.

    2. Person of Interest*

      Yeah, it wasn’t clear to me when the OP used the term “unpaid overtime” if that was actual non-exempt overtime, which would be illegal, or just colloquial “overtime” with no direct comp time later.

    3. Done_at_4OP*

      Op here I have said that I am always happy to work but only if I get paid. But it does not really influence their choice or break or not. I’ve had more success being a good cheerleader when they make good decisions, and being more quiet and less chatty when they don’t, they seem less likely to go to me for sympathy.
      We’ve been talking at work since I asked this in an email, about healthy work/life boundaries so sometimes I will remind them of that, but if there is a deadline they have procrastinated on, or last minute assignments, it will not work.

  5. Kate*

    I feel like this in my role as well. My supervisor (not really my boss, academia is complicated) works insane hours and I’m not really sure doing what! If there is something pressing I stay longer but if not I pack up and head home at 4:30 like I’m supposed to. I feel kind of frustrated that I sometimes feel guilty about keeping reasonable hours but I get my work done.

    1. Not Burnt Yet, But Well Braised*

      I’m in academia as well, but the prevailing notion is that there’s always another experiment you can start/run/analyze (at least in my STEMy benchwork corner). No matter what you produce, you can always produce more if you just stayed a little longer. My coworkers complain that I don’t answer emails on Saturday nights at 10pm, because if they’ve got time to send them then I have time to answer. One of them Skyped my PI the day after their (PI’s) baby was born, and the PI actually picked up!

      The burnout rate is real. I have a backup industry job in my pocket not for IF I feel like I’ve run out of rope, but WHEN I get there.

      1. KRM*

        Oh, I hate that. I mean, of COURSE I could stay late and run another PCR, or set up another plate. But I could also go home and unwind, and do that tomorrow! And if I do it tomorrow, I feel more productive, and am less likely to screw it up like I might at the end of a busy day.

      2. nm*

        Oh my. If someone from work called me the day after the birth to say anything besides “congrats, take care”, my brain would just melt!

      3. Kate*

        I work in student services (actually used to have my own benchwork corner myself) and we are always telling our students about good life balance and to practice good self care but then I see many of my coworkers not practicing that at all!

    2. SusanB*

      Also in Academia – the staff side, not teaching. I’ve had a rough go of it the past year because with a new department head, he’s had a different attitude than our previous VP. I get paid much less than I would outside of academia. I would be able to make $30-$40k more if I went to work for an agency or the corporate side. But most of us work here because of the good work/life balance. To me, with small kids, it’s worth it to have that balance. But he lately has been asking more and more of us to work on Saturdays and evenings. One of our colleagues is doing it (and the joke is that he pretty much just hates being home, you can hear him fighting with his spouse over the phone through the office walls). But the rest of us have small kids or side gigs and just don’t feel the need to work late at night or on weekends.

      So lately a group of us keep thinking “Why am I here if I’m expected to work 7 days a week? I could go somewhere else and work 7 days a week and make $40k more?” It’s insane.

      1. MeganK*

        Alllll of this. It’s always worth it to re-run the math, too, because the extra hours can really just creep up on you.

  6. I Will Steal Your Pens*

    I work in HR all the time and I am CONSTANTY telling my friends that work over 40 voluntarily or thinking that it will make them look better to stop doing it. It effectively lowers your hourly rate. So if you were hired making 100,000 a year, divided by 2080 (working hours in a year) comes to 48 and change. But if you work anything over that in a year – say 2500 in a year – your hourly rate is lowered to 40/hr. so you can’t tell yourself or anyone else that you are making 100k a year when you’re actually making 83K

    And yes – as an exempt level employee you are paid for the work you do and not the hours you work. but unless you go into it knowing there will be considerable mount of weeks where you work over 40, working more voluntarily does no good. And if you do have to work over 40 because you go into the job knowing that – negotiate extra salary to compensate.

    I really wish someone would have told me that earlier in my career when I mistakenly thought working over 40 got you ahead.

    1. TardyTardis*

      Some people are still running on their 2010 script, where if you didn’t work those hours the boss would find someone who would.

  7. we're basically gods*

    The thing about working quickly can be super duper true. My coworkers frequently work evenings and weekends to get their tasks completed, but never do. Like, ever. These guys are good at their jobs, but I’ve always been a fairly quick worker. I that attribute largely to my being a very very fast reader, because reading is such a big part of pretty much every task I do at work; that speed boost tends to add up.

    1. Jopestus*

      I know what you mean. I had to learn to scroll the internet and read comics etc for 80% of the day five days in this job just to make the complaints stop.

      I actually received complaints about doing bad work(field is industrial automation planning) only because it was done in a fourth of time when compared to older engineers. No mistakes or anything and it happened multiple times.

      This is just insane. University cannot be survived if you don’t work your butt off and then people graduate and notice this field-wide culture of laziness that just inflates prices and makes people frustrated af.

      AND I basically worked for 6h per day in the beginning, since that was when I started to get tired and had to slow down.

      Yes, this is a “humblebrag”(or just a brag, I don’t care) and a rant, but I have been working here for 2 years already and as far as I know everywhere is the same. Old f4rts are just protecting their comfy and “important” jobs by slowing everyone else down.

    2. MsSolo*

      For me, it’s fast typing. Being able to touch type means all the little admin-y tasks like replying to emails and sending requests and typing in formulae take me a little less time, but by the end of the day that really adds up. People don’t think it’s worth learning to type (or just type slightly better, just keeping their thumb over the space bar because you hit it so often not having to hunt-and-peck it makes an appreciable difference!) to regain a few seconds per paragraph, but if you’re sending a lot of emails per day it makes such a difference.

  8. Kate 2*

    OP you are very very lucky that you haven’t had any consequences from pushing back. I refused to work the unpaid overtime my company was pushing for. And I got FIRED with NO NOTICE. Of course they didn’t put anything in writing so I don’t have anything to take to the DOL or to sue or whatever, even if I could afford to.

    1. Allypopx*

      I’m so sorry that happened to you. I was definitely told early in my career in no uncertain terms that successful people work unpaid overtime…and I do believe I would have faced consequences in that job if I hadn’t done so. I’m glad you stuck up for yourself, but that company clearly sucks.

    2. Anonny*

      Thank you for the other side of it. Realistically, I have had periods of time where I have had to work insane hours. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t martyrdom, and it was real work (not puffery). There are industries or periods where it is definitely an expectation and required. Consequences (negative like getting fired, or neutral like not getting promotions) are very real in some situations.

      1. anon4this*

        Same. I have to do my work, all of my work, no matter how much it is. I have told my boss I’m overwhelmed and I get blamed. In reality, I have an unrealistic workload – think regular 11-12 hour days. I’m job searching of course becasue it’s been made obvious to me that I’m the peon that gets all the work dropped on them, but until I finally get out, I’m stuck with this reality.

        I’m not a martyr, I’m job-locked.

        1. MeganK*

          I agree and would add that sometimes in these situations the “spends 20 minutes chit-chatting with coworkers” becomes a form of overwhelm-based procrastination. Like, I have so much to much to do that I could fail to get it done today, or fail to get it done tomorrow, or fail to get it done this week. But honestly when I’m this deep in the hole, what’s 20 minutes going to hurt?
          Mercifully I don’t have that job anymore, but I had optimized and time-hacked and had conversations with my boss and and and. When I first started it drove me crazy how much time my coworkers spent chatting, but by the end I kind of got it. What’s the point?

          1. Done_at_4OP*

            I had not considered this before reading the comments but this fits my co-workers to a T!!! I swear I see them spend 1/4 of their day socializing but I don’t feel comfortable doing it when I have work waiting for me.

      2. Batgirl*

        You have to know when it is non optional it’s true. When this happened to me, they got no favours or flexibility and I did the minimum hours I needed to do to shut them up. I also took my foot off the gas in terms of pace.

    3. Done_at_4OP*

      Am OP, thankfully they cannot do this :) joys of union. But I did worry at the start it would give me a bad reference. If anything management advocates for us to take breaks and leave on time, they simply lack coverage when we are understaffed and fall behind so group work can really catch up on you.

    4. Kate 2*

      Replying all: This wasn’t a position where overtime was supposedly needed. I was told more than once that we should be able to get it all done in40 hours a week. But the company was very cheap and the person before me was working 2 hours of overtime EVERY DAY unpaid. I tried to raise the issue with them and was told I just had to work faster. I didn’t realize they were angling for me to work unpaid and just didn’t want to come out and say it.

    5. boop the first*

      That really sucks, although you’d have to ask yourself if you would have been just as willing to stay had you been forced to work that unpaid overtime.

  9. Sleepytime Tea*

    I used to work crazy hours. I stayed until 2am. I literally didn’t take a single day off for a year. I was good at my job and efficient, but there was always more work to be done, and I never said no.

    I left that job and when I did I decided NEVER AGAIN. In my new job sure, I worked late on urgent things a few times, but I refused to put my work e-mail on my phone because it wasn’t required. I never took my laptop home. When new projects came up I didn’t automatically volunteer for everything I was a good fit for, and if I was asked if I had capacity to take something on I took a realistic look at my workload and if the answer was no, my response was that I couldn’t take it unless something else was pushed to the back burner. When something that really should be someone else’s responsibility was requested of me, I pushed back to make sure there was a reason why I should be taking it on instead of just always be a yes-man.

    It’s been years of me doing this now at multiple jobs, and I have never had an issue. I go home at a reasonable time. When there is something truly urgent I will absolutely skip lunch/work late/work weekends, but those are few and far between in my line of work. Asserting reasonable boundaries has never been a problem, and I get nothing but great feedback and reviews. Do I get the occasional “man, must be nice to leave at 5” comment from a co-worker? Sure. But that always comes from the co-worker who refuses to ever say no or push back.

    We take a paycheck to do a job, but it doesn’t come with a requirement to give up our whole lives at someone else’s whim. And I think a lot of people’s problems come from when they don’t give their manager a realistic view of their workload and capacity. If you don’t make sure you bring that to their attention, then there’s no reason they would think they should change priorities/re-assign work/etc.

    1. Done_at_4OP*

      Yes this! I even tried explaining to my co-workers if they take lunches and time after work to complete the work. It will become the new expectation of their workload, they will continue to be expected to do the work.

      The poor boundaries, and lack of honestly of workload seems to get them in trouble. However I feel like you can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink. Even when I point this out to coworkers, I still see them working through lunch, staying late.

  10. Lady Heather*

    OP, you mention working shifts – are you even exempt? It doesn’t sound like you are.

    Then if you want your coworkers to stop working overtime, the easiest way to do that would be to report to the relevant authority.

    1. Allypopx*

      Which, to be abundantly clear, might be the labor board, if your company is encouraging this.

      1. TootsNYC*

        or even if they’re allowing it. I don’t think they get to say, “well, I didn’t ask her to!”

    2. Mid*

      If OP is a nurse or similar position, a lot of shifts aren’t scheduled with enough overlap to complete required paperwork and still care for patients in that time. It’s a huge issue, but medical practices don’t want to fix it because it saves them money.

      1. Lady Heather*

        Ah. In that case, it would still stop the coworkers from working unpaid overtime, hopefully.

      2. Done_at_4OP*

        I didn’t want to announce it but a few have guessed. I am in the healthcare field, coverage is very poor, some people I work with often go without coverage when they go on vacation for 1-2 weeks. It can put a lot of pressure on folks to ‘keep up’ at all costs.

    3. Done_at_4OP*

      Management is aware they don’t take lunches and stay late. I have even seen heavy disapproval for management but they are often never on site more than 5-30minutes a day. I often wonder how it would go if they showed up and made them leave at the end of the day. But despite management knowing, they talk a lot of talk but never discipline.

      I understand I could maybe sic authorities on them, but to what end? It would likely ruin a lot of good relationships (and references) I’ve built, I don’t wish to work in an actively hostile work environment.

  11. Anchee*

    When people do this it creates a real problem in getting staffing to appropriate levels. If 2 people are getting it done but working “secret” overtime, justifying a third person can be impossible. And it goes without saying (in my mind, anyway) that it’s unsustainable.

      1. Dave*

        We have this now. Co-worker willing to put in crazy hours without ot so the boss has no motivation to feel the empty position.

    1. MT*

      110%. Our exempt get comp time and our manager told the exempt in our group that they needed to do and record all comp time in order to “justify” needing additional staff. One person did it diligently for over a year and no additional staff requests were made to help them out. The next year, they sat down and recorded all their job tasks, the time it takes them to do them and very plainly showed that they were doing the work of 1.8 FTE, with comp time also supporting that. Still no additional staff requests. I’m pretty sure that management just wants to hire one person and work them into poor health.

    2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      The work I do is fairly new for my company and not well understood or benchmarked in terms of how long specific activities take. And it’s not always easy to quantify how long something will or should take (lots of variables combined with a fast changing environment).

      I had a colleague who would work a full day and then go home and carry on working.
      It didn’t help that he worked faster than most of us anyway (although his output was more superficial). It created unrealistic expectations about what should be done in a “work day”, and, worse in my mind, devalued the work in a way – because it gave the impression that a good piece of work really didn’t take that long to produce.

      Frustrating all round.

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        That’s something I keep telling my coworkers (and sometimes myself). You can’t set the bench mark for the maximum time it can take to do something by the fastest (or even average) time the fastest coworker gets things done. That should be the least amount of time. (In my opinion, the maximum time in my case should be “time it takes to deep clean the item).

        This is especially true when talking about two experienced coworkers working together on one shift, and a brand new coworker getting trained by the other coworker. Or just expecting the new coworker to get as much done, with the same quality as the experienced coworker, before the coworker is properly trained. *sigh* In training that time can double, just because the person training has to stop and explain every step, and or do other things at the same time. And outside of training, the time it takes also depends (in my case) whether or not you are the main person on till, and how busy it is.

      2. Done_at_4OP*

        I have found this as well, I do my job well but when they compare workloads I still cannot do enough to keep up with someone that stays late, skips breaks.

    3. Done_at_4OP*

      I find this to be very true, why would management feel the need to hire another body when everything is getting done with less?

      Then what happen when those 2 cannot keep it up long-term and burn out as well, it creates such a mess.

  12. Miss Vicki*

    Allison, I loved this piece of insight: “Or you might be given breaks that other people don’t get (for example, if you and your boss are the only white men on your team, come from the same background, or click way more than anyone else does, it’s possible your coworkers face pressures you’ve been exempted from)”. That’s really wise and a compassionate angle to make sure you check. And if you’re in a position to do something about it, if it happens to be true, that would be a great kindness.

    I have worked with both kinds of people. I’m in the non-profit world and giving too much of yourself can seem like a virtue. Sometimes that’s a hard cultural thing to bypass, and it’s a fortunate thing to be in an organization that really backs up work/life balance with policy and staffing practices. And a difficult thing when you’re in a place that doesn’t! Good luck, LW. You sound like you’re doing it right and maybe this will help you help others. Or at least shake it off if they won’t see it your way.

    1. Allypopx*

      “I’m in the non-profit world and giving too much of yourself can seem like a virtue.”

      And another thing that’s really common in the non-profit world is burnout. No correlation there, of course.

      You’re so right. I am at my first non-profit that really values work-life balance and the quality of work we do is so, so much higher. I really wish these attitudes were more ubiquitous – we lose so many good people this way.

      1. Miss Vicki*

        And often those people are the ones who feel like they’re doing something wrong, or something’s off about their workflow. It’s screwy.

      2. Ama*

        My current nonprofit is pretty functional but we definitely have some people who check and respond to email outside of office hours a bit too frequently. I try to be really open about when I am willing to do that (one particular time of year when I’m managing a group of volunteers doing time-sensitive work largely on weekends) and when I am not (every other time). Now that I am a senior manager here I feel like it is even more important to model good boundaries so people understand that you can be higher up in the organization and still have your own life outside of work.

    2. Done_at_4OP*

      Thank you for the well wishes. The new year has brought some good insights to my co-workers when we were scheduled with a counsellor. Now I remind and encourage co-workers on some days when they follow good work/life balances. And try to keep to myself when they seek sympathy when they do not balance their workloads well.

      I appreciate the perspective but it does not fit me, we are all women in the field. Some other commenters have made great comments that feel very on the nose about matyr behaviour, socializing while overwhelmed, and lack of coverage common in my field. It seems I have been mostly recommended to simply stick to my guns.

  13. She's One Crazy Diamond*

    As crazy as it is, some people actually like being at work all the time either because they’re lonely in their personal life or trying to escape an unhappy domestic life. For example, my boss told me she has a friend who got into marathon running so he could spend less time with his wife. Why not just get a divorce at that point? Who knows. But it’s a thing.

    1. Elenia*

      I’ve seen this too. I’ve also said: I want a boss who has a life outside work. One of my previous bosses had NO life outside of work and expected I would, too. God I hated her (she was pretty miserable in a lot of ways and firmly believed shit rolls downhill, and as I was the bottom of the totem pole, guess where it all went).
      My last three bosses have all had fulfilling lives outside of the office.

    2. Wrightswoman*

      It is crazy, but this *kind of* describes me. I am not escaping an unhappy domestic life, but some evenings I don’t have anything to do outside of work and I love my job, so sometimes I work long hours because working is what I genuinely want to be doing.

      1. Elenia*

        That’s fine. Just be very aware, if you have staff that work for you, the perception that gives them. One of the biggest things I’ve seen as a manager is if you have and cultivate good staff, they will feel guilty you are working so hard and try to take things on, work harder, longer hours.

      2. James*

        I had to be away from home on my first child’s first birthday. No option–I was the only one in the company who could do the job, and it was 3,000 miles from home, so popping home for the weekend (we were working 6 days a week anyway) wasn’t an option.

        I called my boss and asked for permission to work on our weekly day off. I explained the situation, and that I really needed to do something to keep my mind off my home situation, and my job (which was labor-intensive, dry-screening multiple tons of soil per day looking for fossils) fit the bill perfectly. My exact words were something along the lines of “I’m either going to drink myself into a stupor or work myself into one, and work is healthier.” I got permission, and told my staff that I’d be at work, so if they wanted extra hours they could, but it was 100% their choice. I emphasized that I was doing this for me, and was just offering them the opportunity.

        Every one of them showed up. Then complained a few days later about how much of a slave driver I was, among other things.

        It was a harsh lesson in management for me: if the manager shows up on a day off, everyone thinks they need to, regardless of what the manager says.

    3. Librariariarian*

      Yes! I’ve also worked with people like this. One particular co-worker would show up for work hours early and just noodle around. He was also the one who always criticized me for taking sick days when I was actually sick. One time I got fed up with him making comments about how I took sick leave, and I fired back a joke about how he always showed up to work hours early. He freaked out and yelled, “THAT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.” He was outraged that I brought it up!

      I don’t mind those who are working long hours or coming in early because of an unfulfilling or stressful home situation (it is indeed none of my business). It becomes a problem when those people, for various reasons, then try to enforce their behavior as the norm.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “He freaked out and yelled, “THAT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.” ”

        I hope you laughed at him.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        In the world of retail, those who come in early are there because they want to steal. This is the common belief. It could not possibly be that the only bus run goes past the work place and hour before their shift or something like that. No, they are there to steal.

        So with that in mind, I laughed right out loud when your cohort yelled at you, OP. He was doing something that he should not be doing, for sure. Way to much reaction going on there.

    4. Seifer*

      My last job was like that. There was a guy that was 89 years old that was still working because he couldn’t stand being at home with his wife. Was hospitalized for something and then came right back as soon as he was able. I think he’s 92 now? It’s the same for the guy that is 77 now. And the guy that’s 72. And the other guy that’s 84. It’s pretty depressing, honestly, like they’re all just schlepping to work, praying that their wives die first so that they can… I don’t even know.

      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        We had 3 senior (mid-70s) women like that at an Oldjob. It was easy parttime work and they all said they worked to get away from their retired husbands who were in the house all day long.

    5. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      I spent a year working on a team populated by fathers of children under 5 – one of whom had a newborn at home and a wife who had ended up having to be hospitalized for an extended time after the birth. I had just come back to work after having my second child, and was therefore extra attuned to seeing how other parents of young children were handling the workload.

      Nearly to a one, they would come in around 9:30am* with a mostly finished Starbucks coffee and a gym bag in hand. They would spend ten, fifteen minutes here and there multiple times throughout the day chitchatting with various people. They would pop down to the onsite cafe to get another coffee, they would go offsite for lunch, taking their full hour + drive time. And then they would be agitated, looking at their phones come 5:15pm as they were wrapping up yet another social chat, and then break away to call their wives. “Sorry honey, no I haven’t left yet, it’s just a really busy time. I probably won’t get out of here until 7 at the earliest.”

      It depressed the heck out of me. I felt so badly for their families.

      *we did not have set, core hours but a 7-9am start window was most common

    6. LPUK*

      Yup seen this too. When a I was senior sales manager, I used to live 4 hours from the HO so I would go down and stay in a hotel 3 nights a week. I used to work late, because what else did I have to do while I was there, and if I got my work done, I could leave earlier on Friday and miss the weekend traffic. There were always a lot of younger male salesmen there and I used to try and persuade them not to work so late and go and spend more time with their families, particularly as many of them had young children. Finally they admitted that they were staying late to avoid the bedtime routine and would only go home once the children were in bed! And of course they weren’t working, but obsessively playing ‘shag, marry,kill’ and making lists of top tatty!

    7. Done_at_4OP*

      So very on the nose, I heard on person say well though “I don’t want my tombstone to ready here lies ___ the best employee.” I find validation and enjoyment outside my work as well.

  14. button*

    It may also be that your workplace can support *one* person setting boundaries, but there’s genuinely too much work for everyone to do that. The real answer to that is to hire more people and let everyone have a decent work-life balance, but that’s not necessarily something you can force from below unless everyone is willing to hold the line.

    1. FormerFirstTimer*

      Yeah, I think a lot of the pressure people feel to work crazy hours come from the powers that be refusing to hire more people and paying more salaries.

      1. anon4this*

        Yeppo, literally the situation I’m in. I’ve tried pushing back and been told “well we aren’t hiring anyone else, so oh well, looks like you have to continue doing the work of two people or we’ll fire you.”

        1. Senor Montoya*

          Would they really fire you? (genuine question, not snarking!) Because if they do, they have zero people doing the work of two people.

          Of course, plenty of people are stupid and short-sighted.

          1. anon4this*

            Not to derail but yes, I have been threatened with a PIP that would end in firing. My boss thinks it’s an issue with me and has told me as such. Because my predecessor did it (nevermind the fact that she would frequently CRY UNDER HER DESK due to pressure), surely I can do it, too! /eyeroll

            I frequently fantasize about (respectfully) giving my 2 weeks notice.

    2. Done_at_4OP*

      Yes this feels really true, even if you decide not to take on the extra work. Management will never see that if co-workers do it to keep up.

  15. NeonFireworks*

    I work in an area like this! Still trying to figure out how best to balance work and life.

    1. Elenia*

      I have lots of late night meetings and I do all of them with good cheer and enthusiasm. I just don’t see the point in saying YES to everything! I value my time and if I let it this job will eat up my life. No one else seems to care, though, so it’s a constant feeling. Just like the OP, my boss seems to be pleased with my work – it’s just pressure from coworkers.

  16. Random Commenter*

    I agree that pushing against this kind of thing is important. One thing to consider though, is this approach resulting in more work for your co-workers? If so, successfully convincing them to avoid unpaid overtime might bring to light the fact that the company is actually understaffed.

    1. Done_at_4OP*

      Yes this is my dream, if we could get everyone on board to stop unpaid overtime they would see we need extra hands.

      All it takes is one or two people doing X2 their work to keep up though and it does not happen. Drives me crazy when they do it but then complain we need extra help.

  17. Daffy Duck*

    I want to double down about standing up to cultural pressure. Past job I came into an incredibly overworked team where the others were on salary but I was hourly. During training I heard a lot about how overworked they were, working weekends, never having a day off, etc. There was A LOT of cultural approval from the salaried coworkers to work thru lunch, not take breaks, etc. Please note these are very nice people who love their company and are self-driven to do a great job but not in management. They skewed very heavily to never bringing problems to management (so much so that one coworker would lie that she wasn’t hungry and sneak back into work). HR caught on that I was working thru breaks/lunch and pretty much flipped her lid. I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to only be working on the clock and absolutely no “catch up” or “off the clock work” allowed. If I needed overtime to talk with my boss (who did approve overtime when needed, I made big bucks there for several years). Apparently there are huge fines in some states for working off the clock. It took several years before they were staffed appropriately, the size of the team more than doubled.

  18. Was I ready for a career leap?*

    While I broadly agree with AAM’s advice, I’d be wary of OP setting themself up to be seen as the instigator of a staff-wide mutiny on long hours. One employee’s reluctance to work overtime can be overlooked in the context of their good quality of work overall, but an entire office attempting to rein in overtime in coordinated fashion seems much likelier to prompt a backlash.

    1. Was I ready for a career leap?*

      (That’s not to say that a re-evaluation of the entire office’s workload versus staffing might not be warranted as some other commenters have pointed out — but just saying I’d be cautious before knowing others are on Team Labor too.)

    2. Daffy Duck*

      Depends solely on if the management is behind them working unpaid overtime or not. In many states there are huge fines for stuff like this and management would not be pleased. Of course, these are the good companies to work for!

    3. Done_at_4OP*

      I support it when my co-workers rein back unpaid overtime, but I think it’s unlikely to fix itself over night.

      I like your point though it’s great for others reading this to consider the consequences, especially if your work laws offer little protection. Thankfully we are not at risk, as we are unionized.

      1. Koala dreams*

        You are unionized, and still your co-workers complain to you instead of complaining to the union? That’s surprising to me. If your co-workers wrote in instead of you, I would have advised them to start an union so they could push back against unreasonable deadlines as a bigger group.

  19. FormerFirstTimer*

    This is one of the reasons I love my current boss. She made sure I knew that I didn’t have to work all the time and I could completely disconnect from work without consequences at 4:30. We have colleagues that will roll into the office around 10 am, cook (yes, actually cook) an elaborate lunch, then whine when they have to stay past 6 to get their work done, and then turn around and “tease” me about being on time in the morning and leaving on time in the afternoon.

  20. Public Sector Princess*

    When you work unpaid overtime you are essentially telling management that the job can be done in the allotted hours. Your coworkers are doing themselves, and you a disservice by working the overtime. How can management assess if additional hours or employees are needed in this situation. If there is more work than hours in a day, isn’t that a cue to sit down with your supervisor, prioritize, and if the workload dictates, plan for additional help?

    I have a government job (local, not federal) in which there is very much pressure to do unpaid overtime, and I feel a not insignificant portion of that pressure comes from peers who definitely look at how much they sacrifice as a badge of honor.

    I supervise between 4-6 employees at any given time, and I have this discussion in training, and as needed at other times. If you work for me, you are not going to work for free, because you are then telling our administration the job can be done, when it can’t, giving them an excuse to put off hiring when needed, and causing yourself stress, which then means you are sick more often. I do not feel I get a great deal of push back from the powers that be for reasonable comp/overtime requests, for the most part (though there have been odd exceptions).

    1. Serin*

      How does a company decide it’s fully staffed? When the work gets done up to its standards.

      How will a company decide to increase staffing? When their current staffing level either can’t do the work, or can’t do it well enough.

      If employees keep donating their personal time to take up the slack, companies will keep looking at their results and saying, “I guess this is a good staffing level.”

      Companies aren’t human beings. They only learn through numbers. It’s better for everybody if people can manage not to fudge the numbers with unpaid overtime, taking work home, etc.

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        sometimes they increase the staffing levels, other times it’s “well you just aren’t working hard enough”, even when you know you are. (had an assistant manager tell me that, when I had to have food ready when we opened, but was only given 30 minutes, and the food took at least an hour).

  21. Hoofer*

    I got out of the always doing long hours thing after I went back from maternity into a four day week. I still had to deliver my projects at the time was in IT consultancy, but I was so crazy efficient possibly a little unapproachable in a head down working way.

    Since moving jobs and going back to full time (finding a part time job at my level was impossible whole other story). My efficiency has definitely dropped off when I don’t have to fit full time into part time hours, but I am still better than most at just getting it done. I look at some of my long working hours colleagues and there is some dead time alongside diminishing returns.

    No advice other than keep it up doing a good job and sensible hours you are winning.

  22. NW Mossy*

    My working theory (applicable to an office-based salaried position) is that work is a gas: it expands to fill the time you allot to it. In this theory, applying more time to the work doesn’t necessarily mean that additional work is being accomplished; it may just be lower density. A shorter work day at a higher density of accomplishment is often a better outcome.

    Personally, I keep tight boundaries – I have a fixed in-office schedule, and I only check emails or do work outside of that time a handful of times per year. Putting that constraint on myself forces me to make good use of that limited time by only applying it to my priorities and not just absorbing miscellaneous nice-to-haves or issues that more properly belong with someone else to solve. It’s also really important signaling behavior for my direct reports, because then my deeds are consistent with my words and I’m not blowing smoke when I tell them I don’t expect them to work long hours regularly.

    None of this seems to have prevented me from being considered successful in my work. In fact, I’ve noticed my peer managers with an always-on style tend to also have a reputation for being less effective. The inference seems to be that if you’re spending your evenings and weekends on emails, you’re not managing your time well in the first place.

  23. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    One of the things I was surprised that Alison didn’t ask and maybe it was addressed in the letter and I missed it but I am not sure if this person is exempt or not. That makes a huge difference.

    I am sorry if it was either obvious or it was stated or something that the person was exempt.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I assumed non-exempt because of the reference to unpaid overtime and overtime approval (there’s generally no paid overtime or need to approve overtime if you’re exempt) but I could be wrong.

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        Then I am surprised that you didn’t go more into the “that’s illegal” comments that you normally do. As another commenter stated, the OP is doing the company/government entity a favor by not working overtime. Even if it is a government job, they are at least due comp time correct?

        1. Done_at_4OP*

          Ian unsure on this answer but what I’ve heard from this management, is there is no room in the budget for overtime, they will not pay it as they don’t approve it. But I don’t see them coming by to kick out my coworkers at end of the day either.

    2. Done_at_4OP*

      I can confirm we are not exempt in this field. It’s a paid by hour typical 40 hour work weeks.

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        Then what they are doing is illegal. The entity needs to be reported or if they are a government entity they need to give the employees comp time.

        Again, I am surprised that Alison didn’t mention this.

  24. Batgirl*

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I got so much better at my job once I got serious about protecting my off time. My bosses love my ideas and my energy and the fact I seem to roll with the punches better than overworked colleagues (not to mention I don’t get sour and nosy about other people’s health appointments to cite one real life example of people losing their damn minds to Doozer culture).
    Sure my employers would like to see that energy round the clock, but no one else provides that anyway.

  25. Jennifer*

    A lot of times these people just have poor time management skills or are just plain bad at their jobs. It’s not a badge of honor that it takes them two hours to do something the OP can do in one. Good on you for being competent and your job and setting healthy boundaries.

  26. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    It could also be their previous experience that they’re stuck in.

    I have had to retrain a lot of folks over the years to remove the scars of past toxic employers. “We don’t just want you to take your breaks, you are required to take your breaks.” and “No, you cannot just work through your lunch!” and then the whole “Take PTO. Use your PTO. No. You need to use it because you will lose it and I’m not in the business of letting people simply lose their PTO if I can help it!”

    But I get it, the one job I was essentially forced out of decided to hate me because despite working 60hr weeks, they were mad I tried reassigning some of my work back to someone who did it previously. And when someone asked me about it, I said “I don’t have the time to do that in the timely manner it’s required, so I asked The Other Manager to help out…” it ended up in my big long write up about how horrible and on thin ice I was (rolling my eyes so hard at that thing, even years later, those people.)

    So I suggest just firmly shutting down their nonsense and encouraging them to try not working themselves to death. But many have it so far ingrained within them, it’s going to be a forever battle between you and them, they won’t shut up, they will view you as a slacker or someone who has an unfair advantage that they don’t think they can bank on. It’s frustrating on both sides, I promise you that.

    1. Not Australian*

      After two weeks of coming in early, staying late and not taking lunch-breaks to help my firm over a crisis, I staged a Thoroughly British Coup and announced to my colleagues that I was taking a tea-break; I was going to sit and drink my tea in peace and quiet and not do any work for fifteen whole minutes.

      One of my colleagues started saying “But we don’t … ” then thought better of it and allowed me my fifteen minutes of rebellion.

      That job literally ruined my health, to the point where I have been unable to recover since. When you find you’re under that kind of pressure the only solution is to get the **** out, sooner rather than later, because management *will* take you for granted as sure as night follows day. Do not *ever* allow yourself to be treated like a machine by people who will replace you in a heartbeat if you break down.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Agreed. That’s why I left as soon as I got dressed down for doing things that were literally just to make sure things were done instead of just dropping another ball to grab that other hot potato that was coming at me.

        Tell me you’re mad at me for not doing “enough” when I’m bending over backwards to save a place and I’ll show you “not enough” by removing myself.

        They couldn’t replace me easily. They had to call in a very special favor to someone months later to save their skin because I had ejected when I did. I’m annoyed they had that favor to call in, another person who was willing to destroy their health for them and they weren’t even “cool” or “nice” or anything.

        They paid like crap too…they were just abusers in the end and abusers abuse.

    2. Done_at_4OP*

      Yes having been in my current team longer now your advice rings very true. I support coworkers taking breaks and leaving on time, but they have apparently spent a long time digging themselves into this hole. They are taking small steps but old habits are hard to kill.

  27. nonprofit writer*

    Honestly, when I worked 9-5 it was a rare day when I was busy with work all day. That was true in every job I ever had. When I did summer office jobs in college, it was the late 90s and while the internet existed, it was not really a big, widely-used thing. So I had to beg my bosses for more work because I worked so fast and then I had nothing to do. When internet time-wasting came around by the time I was out of college, it was better, because I’d work a bit, slack off a bit, and so on till the end of the day. But it was demoralizing. It really started to wear on me after a while that I had to sit at a desk till 5 even when I could have been done with my work by noon some days. Of course, they were paying me to have my butt in the chair, and definitely things did come up at times when I wasn’t already busy. And of course there were deadline days and such when I was busy all day, or even stayed late.

    But honestly, I am now a freelancer and I would estimate that I spend 2-4 hours a day on paid work (the rest of the time is parenting, household crap, and a little creative work). And it feels like about the same amount of work that I used to do in my full time jobs. Of course, I make half the money I used to, but it’s OK right now. (I realize I’m fortunate to be able to do this.)

    1. Senor Montoya*

      The job I had right before I went to grad school was like that. At my exit interview I told them that they should make it a part-time job.

  28. AdAgencyChick*

    Me, 15 years ago to about 5 years ago: As long as you’re hyperefficient, you can get everything done that you need to do in 40 hours and still advance your career!

    Me, 5 years ago: WTF. I get all my work done and now I’m hearing that I can’t advance because I’m not dedicated enough.

    Me, now: Perception is more important than reality in terms of advancement. If your boss measures “dedication” in terms of how much time you spend at the office, let her see you on a random Friday evening once in a while if you want a promotion. Saying a flat “no” will hold you back, saying, “Here’s what we can do instead” can get you far, even if the actions you take after what you said are identical.


  29. Stressed-Out Infertile Lady*

    Removed. I keep the comments here on-topic for the letters (otherwise the comment section would quickly be overrun by unrelated questions). I’m sorry about that! – Alison

  30. Newbie*

    I am very very thankful that I work in a department that respects work/life balance. As long as I am getting my work done, I can pretty much do as I please. Our company as a whole does not have that belief though, and I always feel bad for employees who feel like they HAVE to put in all that extra time. I often wonder how much work they are actually accomplishing. Our accounting department is notorious for working crazy hours, and I always wonder: WHY?! I mean, accounting definitely has it’s busy periods, but I’m talking 10+ hour days on the regular for junior positions. I just don’t see what could be requiring that much time.

    I do have one bit of advice for OP: When I first started working at this job, my co-worker was very open about her work/life boundaries. She would leave on time every day and worked from home one day a week/as needed. She was always very vocal about how she maintained her work/life balance. Being newer to the working world, I really valued a lot of what she had to say and her approach to work. So I would reiterate Allison’s advice about having open conversations with co-workers about how you manage your workload. I know it was a big help to me hearing someone else talk about their approach!

    1. Done_at_4OP*

      OP here Thank you for that advice :) I do try to offer the viewpoint when relevant. It has happened a few times in the past few months and pretty well received. However like some other commenters have said, old habits die hard. I have learnt I can support but not drain myself mentally on worrying for them.

      I can only hope it’s like water, it might slowly wear them down.

  31. Arctic*

    This is obviously a culture issue. And I find it so annoying when comments get side-tracked because of relatively niche exceptions.
    So, I offer this only as an anecdote about my own experience.
    I have ADHD. I don’t tell anyone at work because their is a stigma and I do manage it well at this stage of my life. Except sometimes I do work longer hours. I do have to come in on a Saturday or Sunday. Because sometimes it is hard to focus in the morning. And my job has constant work-related distractions.
    I would never, ever be “oh that must be nice” to co-workers who don’t or suggest I’m a harder worker. But I’d also prefer they not judge me either.

  32. Minimax*

    Im 10 years into my career and in much the same boat. I really dont have sympathy for the complainers though because they are usually humble bragging.

    This has only concretely impacted my career once at my first office job. A coworker was given a promotion (no job applications or anything) solely because she worked so many hours. Our boss, who really thought I should work more hours, gave me coworkers old role. Coworker had been working 70-90 hour weeks. I went in, got it all done in 30 and was able to take on new projects. I got a promotion to a different department just a few months later thanks to those projects. By that point I was already more Sr and making more $ then coworker was. So you can say it briefly impacted my career, but in the long run no.

    Coworker also burnt out and started doing cocaine to try and keep up so ymmv with “hard workers”

    1. Done_at_4OP*

      Yes I see this too, for some people it’s a big bragging point that they give sooooo much to work. It’s controversial but I have argued against it a few times, like other things in life you should not be proud of you dedicate to much time to one area, it’s very unhealthy.

  33. voyager1*

    I have question LW. Are you completing the same amount of work/cases in less time or is this overtime is more related to coverage? As in you are not willing to work more then your shift and if there is a coverage problem it is someone’s problem mainly your coworkers to cover since management is asleep at the wheel.

    If it is the former then yeah that is weird. If it is the later then you are being a bit of jerk and your management is enabling the jerkiness. I have been in the second situation and it will come to a head someday.

    1. Minimax*

      I really disagree. Its managements job to find coverage. OP is not a jerk for refusing to work unpaid overtime illegally! For “coverage reasons” especially so.

      1. James*

        In fact, you’re doing the company, your client, and yourself a disservice by working without getting paid.

        You’re providing the company a false picture of what time and resources a task takes. This means that next time a project is bid, it’ll be bid at that artificially low rate. Which sounds great on paper, as it wins you work–but if the people on the project aren’t willing to illegally work for free, this can cause the company to lose their shirts on the next project.

        You’re also teaching the client that X work requires $Y, and if you don’t win the contract they are going to be very curious as to why all the prices for X work are $Y+. I’ve heard of a few companies in my industry getting audited over such things, and it never ends well. Regardless, it’s a disservice to a client to lie to them, which is what unpaid work is. If you have federal clients it’s illegal, and they can perform timesheet audits to check this. I’ve been in a few.

        Finally, you’re doing a disservice to yourself. You don’t go to work because it’s fun, or because you enjoy cheap coffee and banal chit-chat and pouring over spreadsheets; you do it for the money. There’s no shame in that. If you are working without getting paid you are defrauding yourself, in the moral sense if not the legal one (though if you have federal clients the legal one is a major reason not to do this).

    2. Michelle*

      Hard disagree. It it the manager’s job to ensure the coverage, not OP’s. If they don’t want to do their job, then they should leave and let the company hire someone who can and will do the job.

      1. Done_at_4OP*

        Yes I ‘cover’ for my co-workers when I am on company time. I am good at balancing my workloads deadlines while covering for coworkers, but I do not make magic happen and work unpaid overtime to keep up.

        If we fall behind I let management know, and then work with them to solve urgency of projects.

      2. Kesnit*

        Easier said than done. If there aren’t people to cover, there aren’t people.

        Where I work, there are 6 professionals and 5 support staff. One of the support staff positions was added this year because there was finally authorization and budget for it. Until then, we had to do that work.

        There is talk of adding a 7th professional position, which would be nice if we could fill it. One of the professionals just left and the applicant pool (according to my boss) was bad. So bad he decided not to interview any of them. A new pool of applicants will become available in May and the job will be reposted, but we have no idea what kind of applicants we will get. Last time we had an opening, it took 6 months to fill it.

    3. Done_at_4OP*

      It’s quite a bit of no coverage, when understaffed or people on vacation the expectation is we cover for each other.

      I would love to work overtime paid, but same as coverage they say there is no money in budget for it.

      I support my coworkers when they are away, cover their workload to keep them up, but I am honest with my management when it happens and my workload falls behind to cover others they are aware. It is pretty fluid so we work a lot as a team floating work when needed.

      When it is not coverage related and poor time management of their own projects I don’t offer to help. Management expects us to cover each other and I do, but I don’t enable procrastination caused problems.

  34. SDSmith82*

    I work in an industry that can be notorious for blurring the line between the work life balance. There are plenty of folks I see that work crazy hours, for no real reason, other than they think they should. Then there are people like me who try to maintain the balance, and unless necessary, just work the normal hours. I am exempt, but, I use that more for a flexibility stand point, as does my manager, rather than an “you have to work overtime all the time” stand point. I’ve been doing my job long enough that I know how much time something should take, block out that time, and work as I go. Not everyone follows that same pattern, and wastes time doing things that they probably shouldn’t (a lot of reinventing the wheel around here rather than personal time wasters).

    Those people working extra overtime haven’t gained favor. They mostly just get stressed out. For the record- I’m not male, not white, and relatively new by my companies standards. I’ve just been firm on the work life balance since I got here, and since I’ve done my job well, they don’t push back on that balance.

  35. Sarah*

    I think about it like this: I’ve worked jobs where I’m pushing myself every evening/weekend. And I lasted a relatively short time in those jobs. So when I leave on time, take my vacation, etc. I’m actually doing it to benefit the company. I’m ensuring my own longevity there and avoiding burnout that will require them to re-hire and re-train. Overall, I’ve received lots of positive feedback about this and when I share it in those terms, my coworkers have been receptive.

  36. Bunny Girl*

    This is something I had to retrain the people I support on. Support staff office hours are 8-5 with a one hour lunch. I stop getting paid at 5. If you come to be at 4:58 with something, it’s getting done tomorrow. But the two women before me took a lot of unpaid overtime and would stay until all hours of the evening and sorry, but I don’t get approved for overtime and I will absolutely leave at 5:00 on the dot.

    1. Michelle*

      Same. Our handbook says all overtime must be approved in advance, in writing. So if you show up at 4:58, it’s goes in the “to work on” pile.

  37. blink14*

    When I first started working part time for a relative that owns a small business, he told me that his policy with his employees was that they were not allowed to check email, voicemail, or do any work outside of business hours. As the owner, he took responsibility for any late night calls or blowback the next day from a client who wanted an instantaneous answer. His reasoning was and still is that setting boundaries from the start is the best way to control your work/life balance, and he instilled that in me both in the time I worked for him and in my jobs since. Responding to emails or calls outside of work hours gives the impression that you can always be contacted during that time and you’ll respond. And when you don’t respond and someone gets mad, their answer will be “well you responded last time”. Train co-workers and clients to your hours and stick with it.

    I simply do not give in to the pressure of checking email outside of office hours, working late, answering emails at 6 am from people who send them at 2 am. I always take my lunch break, with the exception of when the very occasional work event falls during that time period – and if there isn’t lunch provided, I will take a lunch break before or after. Sticking to this has meant it is automatically expected that I will take my break, and I won’t check email after hours unless its for a very specific reason, which happens maybe 4-5 times per year.

    That being said, the higher on the food chain, the more pressure there is, but I do think the principle of setting boundaries from the start can be very effective.

  38. Intermittent Introvet*

    My husband, an engineer, worked for a manager who came early, stayed late, etc. My husband did all the work required, very well in 40 hours. He got complements. But when annual reviews rolled around he got low marks that the manager couldn’t explain. Husband found a great new job where 40 hours was honored and overtime was rare.

    1. James*

      I am that manager. The issue I have is, there’s work I need to do prior to folks showing up and work I need to do after everyone leaves. The work I manage requires me to distribute tasks, and I can’t tell who needs to do what until I know who DID what. I also have to be available in case of emergencies or acute problems. We’ve had higher-ups and clients push for a 50 hour work week maximum before, and it’s hard to explain to them that if they want that, they have to have the underlings work at most a 45, maybe a 40 hour week, because of the pre- and post-shift work we have to do. Plus, I really, really enjoy that time before everyone shows up, where I can take a big bite out of my work without anyone popping in with something that needs to be dealt with immediately. I like the craziness too, but having a chunk of uninterrupted time is nice.

      It’s a little different for me than for most, because my position is a field-based position. I’m on jobsites 90% of the time, where the industry standard is 10 hour days. Plus, what else am I going to do? I’m 300 miles from my family and trying to save as much money as I can, so the concept of a work/life balance is alien to me. If I must be away from my kids, I’d rather be paid for it, you know?

      The worst part is, I still get made fun of by other managers on the site for leaving early. I leave by 17:30 every day, so that I can Skype with my wife and kids. Most stick around until 18:00/18:30.

      Just my $0.02 on why I’m the annoying manager. :)

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        but you aren’t. You aren’t expecting your employees to be their the same amount of time you are. (hurray!)

  39. Alicia*

    This is me right now. I also work at health care, but nowhere acute. I hear People having Lunch while driving, skipping breaks and taling in more clients than they can handle. Without Any pressure from management. I keep my boundaries and hence I feel so leftout from the breakroom chat.

    I say no A LOT. I dont strive for perfection All The Time. I prioritize.

    And yes, I am also lucky to have a manager who fully supports this. And i also feel that my varret has started strong, I am two years in and about To take the next step in a couple of months. Fingers crossed…

    1. Done_at_4OP*

      Yes, what is it about our field that causes this? I know some say it’s for the patients sake, but I feel like it’s not just that.

  40. LPUK*

    This is where my migraines actually come in handy. My number one trigger is fatigue and I can do 2-3 days of extended hours before coming down with a migraine and losing the next day to pain/medication/ sleep so over my career, I have had to get better about monitoring my energy levels and leaving at a reasonable time to eat a proper meal, relax and get a good night’s sleep. Handily, it’s really obvious at the office when I’m getting a migraine because I tend to walk about with my hand over my left eye to block the light out, so my co-workers are more likely to tell me to go home than stay late! Also, as Alison says, I am very good at my job so I don’t have performance issues raised. Now I do consulting and work from home and find that 6 hours is generally as much brainwork as I can do in a day… or need to do as I can get a LOT of work done in that time

  41. BigRedGum*

    i work in a health sciences center at a university, with an attached hospital. i am not in the medical field, but a lot of people have to deal with me to get things done.

    doctors and their assistants frequently ask for my cell phone number, but i tell them no. i say “here is my desk number. I work until 5 pm.” and that is it. i don’t check my email outside of work, I am salaried, but there is no reason for me to stay late or work more than 40 hours.

    i find no glory in being a workaholic.

  42. Oof*

    I think being salaried/exempt lends itself to this happening, because it’s not unpaid overtime in a sense. It can be just what it takes to complete your job. And that can be a tougher pattern to break! If you become accustomed to being able to take all the time you need to complete something, it can lead to poor work habits, or unreasonable ideas of what a workload looks like.
    Please keep in mind this doesn’t apply to toxic workplaces, but I think it happens a lot! I didn’t realize I had a touch of it until I found I really liked taking the bus. Suddenly I had a defined start/stop time (and a when to leave my house time!) In some ways it is a pain, but in others – I hadn’t realized how being able to set my day as long or as short as I needed/preferred had subtly changed some of my procedures.

  43. RestResetRule*

    This was one of the major reasons why I left my last workplace. The office had a bad culture of glorifying working overtime. Examples: Everybody was *strongly* encouraged to wait to leave the office together, which was stupid when everybody is waiting for the boss to finish up his email. I received negative feedback multiple times for “watching the clock” and requesting time off after working late into an evening or weekend for an event. Several of my coworkers ate lunch at their desks and were real martyrs about leaving for breaks or leaving on time.

    I’m always so confused by this behavior. Like, do you not have lives to go home to?

  44. Mary*

    I used to teach assertiveness to doctors, where we actually did roleplays of how to refuse and redirect tasks and things like that. They could very often name someone who said no, more or less always went home on time, and who didn’t seem to suffer any repercussions for it and was well-respected, and I’d ask why that wouldn’t work for them, and they would just sit there and look puzzled for a while as if it was a completely new thought. It was really fascinating!

  45. Policy Wonk*

    When my kids were little there were a few co-workers who constantly complained that I got to leave on time (5:30 – a half hour after COB) because I had to pick up my kids from day care while they had to stay late to get the work done. They didn’t do the same work I did, and they weren’t doing my work or covering for me, but they complained. It got rather tiring, so I tried sticking it out until 5:45 and running to the day care center for a couple of weeks. Guess who left promptly at 5:35? The complainers! So I stopped worrying about it.

    My kids are grown now, but I still aim to leave by 5:30 every day. If there is a real need to stay late (happens once or twice a month) of course I stay as long as is needed. But I refuse to do it for show, and I encourage my employees to do the same.

  46. Kitty*

    Whenever I have been managing teams of staff, I have been very clear about the need for no unpaid overtime. I’ve had to sit teams down as a group and tell them that they mustn’t come in early, or stay late. We need to prove that there is too much work for the number of people doing it.
    One team was reluctant. They were good workers and produced amazing results, but we really, really needed more staff. The work was getting done though, so I couldn’t prove that I needed more staff. I explained this, and staff stopped working all the extra hours. The work piled up – but I had the business case written out and within about a month 2 extra staff were approved.

  47. pegster*

    At my first job out of grad school, I was always the first to leave at 5:30. The CEO (grandboss) once called me into the office and told me that he noticed. I asked if he had any concerns with what I was accomplishing. He said that he didn’t know since I didn’t report to him, so I suggested I report to him temporarily and he could let me know if I was letting any balls drop. We made the change, I kept on doing what I was doing, and I never heard anything more about it.

    In my field, working mostly for start-ups, almost everyone is in sprint mode, assuming the payoff is just around the corner but it has never been true. I treat it as a marathon, focus on meeting my objectives and then leave work at the door. I don’t think it’s affected my career and it certainly has saved my sanity. I’m definitely in the minority and it has not always been easy. However I’m also an (invisible) minority in society in general and I think that helped me realise early on that I don’t have to do what everyone else does, or that what everyone else does isn’t going to necessarily work for me. A bit of a gift, to be honest.

  48. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    I have experienced this in retail. And now I stomp it out when ever possible. Including for my coworkers (peer level) when possible. In once case at my current job, I just can’t get him to start on time or take his breaks. I’ve barely gotten him to take bathroom breaks. And it has created an expectation about what can get done on our shift. (I don’t blame him for some of this, we had another horrible coworker who was no help with customers. So you had to close the store in order to go to the bathroom). But new coworkers, who come in early and go “can I help with that” get told to sit back down, they aren’t on shift (unless it’s simply getting a door). Bosses get told off for telling coworkers to work without pay, because I know dang well it’s illegal. It even says so on every single schedule. And their boss gets told that it happened, as soon as I can. (which, yeah, has created tension between me and one assistant manager. Because you do not get to bully me or my coworkers. I will call you on it, if I am in a position to do so.)

  49. PlainJane*

    Oo. The “health care” part throws me. My mom was a nurse, and I’ve never forgotten her fury at a floor supervisor who looked into a room in the middle of a crisis (patient bleeding out, doctor injured after slipping in blood on the floor) and said, “I see you’ve got this under control, so I’m taking my lunch break.” I get that there should be paid (not unpaid) overtime, but in health care, you kind of have to deal with a lot of emergencies that aren’t on a strict schedule.

    1. Done_at_4OP*

      Emergencies happen, and us staff will(should) be flexible around it. But there’s lots of soft not very urgent work people feel pressure to do in healthcare too. If we’re being given more work than can be reasonably handled in our work hours it should be up to management or high up to support. It should never fall on the healthcare worker to shoulder, that’s how you get dangerous situations of burnout and apathy that will put patients in danger.

  50. Not So NewReader*

    I had an interesting situation at one job. There was a bunch of OT being paid out, but it was all unnecessary. I streamlined things and there was no more OT. That is when I found out people were interested in lining their pockets with the pay and that is why the labor was fluffed up.
    This was a toxic place and I was not going to stay one minute longer than I had to. Going to down to a 40 hour work week caused productivity to double. Imagine that. On the rare occasion that OT came up, I just said no. It really did not matter what I said they were going to gossip and backstab anyway, so if I said yes the results would have been the same.

    My point is, OP, that the boss had said I work like three people. So when the overtime came around, I simply reminded the boss that they said I work like three people and so, no, I will not be doing the OT. Like others have cautioned you, know your environment. If you can say something without it biting you later on, then do so. But if you think it might haunt you later than take the necessary precautions by replying with something neutral to these comments.

    If you want to cause change by role-modeling alone, know that change by example takes a huge amount of time. Once they get it, they get it and you do not have to go back to it. But it’s a good chunk of time waiting for that ah-ha moment.

    In looking back on that situation, there were tons of things I did that were real time savers. I spent more time doing the main work than doing side stuff because I had tighter control over the workflow to begin with. One of my favs to do was to line up where I would start in the morning before going home at night. My cohorts lost 20 minutes or more every morning because they forgot where they left off the night before. It’s not saving 20 minutes on one day that is so valuable. It’s saving that 20 minutes five days a week, week after week that adds up.

  51. Richard*

    The sad truth is that a lot of people in low level jobs perform this kind of overwork to show that their work has value in a workplace that doesn’t tell them they’re valued in words or in compensation.

  52. Blaise*

    If you hadn’t specified your field, I would’ve thought you were a teacher. Other teachers who play themselves up as martyrs are one of my biggest pet peeves. You can leave work for tomorrow!!! You can leave it for your next long weekend, even!!! And there are TONS of ways to work more efficiently so you just don’t have as much to DO all the time!!

    Anyway, I feel your pain OP. I just take the route of minding my own business and letting other people do what they’re gonna do, but you might not have that problem my field has of people basically bragging about how much extra work they have all the time

    1. Done_at_4OP*

      It’s very deja vu when I talk to teachers! I feel sad to hear anyone in these fields who feel the need to fall to pressures of their to big workload.

    2. Kesnit*

      “You can leave it for your next long weekend, even!!!”

      So you are encouraging people to do work on their day off?

  53. MissDisplaced*

    I work a reasonable 40-45 hours a week and I manage to get a lot done, especially if I can WFH.
    I see a lot of people who complain about how late/long they work, yet those people seem to do nothing but spend time in meetings all day instead of actually doing actual work (though I admit this company is excessively meeting heavy). I personally try to avoid attending too many meetings, but I think the culture at my company leads people to feel more important and/or show presentism if they’re in lots of meetings.

    But if deadlines happen or overtime is truly needed, I certainly do it and have had some weekend work or long weeks. I just decided not to make a habit of it!

  54. Rollergirl09*

    At my job, if you’re non-exempt you can and will be terminated if you work overtime and don’t record it on your timesheet. Just as you can be termed for working OT without approval. They take accurate timekeeping very seriously.

    I work in an industry where there are busy seasons that require some OT. However, I can meet all my production goals without any. If my boss tried to tell me I was less dedicated for only working 40 hours a week, I’d show him the numbers. That said, the people in my office who work the most OT are the same people who take 7 smoke breaks a day and are always complaining about how much they have to do rather than hunkering down and actually getting work done.

    I’m a huge proponent about accurately reporting time. I’m also a stickler for utilizing our production software accurately because if you do it records how long it takes you to get a task done. Without proper use of the system and accurate time reporting management doesn’t know how to set realistic production goals.

  55. Impy*

    Yes, I’ve had this and succumbed to it at a few places. My reward? Extra work, strained personal relationships and eventual burn out. Once or twice my reward was keeping my job when others didn’t, and getting to do their work too. Nowadays, recovering from depression, burnout and a badly affected social life (from never getting in until 8pm every night) I work hard while I’m at work then go home. If that’s a problem for people, then the job’s a bad fit. I’m not sacrificing my mental and physical health (again) on the altar of slightly higher profits for someone else.

  56. Impy*

    Also, if the constant overtime *is* necessary then it’s likely disguising a staffing issue that needs to be resolved. My worst one for that was when we were between hires and I was trying to handle a workload that really needed 3-4 people. When they (eventually) hired people they replaced the coworkers who had left – qualified and competent professionals – with two school leavers and a guy who couldn’t count to ten using both hands.

    It was, in some ways, *worse* than doing it all myself, because I still effectively had to do everything, PLUS train three people completely new to the field. Hmmmm. On the plus side I’m starting to see why I burned out there.

  57. embertine*

    Ah yes, the art of being performatively overworked. I say no to it too, and I’m already getting comments three weeks into my new job. Perhaps if you didn’t spend literally two hours a day gambling online, discussing what what unnecessarily huge car you’re going to buy and whinging about your jobs, you’d actually get something done, new colleagues.

  58. Springella*

    I understand what OP is saying but it’s often also about blaming the victim.

    I once worked with a bully who expected me and another colleague to stay working until the evening regularly. At some point I just started to go home on time. At first he was surprised but I didn’t comment and I didn’t discuss it, I just said that it’s the end of work time. The colleague continued to work until evenings for another two years. However, I couldn’t do anything about immense workload (because everything can be done in 10 min). I continued to be bullied in other ways. And no, standing up to the bully didn’t help,it just made the matters worse.

    Then I worked in another workplace where I came to work later and left later. My lazy colleague once commented that by the time I’m at work half the workday is gone. I told her that since I leave at XX my work day was 8 hours. She got quiet but I’m sure she continued to badmouthing me. Not my problem if people like culture of presenteesm.

    So, I can and did assert myself. But at my present job my workload is immense (and again I have a boss who thinks that everything can be done in 10 minutes). The expectations of how quickly the work can be done are laughable. The whole company is crazily stressed but we’re told it’s the problem of our personal bad time management and we should just go home on time (again, our personal problem). We’re told we shouldn’t work secretly because otherwise the company can’t determine how much time we need for tasks. In reality, there’s a tremendous pressure on staying within billable hours. If we go over time we’re deemed inefficient.
    I’ve realized some time ago that staying late at work just facilitates bad management. If managers know people are always ready to work longer they have no incentive to rationalize work process. Etc. But at the moment I don’t have much manoeuvre space because I’m on temporary contract. Welcome to contemporary capitalism. So no, it’s not my choice to work long hours and no, you often can’t do much about it and yes, you often do get penalized if you stand up for yourself. Yes, you can change jobs but it can be about job hopping, your career gets interrupted, you might need to uproot your family, it’s not cheap and it’s one of the life’s major stressor, comparable only to death and divorce. So please, don’t blame the victims.

  59. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Assuming you are getting your work done while taking the appropriate breaks and not working overtime, there’s no reason to feel guilty or let them pressure you into working longer hours. They may be goofing off more often, or worker harder instead of smarter. I wouldn’t go into the long answer Alison provided either. Next time they tell you it must be nice, a simple “yes it is” would suffice. That being said, sometimes it is necessary to work overtime if you’re in an industry with a busy season, or there’s a big project in the works. If you’re salaried & not required to receive overtime pay, you’re be expected to put in the extra hours when needed, because most likely there will be times when you aren’t busy at all. If there’s more work than one person can realistically get done in a 40 hour week all year long, that’s a separate issue.

  60. Kesnit*

    How experienced are you in your job compared to your co-workers? I am one of the least experienced in my office, so it takes me longer to do what has to be done. I’ve noticed it when I have to cover for a coworker in an emergency – there’s often no notes in the file for me to use to get up to speed because they can just read the file and “wing it.” My files, on the other hand, have notes on documents and meetings because I need to keep everything organized. I know I take longer, because it is the only way I can keep up on everything.

    Yes, I would like to be able to leave right at 5 every day, but that just doesn’t work out sometimes. Work left on your desk still has to be done the next day, along with everything else that has to be done.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yes, being less experienced does often mean it simply will take you longer, and when you’re learning a new job it’s true you may have to work a little longer to learn. But still, keep it within reason.

  61. boop the first*

    I’m sure it also helps that for some people, their passions lie elsewhere and thus don’t want to be constantly promoted up the ladder and moved around and tested and prodded and challenged and thrown into new and strange worlds, so the usual consequences seem more like tiny blips in the Entire Life Away from Work.

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