my employee is upset that her work-life balance means she won’t get promoted here

A reader writes:

I’m having trouble managing an expectation gap. Someone I manage, Elizabeth, is probably in the middle (maybe lower middle) of our organization’s performance ranks but is upset she is not on track for promotion.

Elizabeth is not the most skilled but she’s adequate and organized. Where she falls behind others is the volume of her impact. We’re in a highly competitive white collar company where it is not uncommon for top performers to work 50-60 efficient hours a week to go above expectations. They tend to be young, or child-free, or have a partner who has sacrificed their own career to support them. Or they are exhausted active parents. It’s a biased system, I get it.

Elizabeth has two small children so I sympathize that “going the extra mile” is maybe beyond her capacity. She works at most a 40 hour week and has expressed zero desire to further develop her skills or take on stretch opportunities when we’ve discussed what a promotion trajectory might look like. She has stated how she is already at full capacity in her work-life balance. I have no problem with her just meeting expectations. However, she has also been upset (to the point of tears) that her career trajectory is stagnant, complaining to me and others about the company and culture that makes it difficult for her to succeed. She has become increasingly disengaged and resentful about this, which doesn’t help how others perceive her for promotion either.

How do I help her reconcile all this? I cannot change the reward system of the company or capitalism. I want to show empathy for her and support her but the cold hard reality is that she is unlikely to improve her career trajectory without making some of the same sacrifices as our top performers or changing company/industry. Or just learn to gracefully accept it. Even just typing that to you sounds harsh. I can’t imagine the tears if I said it.

Ugh, there are two problems here … one of which you probably can’t do anything about.

The one you probably can’t do anything about is your company’s culture. But to be clear … this sucks. No one should have to work 50-60 hours a week (that’s up to an extra 50% every week) to be considered for a promotion. That’s an excessive amount of work for people to put in week after week, particularly if it’s the year-round expectation. So the culture — whether it’s just your company or your whole industry — sucks. If you’re in a position to push back on it, you should.

That said, it’s also true that if you go into a field like, for example, Big Law, you generally know what you’re signing up for.

The fact that Elizabeth is so out of sync with those expectations makes me wonder whether or not she did know what she was signing up for. Is this an industry-wide expectation, or is it more specific to your company? If the latter, did anyone talk to her about this during the hiring process so she knew what she was getting herself into? If not, that’s one thing to change going forward; make sure prospective new hires know.

Either way, though, that’s the conversation to have with her now. Sit down with her and speak frankly about the realities of the culture you’re working in. I can’t tell how frank you’ve been about it in the past, but strip away any sugarcoating you might have added to soften the message — she needs to hear the unvarnished, plain-spoken version. Lay it out as candidly as you can: “The reality is that people who get promoted here are working 50-60 hours a week, taking on stretch projects, and sacrificing personal time. I’m not defending that system — I think it’s a problem. Not everyone can do that, or wants to do it. It’s not the system I would have set up myself. But I want to be up-front with you that it is the culture here. I see you getting increasingly frustrated by your inability to advance, so I want to be really transparent with you about what it would take. I also know you’ve shared that you’re already at full capacity, so I want us both to be realistic about what that means for your advancement potential here so that you can make the best choices for yourself.”

You’re worried about tears, but it’s far, far more kind to spell this out than to dance around it. You’ll be doing her an enormous favor by laying these expectations as bare as possible, because if there’s any part of her that has avoided looking head-on at how this really works, coming face-to-face with it will help her make better decisions for herself, even if she does respond emotionally in the moment.

From there, it’s up to Elizabeth to figure out what she wants to do with this information. But the most supportive thing you can do is make sure she’s clear about it.

{ 517 comments… read them below }

  1. B*itch in the corner of the poster*

    I feel for her. I work in federal government and I am very strict on my work-life balance. I don’t have kids but I have a spouse and hobbies I work hard at as well. I don’t check my email when i’m not on a clock, I don’t work extra hours off the clock just because. I’ve excepted this means that I will never be in management. I’m mostly ok with that. i don’t want to sacrifice my balance.

    1. That'sNotMyName*

      Same. Occasionally, I’ll go through my LinkedIn and see former classmates doing prestigious things at prestigious places and feel bad about my own “wasted potential”. Often, they’re not even doing jobs I’d want to do, but I feel like I should have accomplished “more”. Then I think about what they had to put into getting there and how I wouldn’t want to do that. I have a pretty happy life now and I’m not sure I would feel the same way if I was in their shoes.

      1. Antilles*

        It’s always useful to keep in mind the context – because it’s all a package deal. Sure it’d be nice to have the prestigious things and great salary, but would you also want the high stress, crazy hours, limits on work-life balance, etc? Can’t have one without the other.
        Sometimes the answer is still “yes, I wish I had that”, but often enough you end up in a much different (and less jealous) place when you look at the whole picture rather than focusing on a single item.

        1. Worldwalker*

          Or to put it another way, as the saying goes, nobody on their deathbed has said “I wish I’d spent more time in the office.”

          1. HearTwoFour*

            My favorite line from Brooklyn 99 – Captain Dozerman’s last words: “Tell my wife I love her…work ethic.”

          2. Erica*

            I mean, people who’ve lived their lives in poverty do. Maybe not the exact words “more time in the office” but regret around not making more sacrifices or being more focused in the early years is pretty common.

      2. RadManCF*

        I can relate to this sentiment. I was a law student, but I decided to pursue a career in corrections (long story). I have a better work-life balance than I would as an attorney, I get paid extra for working insane hours, and I can retire at 55. I’m presently in one of those posts people retire out of (since nobody likes having Tuesday and Wednesday off). I’m the most content I’ve ever been.

    2. Ness*

      I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no one is actually working 60 efficient hours a week on a regular basis. The human body and mind just aren’t designed to do that. More likely, those people have just managed to build the illusion that they are efficient 60 hours per week.

      There are plenty of studies to support this – most people can cut their work hours pretty significantly without a loss of productivity.

      This doesn’t really help OP’s employee, but it does provide some additional support for changing the culture.

        1. Bikirl*

          +1 Working excessive overtime should not be a criteria for a promotion! 100 percent agree (and please to know that studies support this) that no one is efficient working 50-60 hours over a long term. Being good at your job, should be the criteria for promotion. The policy that OP describes is also possibly discriminatory as it favors men (assuming that women tend to be most responsibly for childcare) and people without kids.

          1. allathian*

            I’m not even saying being good at your job should be a criterion for promotion. Some people can be mediocre at the technical stuff, but great at people management in spite of that. To be fair, though, far more people who have neither the talent nor the inclination to manage others get promoted and accept promotions because you can usually only advance so far and no further in an individual contributor role.

          2. CatLadyLawyer*

            Discriminatory in that it also disfavors people with medical needs that require time and rest outside of your 40 hours a week (such as myself…. If I work a 50-60 hour week then I am in bed all weekend).

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        This is generally true and a good point to make. However, there are plenty of jobs where peak efficiency is not critical.

        For example, my last position needed someone on-site during certain hours for safety reasons. The workload was somewhat sporadic and usually allowed us to go at a moderate, relaxed pace (with occasional all-out spurts in emergencies). However, training a person to be competent working independently took 1-2 years of hands-on experience in our facility. So it was worth it for the employer to have us work 50 hour weeks… they didn’t need someone to do the most possible work, they just needed someone capable of doing the work correctly to be available. And for the most part we didn’t mind working those hours since the work was self-paced, expectations were not overwhelming, and we were compensated well for the time. For an extreme example of this, look at firefighters: fire departments often work in multi-day shifts, but they don’t expect (or even want!) the firefighters to spend all those hours productively.

        Same goes for a lot of jobs in very small organizations/departments. If you have 25% more work than one person can do in 40 hours, does it make more sense to hire two people or to have one person work 50% more? Depending on the situation, either option could be best.

        To be clear, I don’t think LW’s org necessarily has a good reason for the high work hours. A lot of places have expectations about excessive work hours that have no basis in rational business goals and everything to do with projecting an image of working hard. However, I think writing off the schedule as being irrational/inefficient is not a good idea without more information on why it’s done that way.

      2. Nupalie*

        The 60 hour week is very common for those of us on 12 hr shifts in healthcare, manufacturing, or utilities (power, water, etc.). Anytime someone is sick it on vacation, another employee is picking up at least one extra shift. This happens weekly at our place of work.

        1. xl*

          It’s also common at places that are just chronically understaffed. I’m limited to 60 hours a week for fatigue mitigation, but I’ve been scheduled for 60 hour weeks for much of this year. (My normal schedule is four 10-hour days followed by 3 days off, but I’m scheduled for an additional two days each week until further notice)

        2. Sasha*

          Was coming it to say this – scheduled working hours of 8am-6pm are totally normal as a UK physician. You wouldn’t even be able to meet expectations/do the core requirements of the job if you weren’t working those hours. You can’t not come in to 8am handover, or leave clinic/walk off the ward an hour early.

          It’s also expected that “extras” (CPD, teaching prep, research, quality improvement projects/service redesign/service audit) are done in your own time (usually evenings and weekends). So you can easily end up doing 60hrs plus – I think the last BMA workforce survey found that the average NHS consultant worked 65hrs a week (this is not the US, we are paid about £80-100k for that).

      3. Ellie*

        Unfortunately I know of a few, who do work those kind of hours, and are 100% productive for all of them. We keep pretty good statistics, they work twice as many hours, and have twice, maybe three times as much output. I wish I knew their secret (apart from mostly being young, male, living alone, and absolutely loving their job).

        I wouldn’t recommend it, even for them, but they do exist.

        1. Yennefer*

          Ya I’ve definitely gone stretches where I worked 10+ focused hours a day. Not sustainable in the long run, but to say no one does it is just plain untrue.

          However, I believe that 90% of the time you’re working those long hours are due to poor planning – either on your own part or on the part of your managers/leaders. There’s no good reason to have to work that many hours consistently. I think that’s the crux of it.

          Going back to this employee, I don’t think it’s how many hours she works that’s the problem. A star performer who knows how to prioritize effectively would get promoted in a well-functioning org. I think you shouldn’t even bring up the hours and just focus on the outputs you need to see in order to promote her. It’s up to her how she wants to fit that into a day or if she chooses not to.

      4. Smurfette*

        I once worked a 30 hour week when all my colleagues worked 40 hour weeks. I got the same amount of work done as everyone else, because I made an effort to manage my time better – I didn’t want management to have a reason to push me back to 40 hours.

      5. rolly*

        You’re generally right. But if someone has no life outside of work, it’s doable. Certainly 50 is doable efficiently – lot of sleep and downtime is doable in that timeframe. Not sure about 60 but 50 for sure.

    3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Nod. I can’t be in management either because I need a LOT of rest and illnessss knock me down. Kind of a tragedy if you look from a society wide level

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        I have a couple of chronic illnesses, including debilitating migraines, that necessitate I get a lot of rest and relaxation as well – I’m also in management. I very rarely work more than 40 hours a week (honestly, some weeks, I don’t even work that) and I’m in comms at a global software company. I’m not trying to dismiss your experience – only you know what you can and cannot do – but I just wanted to throw this out there for other people with disabilities who may actually want to be on the management track in their careers, but think they can’t be because of their illness. You can, you just have to have very supportive people above you that help you to guard your time and will push back on anyone who tries to give you s^%! for not killing yourself on behalf of your organization.

        1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          Oh yes I was thinking about my job. I work over 40 hours already and management works way more. I am always dropping balls due to lack of energy and focus. And if I get sick with infectious disease it’s over lol

        2. Allthenoms*

          I hear you. It’s also company culture.

          I’m in Europe and worked for a company where 10-12 hr days were norms. 10 hr days were leaving early. The company had incompetent leadership and the why of doing something didn’t go beyond “the CEO wants it”

          I left and works for another company who is the global leader in what they do, with more money, better title and work total 8ish hrs a day. 9-5:45 pm with 1 hr lunch break.

          It is possible but you need great managers and senior leadership and focus on outcome and impact rather than output.

    4. I voted*

      I’m within a decade of retirement and had a fast-paced high-demand career before a major life change disrupted everything. When the dust settled, and I found myself in a new town looking for work that wasn’t stressful, I realized that I wanted a quiet, boring ‘job’ not another ride on the machine.
      I’m glad I have the past experience though, and can easily dodge hints & nudges to take on more. It’s cool to have worked fast & hard, but man oh man do I love ‘clocking out’ and being done done done for the day. No emergency call-backs, no hiring/firing dramas, headspace for my own non-work projects and goals.
      Other than bigger paychecks, I just don’t get the drive to climb the management tree. I hope Elizabeth can make peace with her options.

    5. Moonlight*

      I empathize for similar reasons. I don’t have kids yet, but I strictly adhere to my 8-4 hours OR find ways to recupe the time when I have to work over time. The situation is messed up. I do have to wonder what the hell kind of work she’s gotten into. It makes me wonder if she got into law, accounting, etc. where the expectations can vary wildly depending on your company, type of work, etc. and if she misunderstood the nature of what she was agreeing to when she agreed to work at this org (e.g., maybe it’s somewhere like a university or insurance company where people can often work reasonable hours).

    6. Maglev to Crazytown*

      There is nothing wrong with that at all. My father just retired after 30 years, and resisted all attempts for the last 20 years to give him into a GS15 position and management duties. He preferred technical, didn’t want the management headaches, and became a very well known subject matter expert (to the point I had a colleague mention once that they studied his work in defense college). He had a still what most would consider high-flying career, chose to forever stay maxed out at the top of the GS14… And most importantly, got to see and spend time with his family and have hobbies and interests. And he was still viewed as an extremely skilled and well-respected high performer despite that.

      I have worked with and for (ugh) manager-types who would look down on that rather than chasing the highest ring on the ladder at all costs. But I respect it more than ever seeing that from an adult perspective, feeling the same pressures, and choosing to make the same choice.

    7. Distracted Librarian*

      I know this won’t fly everywhere, but I moved into a management role and am now a director, and I have always worked ~40 hours/week. It requires efficiency and ruthless prioritization plus the ability to get tasks done quickly, but it can be done. I’m productive and doing good work–and that’s been enough.

      1. Maglev to Crazytown*

        With the agency and type of work he was in, he knew full well it would be a massive step up in hassle and stress, with a pay bump that was nowhere equivalent to make up for that. Plus being available all hours of day, night and weekend in case of needs/emergencies.

    8. Momma Bear*

      The world tells you that you can have it all when that’s not most people’s reality. If she can’t get past it, is there career counseling or an EAP she could tap into for support? Women especially feel like they have to choose motherhood or career and it’s very stressful. The flip side of it is if after this conversation she wants to move on, then I’d encourage her and give her a good reference. Sometimes what we want is incompatible with where we are. It is not uncommon for people to have to leave to level up. I do think it’s important to acknowledge both the unfair guideline and how you see her handling her disappointment. She can take it from there to decide what to do.

    9. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yep. The only thing that matters to me is being home for dinner every night and all weekend.

    10. Happy Pineapple*

      Echoing a lot of the thoughts shared here already. I can sympathize for Elizabeth, working that much overtime is not possible or healthy for many, if not most people, and it’s unfair when workplace norms like that prevent those people from being seen as successful. It really hurts to get passed over when you’re qualified. My partner and I both had to walk away from our dream career paths because we were not able or willing to make the sacrifices in our personal lives to achieve it. It stinks, but we made our choice and are happier because of it.

      If it hasn’t already been said, it’s also important to point out that despite the standards for promotion being unfair to her as someone with obligations outside of work, the tears and being disengaged and resentful around colleagues absolutely needs to stop! That is an unfair emotional burden to place on her manager and she is likely damaging other work relationships and/or how people perceive her. Not to mention that she seems miserable. I hope she finds a way to be content, whether by staying or finding a different job.

  2. Prospect gone bad*

    I feel like everyone is gonna act like having to work 40 hours or more a week isn’t fair, but in many fields it’s just an artificial social construct. Nothing magical happens at hour eight to push me to leave. I’ve had some of my most brilliant moments at 7 o’clock at night, because I had two or three hours of no news and no people interrupting me. Some jobs do indeed take more than eight hours a day especially if you want to accomplish something huge quickly or earlier in your career

    1. Gnome*

      Yes. However, in many cases that is either a temporary thing (like for a CPA during tax season), a well known part of the job (big law, some types of surgery, CEO positions) and it’s built into the compensation, or it’s really more work than should be in one position because we as a society have said that most jobs should be full time around 40 hours a week.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah, I’d be curious what this field is. If it’s “selling widgets” or producing a basic service, there’s really no reason it should have to be this way.

      2. JustaTech*

        In the sciences you might have individual days that are more than 8 hours because that’s just how long it takes to do the thing and biological processes don’t care about things like the 8 hour work day.
        But one of the amazing things about moving from academia to industry is the understanding that just because you worked 12 hours yesterday doesn’t mean that you have to work 12 hours today if the study/experiment doesn’t need it, and if the experiment *does* need it, you can ask for help.

        In a healthy work environment management will recognize the value of the work done over the time you were in the office: if you can get all of your experiments done and written up in 40 hours, that’s way better than Jeff who is in the lab/office 10 hours a day 6 days a week but accomplishes nothing. (Yes, I have worked with that guy, ugh.)

        1. DJ*

          The last place I worked cared very much about butts in seats but didn’t seem to notice that those who stayed long rarely got more done (frequently the opposite). I was idealistic when I stated (biotechnology is driven by data, all they need is the data). Yeah nope! Glad to have moved on to a healthier place.

        2. Blazer 990*

          Alsoassuming this is grant funded, keep in mind, you quite literally are restricted on the amount of effort you give to a particular project. Private sector doesn’t have those same restrictions.I realize this can be heavily dependent on which institution you’re working at, but if your PI and grant administrator is doing their job, you won’t have the capability to work 12 hours on a project regularly unless it’s been budgeted that way.

    2. DataSci*

      Not everyone wants to accomplish “something huge”, though, and there’s nothing wrong with that – the primary issue here is that the mismatch in expectations should have been communicated at the interview stage. I always ask – I don’t want to work startup hours anymore, so I make sure to make that clear very early on. At my current job I do interesting work and am appreciated, and outside of crunch times I work 40 hours a week, just like everyone else on my team.

    3. Esme*

      What immediately occurs to me is that those brilliant moments could be had much more efficiently by building uninterrupted, focused time into the regular work day.

      1. Yay evening*

        This isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t change the fact that some of us like that 5-8 or so slot for work, in its own right.

        Afternoons are terrible for me, I get sleepy, I feel like I’ve been working awhile and want a break, etc. Much happier running errands during that time slot, then working evenings, usu at home though in the past I’ve done the office too.

        1. Caramel and Cheddar*

          You can like the 5-8pm slot and break up your day in whatever way you want without working 12hr days if your work culture is flexible and supportive of doing that. I actually like the early evening as well because that’s when I tend to hit my stride, but the difference is that I compensate for that by getting a later start rather than my employer requiring that I work 9am-9pm or whatever.

          1. Metadata Janktress*

            Agreed. While there are many jobs that have good reasons for a structured block schedule, there are plenty of jobs that could be broken up throughout the day and people could work more effectively. If I had my druthers, I’d probably have a much longer break in the traditional work day so I could take a long walk/exercise and chill with some knitting or video games, but then go back to work in the early evening to make it up to 8 hours in a day.

            1. desdemona*

              I’m a freelancer, and when I have paperwork at home I find myself working most efficiently from 3pm – 11pm. (or 12-8pm, if I’m trying to wrap up earlier in order to hang out with my spouse at a reasonable hour)

              1. Mother of all Raccoons*

                I was lucky enough as a new grad vet to design my schedule. I work 12pm-8pm During the week. Love it. So much more productive at life tasks in the morning, then when I get home from work I can just vegetate.
                I work 4 days a week but even though it says 12-8p it’s often more like 10p

          2. The Real Fran Fine*

            Yup, this. My company is very supportive of remote work and flex times, and the people who love to work in the evenings do, but they either also start super late in the day or start at 8/9am and then disappear in the middle of the day only to hop back on after 5.

          3. UKgreen*

            I do a lot of training as part of my job. I love being able to train UK / EU peeps in the morning, then work with US colleagues in THEIR afternoon, so my evening. Gives me the afternoon off to have a rest.

          4. I am Emily's failing memory*

            Yep. Earlier this year I asked and received permission from my members to shift my work hours to 11a-7p most days because that’s what works best for my personal circadian rhythms. It’s funny though, how long it took me to realize that was a thing I could ask for instead of just wistfully dreaming of.

            I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I had a 10 year positive track record with my employer. Or that we have employees across the country and I’m now just working the same hours as some of my colleagues who are on Mountain Time, and whose work hours my local colleagues are already used to working around. Or that my employer had long demonstrated a commitment to flexible work arrangements!

            But boy was it surreal the day it occurred to me that it wouldn’t hurt to ask about working different hours and when my boss hardly batted an eye at my request. It’s still such a non-standard ask in the work world in general that I was kind of blind to it even being a possibility for a long time. It’d be great if more employers more proactively offered employees a choice of start and end times, in jobs where all you really need is a few core hours a day when everyone’s working at the same time but not necessarily a full 8 (or more!). Instead of it being something that, even in a fairly work-life-balanced company, a person has to prove themselves for several years and then take their own initiative to ask about.

      2. Worldwalker*

        Yeah. If two or three hours of people not interrupting you leads to you doing much better work, then you need to make it possible to have that time *during the workday*. Unless you’re in a job where your immediate attention to those interruptions is essential, maybe get them in emails and deal with them all as a batch a couple of times a day, instead of constant interruptions. Maybe you and someone else in a similar role can swap off being the “available” person for 2- or 3-hour blocks during the day? “From noon to 3, Wakeen handles these issues; from 3 to 5, see Jane about them.”

        1. Lisa Simpson*

          I mean, some jobs the culture is just dealing with constant interruptions. I worked somewhere where the typical workflow was somewhere between Inception of Interruptions and If You Give A Mouse A Cookie Interruption. Anytime I had to focus on doing something- payroll, double-checking a staff schedule, doing fiddly paperwork or data tracking- I would get interrupted, and then while I was tending to that interruption I’d get interrupted again, and then while I was tending to that interruption I’d get interrupted again, and so on and so forth, until it was 2 hours later and I had to start payroll over again from the top because I’d been interrupted so many times I’d certainly made a mistake.

          If you in any way showed that you were not thrilled at being interrupted fourteen times while you were manually tabulating paper timecards with a pencil and a calculator, because their system was set up in a way that you couldn’t even use excel as backup, you’d get a lecture on your “attitude.”

          1. Lizard Breath*

            When I was a medical resident I once observed to an intern that a typical day in the hospital consists of making a list of about 7-10 totally reasonable things you wanted to get done for your patients that day and then spending the next 8-12 hours trying to get *most* of them done as serial roadblocks appear. (“We can’t get the CT until we know his kidney function. We can’t get the kidney function until he can get his blood drawn, but he was sleepy this morning and told the phlebotomist to go away. The phlebotomist can come back, but not till 7PM. I’ll draw the blood myself, but only after I’ve taken this other patient to endoscopy and assessed that other guy with the fever and met with the family of the third person. By the time I’m able to send the blood, the ED has sent five other people to be scanned so hopefully he won’t lose his slot”)

      3. Prospect gone bad*

        That’s the go to response but it doesn’t work that way. Like, you don’t schedule when brilliancy is gonna happen. There’s usually a buildup where I stare at stuff and play with stuff for hours straight, which is the main reason why the stuff doesn’t happen at 10 AM. And I certainly can’t schedule breakthroughs

        1. jasmine*

          I mean the problem with this is that you’re essentially arguing for maximizing work time as much as possible. A breakthrough can happen at any time, so the more hours you work, the more likely that a breakthrough will happen while you’re working.

          But you have to weigh the value of a breakthrough against the value of a focused, refreshed employee in their most productive state. Human beings need rest to do their best brain work. And of course, there’s the humane argument that people have a right to live outside of their jobs.

          There’s no magical barrier at eight hours, but there’s no magical barrier at ten or twelve or six. The 40 hour work week is a thing because workers have historically fought to be treated as human beings. It’s great if you want to work more but it shouldn’t be required for career advancement.

      4. Maglev to Crazytown*

        I spent a number of years getting by 6am, getting a LOT done before anyone even showed up at 8-9am. And then walked out the door by 2:30pm to have a wonderful afternoon and evening with interests, hobbies and family or volunteer groups I worked with. And still ran circles accomplishment-wise around many of those who stayed late.

        1. Jane*

          I work as a contractor for the government and was told that if I put in 8.5 hours a day during a 12.5 hour standard time window then the contracting officer would be happy, so I show up as early as possible. By the time people are hitting that afternoon lull and are trying to come by for “just one more thing” I’m already out the door.

          1. Maglev to Crazytown*

            LOL, same…. I was also a contractor. And now in the process of crossing the bridge to the promised land of the federal side. My dad was a 30 year fed, and did the 6am-2:30pm which got him well ahead of DC-area departing traffic and home at a good time to relax and enjoy the late afternoon and evening with family.

    4. Caramel and Cheddar*

      But even in the way you’re describing your own work, you could be gone by 5pm yourself if you had two or three hours of no news/interruptions earlier in the day. You’re not magically more productive at 7pm; you’re more productive because you’ve found a chunk of uninterrupted time. There’s nothing less “artificial social construct” about a workplace that shapes its culture so that employees can find that time during the average work day instead of after hours. That many workplaces choose not to is just that: a choice.

      1. Llama*

        I’m most productive during those hours too. Having 2-3 hours in the middle of the day wasn’t nearly as good as the 5to 7 or 8 PM time. Each person is different!

        1. higheredadmin*

          Good grief I love the 5-7pm slot. I think for me I need a lot of “think time”, and by the end of the day I’ve had the opportunity to think on things and send out something thoughtful in response.

        2. Caramel and Cheddar*

          Of course every person is different — my point wasn’t “no one is productive after 5pm”, it’s “you shouldn’t have to work 60hrs a week because you can’t find a productive 2-3hrs within an eight hour day.” A good workplace will be flexible on when those eight hours are; for most people that might be between 9 and 5, and for you it might be 11-7.

      2. amoeba*

        I mean, I personally also actually like working until 7, but then I just start late(ish), have a proper lunch break and still have some flex time that I can then use to leave early on a different day or even take whole days off.

    5. EngGirl*

      I think that’s great if your job offers the flexibility to allow that and if you don’t feel like you’re sacrificing anything to do that. Some people are better thinkers later in the day or work best in sporadic bursts. I personally do my best work in stints. Like leave me alone to work for 2 hours, and then let me watch some Netflix for an hour and then come back for another 2 and you’ll get way more out of me than you would if I was working for 6 hours straight. Unfortunately my job doesn’t allow for this so I give them what they pay for.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        Mine does, and I’m so grateful because I work like you work (best in sprints), so getting to do other things during my day has made me way more efficient than I already was when I worked in an office and had a strict schedule.

    6. Metadata Janktress*

      It may be an “artificial social construct,” but it also does not take into account that people have lives outside of work. And not just the fun bits of life like hobbies and hanging out with friends (although that’s super important). There’s also things like grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, caring for family members, and sleeping. You may not have those demands on your time for whatever magical reason, but that doesn’t mean that the vast majority of us don’t. That also doesn’t take into account for people who are disabled/have chronic health conditions that require rest. If you’re okay with working the hours you do, that’s great, but a lot of people don’t have that energy and that is far more the norm than what you’re doing. So yeah, it’s not fair to work more than 40 hours a week. I’d also point out that unless you’re in something that has life-or-death consequences, the need to “accomplish something huge quickly or earlier in your career” is very much an artificial social construct as well.

    7. Michelle Smith*

      Respectfully, this does miss the point a bit in my opinion. The physical and emotional labor of caring for small children and a household tend to fall disproportionately on women, meaning that their ability to advance and achieve success on par with men in these fields is diminished. It really is a problem if women are not able to advance unless they choose not to have children or care for their family so that they can work longer hours. I guarantee the woman in this post does not have the ability to have two or three hours to 7 pm uninterrupted. This isn’t a choice many of us feel she should have to make.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Just for anyone reading this who might be confused or want more information about where my perspective is coming from: no, I do not have children or a spouse; yes, that’s partly because of limited time due to extensive years of schooling + working; yes, I recently moved from a higher pressure field (legal) to a lower pressure one (public policy) to reduce the expectation that I work around the clock; yes, I theoretically could have children but I resent the fact that I’m now in my mid-30s and only now in a position to even consider it because I left the field I spent so much time and money investing in.

      2. KGD*

        That aspect jumped out for me too. OP says the people who have been able to advance either don’t have children or “have a partner who has sacrificed their own career to support them” – how many of those sacrificing partners are men?

        I have two young children and I deliberately chose a job that would leave space for them in my life. That means I make a bit less money and have a bit more time at home, and I’m pretty sure it was the right decision for me. I don’t regret it. But I get so angry when I think about that lost money multiplied by all the millions of women who have made similar choices to keep their careers smaller so they can do a good job at home. My husband never considered work-life balance when choosing his career or planning to have children. He only gets to make more money and work longer hours because I don’t. It’s a terrifyingly common pattern and it is not fair.

        Elizabeth can’t work 60 hours a week. She can’t. She is at capacity. The reason the dads OP is promoting are not at capacity is that they are passing off their work to their wives.

        1. Budgie Buddy*

          Another way to put this is that Elizabeth likely *is* working 60 hours per week. She may be working 80 hours, because she’s picking up a whole second shift when she gets home. Caretaking isn’t employment but it still needs to get done. Bleh

        2. Mom Boss*

          This seems like a really poor choice in finding a partner, not an issue of fairness on the part of your employer. It sounds like the expectations are the same for all employees- but you are advocating for special consideration because she is a woman?

          I’ve been the woman working 50-60 efficient hours to get a promotion. My husband did the extra home labor to make that happen.

          I’ve also been the person doing the home labor so he could be the person working 50-60 efficient hours to make significantly more money in a commission gig.

          I guess I have a hard time seeing why an unsupportive partner is a work issue. Quite frankly- if my partner wasn’t someone who supported my career and was in 50/50, he wouldn’t be my partner. And I certainly had established that prior to having children with him.

          1. Esme*

            Sadly, you can’t know for certain if your partner will walk the walk until you have children with them. You can fudge your odds, but people lie to themselves and their partners. Sometimes people that seemed amazing and supportive even turn abusive after marriage or kids i.e. once it is very hard to leave them. Tldr; fixing and/or harm reduction for sexism is the thing that’s needed, not fixing women not being psychic.

            1. coffee*

              Also, due to sexism, it’s more likely that the husband in a husband-and-wife marriage will be making more money, so you’re financially better off for him to be the primary worker. And so the cycle continues.

              1. inko*

                Yeah, this is my situation. I can’t match my husband’s earnings, so he is the primary earner in our household, and I fit freelance work around looking after the kids because it’s easier on all of us than trying to juggle full-time employment with paid childcare. (I’m lucky to even have the option to freelance, and I work a lot of late nights to make up for the childcare I had to do during the day. )What we’re doing is the most logical choice for us, but there’s a reason it turns out to be the most logical choice for so many families. I’ll never catch up to him in terms of earnings, ever.

            2. Non-psychic*

              Exactly this! Also, having children means that there is a lot more work to be done at home than when there were only two adults in the house and if nobody picks up the slack it is the kids that suffer (no lunch packed for school, no clean clothes to wear etc). Comments that imply that you only have yourself to blame for not being better at predicting how your partner would act in a situation neither of you had yet encountered are not very helpful in my view. This is a cultural problem and the blame should not fall on individual women who are not able to ‘force’ their husbands to do their fair share.

          2. AcademiaNut*

            There are subtle influences on a larger societal scale. Statistically, men still get paid more and get promoted faster than women. The physical effects of pregnancy, childbirth and nursing (and the corresponding effects on work) are borne by the mother. And statistically, it’s much more common for a man to marry a significantly younger woman than the other way around.

            When a couple sits down to make a difficult decision about taking a promotion, or who backs off on their career for family considerations, when “both of us go full tilt career wise” isn’t working, and they decide that it makes doesn’t make sense for the person earning more money in a more senior position to quit or go part time, it’s a purely personal, logical decision. But somehow, that purely logical decision usually ends up with the mother’s career taking a backseat.

            Also, in a lot of those long hours, prestigious, high paying careers, having kids can boost a man’s prospects (a stable family man, how nice, he needs to work hard to support his wife and kids) while putting the woman on the mommy tract (she’s not going to be devoted enough), regardless of how they plan to arrange their families.

          3. amoeba*

            I love when the structural problems patriarchy causes are blamed on the poor choices of individual women.

          4. KGD*

            Wow. I feel like this is a pretty massive oversimplification and also kind of rude.

            First of all, I want to emphasize that I am NOT advocating for “special consideration because she is a woman.” I’m saying that capitalism and the patriarchy work together to make this stuff really, really difficult. If I were the boss of the world, nobody would have to work crazy hours to get promoted and everyone would be able to access low-cost childcare. But of course, that isn’t the case, and I think that the OP owes Elizabeth a very honest conversation about her options so she can make an informed decision about what to do next.

            Now, in terms of the rest of your comment… I’m glad your husband took on more of the family work so you could work longer hours. Truly, I am. I wonder if you could be a bit more empathetic to the millions of women who are in different situations.

            My husband and I were definitely 50-50 pre-kids. He’s a feminist and we both do our best to keep things as equitable as we can. But we frequently bump up against our own socialization (i.e., the careers we picked) and systemic barriers (i.e., our employers’ responses to our need for time off to care for sick children) and it’s hard sometimes. It was especially hard in that first year back at work, when I was a sleep-deprived mess who was up all night breastfeeding and really didn’t have the emotional energy or mental clarity to pick a fight about why XYZ was still my job now that I was back at work.

            Anyway, I’m not saying Elizabeth should be promoted without putting in the work. I’m saying the system sucks and Elizabeth shouldn’t be judged because putting in the work may not be an option for her.

      3. Autumnheart*

        That’s what stood out to me as well. Whether this is a company policy, or an industry expectation that the company is buying into, it is essentially institutionalized bias to promote only people who don’t have outside demands on their time. Well, guess who that typically happens to be?

        LW is losing talent and continuing to use bias in their promotional path by passing along this expectation.

    8. Me ... Just Me*

      The truth is that in most industries, if you want to make a big impact early in your career, you’re going to have to put in some extra hours and effort in order to surge ahead. It’s the reality of things. I did this early in my career and was rewarded by being the youngest person in management for many years. It absolutely set me on a path that most others’ don’t have access to until later in their careers, if ever. Note, I don’t have to work that many hours now, because I chose not to continue that trajectory — but I am well aware that I could have gone farther if I had been willing/able to (chronic illness has made me incapable of that level of engagement, unfortunately).

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Doesn’t that on some level bother you? That a chronic illness outside of your control limits your capacity to advance, even though you are absolutely capable of doing the work? Do you not think it’s unfair for advancement to require sacrifices that some people, despite their abilities, qualifications, and ambition simply cannot make for reasons entirely outside of their control? If that chronic illness had hit you earlier in life, you are saying you would not be in the place in your career that you are now, despite being living proof that you are successful even with that illness. How is that reasonable?

        1. Dino*

          This is exactly my issue with work. Diagnosed with multiple chronic conditions before age 20, unable to put in that kind of engagement, and knowing I’ll never be able to retire has not done good things for my mental health or motivation at work.

          1. Minimal Pear*

            Also chronically ill (since I was a teen) and I’m wondering if you could (legally) argue that this workplace discriminates against disabled people and women (because of the point others have raised about childcare stuff usually falling on women).

            1. Caramel and Cheddar*

              Even if it doesn’t legally count as discrimination (and IANAL, so it could!), it’s definitely an equity issue and any workplace that cares about equity should be thinking about how to improve these kinds of barriers.

            2. Kaye*

              In the UK (which I suspect this isn’t) you might be able to argue that it was indirect discrimination – on the grounds of sex, maternity, disability… There are plenty of groups who are less likely to be able to put in 60 hour weeks. The difficulty would, as ever, be proving it was in operation in this particular case (particularly as it sounds as if Elizabeth wouldn’t necessarily be first in line for a promotion even if the hours weren’t an issue).

              1. BubbleTea*

                I don’t know if this is the reason why, but it’s worth noting that in the UK our definition of full time is a lot lower (35-37 is standard) and although I’m sure there are industries where you’re expected to work more than that sometimes, I’ve never encountered one that expects 50-60 hours a week as standard. Then again there’s a reason I didn’t become a lawyer.

                The EU working time directive actively tries to discourage more than 48 hours a week.

                1. Standards*

                  US: “Bob worked 70 hours this week! What a go-getter, promote him!”

                  EU: “Bob worked 70 hours this week? Must not be a good fit for the job if he can’t do it in 35-40 hours.”

                2. Sasha*

                  There are plenty of careers where you are handed an EWTD opt out form along with your contract. Medicine, for example.

                  I’m contracted for 48hrs a week, generally do 50-60 depending on whether I’m on call.

            3. pamela voorhees*

              Probably not, for the United States. If Alice works sixty hours and gets shiny project X because of it, then the employer can say “well, we promoted Alice above Bob (who has a disability) because Alice did this big shiny project.” The reason that Bob didn’t get the promotion isn’t explicitly because Bob has a disability, it’s only because (in theory) because Alice did more. Now, it’s deeply unfair because they really HAVE set up a system that disadvantages anyone with a disability (or primary caretakers, etc.), but trying to PROVE that is much, much harder – not impossible! But it’s a way tougher sell.

        2. Twix*

          I’m not the person you were responding to, but I was on a similar rockstar career track before developing a severe chronic illness that dramatically reshaped my life. I have thought about this question a lot and my answer is of course it bothers me, but that doesn’t mean I feel entitled to have that particular part of having a career work differently.

          Yes, it’s unfair that I did everything right and then had my career derailed by a chronic illness through no fault of my own. But someone who was born blind or with poor spatial reasoning or 30 IQ points lower than me couldn’t do my job through no fault of their own either. Being able to be engaged at the level needed for a given role is part of being able to do the job. Being able to be an excellent engineer 20 hours a week does not mean someone is capable of doing a job that requires an excellent engineer (or even an okay one) 40 hours a week.

          To be clear, I’m not trying to defend jobs that have pointless expectations for hours worked or other arbitrary expectations that create unnecessary barriers for people able to do the actual work required, or targeted discrimination against people with disabilities or other limitations in the workplace, or institutionalized discrimination in things like education that create inequality of opportunity, or trying to argue against legislation like the FMLA and ADA that obligate employers to accept a certain degree of expense and inconvenience to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with special needs. But the word “reasonable” is in there for a reason. My employers have overall been wonderful about accommodating me and helping me to develop a career path that works with my needs, but I can’t reasonably expect an employer to ignore when my healthcare needs would make me incapable of performing in a role even with generous accommodations just because in an ideal world those limitations wouldn’t be there, or to promote me into a role over someone who could do a significantly better job in that role than me just because I could do a better job than them if the reasons I can’t didn’t exist. That degree of unfairness is just a reflection of the fact that capitalism and the world are inherently unfair. It sucks, but it’s not a product of anyone doing anything wrong or treating me badly, and you have to learn to accept that living with a disability if you don’t want to end up bitter and miserable.

          1. Nina*

            Sure, but if the explicit job requirements are ‘work 40 hours a week, complete tasks A, B, and C’, it’s fair to expect that working 40 hours a week and completing tasks A, B, and C makes you at least a median performer, not the ‘lower middle’ OP mentioned Elizabeth is. If your criteria for excellence are ‘works 60 hours a week and completes tasks A, B, C, D, and E’, you need to adjust your job descriptions, because the difference between an ‘excellent performer’ and a ‘satisfactory performer’ should not be a whole nother 0.5 FTE.

            It may be that someone is capable of doing the job as described but not (due to disability, parental status, neurodivergence, studying, whatever) doing the hidden extras. That’s not their fault and they shouldn’t be penalized for it (yes, being refused a promotion is a penalty). That’s the employer’s fault and the employer should get their manure together.

            In your example – if a job is advertised and hired for an excellent engineer 20 hours a week, it’s outrageously unfair to then expect the person to understand that you actually want an excellent engineer 40 hours a week and will think less of them if they don’t do that.

            Signed, a neurodivergent person who hates this kind of bait-and-switch bullpucky

            1. Twix*

              I’m also neurodivergent, so I can certainly sympathize with the frustration of dealing with expectations that are implied rather than clearly stated. However, I disagree with almost everything else you’ve said here.

              If the explicit job requirements are “Work 40 hours a week and complete tasks A, B, and C”, it’s reasonable to assume that working 40 hours a week and completing tasks A, B, and C makes you a satisfactory performer and will keep you employed. I don’t really follow the logic behind the idea that satisfying the basic requirements of your job should make you a median performer; that’s usually the minimum bar for a company continuing to employ someone.

              I think the fundamental disconnect is that I vehemently disagree with the idea that promotions are something you’re entitled to. While being passed over for promotion can be a way of penalizing someone, in general not being rewarded is not the same thing as being penalized. The questionable actual value added of working tons of overtime notwithstanding, I don’t see an inherent problem with rewarding employees that are willing to devote substantially more of their time and energy to the company instead of other aspects of their life. If you’re in a field where a lot of people are ready and willing to do that to get ahead, I don’t really see a reasonable argument for the company not allowing those people to excel to be fair to the people who don’t. Sure, the fact that some people who don’t do that choose not to and others just can’t is unfair, but not in a way that it’s reasonable to expect the company to remedy beyond a certain point.

              It seems like you’re using the term “hidden extras” to conflate the requirements to do a job with the requirements to get promoted, and they’re not the same thing. I totally agree that if a company hires someone to be an excellent engineer 20 hours a week, it’s outrageously unfair to expect the person to understand that you actually want an excellent engineer 40 hours a week. However, that’s not actually a comparable situation to the LW’s. What would be is a company hiring someone to be an excellent engineer 20 hours a week and then expecting them to be an excellent engineer 20 hours a week, but also expecting them to demonstrate the ability to be an excellent engineer 30 hours a week if they want to be promoted to an engineering supervisor.

              That said, I definitely take exception to companies that advertise a position as 40 hours/week and then expect employees to work 50+; that is legitimately a bait-and-switch. I also largely agree that a 0.5 FTE gap between people in the same role is ridiculous. My original comment was directed at the comment I was responding to, not to the LW’s situation specifically.

        3. Erie*

          “even though you are absolutely capable of doing the work?”

          But they aren’t capable of doing the work due to illness, which is why they stopped that level of engagement. How are you defining “capable” here? Capable in theory? Capable of putting in 40 hours but not 60? If 60 is what’s required to excel at the job, then they are not capable.

          I think there is this idea that the Powers That Be arbitrarily set a number of 60 hours when deciding the criteria for promotion. But that isn’t how this works.

          1. Rach*

            60 hours is usually “required” because of severe understaffing, tho, and could be fixed by hiring additional people. I’m an engineer with a chronic illness. I cannot put in 60 hours a week like some of my peers. My last manager was awful and I was stagnant in my position for a few years. My current manager (same company, one of the largest tech companies in the US/world) is amazing, sees my work ethic and we’ve come up with a schedule and projects that highlights what I bring to my team and I’m up for promotion in the spring. It can be done even at companies with terrible cultures like the one I work at but it takes effort on the part of management and a dedication to changing the culture.

            1. The Real Fran Fine*

              I said something similar above about how people with disabilities can move up the ladder in companies, even to management levels, as long as they have strong support from upper management to make it happen. And some of that is accomplished by readjusting unrealistic expectations.

        4. Chopsington*

          What you want as the alternative? Simply reward people based on time served? We’ve seen how well that works out.

          At the end of the day promotions by definition mean that some people will get ahead of others. That’s the whole definition of a hierarchy. Not everyone will get to management. Not everyone will reach the c-suite or become a partner.

          The only thing we all have is the time we’re given in the world, and we get to choose how we spend it. If some choose to spend it by pushing on career advancement that’s their call. Others prioritize work life balance. That’s their call. We each make choices and trade offs, and none of us can have it all.

          1. Autumnheart*

            The alternative is to staff adequately so that nobody is working 60-hour weeks, and for leadership to say and enact an expectation that overtime is a symptom of failure, not success. Because it is. “Work smarter, not harder” and all that. Just spending an arbitrary amount of hours behind a desk is not a recipe for success either, and we know through proven science that it’s actually detrimental to both the worker and the results.

            Then everyone will be held to the same standard, nobody will be given “brownie points” for staying late, and the talent will make itself known within those 40 hours that everyone works. And you’ll probably make more money because you’ll have 150 engaged and rested employees, instead of 50 rested employees who won’t advance, and 50 overworked employees who aren’t producing their best work between hours 40-60.

      2. Dfq??*

        Me … Just Me* : This perspective totally normalizes the capitalist grind though. You say that “it’s the reality of things,” and that’s the whole point: it’s not. It doesn’t have to be. It is not a situation that exists outside of power relations and economic systems that screw over multiple categories of people, like women (see thread).

        It’s really problematic to state this as if it’s just an objective reality that people all have to bend to, that can’t be changed, and that shouldn’t be questioned.

    9. Ale*

      I work in a job where more that 40 is the standard expectation, and I generally average 50-55 hour weeks. That said I absolutely don’t have “moments of brilliance” in the evening. I have them within the first 6 hours of the workday, and tbh am not terribly efficient after that, but the culture is what it is, and my company gets 6 hours of great focused work followed by 4 hours of mediocrity every day. I meet my billables but the system is definitely a broken one.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Given that you have a billables quota, what is actually going on here is that the client is paying for six hours of great focused work and four hours of mediocrity It could well be that eight hours, those last two knowing that you will soon get to go home, would produce the same work product, but it wouldn’t produce the same billables. Cui bono?

      2. Prospect gone bad*

        I was trying to provide an alternate opinion to the status quo here. My particular job is fixing problems, there’s no way to plan when a solution is gonna pop in your head. If I was sitting there processing invoices, I could plan out that today I’m going to process 50, and schedule my time better. But for me, stuff happens when it happens and takes as long as it’s gonna take. Also my productive hours come later because it’s usually followed following hours of sitting there looking at data which doesn’t really feel like work because I’m not actually accomplishing anything, but my brain is working on solutions while I’m going through stuff

        Can I please be allowed to say that some jobs don’t fit into 40 hours? I mean, every time the subject comes up everybody pops in saying they could do their job in 20 hours. That’s great for them but it doesn’t fit everyone’s type of work. Everybody commenting to me that it should fit doesn’t change anything! OP is probably on a field like mine

        1. Not Your Trauma Bucket*

          Your argument is more for shifting/flexible hours rather than for more than 40 hours. Which aligns with what everyone is saying that *occasional* work beyond 40 is totally fine. This person is being penalized for working less than 55 hours every week. That’s different.

    10. CLC*

      I used to work at least 10, if not 12 hours all day. I would have calls back to back for most of the day, then start actual “work” at 5pm. I now have a child and that schedule is literally impossible. It’s not a matter of choices or sacrifices or “work life balance,” it’s a matter of the fact that 2 year olds can’t drive themselves home from daycare, can’t make their own dinner, and often refuse to get into bed until 10pm. Then there’s dishes to wash and laundry to do and whatever else has to be taken care of. If I wanted to hire *additional* childcare over the thousands each month spent on 40 hours of daycare, we literally would have money to buy food or heat, and I make solidly middle income. This isn’t about Elizabeth’s expectations not matching reality. It’s about the company’s expectations not matching reality. It sounds to me like the company is openly admitting to discriminating against parents. I know that’s not illegal but it’s clearly not ethical.

    11. Colette*

      You see nothing wrong with being paid for 40 hours and working 60?

      It’s not that standard business hours are magic, it’s that people should be able to have time to exercise, spend time with friends and family, volunteer, work on hobbies, etc.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        But are they only being paid for 40? If they are exempt salaried and that many hours is expected (and understood coming in), then the salary is paying for the extended hours. When you take a job like that, you take it knowing that the money is what it is and the hours are what they are, and you decide if it’s worth it. It’s baked in.

        1. Gnome*

          Yes, and that goes to Alison’s point – the key is communication. There are certainly areas where it is expected. But also areas where it is not standard.

          I worked for a company that, for a time, had the standard workday (must be billable, so not including a lunch break) of 8.5 hours. So the standard work week was 42.5. Less than that and you had to use vacation (industry norm).

          They didn’t mention it until you arrived. Which you can imagine was irritating to a lot of folks, even if they would still have made that same choice. Mostly, people would have insisted on slightly higher pay. But they did NOT know this was the standard.

    12. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      There is plenty of scholarship showing that people are not only as productive in 40 hours as they are in 60, there’s evidence that people are as productive in 32 hours as they are in 40. It’s not necessary for people to work more than 40 hours/week every week because the company can hire more people. Even the industries that are famous for these hours don’t HAVE to be structured this way, they choose to be. There are times in my current job when the demands of the courts require me to work .40 hours, but those are not the norm.

      1. Prospect gone bad*

        Every time the subject comes up people have to put out these studies. They didn’t study every type of job. Again, you guys need to accept that not all jobs are the same. Maybe my project is, make sure our new software is implemented as smoothly as possible. And I get paid accordingly. This can entail a hundred different things and time flies when I am doing it all and I can absolutely be productive because I am flipping between analysis and meetings that can feel social and use a different part of my brain

        Weird that you think some study that shows that low level office workers doing a routine or factory workers can’t be productive for 10 hours a day somehow impacts every type of job

        1. Colette*

          So you think there are specific jobs where you can be more productive than average because of the job? Got any studies to back that up?

          As a software developer, I quickly learned that I was just as productive in 60 hours as I was in 40, I just was more tired and stressed.

          Yes, in a short time frame, you can be more productive, but not over the long term.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Same. From my exprience, I tap out at 45-50 hours. I get depressed after 2-3 weeks of 60 hours. There’s something about spending every waking minute getting ready to work, at work, or commuting to and from work that makes my brain go, “oh well, i no longer have a life, might as well shut off”. I can work an occasional 12-hour day, and worked an all-nighter twice in my life, but cannot do it in the long term.

        2. Dfq??*

          It’s actually weird that you’re up and down this thread normalizing overwork and glamorizing “moments of brilliance” over people leading a three-dimensional life. You know, the 40 hours norm didn’t come out of nowhere; it’s not there to drive mediocrity and stifle genius. It’s there to protect workers’ rights and their even more fundamental rights to enjoy the fruits of their labor in the rest of the time that the day offers them.

          It’s also clear that you’re writing from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have a family or a health issue or caring responsibilities or whatnot, so again, holding 60 hours as the norm serves no one.

          1. Theoretical computer scientist*

            Thank you for pushing back against this normalizing overwork nonsense. I second it.

            And even if someone prioritizes “moments of brilliance,” there is a lot of evidence that such moments are at least as likely to happen on vacation or after a nap (cf Einstein) or while working 32-hour weeks.

            I think our best work happens when we’re well rested and not stressed out. And that’s more humane anyway.

          2. Bob Loblaw*

            I admit that have a dirty lens because I have a billable job where working 60 hour weeks is part of the deal and baked into the comp, but I think this thread is ganging up on Prospect Gone Bad for having and offering a different perspective. They aren’t normalizing “overwork,” as though it’s good for everyone; they’re just explaining that working long hours can have its purpose in certain contexts, including their own experience.

            I’m also hoping you didn’t actually mean to suggest that people who choose to work these hours are living a two-dimensional life. You can object to the larger forces of capitalism at play (and its effect on women or persons with disabilities) without casting aspersions on individuals for having the temerity to make different choices than you would.

            1. DyneinWalking*

              I think this thread is ganging up on Prospect Gone Bad for having and offering a different perspective. They aren’t normalizing “overwork,” as though it’s good for everyone; they’re just explaining that working long hours can have its purpose in certain contexts, including their own experience.

              But the problem that this conclusion is not conclusive even for those certain contexts. If their experience stems from a history of working in long time blocks under a management with butts-in-seats mentality, how do they know it’s really better than the alternatives?

              If you work all day and tend to have your best ideas in the evening, that doesn’t mean that you needed to work all day to have ideas… it could mean that you get your best ideas in the evening, period. Or maybe you do need to have worked for a while to come up with these ideas… but you could work in shorter stints with a lot of breaks in between such that the total is a “normal” work day, and your brain would still round it up to “worked all day” and get into the zone in the evening.

              Also… the commenter’s perspective is still very dominant in the corporate world. It’s common in cases of very emotional topics (such as the prevalent corporate belief that working longer means that of course you are productive for longer, and that free time is wasted time) that you get a HUGE pushback that seems out of scale for that single comment comment – because the actual scale is the real-world impact that such views have on people’s quality of life and they’re pushing back against the whole social momentum that’s upholding the commenters beliefs.
              And this is the internet. The answers people write on the internet are never just meant for the original commenter – they’re written with a huge silent readership in mind. I think it’s not just the anonymity that makes people’s lashback more forceful on the internet, but also the awareness of a larger audience whose view maybe swayed by the original commenter so you feel the need to add your own little explanation to the pile of counter-arguments in the hope to sway it back.

    13. bamcheeks*

      Which means by definition that the decisions being made by the people at the top of your industry— whether that’s law, medicine, politics, tech, FMCG, whatever— are being with no input from anyone with experience of raising children, having a disability, studying as a mature student, caring for a relative with a disability, etc. The knowledge base of your senior leadership is lacking and their decision-making will be concomitantly flawed.

      1. aebhel*

        THIS. It’s like the expectation that people should be willing to take unpaid or underpaid internships to get ahead: on the surface, it looks like being willing to put in the extra effort and sacrifice, but in practice, it limits those opportunities to people who can afford to work for free.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          An ex’s adult child took an unpaid internship job after college, while I was dating her dad. It was a journalist job, she’d had a degree in journalism, graduated summa cum laude from a solid school, did journalism work in school, checked all the boxes needing to be checked. The office was on Times Square. She lived upstate with her grandparents, commuted 2 hours one way to work, and worked retail on weekends to make ends meet. Sometimes she’d get off work, board a train back to the grandparents’, and while still on the train would get a phone call from her boss telling her to come back for something “urgent”. After six months of that, she was told that because of her stellar performance, she would now be paid, 30K/year for a job in the most expensive area of the most expensive city in the US. Then she burned out, quit, and moved back home and had all kinds of concerned family friends and neighbors crap on her for quitting that *unpaid* job and for moving back in with her mom. I don’t even like that ex, and there was certainly no love lost towards me from that child, but I’m feeling actual rage on her behalf just typing this all out. What the heck, people?!

    14. Tyler Rowe Price*

      If you aren’t hourly, feel free to stay late and pontificate all you want. I’m going home.

    15. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      All good points, but, like OP’s employee, I once had two young children. Daycare starts charging late fees at the same time every evening; closes at the same time every evening. It is very much not a social construct. You’ve got to be there to pick up your kids and then you can go ahead and have your brilliant moments as you drive them home. And that’s not even getting into how working 60 hr weeks while getting paid for 40 is essentially a pay cut.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        “working 60 hr weeks while getting paid for 40 is essentially a pay cut”
        Ding ding ding, we have a winner!

    16. Nina*

      Yeah, same, I am not at all a morning person and usually don’t really hit my stride on focused work until after noon, and do my best work between 4 and 10 pm.

      I was in a workplace where as long as you were reasonably responsive (within 2 hours) to messages between 8 and 5 and did about 40 hours a week and got through your tasks in a timely manner, nobody really cared where or when you worked. I would check messages at 9, get to work at 10, and do admin/data-entry tasks until noon, then do the experimental work I’d planned out the previous day, usually be done by 5 when everyone else was leaving (being alone in the lab is a safety issue), and analyze data and plan further testing (the heavy mental load stuff) until 9 or 10 at night when my brain is working best. It was great, I was working more than 40 hours a week (cf. contracted 40), but I got enough sleep, I got enough leisure time, I matched my working pattern to my brain pattern, I was mad effective. If I needed to duck out to run an errand or come in later or leave earlier, as long as my total hours per week were 40 or more and I wasn’t neglecting tasks, nobody cared. I had colleagues who preferred to work 6 am to 3 pm and that was fine too.

      Then we got a new boss. He was very clear that everybody was expected to work 8 to 5, no exceptions, and if you needed to arrive late or leave early you needed to take PTO, regardless of how much unpaid overtime you’d done that week. The department immediately hemorrhaged staff.

    17. Not Totally Subclinical*

      That sounds more like an argument for a 1pm-9pm schedule than a >40 hour week to me, unless you need that eight previous hours of input to have the 7pm brilliance.

      Left to my own devices, my best work time is 4pm to 7pm. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work with my current family situation, but in the time when it did, I’d come into the office at 10am or take an extra-long lunch. I worked eight-hour days and got a huge amount done.

      1. DyneinWalking*

        unless you need that eight previous hours of input to have the 7pm brilliance.

        I do research on the computer and can say from experience that getting into the “zone” requires that you have worked on a problem for a while, especially when that problem is very complex (I tend to think of it as “loading information into the RAM”).

        However, if you attempt to do this day after day after day, you (or at least I) will absolutely tire out and your (my) ideas become increasingly convoluted and lose view of the bigger picture. And then, after a good vacation, you may find that those great ideas you had while being engrossed in the details of your task are… still pretty good, in fact, except you could’ve achieved the same thing by looking for pre-existing solutions for the task, most much more refined and thought-out than yours, that you could’ve applied to your problem in 1/10 of the time. Or, you realize that a simple dirty but fast solution would’ve worked just as well in the context.

        You can still achieve brilliancy during long work hours, but it tends to be a heavily specialized one, and the result is akin to a kitchen equipped with egg slicers, banana peelers and onion dicers but which doesn’t have a single knife. Myself, I have a tendency to pressure myself into working long hours, even though no-one requires it – and I’m desperately trying to teach myself better working habits because long hours over long periods of time always ended up with unnecessarily complicated solutions that needed cleaning up in the long run.

        Of course there are also the truly great ideas that stay great even with distance to the problem, but in my experience you get those by thinking about a problem again and again, over a period of at least several days, if not months and years, and they can arrive at any weird time and not necessarily during working hours.

        1. DyneinWalking*

          *potato peelers. I was thinking of adding banana boxes but decided to stick with tools that substitute a knife. To my knowledge, peeling bananas is messy but not so fiddly that people feel compelled to use a specialized tool.

    18. Reluctant Mezzo*

      Not everyone can or should work the 9-9-6 schedule. In healthcare, that’s a very good recipe for mistakes (but we all know places that stay understaffed for the bottom line anyway, hello lawsuits when that strategy gets out).

      My father-in-law was in a bus accident but refused the settlement offered him (this was waaay back) because he didn’t blame the bus driver for falling asleep. Had he known the management typically worked the drivers for longer hours than was safe? He’d taken the money in a heartbeat.

  3. Maisie*

    It amazes me that there still aren’t laws to address this issue. It’s more likely that it’ll be women and other marginalized groups who will lose out by cultures like this. And it is still very prevalent.

    1. Rayray*

      Also, it’s very unfair to expect people who are single or childless to work more. We also have lives and need to take care of ourselves. This kind of work culture where 10+ hours of overtime is expected is ridiculous.

      1. Hamster Manager*

        Early in my career, I worked at a place once where it was normal to add like an hour to your day, it was a small company and felt NBD and like we were all working towards a common goal; until management started to complain that the regular extra-hour (or two) people would GASP sometimes arrive 15 minutes late in the morning.

        The most influential extra-hour person then began leaving strictly at the 8-hour mark, everyone else followed suit, and the bozos in management lost out on lots of free labor. It was a good lesson for me.

        1. Mockingjay*

          I worked at a place like this in my early career too. We were expected to work late (till 8 or 10 pm at night) and weekends constantly. I was very overtired and sometimes came in 5 or 10 minutes late – work started at 7:30 am.

          I was rebuked for tardiness on my eval. I transferred to a different department shortly thereafter.

        2. Poppy*

          I worked for a jerk like that. Our busy season was INSANE. 70 hours a week wasn’t uncommon. Winter would be really slow, but we were still expected to have butts in seats 45 hours a week, minimum. We were expected to do busy work, write articles for the company newsletter and just look busy for hours a day until something happened. I once left 30 minutes early and my boss had a tantrum that involved throwing stuff. He didn’t care that I was sometimes there until 8 pm because we needed to “collaborate” when he decided he had time for us.

          I quit and he was shocked and angry.

          1. The Original K.*

            I’d quit over a boss that threw tantrums even if the workload was manageable. Or at least transfer out from under that boss.

            1. Poppy*

              I’ve managed to work for two in a row. I don’t know what I did to deserve this. They both owned the very small companies and would have epic meltdowns. The first guy threw my keys against a wall and they fell behind a large piece of equipment so I couldn’t find them until a new employee who looked terrified told me where they were. He also crushed the buttons into my cell phone and then hid it because I had it on the counter to do some work-related math.
              After that the next guy seemed like a saint when he would mostly vacuum when angry, but sometimes would get a little violent/screams. Unfortunately working long term in abusive environments during a recession you start to feel trapped and like that normal or the next place will just be worse. I developed a pretty substantial fawn response at work now which isn’t really great for my well-being. Haven’t found a therapist who takes my insurance who can help me with it, either.

            2. Luna*

              Especially if said tantrum involves throwing things! That’s dangerous and I’d fear for my bodily well-being. Not even a note, just a quick, “K, bye!” and then they’d eat my dust. I’m not staying with a raging bull like that.

      2. Observer*

        It is unfair. But at least people who can do that, do some reward.

        I’m not defending it – plenty comments have already pointed out many of the problems with the system.

        1. Student*

          Speaking from experience – for every one person who gets rewarded for putting in all those extra hours, there are 3-5 other people who did the same but didn’t get a reward for it. It’s a gamble, and it often does not pay off. The company gets a lot of extra work at no cost by making sure the rewards for the extra work are unpredictable – then they can string you along for a couple years at a high productivity rate until you either get the promotion bump or burn out and change jobs.

          It’s not like working on commission, where the extra work has a more predictable payout, or working on an hourly non-exempt basis where you’ll get overtime pay. All that extra work is unpaid if you’re exempt, which is where this kind of BS flourishes.

      3. Chirpy*

        This. Plus, single people need more time to do everything that running a household requires, since we don’t have another person to split that work with.

        Also, I’ve found the people who most think single or childless people should work more are also the ones who think being single/childless is a “problem”. Look, nobody’s going to find a significant other or have time for kids if all they do is work, it’s a catch-22.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      What should the law be?
      – illegal to work more than 40 a week ever (or without OT)
      – illegal to favor those who do work more than 40 a week with promotions
      – something else

      I think it sucks. I personally value work-life balance and work at a place that is fairly strict about keeping to a 40 hour week and taking leave. I am not gunning for promotion where that might not be as true.

      I’m wondering what’s going on with Elizabeth that she hasn’t noticed her company culture doesn’t align with her own value of work life balance. And she is visibly upset to the point of tears that her choices to value work life balance (which is not getting her fired or punished) is not resulting in her promotion. While also at the same time she’s described as “not the most skilled but she’s adequate and organized” which you know is fine to keep the job have but also isn’t the kind of ringing endorsement that gets you promoted.

      1. WellRed*

        I would guess her not noticing this also ties into her general mediocrity. Aside from everything else with company culture, she doesn’t sound like a great employee.

        1. Jellyfish Catcher*

          How does this help the LW’s perspective or help this employee be in a culture that works for her??
          She’s “in the middle…adequate and organized.. ”
          Not everyone thinks that 50-60 hours and Efficient Ones as well, is a worthy life goal.
          Be kind.

          1. WellRed*

            She’s in the middle, maybe slightly lower per the letter. And adequate is hardly high praise. Nowhere did I say I agree with the company’s system or expectations for advancement.

        2. Nina*

          Yeah, I’m really really over this tendency to describe people who are doing the job as described, to an acceptable standard, as ‘mediocre’ and ‘not great’ like that’s a bad thing. And the tendency to make people do all the tasks of the next level up before they’re eligible for promotion is worse.

          It’s a job. Sure, it sounds like Elizabeth may not be ready for a promotion yet, she’s not one of the one or two genuine rockstars it’s reasonable to expect to see in the average team (usually one, often none), but it sounds like she’s competent and she’s doing the job as described. If the employer wanted something else, they should have described something else. This is on them.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Just remove the overtime exemption from salaried/exempt employees; if you work 60 hours, you get paid for 60. The overtime exemption tends to warp priorities in terms of efficiency and cost/benefit analysis.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*


          I’d imagine that a LOT FEWER places would have insane demands on salaried workers if they had to pay overtime.

      3. Bit o' Brit*

        Presumably something like the EU working time directive:

        You cannot work more than 48 hours a week on average – normally averaged over 17 weeks.

        You can choose to work more by opting out of the 48-hour week.

        Though certain industries expect everyone to opt-out it’s better than nothing.

        1. A Becky*

          And, to note, most EU member states actually have stronger protections than that.

          And it’s illegal to retaliate against an employee who won’t opt out. Happens, but it’s illegal.

          1. Tau*

            Germany doesn’t allow an opt-out at all, I’m pretty sure. The law says no more than eight hours per working day on average, no more than 10 hours per working day period – exemptions exist but only at very high levels (think CEOs and chief physicians in a hospital) and it’s possible for a union to negotiate some exceptions as part of a collective bargaining agreement. There’s also some clause about being able to exceed this in emergencies that can’t be handled differently. But generally individuals don’t get to say they’d rather work more!

            The interesting flip side of this is that overtime pay is, from everything I’ve heard, much less common than in the US – since the law says you shouldn’t be working overtime in the first place, it doesn’t mandate overtime pay. (Apart from something about if you have to work Sundays, I think?)

      4. Starbuck*

        “– illegal to work more than 40 a week ever (or without OT)”

        This one. I live in a state that’s been raising the minimum salary threshold every year to be exempt from overtime and it’s great. There’s no reason you should be able to demand unlimited free overtime from me if I’m only making 35k, 40k, or honestly even 80k! I’ll leave that to the C-suite, thanks.

      5. Michelle Smith*

        I’m not sure it’s fair to expect Elizabeth to automatically know these things. Those of us with more privilege in time, resources, knowledge about/access to the kind of information in this blog are of course going to see this right away. She may not, and I don’t think that means there’s anything wrong with her. I’ve spent my entire career until recently in positions where almost no one gets promoted before 8-10 years in and where raises were exclusively based on years of service and not on merit. I’m just learning about these things now that I’ve changed fields and am trying to figure out how to position myself for the advancement I want. This is not something that everyone just *knows.* And I seriously doubt OP has said to Elizabeth’s face that she is not the most skilled and just adequate, so I don’t think it’s fair to attribute that knowledge to Elizabeth either.

      6. Dona Florinda*

        I’m not in the US, but our labor laws limit overtime to 2 hours a day and and the working hours can’t go over 44/ week. And overtime work must be paid with a 50% addition to the employee’s regular salary.

        It’s a little more nuanced than that, but that’s the gist.

      7. Pescadero*

        “What should the law be?”

        Everyone hourly
        1.5x pay for 8+ to 9.99 hours in a day or 40+ to 59.99 hours in a week
        2x pay for 10+ hours in a day or 60+ hours in a week.
        Illegal to work more than 84 hours in a week.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      Generally I agree that employees shouldn’t feel pressured to work such insane hours just to meet expectations. On the flip side, though, I would still hope there’s an option for people who willingly trade balance for lucrative salaries. As an example, I know someone who happily works 60+ hour weeks so their spouse can stay home and they can still have an upper-middle class lifestyle. I think the important thing is knowing what you’re getting into at the onset.

      1. Modesty Poncho*

        I think this kind of option would meet problems though… Like, part of the point of a minimum wage is so that the few people who can afford to work for less don’t get a major advantage over those who need to make a living. You can’t just offer to work for $5/hr when the minimum is $8, and this is at least partially to prevent people from feeling pressured to do so. Similarly, part of the point of an hourly cap would be so that people who have the ability to offer their work for 50/60/70 hour weeks aren’t able to out-bid those who don’t.

    4. OverworkedbutPaid*

      I get where you are coming from but there are also careers like law, consulting or finance, where you are compensated for that sacrifice. Maybe not on an hourly basis but in total comp and opportunity. I have young kids and also one of those jobs and fully recognize that if it wasn’t for my partner’s sacrifice/support I wouldn’t be able to perform at the level I need to. The flipside is that I am compensated enough to make up for it. I don’t love working 60+ hour weeks but it affords me and my family more than if my partner and I both worked careers where we were done at 40 hours.

      To be clear I am not advocating that everyone needs to work long hours or should have to, but it is the best way that I can provide for my family. Would love to get paid the same to work less, but can’t find a way to swing it.

  4. Wendy*

    I would not want to work for the OP’s employer

    Expecting anyone, who wants to advance within the company, to constantly work 50 to 60 hours a week is too much to ask for in my opinion

    1. Erie*

      As someone going into big law next year, I am chuckling at this whole thread. It’s so far outside the norms I am confronted with in real life every day!

      1. Death to the billable hour*

        This is not at you, Erie, just a comment from a fellow lawyer.

        I avoided BigLaw because I did not want to work the 70+ weeks on the regular to bill 2200-2400 hours per year (BTW, 40-hr week, working every non-holiday weekday = 2000 hours, so no vacations or time off…but typically you work 1.5-2 hours for every ‘billable’ hour).

        But attorney salaries are a bimodal curve, with BigLaw on the right, so basically you work double but generally get paid double. If that’s your jam, great. I would prefer to work 2 separate jobs than 1 burnout one, but that’s why I was always on the left curve. :-)

        1. Greed*

          I was not in big law. But still remember the partners bragging about how they used to pay associates 90-100k but then realized they could pay 45-50k without an increase in turnover during a period of high general unemployment, so they did. “And that’s how you build a business and make it in this world, you’ll appreciate that when you make partner”

          Inappropriate to do.

          Very inappropriate to say to one of the associates struggling at the low salary. Not motivational at all, rather is just showed how out of touch and willing to exploit others they were.

          Spoiler: I did not make partner.

      2. Casey*

        Same! Like, yeah, I work 60+ hours a week. It’s not for everyone but we know the drill and we get incredible things done because of it.

      3. Gyne*

        Similar thoughts over here in medicine… also wondering what would happen if we doctors walked out after our 40th hour.

    2. Martin D35*

      Some people actually enjoy working 50+ hours a week. I’m a bit of a workaholic and will often sit down and work on things during the weekend when I have some downtime.

      Should we punish those people who want to go the extra mile to advance because a lot of people can’t or won’t work the same hours? That seems unfair. Different people have different priorities, skills, etc. The best way to push a top performer out is to not recognize the extra effort they are putting in when others won’t.

    1. Can Can Cannot*

      She needs to be careful that she does not take a new role that expects people to work 50-60 hours per week. If working extra hours to move forward is an industry norm, a new employer might expect those same hours from Elizabeth in an elevated role. Solid due diligence and frank conversations about expectations need to part of any interview process.

      1. Sloanicota*

        It’s also possible that there’s a related industry where this is not the norm, and Elizabeth could work towards transitioning into that area. If she’s in something like Big Law or finance, maybe government, or in-house, or whatever. But Elizabeth needs to know this in order to start making the move.

      2. Antilles*

        I’d say that if it’s really is an industry norm, then that should also be part of OP’s message too – tweaking Alison’s language to also include something like “and speaking generally, my experience in our industry is that expecting 50-60 hours a week is just the norm in our sector of the industry; it’s unfortunately just part of the deal being in Private Teapot Consulting rather than other teapot design roles.”

      3. Christy7h*

        Agree. One of my early jobs was like this – but they told you very specifically in the interview when the crunch time was, what the hours expectation was and that it would be brutal for a couple months then great again. I did it for awhile, it was mostly younger childless people, but it set you up for other positions in external groups. When I left, it was for a job that’s better money, much better work life balance, and extra hours aren’t normal. So sort of weird pay your dues thing. But the early job – they warned you up front. and if you weren’t open to it, you usually self-selected out very early on.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, it’s too bad that OP can’t come right out and say that but having this conversation is pretty much the same thing.

  5. Neon*

    This is kind of how reality works. People who are able and willing to put the most into a given thing tend to be the ones who are successful at that thing.

    It’s not just an aspect of business/capitalism – we can see it everywhere. The runners who put the most time and effort into training are the ones who are likely to do the best on race day. The student who spends their evenings studying is more likely to graduate top of the class than one who doesn’t, etc.

    What’s the solution if you’re the employer/manager here? Tell the all-stars that they can’t work extra hours, or promote people over their peers who are doing more and better work? Neither one of those seems like a good approach.

    1. metadata minion*

      You can have hourly employees who are noticeably better at their jobs than other hourly employees, none of whom are allowed to work more than 40 hours per week.

      1. Riot Grrrl*

        I’ve always had slightly mixed feelings about this. As an employer now, I insist on nobody ever going over 40 hours in a week. However, I also remember being early in my career and choosing to sometimes work into the evening because I really, really wanted to figure out how that Excel spreadsheet worked, or a new way to format documents. Nobody paid me for that, and I didn’t necessarily expect it. I just genuinely wanted to be the best at what I did. It put me in a position to go out and start my own business in the same industry. So that’s the upside, but I also realize that I am closing off that option for my employees.

        1. Parakeet*

          This seems like an argument for flex time. I’ve definitely worked 10 hours on one day and 6 hours on a different day in the week, with my total still being 40, many a time.

          1. Riot Grrrl*

            Perhaps. I do think that would address some of this. But my larger point was that there were things I wanted to do for my career that nobody had asked me to do and that didn’t immediately add to the bottom line. They were activities I was undertaking for my own self-improvement. If one of my employees today asked for flex time so they could do some extracurricular Excel exploration and only devote 34 hours to their actual job where actual stuff needs to get done, I’d honestly probably say no.

            1. Zweisatz*

              Okay but they can still explore excel on their own time?

              You’re not stopping them exploring a subject they care about.
              Either they’ll do it in their work time because there’s a lull and they can or they do it in their off time or they don’t have the interest, which means it wouldn’t matter if they “get” the time from you.

        2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          I was like that early on too. I had an hourly design job and often wanted to work *just a little longer* to improve my designs or learn software better but we were totally forbidden to go beyond 40. And often it was totally self serving — I had a portfolio to build! My company may have been happy with mediocre work, but that wasn’t going to get me my next job. I couldn’t wait to become an exempt employee so I could put in a little extra time when it was worth it to me. (It turns out after that point I became really fast so it worked the other way, my next job was salaried and I got paid for more hours than I worked.)

    2. Nia*

      Yes the employer should absolutely tell employees they can’t work extra hours. It is in the employers benefit to ensure their employees don’t burn out.

      1. Mekong River*

        It is in the employer’s benefit to ensure their employees don’t have heart attacks, too, but that doesn’t mean employers should tell employees they can’t eat at McDonalds. Controlling an employee’s health related behavior for the benefit of the company is a huge overstep.

        Besides, there’s more to burn out that just number of hours.

        1. BubbleTea*

          The employer should definitely not FORCE employees to eat at McDonalds, which would be closer to your analogy.

        2. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

          That’s an absurd analogy. Of course employers can and do control how many hours their employees work.

      2. Colette*

        And it’s to those employees benefits that they develop a life outside of work. I’ve worked with “all stars” who got laid off, and it can be devastating, particularly if work fills up all of the corners of their life.

          1. Nia*

            …What? An employer shouldn’t manage their employees hours? I am sure my boss will be pleased when I work an extra 20 hours this week and the company has to pay my overtime. Sure senior management decreed that no one’s allowed to work more than 40 hours a week but I’m sure they’ll understand when I explain to them that they were overstepping.

            1. nona*

              An employer can’t force an employee to develop a life outside of work.

              Even if the Employer limits the hours (and manages to enforce it, by…what, locking people out of their laptops for certain timeframes?), they can’t make an employee have a fulfilling life to balance out their work life. If an employee is going to be a workaholic because they’ve been an over-achiever their entire life and rewarded for it, there’s only so much an employer can do.

              1. Jaydee*

                But this is very much a “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” situation. The employee doesn’t *have to* have a life outside of work. They just can’t stay at work in excess of X number of hours per day/week.

      3. Nope*

        Yeah, this would come off hecka patronizing to me. Please let me make decisions about my own work preferences, as much as possible within reason

        1. Nia*

          My work preference would be to work 10 hours a week. I doubt you have much problem with the idea that my boss would tell me the company wouldn’t accommodate that preference. So why is the opposite a problem, the company not accommodating a preference to work 60 hours a week.

        2. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

          Wow guess it’s been a long time since you’ve been Exempt!

          Anyway, no. “Within reason” might very well include “Work-life balance is one of our company values, it’s a well-known EQUITY ISSUE FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. If you work 60 hours a week it won’t get you ahead here and we’ll assume it means you can’t get your work done in 40, so we’ll look at whether that means you have too much on your plate or just aren’t as efficient as your colleagues.”

        3. Lydia*

          Your company already tells you how many hours you’re allowed to work, either by paying overtime or not, or requiring you to work 40 hours. There is literally no difference.

      4. Erie*

        Every time we have conversations about generic “office jobs”, what’s missing is the fact that these are real jobs that matter. Someone is out there building safety features into cars, and if they work harder they can make a better and safer car. Someone is helping homeless people find jobs and can stay late to field a few more calls or walk-ins and help a few more people, or go home. Work really matters. It makes our world go round. If some people want to work harder to get ahead, they should be able to do so.

        1. Rach*

          Safety goes down when you work more hours, especially in manufacturing. Mistakes are made more easily, that’s how you get exploding phone batteries.

        2. Dfq??*

          Other than the fallacy of “working hard (?!) gets you ahead” and the obvious “personal freedom!” angle here, there’s a whole other side of that coin, and that is: workers’ protections, health and safety, and equity. There are a lot of strawmen in this comment, but none of them trump basic rights.

    3. Jicken*

      Not convinced. The runner with time to practice, access to nice shoes, access to open space to practice, perhaps can afford a coach, will do better. The student whose parents live near a nice school, who can afford a tutor, who has access to textbooks and the internet and a quiet space to study, will do better.

      I’m NOT disagreeing with your statement, “People who are able and willing to put the most into a given thing tend to be the ones who are successful at that thing.” But the problem with not challenging work environments like these is that you’re ignoring the barriers to “putting the most into a given thing” in the first place. I imagine *that* is what’s causing frustrated tears for Elizabeth.

      1. Caroline+Bowman*

        the trouble is – and you are absolutely right, things are rarely equal or fair in life generally for so many reasons – that the OP does not have the wherewithal to change the bigger system in this way. Elizabeth is an average performer, works to expectation and has clearly got various plates spinning, as have a lot of people. She has been offered opportunities to advance and hasn’t felt able to take them on. This is not the OP’s to solve. I’m sure they’d love to, but how can they realistically do that for this one person?

        Working for a more equitable method of promotion, ensuring reasonable hours are adhered to, all that can be modelled, but the OP cannot possibly do everything that Elizabeth needs in terms of having a really great full-time career, young kids, work-life balance, promotion opportunity without any sacrifices at all in any sphere of her life… it’s just not going to happen.

        1. Kaiko*

          Is she a mid-level performer because she’s not a work for 60 hours a week, and that’s what the job requires to do it well? Or is she not hitting the benchmarks that people are expected to hit at 40 hours, and the culture just favours people who can do more?

          I feel for Elizabeth. Companies often say they want work-life balance, but that means that people can’t be punished for actually walking the tightrope. If the company is structured that she would need an extra 20 (!!) hours a week to hit her deliverables, then she’s being punished for not fitting 50% more work into her day.

          1. penny dreadful analyzer*

            I don’t think there’s any indication that she’s not hitting benchmarks/deliverables–it sounds like she is meeting her deliverables, just not doing anything particularly stellar, and there’s enough people that exceed expectations that they’re never going to promote people who meet but do not exceed them.

        2. Sloanicota*

          The only part of this that OP can fix is Elizabeth’s expectations, unfortunately. I had a bit more of this mindset early in my career because of the way school is set up: if you do all the work and achieve expectations for grade level, you progress at the end of the year to the next level. In some careers there is also this kind of mostly-seniority-based-progress. But apparently not at this job, which OP can help explain to this employee.

          1. Lifelong student*

            Yes- but some advance to the next level in school with a C and some with an A Plus. Granted, there are differences in native intelligence, advantages, and support levels- but as a general rule- those with the A-Plus advancement have put in more work than the C student.

            1. As Per Elaine*

              There is SOME correlation with work/effort, but I’ve definitely been told that one of the best indicators of academic success is the number of books in the home.

              1. The Real Fran Fine*

                Eh. We had a ton of books in my home when growing up – my brother limped along to his high school, then college, graduations with mediocre grades while I excelled and was an honor student. My brother was a total slacker who just didn’t want to do the work while I did *shrugs.*

                1. amoeba*

                  Not always – I know several former “gifted children” who never had to work really hard to be amongst the top students in their class, myself included. (Unfortunately doesn’t work the same at work nowadays!)
                  We did have a lot of books in the house though…

              2. Ray Gillette*

                The number of books in the home is pretty strongly correlated with socioeconomic status. You’re not wrong, but it’s an example of how a substantial part of a person’s success is due to factors outside their control.

    4. I should really pick a name*

      This is kind of how reality works. People who are able and willing to put the most into a given thing tend to be the ones who are successful at that thing.

      Yes, but it doesn’t change the fact that most people working 50-60 hours/week regularly is an indication that this company is understaffed.

      If everyone was working 40 hours/week, the people putting in more effort during that time would still stand out. They would accomplish more, and their work would be at a higher quality. Putting in more hours is not in and of itself an indicator of a better worker.

      1. Sloanicota*

        But – but – but won’t somebody *please* think of the shareholders!! These poor innocent investors deserve to eek out as much profit as possible!!

      2. The Real Fran Fine*

        Putting in more hours is not in and of itself an indicator of a better worker.

        In my mind, this is an inefficient worker, lol.

    5. CheesePlease*

      When you are being PAID for 40 hrs / wk but the expectation to advance is way above that, it’s not an equitable workplace. Yes this culture exists, but we can still complain and advocate for companies that allow all employees to spend time away from work.

    6. EngGirl*

      I think it’s more about creating an environment where people don’t feel like they HAVE to do that to move up. It’s actively encouraging really unhealthy behavior and creating a pretty toxic work environment if the idea is “hey you’re doing everything right, meeting and possibly exceeding your job requirements, but your life isn’t 100% devoted to this company’s success so you’re never going to move up.” You’ll attract some top performers, but you won’t hold on to some others with this attitude

      1. Sloanicota*

        I think this type of culture is also likely to be self-reinforcing as only the most devoted of the devoted will advance, until finally you’re left with one diamond heir and a single engineer who doesn’t sleep.

      2. Erie*

        This isn’t that situation. People in this thread keep trying to separate number of hours worked from quality of work, but they are not separable. In this company, Elizabeth isn’t doing everything right. She isn’t exceeding her job requirements. She’s doing fine. And the number of hours worked is part of that – she’s not able to fit enough work into the day.

        In that situation, it’s perfectly reasonable to say “you can *keep your job* indefinitely, but moving up is reserved for people who excel rather than meeting expectations.”

    7. That'sNotMyName*

      Working extra hours doesn’t necessarily make you better at the job you’re doing or indicate that you’ll be better at the promoted job.

      1. Hamster Manager*

        That was my thought as well, in I wanna say…Denmark? Maybe? There’s a sentiment that if you have to work more than your allotted hours, it’s actually an issue because you should be able to accomplish your work in the regular workday time. I’ve always preferred that mentality over “show your dedication by staying at the office all night.”

        Plus, in EVERY situation I’ve been in where people are rewarded for their ‘face time’ in the office, the ones who stay latest are always the ones who spend the most time playing pinball, taking long lunches, etc. i.e. they waste more time than I do, but are ‘more dedicated’. Infuriating.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yeah, as others have said, in offices where long hours are considered the greatest indicator of success, the *perception* of long hours can quickly replace productivity. I used to have a job where I’d go get dinner at five and then come back to the office afterwards so I could be “seen” pulling a late night by the boss, who usually strolled around at 7 PM to see who was truly dedicated. Other stupid office tricks at that job included almost dying to come in on snow days (because we were too! important! to stay home!) but then spending the entire day screwing around watching movies because all the meetings were cancelled, being visibly sick, etc etc. I could only do that because I was 23 with no other responsibilities. There’s no way I was the best employee.

        2. KRM*

          This is a huge problem in STEM graduate programs. The expectation is that PhD students will stay till 7-8 at night and work on weekend. However, what this actually means is that students will take a long break while their boss has meetings, class, etc, and can’t see that they’re not working. The advisor is satisfied because they see their students working the same long hours they did (forgetting how they themselves were not productive in a 12 hour day) and they get angry when people leave earlier. I declined to join one lab when I met with the advisor in the middle of my rotation and she told me that she needed to speak to everyone because people were going home by 6 and that wasn’t OK. But no PhD has ever been obtained faster by students working so much. I hated the expectations (one reason I dropped out) because I had worked already for 4 years, worked standard hours, and had 4 papers to show for it (plus a consultation credit on another for secondary analysis). I KNEW it wasn’t necessary, and I wanted to spend my evenings on the couch eating dinner and my weekends doing fun things.
          Disclaimer: yes, in science sometimes you have to work a longer day, or come in for some weekend hours. But that should be rare and by choice (or related to deadlines where you want as much data as possible for something).

        3. londonedit*

          Publishing is pretty poorly paid, but everywhere I’ve worked the culture has been ‘if you can’t get your work done in your 37.5 hours, there’s a problem with your workload’. We don’t have exempt/non-exempt here (the vast majority of office jobs are salaried and contracted for 35 or 37.5 hours a week) but if I was routinely having to work 40+ hours to get everything done, my boss would be seriously concerned about how much I was being expected to do. If I say so myself, I’m pretty excellent at my job and I only ever work 37.5 hours a week (except for rare times when a book happens to run late and I might have to do an hour or two extra). We’re not paid enough to work more hours and one of the things I like about my job is the work/life balance. You couldn’t pay me enough to convince me to work 50 or 60 hours a week.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        +100. For all we know, it might only mean that you are aware enough to catch on that management wants the appearance of working extra hours, and flexible enough in your personal life to put up that appearance. There might be nothing more to it. I worked with someone who got all the employee of the months awards, promotions etc, with the management always saying “Fergusina works crazy hours!” But Fergusina was actually pretty bad at her job. And I sat in the next aisle from her, had to stay late a few times so it was just the two of us in the office, and saw how she worked the crazy hours. She’d spend all day in either meetings or chats with her team. Then at 5pm she’d be, “team, we’ve got to finish task XYZ by end of this week, we’re staying late! I’ll order dinner” then hold her poor team hostage until 8-9PM after she’d been distracting them all day not letting them do their work. But hey, they got pizza on company tab! I’m sure they were excited /s. Then they’d go home and she’d stay another couple hours doing who knows what? rumor had it that she used some of that time to work on her side gig. And she made a point of always always being the last person out the door at night. Guess what, it worked, she was promoted to manager after I left that place. I’ll be willing to bet that some of Elizabeth’s teammates are doing some variation of this – just hanging around the office killing time. Unless they have family responsibilities that don’t allow them to stay late, like Elizabeth does, well, then they’re screwed.

    8. DistantAudacity*

      It is also likely that the hours isn’t actually the main problem; it’s the lack if willingess/ability to take on stretch goals, new skills etc that is key.

      The limit on hours compared to other promotion candidates on top of that compounds the issue and is an easy thing to look at.

      I would concentrate any talks on performance, and expectations around growth/stretch etc, and the required quality (in a sense) during the productive hours. Quantity is a secondary issue in many ways – working more hours isn’t going to help if the quality is not moving towards the expectations on a promotion track.

      1. Antilles*

        It is also likely that the hours isn’t actually the main problem; it’s the lack if willingess/ability to take on stretch goals, new skills etc that is key.
        I think that’s also a function of the hours though.
        If Elizabeth is *already* at full capacity while devoting all 40 hours per week to simply meeting productivity goals, where exactly is she going to find the time to take on stretch goals / new skill development / etc?
        Some companies would be perfectly fine with the idea of only working 35 hours then using 5 more on self-improvement…but those aren’t companies where the norm is “50 to 60 efficient hours per week” like OP describes.

    9. AnotherLibrarian*

      Why does being an all-star require working extra-hours? I’ve won awards for my work, gotten promotions in my field, and generally am considered darn good at what I do. Rarely do I put in more than 40 hours a week. I supervise non-exempt staff and my best person doesn’t put in more than 40 hours (nor would I allow her to). There are industries where there is a culture of putting in more hours (big law, some tech, etc), but that’s not a universal. We need, as a culture, to stop glorifying the idea that people should want to give up so much to their employer.

      1. Erie*

        This is like saying “why does winning the Olympic gold require sprinting the 100 meters in under 10 seconds?” Because that’s how fast the best people happen to be able to run. The definition of “all-star” is that you’re performing better than your colleagues.

        It’s nice that in your industry more than 40 hours is not required to excel, but why must that necessarily be in case in all industries? In some situations putting in more hours will lead to better results.

        1. Nina*

          “in some situations putting in more hours will lead to doing more work” I mean yeah? but why is the definition of an ‘all-star’ related to how many hours they’re putting in? shouldn’t it be related to how much they’re able to achieve in the same number of hours? that way you’re comparing everyone on a level playing field and not accidentally discriminating against people who have commitments outside of work.

        2. no*

          having more free time doesn’t make you the best employee. if being the best employee is based primarily on number of hours worked, then “the job” isn’t much more than filling a seat. your work quality does not improve with overwork.

        3. ThursdaysGeek*

          And in other situations, putting in more hours means spending time each next morning fixing your mistakes you made the night before when you were too tired. But it LOOKS like you’re getting more done. You might even be able to convince yourself you’re getting more done because of all the fixes you finish each morning.

        4. Eyes Kiwami*

          In many situations being better at your job will lead to better results. Like being smarter, or more creative, or more collaborative. These things don’t necessarily require more effort or time.

    10. aebhel*

      If an employer’s business model relies on employees regularly working 10 or 20 hours of overtime a week to accomplish their jobs in an exemplary fashion, then the employer is understaffed and should hire more people. It doesn’t mean you have to promote mediocre employees, but if the only way to be an ‘all-star’ is to regularly work 12-hour days, then something is severely broken in that company’s culture.

    11. partingxshot*

      I mean, to torture the metaphor, overtraining is a thing among runners, and not considered good for your performance? If you’re exhausting yourself every week…

    12. Emily*

      ‘Better work’ isn’t the same as ‘more hours’. The place I worked with the most emphasis on hours had the least emphasis on work quality. Like, to a comic extent. That was not what they were promoting on the basis of. It was billable hours and optics.

      1. Erie*

        This is kind of strawmanny. We all know that in many cases putting in more hours will lead to better results. There is a definite correlation. Obviously it is possible to focus on hours *to the exclusion of* work quality, but that isn’t what we’re discussing.

        1. Emily*

          Some people are smarter, more experienced, more productive for whatever reason, whatever. Emphasizing end results rewards a different group of people and behaviors than emphasizing hours. The reason the company I worked for emphasized hours – and the reason many companies do so – is not because they think it’s a good proxy for quality of work, it’s because they’re charging their clients by the hour. And these are not typically fields where you hear a lot of people saying “what a productive, efficient group of people.”

          1. Erie*

            In the situation we’re discussing, the letter that was submitted, Emily is described as “not the most skilled” and the problem is described as the “volume of her impact”. That means that her 40 hour weeks, whether or not they are reasonable, are putting her in the middle of the pack in terms of degree of impact made at work. Hours and quality of work are rolled together into that estimation.

            There is a hypothetical conversation to be had about whether hours are a good proxy for quality of work, but it’s off topic here.

            1. Emily*

              The comment I was responding to was specifically about hours as proxy for good work. Maybe you meant to be someplace else.

        2. CheetoFingers*

          Not really. The more specialized knowledge I have, the more leverage I have to demand that my time be fairly compensated or given back to me. I don’t often need to crunch to get the job done and I’m always rewarded for good performance.

        3. The Real Fran Fine*

          We all know that in many cases putting in more hours will lead to better results.


    13. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

      More effort=better result is simply not true, though.

      Spending more time and effort training for a race doesn’t produce better results than spending *enough* but *not too much* time and effort training. Overtraining for running risks developing fatigue/stress-based injuries, peaking early or simply being too tired on the day of competition. Elite athletes’ training is carefully choreographed, and includes rest and recovery.

      Students who study *more* don’t necessarily achieve better grades than those who study *effectively* for less time. Over-studiers who use ineffective methods at high intensity and long duration or sacrifice sleep, exercise, and unstructured relaxation, tend to suffer decreased attention/concentration, working memory, memory consolidation and organization (happens during sleep), and creative/analytical thinking, which also affect academic success. This is why academic coaches and study centers teach study skills and time management rather than just telling their clients to spend more hours cramming.

      And what’s more, even with built in rest and recovery periods, neither athletes nor students are expected to sustain that high performance over a an entire professional lifetime–usually only a few years to a decade, before

      MHO, employers *should* follow the the practices of effective sports and academic coaches, identify the kind and amount of work optimal to achieve their goals, and discourage employees from exceeding that amount, as wasteful and unsustainable.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I sometimes wonder looking back if I would have done better in my Leaving Cert. had I studied a little less. Not that I did badly or anything and nor was I studying really extreme hours, but I was attempting to “learn off the whole course” and was so tired at times that I was nearly asleep in class.

        And now that I think of it, in some ways my peer group was the teenage equivalent of this kind of company. A lot of humble bragging about how one “only” spent 3 or 4 hours on homework and study the previous night, that sort of thing.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yes. I’m positive that I did better on tests in school because I never studied late, especially the night before a test. The good sleep helped me more than extra studying ever could have.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        Completely agree. I knew a lot of people in school that spent a LOT of time studying, and still did terribly on tests. They weren’t generally stupid either, so the only explanation I have is that they were studying very ineffectively. The same seems to hold true for the work world.

    14. Gerry Keay*

      This is just untrue. Environment, adverse childhood experiences, disability, identity-based oppression, generational economic conditions, etc all massively impact who makes it to the top, and these external factors that have nothing to do with willpower frequently have more an impact on who succeeds than effort alone.

    15. Irish Teacher*

      I think the solution is to establish a culture where people are not encouraged to work extra hours. I don’t think you have to tell people they aren’t allowed. Most people aren’t gunning for extra hours. If they felt they would not be penalised in any way for working 4o hours, I bet most would do that without having to explicitly banned from working more.

      I wonder if people are really doing it off their own bat or if there is some subtle disapproval – looks, questions like “are you going home already?”, comparisons like “oh, I worked 12 hours yesterday. How much did you do?” Removing any of these could be part of the solution.

      I also think that if the majority of employees are regularly working 50-60 hours a week, then that company is under-staffed, so part of the solution is to hire more staff.

      I also don’t think working more hours necessarily means somebody is an all-star. That…generally just means they have more time available to them.

      I don’t think employers should prevent people from working additional hours, but…I have my doubts that this is happening completely without any pressure from above and that everybody in the company would be really disappointed if they weren’t allowed to work so many hours. I suspect that for some reason, they feel they have to – perhaps because of understaffing, perhaps because of pressure from above or peers. And I think what the company should do is deal with these issues.

      If somebody REALLY wants to work additional hours, I do think that is fine. But I think it unlikely the majority of employees in a company will fall into that category.

      I see a difference between “this one guy really works hard and loves his job and stays extra hours every evening. He deserves to be rewarded with a promotion” and “most of our staff work extra hours and those who don’t will never be considered for a promotion.” The latter comes kinda close to insisting people work for you for free.

      And yeah, I know in some cases, it can be hard to draw a strict line between these two because if somebody gets a promotion for working extra hours, others may seek to imitate him. But…if there is sufficient staff and management are clear that extra hours are not expected, I wouldn’t expect it to be the majority of the staff.

    16. Hen in a Windstorm*

      This is literally, factually, untrue. Your assumption that more effort=more efficient has been repeatedly proved wrong. Running is a good example, in fact – if you overtrain, you are more likely to injure yourself while not seeing any gains or even losing progress.

      Framing it as a reality check is pretty funny when you’re so very wrong. There are many studies in many fields if you want to learn what reality actually is.

    17. Markie*

      Something else to consider, though, is whether the person working extra is actually adding value.

      I had a coworker who was frequently praised for long hours, and how hard he worked on a task. But it wasn’t good work.

      If the promotion spots aren’t limited/competitive, then the promotion criteria should be based on things that can be achieved in a normal work week.

      If the promotions are competitive (there can be only one!!), then there should be at least some focus on the quality of the work. Though it sounds like Elizabeth also didn’t produce high quality work.

    18. I would prefer not to*

      Firstly, I don’t quite agree; the runners/musicians/etc who use their time most effectively are the ones who succeed, not the ones who simply work the longest.

      I play the piano, and the best tutors have always told me that it is best to do ten minutes or so here and there every day, not long practice sessions, all the time, without breaks. I have found this to be 100% correct advice.

      Secondly, running or music or whatever is totally different from working for a living. Learning piano benefits me. Working benefits my employer. Yes, it may benefit me in some ways too but mostly it benefits my employer. Benefitting my employer is the primary purpose of it, and that is why they pay me money to do it.

      Running or learning an instrument are achieving an end goal that you have chosen and that is worth all that commitment, for you.

      Depending on what her job is, they might be asking Elizabeth to spend 50-60 hours a week putting out marketing copy about new pot noodles.

      I have worked in places like this; where the level of importance they attach to the work is simply not merited by the reality of it. Not even on a business level, never mind on a more profound level. It is just delusional to believe people should seriously prioritise your boring report that no one will ever read and impacts nothing at all over their children or other things in their lives.

      Thirdly, there are far more factors behind success or failure than “hours worked,” like lack of opportunity, or discrimination, as others have articulated very well in the comments.

      Fourthly, in my line of work, we have very serious periods where it is absolutely necessary to burn the midnight oil. I have worked 60 hour weeks, when it is necessary. I have worked through the night, when it is necessary. By that, I mean when either the impact on the people who use our services, the wider impact of the specific project itself, or the consequences for the organisation are such that they merit this level of urgency and dedication.

      In the vast majority of fields, it cannot be like that all the time, every day. I do feel that if this was Big Law or politics then the LW writer would mention it because it would be such important context, but perhaps not.

      In our organisation, they know that there are times when we do need to work round the clock and have zero life for a few weeks, which is precisely why they are so committed to ensuring we get adequate time off in the meantime, that we don’t burn out, and that we stay motivated. They also want to make sure we are focused on results and outcomes, so there’s general discouragement away from working out hours when not needed, especially when you make other people unnecessarily aware. It is rather frowned upon, and seen as performative.

    19. Zweisatz*

      You know I don’t think that’s right. Quantity doesn’t equal quality.

      If you want to build muscle, you take some time off between training days.

      If you work 12 hours for 5 days straight you’ll very likely accomplish less than somebody working 8 hours on those same 5 days.

      I’ve been a stickler about my time at work since day one and I’ve been promoted nevertheless because I communicate clearly & regularly, I am easy to work with, I do quality work and I deliver when I say I will.

      Sure, that does depend on the environment/the company. Sometimes more is more (e. g. if you care more about optics or quantity than quality), but I object to your statement as a blanket rule.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        I’ve been a stickler about my time at work since day one and I’ve been promoted nevertheless because I communicate clearly & regularly, I am easy to work with, I do quality work and I deliver when I say I will.

        This is true for me as well (I’ve been promoted twice in the last three years, in fact), and I also object to this assertion that more hours worked = better work/results. Lies! Lol

    20. WantonSeedStitch*

      The most effective, skilled, and efficient members of my team are not the people who put the most hours in. No one on my team really puts in more than 40 hours a week. The “rock stars” are the ones who are creative and think outside the box. They’re the ones who play around with resources to figure out how to make the most of them. They’re the ones who are good at collaborating with others. They’re the ones who are good at prioritizing the important stuff and knowing when enough is enough with a particular assignment. They’re the ones who take advantage of professional development opportunities (during those 40 hours a week, not on their own time).

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        *standing ovation* Yes! One of my direct reports is constantly working unpaid OT (she’s salaried exempt), and she is the least effective person on my team and her work product is just good while her colleagues produce stellar work in shorter hours. (I’m coaching her on this, trust me.)

    21. Lizzianna*

      Some of my best employees have very clear boundaries between work and life. They do excellent work when they are at work. Then when the day is done, they log off and go home with their families.

      I have other employees who voluntarily work too many hours, get burnt out, and while they’re producing a high quantity of work, the quality starts going downhill.

      A manager should be paying enough attention to employees’ workload that they’re not working insane hours. It’s okay to tell someone to go home, and that what they’re working on can wait until tomorrow. Obviously there are sometimes emergencies, or busy seasons, but if an organization is consistently requiring people to work 60+ hours a week, it’s either understaffed or people don’t know how to prioritize.

    22. TallGuy*

      It’s not just an aspect of business/capitalism – we can see it everywhere. The runners who put the most time and effort into training are the ones who are likely to do the best on race day. The student who spends their evenings studying is more likely to graduate top of the class than one who doesn’t, etc.

      But there’s also diminishing (and often negative>) returns. I’ll hone in on the running analogy because I’m an Obnoxious Runner (hi I just ran the NYC Marathon), but it applies to pretty much everything you said, including capitalism writ large.

      Yeah, a runner who is able to train more – and more intensely – will often do better. And there’s some sort of minimum training that allows you to hit x goal (or y time) in a race – almost no one is going to be able to walk off the street and crank out a 2:40 (read: pretty darn fast) marathon without some serious aerobic training (and running-specific training as well because you’re still running for 160 minutes straight). But on the flip side, it’s also possible to train too much and injure yourself/burn yourself out/worse. (See: RED-S/female triad.) And even still, more miles isn’t linear to better results – there’s a wide range of what works for different people.

      Again, there is a certain calculus in getting to a specific race time. For me, my goal would have required me to run a little under 6:30 per mile for 26.2 miles straight (spoilers: I did not average that, partly due to the weather), and I practiced for that. But no training plan (and certainly not the one I did) recommends that you run your goal marathon pace for every single run because that’s a recipe for injury and – in fact – stagnation. It’s not just about working the hardest – it’s about being able to work hard enough so that you get the best out of yourself.

      And to bring it back to the OP’s company culture, I don’t think “getting the best out of yourself” should mean “working 50 hour weeks on average.” (To be honest, judging from OP’s own acknowledgement that people are burning themselves out for this hellscape, I don’t think that’s what it actually means either.) To answer your last question (what to do about this) – you would promote the people who would be the best fit for the promotion, using their work as one component of that. And if being the best fit requires working Dickensian hours, to at least be explicit about it instead of letting everyone work a de-facto 996.

    23. Sma*

      That’s not true in the workplace and that’s not true outside of it either.

      Look up the training routines of Olympic athletes and you’ll be surprised to discover they don’t train 60 hours a week.

      Look up studies on homework in grade school and you’ll be surprised to discover that research and data-driven recommendations are to not give young kids homework as these extra hours of studying do not lead to better learning.

      And look up studies on work productivity and you’ll see that by and large, productivity declines significantly when working excessive hours.

      It is counterintuitive but that’s the reality of it.

  6. DataSci*

    If Elizabeth has two small children and is doing at least 50% of the parenting duties, she almost certainly already IS “going the extra mile” when all is considered – she probably has less leisure time than her co-workers without young children who are working 50 hours a week. She’s not being lazy, she’s setting priorities that are not compatible with the expectations at your company. You need to have that conversation with her in a way that makes it clear that expecting to be able to succeed while working 40 hours a week most weeks (there are always crunch times, but it shouldn’t ALWAYS be crunch time) is entirely reasonable, but it’s not an expectation your company can meet. Put the blame where it belongs and accept that it means Elizabeth may decide to look elsewhere.

    1. The Original K.*

      She’s not being lazy, she’s setting priorities that are not compatible with the expectations at your company.
      Yep, this is a cultural fit issue. I’m dealing with something similar (in my case, I was actively misled about the expectations in the interview process), and I’m mapping an exit strategy, because my options are either work to death here (and the compensation is not worth it – it’s not BigLaw, or even OP’s employer where that amount of work yields promotion, and I assume higher pay) or find someplace that allows me to have a life.

      I think “putting the blame where it belongs” is key, because there’s nothing inherently wrong with Elizabeth – she’s just not in a work environment that can support her goals, and that’s not going to change unless her goals change.

      1. Caroline+Bowman*

        Agree. Elizabeth is doing nothing wrong, but she is destined for frustration if she thinks that things will magically change for her. She’s at a company that prioritises very long hours on an ongoing basis, something she is understandably unwilling to commit to. Thus she should move on.

      2. snarkfox*

        Yes, exactly this. My dream field (academia) is one with a notoriously awful work-life balance, so I ended up going elsewhere. I also previously considered going into law, until I did some research into the hours law required and realized it wasn’t for me.

        Sometimes I wish I’d “aimed higher” and could be more ambitious, but work-life balance is just too vital to me. I don’t have or want kids, but the time spent with my pets and putting time into my hobbies is worth too much for me. Since I’m not in academia, I run a book-focused YouTube channel so I can still talk about and participate in what I love, but I can do it on my terms.

    2. EngGirl*

      I agree with the culture fit issue, but emphatically disagree with the idea that she is “going the extra mile” already because she has kids. This kind of view and attitude really frustrates me as a child free adult because it perpetuates the idea that my choice not to have children means I should be inherently more devoted and available to my job than a parent making the same salary at the same job title. We’ve got to stop setting different rules/expectations for parents vs non parents.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I mean, that depends on whether you think “going the extra mile” is positive or negative. In Thai context, it’s emphatically a negative.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        I hear what you’re saying, but the thing is–every society needs children. In the U.S., society benefits from having children but almost all of the cost of having children is put on the parents, and mostly the mothers. They not only bear the actual outlay costs of daycare, etc, but also then suffer from decreased earning capacity.

        1. Former Golfer*

          Why does society need children? If everyone stopped having children, human impact on climate would cease in 100 years.

          1. 1234ShutTheDoor*

            If people stopped having children, there wouldn’t be a society at all in a hundred years, going by most typical definitions of society.

          2. Robin*

            That is patently false and the easiest way to say that is that plastics will be around for longer than that.

            It also is such a deeply pessimistic view to say that no more children should be born; if I take that logic to the extreme, why not just eliminate all humans now? Why wait?

            Finally, it is hugely insulting to the cultures and communities that have practices which support and nurture the environments around them, proving that “humans” are not inherently the problem but rather that the problems stem from the ways some of us choose to structure our societies.

          3. KoiFeeder*

            Reminder! You cannot adopt a set of goals that would most effectively be implemented by reducing the world’s human population, then act surprised when it attracts people who have very particular ideas about which parts of that population we can afford to do without.

        2. snarkfox*

          Obviously, yes, society needs children… but the world is overpopulated. We are in the throws of an extreme climate emergency. One of the absolute best ways to fight climate change is to have fewer children: “By far the biggest ultimate impact is having one fewer child, which the researchers calculated equated to a reduction of 58 tonnes of CO2 for each year of a parent’s life” per a 2017 study published in Environmental Research Letters.

          I’m totally in favor of increased maternity leave, subsidized childcare, and all things that make raising children easier for women in particular since they bear the brunt of childrearing. But I disagree with framing the choice to have and raise biological children (and I also recognize that it’s not always a “choice” in every sense of the word) as some kind of altruistic act to better the world at large to the degree that it can be called “going to extra mile,” especially when having a biological child is actively harming the planet. And I’m not saying that as a judgement on anyone who does have kids–I have made the choice not to have biological children for environmental reasons, but I don’t judge anyone else for having them. But people who choose not to or cannot have children should not have to work harder at their jobs to “make up for” not having children.

          1. Robin*

            Okay but *who* are you asking to have fewer children? The birthrates for “developed”/Western/Global North countries are generally already lower than that of everyone else, so what that actually sounds like is telling the communities whose populations were already and continue to be ravaged by capitalism and imperialism, who are relying on future generations to rebuild, that they need to stop having kids.

            And, like I said in a thread above, Indigenous communities know how to live in a way that supports and nurtures the environment around them. We have the choice to follow their example and we should be supporting them in expanding their communities and ways of life.

            I could also make just as strong an argument that we *should* be having children and teaching them to live in harmony with the environment. After all, if only environmentally conscious people refuse to have kids…guess who is going to keep having kids.

            And if lots of this sounds vulgar, instrumentalizing, and gross, well yeah. These kinds of arguments advocating for people to police their reproductive choices are exactly that.

            To be emphatically clear re: OP: nobody’s choice to have/not have kids should be impacting their career prospects. Child-free folks should not be expected to devote more time to work, folks with kids should not be penalized for dedicating time to them. The fact that this conversation turned into an odd interpretation of “going the extra mile = having kids in the first place” and further went into “but kids = bad for the environment” is…unsettling.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              As I said above, this is the kind of rhetoric that attracts people who have very particular ideas about which parts of that population we can afford to do without. And as Double A said below, we’re not overpopulated, there’s a wealth disparity that’s highly correlated with severe overconsumption by the wealthy.

              1. snarkfox*

                And yet another person who willfully misread my comment. Where did I say ANYONE should make the choice to have less children? All I said was I made that choice for environmental reasons.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  Dude, I’m autistic. Take a moment and think really, really hard about why I might be sensitive to ecofascist rhetoric rather than doubling down on.

            2. snarkfox*

              It’s like you didn’t even read my comment. I’m not asking ANYONE to have less children. I’m saying that I made the personal choice not to have children for environmental reasons.

              Having kids isn’t “going the extra mile” in the workplace, regardless of your stance on the environmental implications. I still don’t understand why you’re trying to make that argument. My choice to rescue animals is “going to extra mile” because I’m devoting time and energy to caring for them… but that doesn’t mean I deserve a promotion at work….

              1. Robin*

                I understand that you made that personal decision, and I understand that you said you do not judge other people for it. I even said that it was really weird for people to frame having kids as “going the extra mile” (did you read *my* comment?).

                But ultimately, your decision means you think having less children is the best way to fight climate change and that is, well, wrong. And it is wrong for a lot of reasons that have been spelled out, including the fact that it is an eco-fascist talking point, as well as deeply classist and racist when one actually digs into the implications.

                People do not need to have children, nobody should be pressured to do that! But if your reason for not having children is climate concerns, I highly recommend digging into why that reasoning resonates with you, why *you* are in a place to make that kind of choice, and to reflect on how that kind of logic is weaponized against marginalized groups on local and global scales.

              2. DataSci*

                Nobody said it was going the extra mile in the workplace! Just that it reduces leisure time. The LW was implying that the individual was lazy as a result. They’re just putting their hours elsewhere – which means they won’t get promoted somewhere that expects 60 hours, and that’s fine. But they aren’t lazy.

              3. Dfq??*

                It’s weird that you’re so focused on *individuals* having fewer (fewer, not less – fewer) children as a solution to the climate crisis, while having nothing to say about systemic issues, policy and political willfulness to ignore climate change, and the role of corporations in actively polluting as contributors to the situation.

                If you put it in perspective, you might ask yourself why the argument about individual choice is placed above collective solutions. Who benefits from that? Whose responsibility does it obfuscate?

          2. Double A*

            We’re actually not overpopulated. Rich people overconsume. There are enough resources to support all the humans on earth sustainably.

            Even if you don’t have children, you consume at a rate that is equal to dozens of children in poorer societies. Your existence is actively harming the planet, as is mine. It’s ridiculous to blame children. I am so sick of hearing about overpopulation and how people shouldn’t have children. It’s lazy, and it’s wrong. Children are part of our society; let’s think about how we could have a just society for ALL OF US. You included. Children include.

            1. snarkfox*

              And yet someone else saying I said something I never said. I made the choice not to have biological children for environmental reasons. I’m not saying anyone is wrong for having children.

              But framing it that someone is “going the extra mile” in the workplace for having a child is absurd. Parents shouldn’t be promoted when they do less work that others just because they have kids.

              1. Robin*

                Your choices are an endorsement of a specific argument, because you found it convincing and acted upon it. We generally act in accordance to our values and we generally want people to have the same values as us, otherwise, why would we follow those values? Somebody, or some set of information, or whatever, presented the argument to you that “having children contributes to climate disaster more than anything else and we should not do that” and you agreed to it, as evidenced by your actions.

                We are disagreeing with that argument. It is a bad argument.

                1. snarkfox*

                  There’s really no point in engaging because this is a total straw man argument.

                  “Somebody, or some set of information, or whatever, presented the argument to you that ‘having children contributes to climate disaster more than anything else and we should not do that’ and you agreed to it, as evidenced by your actions.”

                  I’m not going to type out my comment for you again, but that’s not what I said.

                2. Calamity Janine*

                  the whole argument that population control – because that is what you’re advocating for by saying a meaningful way to save the planet is to not have a child (which is why you made that choice) – is good for saving the environment and important to do.

                  as a disabled person, that makes me nervous.


                  because i know this tune.

                  as a disabled person, there is no way i can exist without some stuff that pollutes the ecosystem right now. like, yknow, the ability to check my blood sugar with a blood sugar meter. those little strips aren’t terribly compostable.

                  i also am not going to cure the world if i flop over dead, because it’s corporations, and not individual burdens, that are the heavy hitters.

                  but when you advocate population control? …you let the corporations off the hook.

                  and not only do you put children right on that hook, you put “imperfect” people like me there. hey, guess what happens when disabled people get cast as a burden dragging down society? guess what happens when you characterize our existing as an immoral use of resources? just, yknow, maybe flip open a history book and have a quick remember there, yeah?

                  focusing on population control isn’t going to meaningfully save the earth. all it does is… well, put the fascism in ecofascism. it does not drive meaningful change in areas that need to be changed. it gets exclusively trotted out to tell groups of people they have no right to exist. and the groups being told that are going to be minorities that people are itching to oppress.

                  you can even look at this very specifically in terms of children. i have a friend who was only born narrowly because they are indigenous and their mother was in the sights of a program to forcibly sterilize tribal members. “three generations of imbeciles is enough” was in full effect within VERY recent memory. in fact, if you look at the testimonies of some women who crossed the border into the USA as refugees, and sought what they thought was routine obgyn care, IT IS STILL HAPPENING. …but you’re here loading up ammunition against them as you advocate for population control. go seek those affected by this and listen, REALLY listen to how eugenics has taken this ‘good logic’ you champion, and how it actually gets expressed in the world.

                  no eugenics, please. and no whining when you advocate for it and try to pretend that’s not what you were doing.

                  if population control is a meaningful way to combat pollution to you, snarkfox, you are bringing in all the ugly ways population control happens, too.

              2. Robin*

                Quoting you:

                One of the absolute best ways to fight climate change is to have fewer children: “By far the biggest ultimate impact is having one fewer child, which the researchers calculated equated to a reduction of 58 tonnes of CO2 for each year of a parent’s life” per a 2017 study published in Environmental Research Letters.

                You literally called it one of the best ways. The quote itself says this is the most impactful thing that can be done. You agreed with that quote; you used it in support of your own decision. Mentioning systemic approaches as *also* helpful is fine and dandy, I even expressed my agreement with that! But this argument is a bad argument; it is also a dangerous argument, and deeply unhelpful.

        3. EngGirl*

          I get that to a point but my point is that it’s unreasonable to have vastly different expectations for employees based on their choice (or in some cases not their choice, ie infertility) to have or not to have children. It’s one thing to ask for occasional flexibility from the non parents on your staff, emphasis on occasional. If it’s not an issue for me I don’t mind taking that slightly worse shift or travel date because a parent coworker needs to take their kid to the doctor or go to their concert or something. It’s another thing to set bars in different places because someone decided to have children.

          I do think that as a society we need to do better to spread some of the burden around, and I get it’s hard for working parents. But that’s part of the reason I’m choosing not to be one.

          1. snarkfox*

            Yes, very true. Everyone needs flexibility sometimes. I have gotten resentful in the past because, after always being the one to cover when someone is out with a sick kid, it’s suddenly a huge inconvenience that I have to leave work early to take my cat to the vet.

        4. Parakeet*

          I really want better conditions for working parents, but there are a lot of other things that are not paid work and are also beneficial or necessary for society, that people do during the hours they aren’t doing paid work. And yet those aren’t treated as meaningful in this context in the way that some people treat parenting. We don’t know how the non-parenting coworkers are spending their non-paid-work time (nor do we need to).

          1. snarkfox*

            Yes, thank you for actually understanding my point. It’s entirely unfair to promote someone who does less work simply because they have kids…. Framing the choice to have biological children as being this altruistic thing that means they should automatically be afforded special privileges is unfair–especially because people have very valid reasons not to have children, including the fact that refraining from having children reduces climate change.

            Never did I judge anyone for having children, so the comments calling me “vulgar” either have comprehension problems, or they didn’t read my entire comment.

        5. curmudgeon*

          Obviously as a species, we need to have offspring to continue.

          However, people who cannot or do not want children shouldn’t be expected to be more available or work crazier/longer than people with children.

          They of course can choose to do so but this attitude my obligations outside of work aren’t important because I don’t have small children to care for is BS.

      3. snarkfox*

        Yes… she might be “going the extra mile” in her life in general, but not at work.

        I have three rescue pets that require a lot of time and energy, and that have specific behavioral problems that they wouldn’t have if I’d gotten them from a breeder. (Well, not my cat, she’s a perfect angel). So yeah, I’d say I “went the extra mile” by adopting difficult pets and freeing up space in the shelter. But that doesn’t mean I deserve a promotion at work.

          1. EngGirl*

            Lol, yeah I definitely read it as “going the extra mile” in terms of her personal life as a mother should be something that should be factored in to evaluating her work, which frustrates me because as some other commenters have pointed out while parenthood disproportionately affects mothers, it’s parenthood is also something that non-parents are expected to make allowances for because whatever we have going on in our outside of work life is seen to matter less than that.

        1. Rach*

          That is the bigger point, no one should be required to work 60 hours a week before they are eligible for promotion. It doesn’t matter what the outside of work commitment is (in OP’s employee’s case it is children), no one should have to sacrifice their life to their job. I work for a company that expects these kinds of hours when it is absolutely not necessary and it is bs.

      4. Santiago*

        You owe nothing to your job or anyone re: additional workload or having kids, but – in this context – this is clearly about an equity issue that mothers face. Mothers deal with equity issues related to gender in the household, and equity issues related to how capitalism devalues childcare and raising kids. In this environment specifically, where advancement requires extra time, mothers are systemically discriminated against. (Not fathers.) Others are as well, such as people with disabilities, people caretaking friends and families, people with other imposed commitments etc. If people choose not to work extra in this example for a promotion, but it isn’t socially forced upon them, then it’s still sh*t that the company is penalizing them for not doing unpaid labor, but it isn’t the same as someone who is physically incapable of advancement there, for whatever reason.

      5. KGD*

        I don’t at all think that’s what that statement means! It’s just acknowledging reality: Elizabeth is at capacity at work and at home. I have young kids and working 60 hours a week would be 100% impossible for me unless I completely stopped sleeping or won the lottery so I could hire a nanny. My ideal solution would be to protect off-the-clock time for all employees, not just those with children. Most of us have things that are more important than work. Child-free people “go the extra mile” in their personal lives in all kinds of ways.

        For me, the important thing to remember is that it isn’t fair to frame this situation as Elizabeth choosing not to work more – she very likely has no other option. If that means she won’t get promoted, it would be kind to make sure she knows that so she can adjust her expectations and planning.

      6. Dfq??*

        No one is setting different expectations, and the comment above doesn’t at all suggest you should be more devoted to your job — not at all. That view actually proposes that we see labor as a concept that stretches beyond the office, and take seriously the burdens and costs it places on certain groups of people. It’s really not about you as a child-free person. It’s about rethinking what type of labor is valued.

    3. Bess*

      But if she’s also just a so-so employee in terms of her work quality, that’s relevant, too. People with kids don’t get a perpetual curve when their work quality is assessed.

  7. Rayray*

    Whenever I hear about companies where 50+ hours a week is considered normal, I genuinely do question of those people are truly more productive or just appear more productive because they had their butts in their seats longer. I worked at a place once where some people worked insane hours. When I did a few longer weeks, I noticed how much more stressed and tired I was. It gets to a point where you may get more work done but the quality drops. I stopped working too much overtime and also lost out on opportunities for growth.

    I hope Elizabeth can find a company that can offer opportunities for those who value their work life balance. Work life balance is more important than spreadsheets and meetings.

    1. Prospect gone bad*

      Personally I fix operations and software problems and spend loads of time researching solutions and watching some videos to help figure out some glitches etc. time really flies when I am doing that aspect of my job.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes…this. If you really enjoy your job, you don’t always realize how much you’re working.

        1. Me ... Just Me*

          Yes! When I worked bunches of hours, it’s because I was fully engaged in the work and usually ended the day by looking up and realizing what time it was — and that I should probably go home. I wasn’t watching the clock to figure out a number of hours “to look good”, but instead, was excited about what I was working on and was sometimes reluctant to leave.

        2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

          If I’m knee-deep in a data analysis project I can go into a fugue-like state if not interrupted, that can easily last hours. It’s almost like getting lost in a really good book and then suddenly realizing you’ve spent the whole afternoon reading when it only seemed like an hour or so.

    2. ThatGirl*

      I also suspect some of it is that the daytime hours get sucked up by meetings (many of which probably don’t need to happen) and people can’t do focused individual work until after normal work hours.

      But either way, I agree – my productivity plummets after trying to focus for more than 6 hours. Between that and the fact that honestly, my job isn’t THAT demanding, I maintain a pretty strict work-life balance. I don’t want to be a manager. I do my job well during working hours and then I leave/sign off.

      1. The Original K.*

        Yeah, I temped somewhere years ago where everyone was in meetings literally all day and people would either stay late to get the actual work done, or if they had kids to pick up, they’d do that and then log at night in after the home needs were met. This was just How It Was, and everybody hated it but nobody pushed back. And of course, the majority of the meetings were useless.

      2. Rayray*

        Absolutely, have definitely fell behind on work or had to stay later to make up timeout in an hour long meeting where time was wasted shooting the breeze or going over things that could have been an e-mail.

  8. Amari*

    Yeah, I had a job like Elizabeth’s a few years ago. I could have killed myself reaching for the promotion, but instead I got a job elsewhere in the same industry, for more money, better work life balance, and a chance of promotion without insane hours. Hopefully Elizabeth will be able to quit, too.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. Just because this organization has poor work life balance doesn’t mean that every single employer in the industry does. But the best thing the LW could do would be to spell it out for Elizabeth in clear terms.

  9. MK*

    Hmm. How is Elizabeth’s work aside from the fact that she works less hours. Because you mention that she isn’t the most skilled, so I am wondering, if everyone was working 40 hours, would she be a good candidate for promotion? Are her coworkers producing the same amount of work but of better quality, or just more work? Or both? Because aside from the unfairness of the system, she doesn’t deserve a promotion for merely adequate work.

    1. velomont*

      This is what I was thinking as well. If, all other things being equal with a 40 hr per week limit, others were better and more efficient than she was, of course they’ll do better. I honestly don’t see what the problem is here.

    2. Caramel and Cheddar*

      That was the thing that stuck out for me too. If she magically started working 60hr weeks, would you even *want* to promote her, LW?

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      There are many people who aren’t being promoted because they’re not good candidates. Focus on Elizabeth’s skills and abilities when discussing her chances for promotion – not the hours she works.

      1. Sara H*

        This. It struck me that the letter writer said she was basically “meh” at her job but instead of focusing on the results/output they turned the conversation on hours worked. Focusing on hrs worked is certainly easier, but less effective way to manage true performance issues.

        1. Bess*

          Well, but if that’s an important bar for leadership to support a promotion, sounds like it’s still relevant. If E was a star performer but the hours were still a barrier, you’d have the same situation. I think it clarifies that OP doesn’t feel a special charge to go to bat for E when E’s work is just not that amazing, either, on top of the organizations expectations about hours clocked.

          1. Lana Kane*

            This is a good point – we don’t know what kind of role Elizabeth wants to be promoted into. It could be that the role is one that requires long hours. If she values her work life balance then it’s unlikely that a job that requires higher hours will work for her anyway. On top of that, she’s only a middling performer, which will tend to limit your growth opportunities anyway. The conversation with Elizabeth needs to be two-fold.

    4. It Might Be Me*

      That’s where my thoughts went. LW mentioned “efficient” hours. Also, if Elizabeth is turning down training and the opportunities to gain the skills needed, it’s unrealistic to expect promotion.

      I worked in a field where continuing ed was a requirement. There were those who did the bare minimum and those who, without putting in 60 hours a week, built their knowledge and training base. It might have been three articles on a specific topic. Making them more knowledgeable than anyone else on the staff. Shockingly, they were recognized for their knowledge and bringing it into the work place.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Also, if Elizabeth is turning down training and the opportunities to gain the skills needed, it’s unrealistic to expect promotion.

        But it does depend on whether that’s realistic *within* 40 hours. If it’s, “groom 40 llamas a week, each llama takes one hour, the people we promote are the ones who groom the llamas AND give them fancy braids AND look up YouTube videos on how to redesign their livery AND repaint the llama stable at least once a month”, then the problem is the expectation to work 50-60 hours, not the quality of Elizabeth’s grooming.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I wondered about this. She sounds OK but not stellar even if extra time weren’t a factor.

      I had a coworker who finally decided she was close enough to retirement that she didn’t want to learn any new stuff. But then she complained that she got left with all the boring work. Well, everyone else agreed to be trained in new things and we needed them to do those new things that she didn’t want to learn–what did she expect? (Training was all during normal work hours, so no overtime needed. We’re all 40 hours, flat.)

    6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This is my major question as well. Throw out the fact that she only works 40 hours – what is she producing in those 40 hours?

      OP mentions that Elizabeth is in the middle when it comes to skills, and that she is turning down stretch projects. I would dig into why is she turning down those stretch projects and other chances to grow skills. Because where I work this refusal to grow skills would be the thing holding her back from a promotion, not the refusal to work extra hours.

  10. Not So Super-visor*

    I feel for her, but I also work in the freight industry — 50-60 hours is the minimum that anyone in a supervisor or manager role is working. Heck, even most of our hourly employees are working the max amount of OT that the DOT will allow.

      1. Caramel and Cheddar*

        Right? I don’t understand “it’s bad but everyone does it” as a reason to keep doing it. We’re at an unprecedented moment in labour history where we could be shaping a very different work experience and yet so many companies (and a lot of workers, it seems) seem committed to just keeping up with the existing status quo that isn’t working.

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          *nods* We can also (I assume, with all disclaimers about what assuming does) add “underpaying people” to that, because no trucker’s taking a barely-legal schedule for funsies.

        1. Riot Grrrl*

          I mean… yes and no. Yes, because the whole system is broken. But no, because most small and medium businesses at least are living by the skin of their teeth not because of their own decisions but because of structural realities that they haven’t produced but are merely doing their best to cope with.

      2. CharlieBrown*

        The freight industry is notoriously understaffed, and they have a hard time finding workers. I can’t help but wonder if expecting people to work ridiculously long workweeks is a real turn-off to potential candidates.

    1. Dinwar*

      That was my initial reaction as well. I do field geology, and 50-60 hours a week is normal. Not because we’re short staffed; it’s just the nature of the work. Adding more staff won’t do much because only so many people can be at a well at a time. Most of the time you’re traveling anyway so your work/life balance is already shot that day, and honestly after the first month you get used to it–it’s easier to work a 10 hour shift in the field than an 8 hour shift in the office. And refusing to work that much would DEFINITELY harm your ability to move into management; it’s hard to justify promoting someone who refuses to do something as basic as working their shift.

      On the flip side, we have a very generous policy with regards to time off. And a lot of opportunities to take time off without burning PTO–if the jobsite shuts down a day early for some reason and you’re at 40+ hours that pay period you get the day off without using PTO. And to be fair, folks know about this before they’re even in the career. Geology and engineering departments are not subtle about what the working world expects of us.

      I don’t think a lot of folks who haven’t experienced this sort of work understand the realities of it. In many cases saying “Just add more people and you can get the work done in 8 hours!” is on par with saying “Just add more cars and rush hour will disappear!” It won’t, and you’ll just make more problems.

      1. FrivYeti*

        There’s a pretty huge difference between “this sector works 50-60 hours intermittently” and “this sector works 50-60 hours permanently”.

        In your case, if there’s a lot of extra days off that’s the balancing factor, or at least should be; if you’re putting in an extra 10-20 hours a week, you should get a week off every month because you got your work done, and that’s where extra hiring should happen – not more people per day, but more people per month. This is probably also the model that things like medical care should be doing – there’s a real advantage to having the same nurse or doctor on call for a while, but that should mean longer downtime periods.

        (And that’s with the note that American companies are pretty awful about vacation time and PTO in general, which means that ‘better PTO’ may not meet reasonable targets right off the bat.)

        1. Dinwar*

          “…if you’re putting in an extra 10-20 hours a week, you should get a week off every month….”

          Next time I see my manager I’ll run this past her. She could use a laugh!

          What usually happens is one of two things. First, the work is fairly seasonal–you can’t work when it’s too cold–so you see a lot of people taking time off starting around now. And families plan for this. It’s not that you can’t take time off during the summer, but a lot of folks in my industry do things like plan long trips with the family during winter breaks and the like. Second, you learn to work your schedule so that you can get time off. It’s NEVER going to be a week a month–no one has THAT generous a PTO policy!!–but honestly most people don’t need it. If you’re careful with your hours you can get three day weekends fairly regularly, which helps.

          The third thing that happens a lot is people leveraging the travel. The company’s gong go pay to send you to wherever, and pay to bring you back. If you happen to delay your flight by a few days, pay for your own room and board, and don’t cost the company money, no one cares. It doesn’t affect the company at all. Obviously this means that certain spots are in high demand, but an intelligent person can find ways to enjoy themselves even in a less-desirable spot. I know one guy, for example, that routinely goes to some otherwise unideal sites during deer season. I know another who’s an avid bird watcher and uses his travel to see new species.

          It’s also worth noting that not everyone needs the same work/life balance. The folks that make it in my industry are fairly rugged, enjoy being outdoors, and take tremendous pride in their work. This is the lifestyle we’ve trained for, what we expected when we chose our majors back in college. We’d be hiking and measuring strata and noting biology for fun; that we get paid for it merely makes it easier to justify. Okay, most people wouldn’t purge a well or hand auger soil for fun, but that’s the crappy work you do to pay for the more enjoyable stuff. the folks who say things like “I should have a week off every month if I’m putting in all this overtime!” don’t last more than 18 months. That’s about the point where you either adjust to the demands or decide to cut and run.

          By the way, all of this is routine environmental remediation. You don’t even want to know what emergency response is like.

  11. No_woman_an_island*

    I completely feel for Elizabeth, I do. But there seems to be a disconnect with some people, some of my friends and colleagues included, that you’re supposed to get promoted just because you’ve been there a while. I have a friend that insists she should be a manager because she has a 10+ year work history, but none of it has been progressive, nor does she have any managerial skills or training. I can’t tell from the letter if this is the case with Elizabeth, but it’s not uncommon. And I just don’t understand how it became a thing.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      While I agree that promotions shouldn’t work on a basis of how long you’ve been somewhere, I do think it’s in a company’s best interest to try and lay out a road map for employees on how they can get from point A to point B (if it is something that interests them) so that they can create benchmarks in terms of training and slowly progressing them forward to get there. Otherwise you end up with employees who have no room to grow.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Oh, I wasn’t talking about the OP with that, just more of a general statement. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    2. Somehow_I_Manage*

      It can be especially challenging for folks coming straight out of school. In school your progression is very structured, each year you move up a grade, and eventually you graduate to a new school. The workplace is far more complicated, and advancement is a balance of available opportunity, merit, and sometimes luck! I think this is why some folks do better in a government or big corporate setting, where roles are clearly defined and structured. Some people flourish in smaller business setting, where they’re less constrained by those boundaries and can carve their own path.

      1. Elysian*

        This is what I was thinking with this letter. In school, you progress to the next grade as long as you “meet expectations.” That isn’t the case in the working world – if you meet expectations, then you get to keep the job you already have. It doesn’t mean you’ll progress to the next job level. People who exceed expectations are more likely to get that!

  12. Arin Cursed Epub*

    This letter was published at 12:10am in my timezone and I am still at work (graphic and web designer, advertising agency, working on a pitch)… it is true that some industries really do ask that much of you. I have been promoted from junior to senior designer while here but I’m also doing all-nighters and weekends unfortunately often.

    1. J!*

      That means you have more work than your staff can do and they should be hiring more people or taking on less work.

      1. ThatGirl*

        It might also mean that the deadlines are unreasonable – I’m a marketing copywriter and the ONLY time I’ve had to shift around a day off or work a little extra was when a stakeholder asked for a 3-day turnaround and we had to scramble. There’s a reason our traffic managers generally handle these things; they protect our schedules well.

        1. Arin Cursed Epub*

          I extremely agree with you (and J!) above, those are two core issues that seem to affect… majority of ad agencies in my locality. I’ve decided it’s a good way to learn skills and gain experience while I’m still in my 20s but I don’t think I can sustainably and healthily spend my whole career here.

          1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

            Early in my design career I observed a distinction between “agencies” and “studios” (or “design firms”). Agencies had more churn and crazier deadlines, and tended to focus on profit. I preferred studios :)

  13. Smithy*

    In addition to this, I would add that the OP can perhaps offer to be both and mentor and reference to alternative options within your career path that afford more of the work-life balance Elizabeth desires as well as growth. Should this industry be Big Law, there are certainly plenty of other legal tracks/employers that don’t require those hours.

    Right now you say that Elizabeth is “meeting expectations” – but if part of that evaluation is connected to an overall expectation of giving 50-60 hours to her 40 hours, letting her know you’re there to be a reference and job seeking reference if she wants that could go a long way. There are certain employers/industries that without either supportive partners or lots of help at home can be extremely difficult for mothers with young kids. And for managers unable to change their employer, then proactively helping them pivot into positions that help them maintain their overall professional trajectory is a lot better than having them languish and struggle in jobs that truly are not designed for them to thrive in.

  14. The Happy Graduate*

    That’s a fair point. She wants to be promoted but if a promotion requires more work on her plate than she already has to the point where she HAS to work more than 40 hours, how can she expect to maintain this balance? I think that’s something that really needs to be explored and considered.

    1. Me ... Just Me*

      The truth is, though, that not everyone gets promoted. That should be ok. The real question is, though, is she using the time that she is there to be a rockstar?

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. Both of my parents declined promotions beyond certain points because of the time and energy demands.

  15. LeftyRighty22*

    OP- Please be sure not to correlate her role as a parent to her ability to meet the needs of the higher level position. I’ve seen many instances where well intentioned managers will say to the employee what was said in your letter to AAM: that you empathize with the challenge of going “above and beyond” the requirements of the current role while also being a mom. That is gender biased language and it would seem obvious but so many managers fall into that verbal pothole when trying to express empathy!

    I think the other element to consider in your conversation is to let her know that a promotion to a new role would come with increased expectations. It’s not fair to employees to promote them to a role with higher expectations if we aren’t confident that the person will be able to meet those higher level expectations. Articulate the skills she needs to build and what she would need to be prepared to accomplish (regardless of how many hours it would take) in the new role and allow her to do the work to get there.

    1. The Real Fran Fine*

      It’s not fair to employees to promote them to a role with higher expectations if we aren’t confident that the person will be able to meet those higher level expectations.

      This. I had to explain this to my own manager about my direct reports – she’s keen to promote one of them, mostly I think because she’s been on our team the longest, and frankly, she’s not my best performer and she’s just not ready yet to manage a program by herself. She will be one day, but it’s going to take a lot of coaching over the next year to get her there, and I would not want to put her in the position to be promoted and then fail. She already has a confidence issue – if that happened to her, she wouldn’t be able to recover here because her confidence would plummet even further.

  16. Stl*

    Note that she says 50-60 “efficient” hours, most likely meaning they work even more than that. Work-life balance is more important to me than a promotion that requires that much work.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Thanks, I noticed the emphasis on “efficient” as well. 50-60 hours (possibly more!) every week is too much, in my opinion.

    2. Rayray*

      I agree. I would love it if the norm was to work even less than 40 hours a week and still be able to get by.

    3. Cobol*

      As somebody who tends to need to work more than 40 hours a week because I’m not efficient, I think it’s more likely LW saying the type of person who succeeds there is an executor. So they’re saying the 50-60 hours is as low as that company can make it in LW’s opinion (I.e. no pointless meetings)

    4. bamcheeks*

      I simply do not believe in “50-60 efficient hours” as a sustainable goal for most people, unless they are at the Barack Obama level and have entire teams of people whose job is to tell them what to think and make tough decisions like “what to have for breakfast” and “what socks to wear”.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        I know you’re joking, but it’s still true we’ve got a kind of finite amount of decision-making in us each day. If we can avoid using some of that up on things like breakfast and socks, we’ve got more for the big stuff. (This is why a lot of people have or had a work “uniform”, and the only daily decision is which color of shirt to wear.)

        1. bamcheeks*

          I actually wasn’t joking! I think the way the “traditional” male executive role works (50-60 hours) is by outsourcing not only the housework and childcare but also lots of the daily decision-making to a wife. And I think that’s a terrible model which means that important decisions which affect things like how resources are allocated and how people live are made by people with very narrow and limited experiences.

          I do think that there are jobs like high-level political roles where it is actually necessary for someone to be nearly always “on” and available, and a need for far more than 40 hours a week to stay on top of the level of detail and decision-making required. And in those cases, there are literally teams of well-paid people taking huge amounts of the decisions that most of us consider the stuff of normal life away from you. But that shouldn’t be the way that normal jobs are run!

    5. Bess*

      I thought that was to contrast with Elizabeth, who seems to be working inefficient hours. So not only is Elizabeth not working on par with others in the company in terms of time, her work would also likely not measure up even if she chose to clock those hours.

  17. kanej*

    If this is Big Law or something similar, there are multiple ways for Elizabeth to put her expertise to work doing something else where her work-life balance isn’t a detriment – there’s a reason that law is a very male-dominated field in private practice but most government-employed lawyers are women. If Elizabeth is truly not a huge loss, you might be able to suggest moves that benefit her career outside of your business.

    Also, it’s not a “biased” system, it’s a blatantly sexist system. Bias is when we make assumptions about things based on heuristics. Sexism is when a job discriminates against women and people who have children which….your place of work does.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Not sure where you get the idea that systems can’t be biased, or that sexism isn’t a form of bias. There’s nothing wrong with OP’s wording.

  18. LDN Layabout*

    Yeah, if it is industry vs. your company, this is something to be explicit about and a choice Elizabeth will have to make.

    While not directly in directly comparable roles, my friend and I deal with similar issues/skills.

    I work in the public sector because 99% of the time, I get to work my 7.5 hours M-F and then switch off. And when the exceptions come up? I get TOIL and my management is explicitly clear about taking the time I’m entitled to (TOIL, sickness, annual leave, whatever). I also thrive in an environment where I can see my work making a difference.

    My friend works for one of the big 4 and her work life balance is a lot worse. But then, her compensation is a lot better.

    It’s all a trade off.

    1. Smithy*

      I’m sure there are some career tracks where it is that version of “all or nothing” – but I really do think that most offer versions that include crazy hours and those that don’t.

      Now sometimes making those changes come with a cost to compensation, sometimes not. Sometimes people stick in jobs where they’ll never be star performers but make more money than if they went to a lower paying job where they’d be set up to thrive. But I think any choice like that is always best done when made with a clear vision of the overall realities, and not upset with a larger system that neither they nor their supervisor is in a position to change.

    2. allathian*

      Yes, this. I also work for the public sector, but I’m grateful that our flexibility periods are longer than a week. I wouldn’t be happy if I had to put in the same number of hours every day, even if it was only 7.5 hours. Because I’m in Finland, with a tradition of long summer vacations (most people in the public sector take 4 or 5 weeks off in the summer season), it means that in summer (mid-June to mid-August), everything is kept ticking over and no significant decisions are taken unless there’s an emergency. Things also tend to slow down for the Christmas season (Dec 24-Jan 6). I’m willing to work a few 50+ hour weeks during our busiest seasons precisely because I know that I’ll be able to work a few 35 or 30 hour weeks when we’re not so busy, vacation time notwithstanding.

  19. Anontoday*

    Please give her contacts with the eap if you have one. Her situation is incredibly stressful. It’s not unusual to want to be a decent parent and successful in one’s chosen field. These years (being a parent of young children) can be really dispiriting. It feels like failure if you aren’t able to achieve all the things you want to (or seems like society is telling you).

  20. I should really pick a name*

    She works at most a 40 hour week and has expressed zero desire to further develop her skills or take on stretch opportunities when we’ve discussed what a promotion trajectory might look like

    Out of curiosity, would developing these skills or taking on these stretch opportunities require her to put in more than 40 hrs/week?

    1. Minerva*

      Yeah, is this a “what we produce” issue or a “our butts are in seats” issue? Because they aren’t always the same. Because if the focus is on time put in rather than output, that’s another problem with your corporate culture.

      Some people get things done in 40 hours that other people get done in 50 because of personal work ethic, creative problem solving, efficiencies etc.

    2. Viki*

      Because some companies don’t have the ability/workload to give people development time.

      One of the requirements that wasn’t at the time a requirement for my job was to be able to code, after a year it became very clear that a coding background would make life a lot easier for me–it’s also a great skill to have in general in my field. My employer didn’t/doesn’t have time for me to take x hours to learn the skill on company time (I work telecom network, but not in the technology field) so I spent a few weeks in a coding bootcamp on my own time after work and weekends and was able to succeed and got promoted faster for the new skillset I brought on my team.

      If you’re managing a project, end to end, there is the possibility that the stakeholders will call you off hours, or you’ll have to work longer hours to get to the delivery point, and if you’re of the mind that 7.5 hours a day than done for the day, at least in my industry, you’re not going to succeed/promoted because projects and deliverables need to hit deadlines no matter what.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I’m aware of that. I’m just throwing the question out there in case the LW is reading comments because I’m curious about what the situation is in this specific case.

    3. Distracted Librarian*

      I wondered that too. “I can’t work 60 hrs/week” is reasonable. “I won’t learn new skills” is not.

  21. Mehitabel*

    Personally, I would avoid the 50-60 hours per week as much as possible and focus on the meeting of expectations issue.

    LW says that this employee is in the middle/lower middle of the organization’s performance ranks. Surely there are some objective measures of performance at play that do not involve measuring the number of hours each employee works. LW mentions “impact” — how is “impact” measured in this company? LW needs to talk about that, and needs to make sure that this employee understands the actual concrete metrics where she needs to show improvement. Just talking about “You don’t work enough hours to get ahead here” would be a no-go for me. If I laid out expectations for promotion eligibility and the employee responded with “But I’d have to work 60 hour weeks to meet those expectations” — at that point, yeah, point out that working 60 hour weeks is what some of her co-workers are doing. And point out that while she is not going to be penalized for maintaining her work-life balance and that her job performance is considered satisfactory, she has to realize that you, LW, are not in a position to reward her performance with advancement when others are performing at higher levels than she is.

    Then she can make a choice — stay put, or find employment in a company with a different culture.

  22. Aggretsuko*

    Elizabeth probably needs to be in another industry where overtime hours aren’t a crucial thing. But if she works in tech (which this sounds like), you’d think she’d know already? Not be so shocked and upset that she cries about it all the time? She can’t make it at this company, for sure, so either she deals with it and accepts it, or she finds somewhere else to go.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Tech, like some gaming companies? Which at least in the past would hire eager young programmers, use them up, and throw them away. There were always more eager young programmers to take their places.

  23. name_905*

    It’s also not because Elizabeth has kids. It’s because she either doesn’t have a partner or has a partner who hasn’t prioritized her career. Let’s not blame the workplace while leaving women’s partners off the hook. Lots of women ensure that they can both have kids and have demanding careers by finding partners who are willing to do their share (or more) of childcare and household work.

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      Or, and hear me out for a second, we could prioritize changing non-emergency workplaces in ways that support an actual work-life balance, so that no one’s partner needs to do anything other than hold their own job and pitch in with family stuff at a roughly 50/50 proportion.

      I’m so damned tired of the idea that people who want time off to enjoy their lives are seen as failing at being an employee. Yeah, her partner *might* not be pulling their weight, but at the base of it all is the expectation that “prioritizing her career” requires 60 freakin’ hour weeks.

      1. KHB*

        Yeah, agreed. If you’re not in a field where people’s lives are on the line, your job is almost certainly not so damn important that you should have to work yourself to the point of exhaustion or give up all your free time with your family.

        I’m realizing this more as I get older. I don’t have kids, but I have people in my life that I care about, and I’m tired of telling them that I can’t spend time with them because I have to work. When I was younger, I could power through on pure deferred gratification, but I’m at the point now where I’m wondering what the hell I’ve been doing all this for.

        1. allathian*

          And even if you are in a job where other people’s lives are on the line, 24+ hour shifts in ER are an insane idea. A well-rested doctor or nurse will certainly do a better job than an exhausted one. So I’ll push back on that, too. Even if your job involves saving lives, it should leave room for other things in your life, too.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Working more than a 40 hour week— let’s say 8 hours a day, half hour lunch, an hour’s commute either ways— means out of the house five days a week from 8-7.30. Maybe Elizabeth skips lunch and only has to commute half an hour either way: she’s out of the house 8:30-5.30.

      Unless Elizabeth’s partner is working substantially less than 40 hours, that’s the kids being in paid childcare for nearly 12 hours a day Mon-Fri, and kids under 10 need to sleep 10-12 hours a day.

      Mathematically, there isn’t really a way of releasing two parents from childcare for more than 40 hours a week + travel time unless you’re both prepared to only see them at weekends.

    3. Not in your timezone*

      Hang on, this sounds like it is on women for not ‘finding’ the right partner.

      The whole system is broken if it relies on one half of a pair sacrificing their career for the other. How about a world where both halves of a partnership get to advance because the expectations are reasonable?

  24. KHB*

    Why does Elizabeth want a promotion? Is it solely about the money, or are there other changes in job responsibilities (e.g., more interesting work) that she’s eager to get? Even if you can’t promote her, would it be possible to pull some strings to get her at least some of what she wants?

    Also, her children won’t always be small. Would she be open to a plan that has her on track for a promotion, say, 5-6 years from now? That might be too long for her to wait, but at least it would give her something to look forward to.

    I agree with everyone else that it’s awful (and sexist) that your company requires people to put in such long hours to have any hope of advancing. But on the bright side, it sounds like it’s OK (at least to you) for an employee to work their 40 hours every week and stay in the same position long-term. That’s at least something – and it’s better than the culture at a lot of places. Is there anything else you can do to make Elizabeth (and all your employees) feel appreciated and valued for her work, and welcome and at home in the company, even if she’s likely never going to be a “top performer” in terms of sheer volume?

  25. AnotherLibrarian*

    It’s challenging to know from the letter if Elizabeth would be a strong candidate for promotion if she was working 50 to 60 hours, but it’s sort of irrelevant. It sounds like the expectation at your company is that people will work 50 to 60 hours a week. While I hope that the compensation matches (because if you’re expecting that then you best be paying for it) and I wouldn’t want to wok in that culture, I do know there are jobs and places where that is the expectation. So, it would be a kindness to tell her about this and use very clear language. Generally, when you can, outlining the sometimes bananas unspoken expectations of your workplace is the best thing you can do as a manager for someone who is running up against them and seems to not understand. While it can be hard at the time, every time a manager has done this for me in my work history, I’ve come to see it as a real kindness.

  26. Ainsley Hayes*

    Putting aside the issue of the company’s expectations (since that’s not OP’s to fix), Elizabeth has to decide what she wants: a job where she can have the amount of work/life balance she wants and the professional opportunities she wants, or her current job. It seems as though she has a choice to make: find a new job, or accept the one she has now with all of the conditions set by the company re performance.

    I agree with Allison – the kindest thing you can do is to let her know that the expectations of the company are what they are and won’t change, and encourage her to make the choice that is best for her. It’s not going to be an easy decision for her, but it is definitely a conversation worth having. And if she lets you know that she does want to find a different job, allow her to stay in her current position until she gives notice (unless something comes up). We did this with someone last year and it worked out very well. They were able to take time to document what needed to be documented for us, they didn’t have to sneak around about job interviews, and they left our company on good terms with a good reference.

    Good luck – this isn’t easy, but, ultimately, it’s Elizabeth’s choice to make.

  27. from the govt, here to help*

    just a cautionary note – be very careful how you explain this to her. if you say “someone like you with kids can’t possibly…” you may be opening yourself up for a problem. “people who succeed around here are typically the people who go the extra mile, take on new projects, produce more, etc” is better than “it’s typically single, childless people who…”

  28. Mangled Metaphor*

    I remember reading somewhere that a true work-life balance cannot exist without true flexibility.
    And within that flexibility you have to have times when you need to work 50-60 hours a week. On a short term basis (e.g. end of the financial year, closing out a big project, deploying disaster recovery). And the flip side is that there are times when you can work maybe only 35-40 hours. And go see your kid’s school play at 3pm.
    Sometimes (infrequently) you make work sacrifices, and a good company, with a good work-life culture, will reward that with the flexibility to enjoy your life in return.

    Which is a lot of words to say maybe examine if your company’s culture is truly rewarding, and maybe consider letting Elizabeth go and keep her balance elsewhere.

    1. Work-Life Balance*

      If you’re being paid for 40 hours a week, flexibility should mean that if sometimes you’re working 50-60, sometimes you’re working 20-30. “If you work an extra 20 hours one week, it’s okay to work 5 hours less another week” doesn’t say “true work-life balance” to me; it says “a culture that takes advantage of its workers and promotes rampant workaholism while paying lip-service to flexibility.”

      1. CharlieBrown*

        This can not be said enough. My company recently changed its policies and you’re expected to finish all assigned tasks in a week, even if it means that you have to work beyond 40 hours because we’re salaried. Which places a real incentive on managers to load up our schedules now.

        But if I finished in less than 40 hours? Would they be happy with me clocking out at 35 hours, with all my assigned tasks complete? Hell, no!

    2. Mekong River*

      Consider letting Elizabeth go? I must be misunderstanding. Did you just suggest that OP fire Elizabeth? That seems like an overreaction.

      1. KHB*

        Agreed. Everything in OP’s letter makes it sound like Elizabeth is welcome to keep her current job at her current level for essentially as long as she wants. She’s not being pushed out – she’s just not being promoted.

  29. Kiki is the Most*

    Something to note is that working 50-60 hours a week is NO GUARANTEE of a promotion. Even if Elizabeth adjusted wanted to adjust her work-life balance in favor of work, then that would also require further training per the OP. As many commenters have mentioned, Elizabeth either needs to be okay with what she is currently doing or search elsewhere.

  30. Observer*

    Just a quick note. This is not just “the reward system of capitalism.” There ARE companies, even in the capitalist system that we operate in, that don’t require 50-60 EFFICIENT hours on a regular basis to move ahead.

    That said, Alison’s advice is good. It’s a ridiculous system and in the long term maybe not even the best thing for the company (see the letter from the person going nuts because they keep losing so many *highly* paid people because the workload is insane.) But Elizabeth needs to know that this is what it is in your company. And if she’s smart, she’ll look elsewhere.

  31. Sarah*

    Sometimes you make sacrifices when you have small children. If work-life balance is a priority, that’s okay!

    My kids are 18 & 19. My husband and I both took ourselves off the advancement track while our kids were growing up. We worked hard in roles that we could get done in 40 hours a week, and then prioritized our kids/family outside of that.

    In recent years as our kids have grown & prepared to go off to college, we’ve ramped up our careers again. I’m back on the advancement path, and my husband has made a career change.

    Elizabeth just has to manage her expectations. She may not be on the advancement path while her kids are small, and that’s okay. Her manager is fine with her meeting expectations during a 40 hour work week.

    If she wants to prioritize advancement, then she’ll have to change something. Either her employer, her industry, or her definition of work-life balance. Something will have to give.

    Personally if I were in her shoes, I’d stick with the role I could achieve successfully in 40 hours and have a life outside of work.

  32. Dust Bunny*

    Elizabeth, is probably in the middle (maybe lower middle) of our organization’s performance ranks but is upset she is not on track for promotion.

    Elizabeth is not the most skilled but she’s adequate and organized.

    Even if your industry was strictly 40 hours a week, this by itself would not necessarily recommend her for promotion. I’m in a pretty strictly 40-hours-a-week employer and you don’t move up without at least learning new skills.

    But I think her choices here are to be content where she is or to change jobs, or possibly whole industries.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I’m at the point where I can’t move up any more without an additional degree. I don’t want to go back to school and the additional debt would pretty much negate the additional pay, so I’m good where I am. If I decide I’m not good where I am, I’m well aware that I’ll have to look for another job somewhere else.

  33. Richard Hershberger*

    “…it is not uncommon for top performers to work 50-60 efficient hours a week to go above expectations.”

    I just want to put in a complaint about this “go above expectations” buzz phrase. It clearly is inaccurate. Those 50-60 hour work weeks *are* the expectation. Don’t do it and you are shunted to the side track and forgotten.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, that’s a really good point. It sounds like 50 to 60 hours is the expectation, not going above it.

    2. Me ... Just Me*

      She’s still got her stable job, so I’m not sure how she is “shunted to the side track and forgotten”

        1. KHB*

          There are plenty of ways of showing employees that their work is seen, recognized, and appreciated, even if you’re not promoting them right at this moment (or perhaps ever). If this is just about Elizabeth feeling “shunted to the side track and forgotten,” the solution may be as easy as praising her more often for what she’s doing right.

          Of course, praise doesn’t pay the bills, and there may be other reasons (i.e., money) why Elizabeth is so desperate for a promotion. But we don’t necessarily know that. So the first step, I’d say, is to do some digging with her into what this is really all about.

        2. Sarah*

          So what? Not everyone can get a promotion.

          Even if the expectation were that all employees work no more than 40 hours, some would not get promoted. There are only so many positions at any level of an organization.

          It doesn’t sound like Elizabeth would even be a shoo-in for a promotion if everyone else worked the same hours as her.

          Maybe this company and job aren’t the best fit for Elizabeth, and she could achieve her goals of advancement elsewhere.

          Or maybe Elizabeth’s expectations aren’t realistic that she can work the hours she wants in that field and still advance. There’s no shame in doing a good job at your current level and staying there, if that fits more in line with all of your personal priorities.

  34. Sylvan*

    Do you know why she’s seeking a promotion? Is it a financial reason, such as keeping up with the cost of living if the company doesn’t? I’m wondering why she’s interested in promotion when it sounds like best for her to stay in her current role with her current workload. She must have a reason.

  35. BatManDan*

    I can’t picture an environment that’s healthy, where being adequate at your job, no matter how long, would get you a promotion. I know it some places it might/will, but I don’t know that I’d describe them as healthy. (that’s my opinion – open to other opinions and, better still, facts).

  36. gmg22*

    When Alison suggests that the LW say “I’m not defending that system — I think it’s a problem. Not everyone can do that, or wants to do it. It’s not the system I would have set up myself” …

    … my first thought is that LW is going to have a hard time saying that (especially the first and last sentences) sincerely, because I don’t think they believe it. They grudgingly acknowledge the bias of the way the company works, but overall sound pretty much bought into it.

    It’s also not clear to me whether LW is 1)comfortable with employee staying in her current role if she can accept that promotion isn’t in the cards; or 2)is hoping this will be the push employee needs to leave, because anyone who isn’t striving sufficiently is seen as a drag on the company.

    1. Yoga Pants*

      Thats not fair you can hate the system and your part in it but also need your paycheck to survive and want to help your co-workers survive and attempt to thrive in the system. All of those things can be true and are for a good amount of people myself included. 2 kids, a mortgage, student loans and ageing parents who didn’t plan well and any list of issues all of us have make quitting not an option for most of us. The select few who either realize the system they are in sucks before they need the paycheck or are willing to loose everything to have the moral high ground are not the majority. Sometimes your options just suck.

  37. a raging ball of distinction*

    OP – you say you fear tears. In your shoes I would explicitly schedule two meetings – one to share promotion criteria, and then a second meeting a week later for you to discuss next steps together. Even if no tears were likely, this is still a huge mental shift for her and I think anyone would need extra time to decide (and discuss with their partner) how they want to proceed.

  38. EngGirl*

    I had a related conversation with my boss a while back, but I was on the opposite side. Over the last couple of years I’ve made more of a push to have a better work life balance. Because of this I’ve been turning down or been more unavailable for some of those “above and beyond opportunities”. Not to say I never do them, I just don’t always volunteer anymore. My boss mentioned that I could go really far with the company if I relaxed some of my boundaries, and could probably take over his job when he retires in a couple of years. He was very shocked when I said I didn’t want his job and I was good where I was.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      This! So many companies expect you to move onward and upward and actually shocked by anyone who is happy where they are and don’t want to go anywhere.

      It’s a sign our society is too competitive overall.

      1. EngGirl*

        It didn’t help that his job is so vastly different to mine. Like genuinely nothing about what he does all day appeals to me.

        It was kind of like when I was younger at sleep away camp and they had a rule that you had to at least try everything on your meal to get dessert. I was not touching the slime looking green beans. They tried to tell me that I wouldn’t get dessert without eating them, so I asked what was for dessert. When they told me jello (which I also hate) I was like, yeah I’m gonna pass on that thanks.

          1. EngGirl*

            Lol they also didn’t know what to do with my response. Like there was genuinely never good dessert it was always pudding or jello neither of which I had any desire to eat

            1. Aggretsuko*

              Those are barely even a “dessert” in the first place. They barely have any flavor, it’s just gelatinous … whatever, why bother?!

              Good for you for that answer!

        1. The Original K.*

          I’m the same way. Nothing about my boss’s job appeals to me at all, and hers isn’t a cushy management job – she’s as overworked as the rest of us, if not more. Whatever the pay bump is is almost definitely not worth it. (It’s moot; she’s not going anywhere.)

          1. Aggretsuko*

            One of my old bosses said she got paid “the big pennies.” I took it to mean that the pay was not worth the drama.

  39. LawLady*

    I was in consulting before law school, and then did five years of BigLaw. It’s consistent 60+ hour weeks, working weekends, etc. But it didn’t feel unfair to me because the pay is commensurate with the expectations. To my mind, it’s unfair when someone is being paid a 40 hr salary but being asked to work 60 hours. But in BigLaw, you’re making $400k+ within four years. It’s an all the time job for a bonkers high salary, and everyone knows the expectations going in.

    1. Delta Delta*

      And I think in BigLaw there’s also sort of an expectation that most people don’t necessarily stay terribly long – a few years, tops. Those who do stay longer end up on the partnership track; those who don’t make enough to pay off their student loans and then they leave and go do something else. But it seems like everyone within that particular section of the legal industry knows the deal with BigLaw and goes into it with tempered expectations.

      (We here at Delta’s MicroLaw work as much as we need to and also frequently leave at 4 to go play with our horse; we are not the same as BigLaw and we are okay with that)

  40. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Our industry isn’t quite as bad but I did have a similar talk with someone a few years back who really really wanted to be promoted to the higher levels. But they couldn’t do the on-call shifts it would entail (IT can be brutal when it’s a 24/7/365 industry you’re supporting), nor do any overtime at all (when you deploy a new system forget about a 9-5. It’s more like 7-7), nor take on the additional learning because they had children at home who required them.

    (Which is absolutely fine. I am never having kids but people who do I’ll do my best to work around)

    There was a long meeting. I laid out that this is how it is at the upper escholons of tech here, that you cannot be promoted to the job unless you sacrifice time from somewhere and yes, it’s not fair and I wish I could change it (am disabled and I had to leave that job eventually because I was burning out) but that’s how it is. The options were:

    Stay in their current role with current hours
    Work out some way of doing these extra hours, learn extra stuff and we’ll revisit the promotion
    Look for work elsewhere

    That was NOT a pleasant meeting. I agree wholeheartedly it’s not fair but I couldn’t change anything.

    Result: Person left.

  41. A Poster Has No Name*

    So, ridiculous work-weeks aside, this is also a problem:

    “zero desire to further develop her skills or take on stretch opportunities”

    The LW said that top performers work stupid hours, but didn’t say they were required to get any kind of promotion at all, but even if you could get a promotion working normal hours, it’s going to be tough to move up if you don’t want to develop your skills or do anything to justify giving you a promotion. Even in companies with good work-life balance, you generally have to take on higher-level responsibilities or SOMETHING to justify a promotion, and if she’s not willing to do anything to put herself in a position to take on a bigger role, it’s unlikely she’ll get one anywhere.

  42. Ex-prof*

    I really feel for Elizabeth. 40 hours a week ought to be enough. I hope she looks for another job where it is.

  43. Sloanicota*

    This is something I have thought about a lot in my own career. I wonder if hard-driving dedicated companies like this are more successful. I think there’s certain circumstances where they can be: maybe when a small team is trying to do something really new and difficult. Maybe in situations like organ transplants where the need is vast and the skillset so limited (but if we wanted to, we could train more surgeons and do more surgeries safer, with less burned out staff – we just aren’t willing to deal with the economics of it). The problem is this culture is just as often adopted at places that really have no need of it, usually to eek out a little more profit for some millionaire.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Even in a tiny team trying to do something new and difficult (start up style) I think it would only be more productive to work like this *for a limited time* and then have to stop and go back to normal expectations. But I’m sure the team going to the moon was pulling lots of all nighters and living at the space station, or whatever. The people at a national bank? Wut.

  44. CapitalismIsTiring*

    I’m exhausted by reading some of these comments. The fact of the matter is that having kids almost always requires more from women. Pregnancy and breastfeeding aren’t things where having a supportive partner or decent childcare magically means that you are less tired and have more hours in a day and can perform at the same level as you would without those stressors. (And yes, formula exists, but given the recent/current shortage I won’t blame anyone who would prefer to prioritize maintaining their milk supply.)
    I don’t have kids, but I have a disability, and I see so many of my struggles mirrored by other minority groups, mothers especially. No one is willing to admit that to get a wider variety of people in leadership positions or just having more people achieve professional success, we have to lower the bar. We’re tired and doing the best we can and we Can’t give more at work and we’re made to feel like our lack of success is our own fault.

    1. Important Moi*

      I don’t like the term “lower the bar.” It reinforces the idea that what is currently being done is the best and any deviation of that is bad. Many problems are linked to that line of thinking.

      I know you didn’t mean it in a bad way, but words have power.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        Exactly. How about, “change the bar?” In my experience, the people who worked crazy long hours weren’t doing better work, and they were often difficult to work with. In many industries, a diverse group of skilled employees working sane hours will likely produce better results than a homogenous group of workaholics. As a woman who raised a child with health issues while being promoted to leadership roles, I never needed the bar lowered. I needed flexibility and managers who focused on quality and outputs rather than butt-in-seat time–and because I got those things, I succeeded and moved up the ranks.

    2. I would prefer not to*

      I agree but see it as valuing different things, and engaging critically with what actually works, rather than “lowering the bar.”

  45. irene adler*

    Wonder how many male employees are in a situation similar to Elizabeth’s. How do they handle things?

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      I’d guess not many.

      The child-rearing burden and emotional labor (planning/organizing many things) is often on the mothers. Societal expectations on mothers to mother and put their kids first (mom takes off when the kids are sick, mom is the one to pick them up from school or childcare on time, mom is the one that takes them to their medical appointments) while men are expected to be doing their half just by earning money for the family at work means women often put the increased workload on their own shoulders.

      That’s society’s problem and what society expects mothers to do rather than the business.

      1. Mom Boss*

        I would disagree and say rather a societal problem- it’s a personal problem. Why are women tolerating this from a partner? Society says a lot of things. That doesn’t mean that it has to be true in my personal life.

    2. Khatul Madame*

      There are not many males in this situation, it’s true. But is this about gender?
      If you abstract the gender/family situation and consider an employee who is adequate but not actively invested in growing their competencies or working extra hours, yet feels they are entitled to a promotion, would you really respond differently based on their situation outside of work?
      The only (sort of) gender-related factor here is the tenor of the employee’s response. Elizabeth will cry at the OP. A man may get angry. Either way, it will be a difficult conversation.

  46. I am just here for the free pizza*

    Does OP work at my former company? Everyone on my team except for me worked between 50 and 60 hours per week for the same salary as I was getting for working 40 to 45. When they cut everyone’s pay by 10 percent, these people started working even more hours while I carefully only worked the 40 hours stated in my contract. As long as people are willing to work more for less, employers have no incentive to change the system.

  47. Queen of the TB*

    This is the exact situation I found myself in. Public accounting, small children, spouse with a demanding professional job. My boss saw that I was struggling with the hours, and preemptively asked if I’d like to go “part time” (44 billable hours a week instead of 55). From, there I built a niche. Now, I’m in a non-traditional role where I do the ONE thing that I do better than everyone else. I’m still progressing in my career, albeit not as fast or far as some of my colleagues. But, I’ve accepted that because the work-life balance is important to me. So, OP, can you help Elizabeth find a niche role where she can contribute to the team and have the balance she needs?

  48. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    One of my closest friends did the career advancement thing and ended up as a VP in her previous company – and it wrecked her work-life balance and mental health. She’s now in an individual contributor consulting role in a different company, and is much happier and less stressed. I feel like Elizabeth maybe hasn’t considered that moving into management often means more responsibility and higher expectations AFTER you make the move, which isn’t ideal for someone who puts a high priority on a healthy work-life balance. Just something to think about.

  49. Alex*

    I think it is also worth considering if she did actually put in that work, would she really be promoted? You say her performance is just average, but is that JUST because of the hours? Or is she just not that strong a performer overall? You’d want to be very careful of saying that if she would just work 50% more she could get promoted if there are a lot of other factors that would potentially hold her back as well.

  50. I'm Done*

    She didn’t state that they work 50-60 hours. She stated that they worked 50-60 productive hours. So likely is 70+. Bern there done that and for me, it was unsustainable for more than a year. I ended up with major burnout.
    I think if Elizabeth is seeking promotion she will have to look elsewhere. That being said, no matter where she goes will probably involve at least some sort of extra effort to get promoted. That’s the reality.

  51. Madame X*

    It seems like Elizabeth’s Working style is really miss matched with your company or possibly industry. I am particularly concerned about her disinterest in taking on any stretch opportunities or projects that could increase her impact. It is reasonable for an employee to take on higher level projects or develop more advanced skills in order to be promoted. In your conversation with Elizabeth, it would be really important to stress this requirement to her. Because no matter where she ends up working this is likely always going to be a requirement for career progression.

    My question for you is, would she be eligible for a promotion if she became was a higher performing worker and took on some stretch opportunities to develop her skills while maintaining her 40 hour a week schedule?

    If the answer is still no please make that clear to her during your conversation. That way she can have a clear understanding of what she needs to do to progress her career (staying at the your company at her current position or moving onto another company with better work life balance).

  52. Abogado Avocado*

    I also wonder if OP is in a business or industry that has alternatives to promotion and still allows individuals like Elizabeth to achieve work-life balance. For example, in Big Law, there are contract attorney positions that pay reasonably well, but those lawyers will never become partners (or have starring roles in big cases) and they’re okay with that because they have work-life balance. Additionally, there are law firms that will allow a valued lawyer to take a longer track to consideration for partnership so that the lawyer can begin a family. Perhaps if Elizabeth were advised of such alternatives (assuming they exist), she might be more willing to shoot for one of those rather than stay in her current funk, which seems not to bode well for her future if she’s in an up-or-out organization.

    1. KHB*

      It doesn’t sound like this is an “up-or-out” organization, though – and Elizabeth’s “alternative” is to simply stay in her current job at her current level.

  53. Alyssa H*

    Seems like everyone has the inhumanity of this system well addressed in the comments, but I just can’t get over how silly it is for companies to act like this. Statistically, most women will have a child in their lifetime (over 80%, I believe). A lot of us work, and kids don’t stay little forever, leaving many women lots of productive working years after kids

    But companies fail to step into the gap to nurture moms through those years. Letter writer seriously can’t imagine a slower progression up through the company for her employee who is putting in a solid full-time work load and is reliable and organized while also parenting two small children? (That’s a skill!) The company would rather demoralize her and leave her stagnant for a decade than help her feel fulfilled and like she’s making progress? And then she maybe sticks around and is a seasoned employee with decades of experience by the time her kids are grown? It doesn’t make sense to me, fundamentally

    I’m planning to embark on this whole kids and corporate nonsense journey soon, and I accept that I’ll get mommy-tracked to some extent. I know I can’t have it all *at once*. But man, I sure hope my company realizes that I’m still working, learning, contributing, and leading in that time when I will have new parenting responsibilities on my plate.

        1. Alyssa H*

          I think some men take a daddy track in order to be more equal partners in parenting, but many/most either get rewarded professionally for parenthood or don’t really have to acknowledge their parenting commitments because their partner shoulders most of the daily grind (daycare getting cancelled, dentist appointments, etc). Curious to know what this looks like for you.

          I’ve heard from moms in my field (architecture/interior design) that the mommy track is less prestigious projects, more questioning of management (if they’re in project management when you’re having kids), side-eye at the flexibility required for parenting, and a generally good-natured but sometimes wrong-headed “we’re not sure you can handle this right now.”

  54. Meep*

    I often wonder if these places realize that they are reducing productivity by making their employees work 50-60 hours a week… Just a thought.

  55. 1-800-BrownCow*

    There’s one person at my company that comes to mind. The person who consistently works 50-60 hours a week. Ironically, she spends most of the “normal working hours” going around to various people telling them how busy she is and then spending the next 45 minutes talking about her home improvement projects, or saying she sympathizes with new moms because her dog sometimes wakes her up during the night to go outside, and so on with non-work related stuff. Yeah, she’ll tell people how she works so many more hours than everyone else, but her time management is seriously lacking.

    As for OP’s employee, I get how they feel. I’m surprised the company finds so many employees willing to work so many hours all the time and not get burnt out. But maybe it’s the norm in the particular field. With all that said, I agree with Alison that the OP needs to sit down with her employee and spell it out as to what is expected in order to advance. I’ve asked that question before and not been given an answer and it’s beyond frustrating and not very fair. If I’m never going to meet the expectations to advance because I cannot put 50-60 hours into a job, then let me choose whether I want to stay in my position and keep working there or move to another job that would value what I could put into my work and give me more opportunities.

    1. Meep*

      I see you have met my former coworker who “works” from 6AM to 9PM every day, because that is when she is awake. Most of her work is cheating on her boyfriend by calling and flirting with other men not even in our business circle. No dog though, because it isn’t her.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        Most of her work is cheating on her boyfriend by calling and flirting with other men not even in our business circle.

        OMG, lol.

  56. Almost Empty Nester*

    Would being “adequate and organized” and a lower-middle tier performer put her on the promotion track if she were working 50 – 60 hours per week? Seems to me that her goal should be making an impact and being a star performer for 40 hours per week, which should put her on a promotion track. And OP should WANT her to be a star performer for 40 hours per week, and reward her accordingly.

  57. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I don’t think I saw this question here:
    If the OP has already been as direct as Alison always says to be, no sugarcoating!, and Elizabeth is still moping and harming her reputation at work, what then? What can or should the OP do?

    Focus on the impact at work, I know. But does the OP say, this is how it is and you know that and it is harming your reputation and your work product is suffering? And our expectation is that you remain cordial at work. If you cannot, maybe it is time for you to find a better fit?

  58. Lifelong student*

    For more than 40 years, I worked jobs which had standard 40 hour work weeks. I also raised two children. I also earned two college degrees, and often worked additional jobs. I participated in volunteer and professional organizations as well. It can be done and be fulfilled personally and professionally. But you have to want it enough.

  59. Maybesocks*

    Teachers work this many hours. Say school starts at 8. So for example: a teacher arrives at 7:30, works til 2:30 with a 1/2 hr break, says goodbye to students and works til 5:00 (clubs, sports, grading, …). Then at home works for two hours, including calling parents when needed. This doesn’t even count the time on the weekend spent preparing (and with clubs or sports).

    1. fnordpress*

      I think for some people it’s a case of the sunk-cost fallacy. It would be painful to admit that all the work they’ve done in defense of the status quo was for nothing.

    2. Amber Rose*

      I’m not surprised, but I am sad.

      Hey guys, “no is a complete sentence” applies to your whole life. You can just decide not to kill yourself for a job when jobs exist that don’t require that nonsense.

  60. Brain the Brian*

    I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my manager two promotions ago in which she said “You and I both know this is a 10-hour-a-day job. There’s not much I can do to change that.”

    Which was kind of annoying since she is the most senior VP at our company, reporting directly to the CEO. And yet, years later, here I remain.

    1. Skippy*

      It’s fascinating to me the number of people who have at least some power to make change simply…don’t.

  61. Isabel*

    “Elizabeth is not the most skilled but she’s adequate and organized.” and “She… has expressed zero desire to further develop her skills or take on stretch opportunities when we’ve discussed what a promotion trajectory might look like.”
    It doesn’t sound like Elizabeth would get a promotion even if she started putting in 60-hour work weeks. She is just about meeting expectations and has shown no interest in developing her skills, which are not signs that someone could handle the responsibilities of a higher position or make the extra money spent on her higher salary worth it in terms of output. I’ve been a manager for a few years and am still surprised when people expect a promotion without having the skills and/or the willingness to put in the work for stretch opportunities. Wanting a promotion and deserving a promotion are two separate things.

    For context: I work 40 hours most weeks and start later or finish earlier to balance out any days I work an hour or so longer – everyone on my team does the same, yet some exceed the expectations of their current role and happily take on new tasks, and others don’t. The former group get promotions and extra financial compensation, because they deserve it. This is how it works. I don’t think the number of hours someone works shows anything about their dedication or “promotability” except that too much work is on the shoulders of too few people and/or it’s an industry where it’s expected (Big Law, consulting, etc).

    I wonder why Elizabeth believes she should be promoted. Is she aware that her work is merely adequate? Is she aware that growing through stretch opportunities is usually a prerequisite for promotions? Doing high quality work and being open to learn and grow through additional tasks are standard requirements for promotion across all industries I’m familiar with. Maybe no one has ever told her that her work is only adequate and given clear feedback on how to improve it, so if the OP hasn’t done that, then I would start there and then explain what would need to change in her work (not hours worked) for her to be considered for promotion.

  62. Purple Jello*

    At my last job, I took an hour or two at the end of each day to finalize and send out email responses that had been percolating in my brain all day. Most weeks I worked 43-45 hours. I could easily have worked anther 10-15 hours a week with no one complaining and lots more work completed, but I didn’t because I had enough leverage that I did not have to and I wasn’t going to support the company’s short sightedness of having too few employees in my department. I also clocked all worked hours on my timesheet even though I was salaried, to help support a bid for more employees. (If we have payroll records showing 10 employees are always working overtime, it should help the argument that more staff is needed Plus government contractors, so we had to record everything.)

    At my previous job, once my kids moved out I was regularly working 10-12 hours a day, and still didn’t get the promotion to the job I was already doing.

    Elizabeth needs to go to a different company if she wants to be promoted

  63. Pinto*

    Yes, an expectation of working 50-60 hours continuously is outdated and inappropriate. But, 2 things stood out to me in this letter. First, that the work Elizabeth is doing is adequate but not outstanding. Second, that she is never willing to take on a stretch project. If you are not willing to stretch yourself in your current role, how can you have an expectation to advance to a position where that work is no longer considered a stretch. So regular excess hours should not be a prerequisite, but an occasional willingness to step up is not an unreasonable. Elizabeth seems to feel entitled to a promotion for showing up. And LW should also address how the work she is doing could be elevated to a level above adequate. Unless it’s not about the quality and only about quantity.

  64. Middle Name Danger*

    I would love to know if it’s company culture vs this industry, but honestly I don’t know that OP would be able to give us an unbiased opinion. It’s amazing how a single company can convince workers that their culture is the industry standard when it absolutely isn’t.

  65. TCO*

    If Elizabeth really is a good enough worker to be promoted if she took some some stretch assignments and growth opportunities, is there any way OP could support her finding some time in her work week for those? Is there anyone else who could take on some of Elizabeth’s less challenging tasks (maybe someone less experienced looking for their own advancement opportunities) to give Elizabeth a bit of time for more challenging and stimulating projects?

  66. Justin*

    Yeah… be honest with her.

    Hopefully she can leave and find some place that will value what she can provide in a normal amount of hours.

  67. H.Regalis*

    You can’t buy more time.

    If your job pays enough that you can work 40 hours/week (or less) and fulfill the two lowest tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, do it.

  68. Bess*

    I think that’s an unsustainable work culture that probably results in burnout and mistakes, but setting that aside…

    I don’t think people are entitled to promotion if they continue to turn down training, skills development, or stretch projects. The hours are just the added context here that make Elizabeth’s chance of promotion next to zero. But if you’re already not the greatest performer and you’re saying no to anything that could help you grow and develop, what is the manager supposed to do? Maybe Elizabeth would be great at one of those opportunities, but she’ll never find out if that’s a hard boundary for her. In that case it’s incredibly unrealistic to expect any kind of promotion. The hours honestly don’t seem like the primary issue here, just an additional barrier.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      This is a great point. How clear has the LW been with Elizabeth that her performance is… fine, but not great? That you’ve noticed that she won’t do stretch projects or learn new skills? Is it clear that this is also an issue? Does she think her performance is awesome?

      It’s relatively easy to focus on the hours as the problem, since that’s quantifiable (so harder to argue about) and is out of the LW’s control. But focusing on that exclusively would be an abdication of the responsibilities of management.

  69. different seudonym*

    LB noted above that it’s surprising how many people are “simpimg for the status quo.” i agree, and i also think that Elizabeth could solve a LOT of her problem with some image management. she doesn’t need to work 60 hours, unless there’s a tracking system that is impossible to game. she needs to BE SEEN AS working long hours. i guarantee you the sharpest ppl on the promotion track cultivate an image as opposed to actually grinding. so appear at the right moments for max impact, time e-mails to look like youre working from home, control the small talk so that you always seem engaged in something pressing. lie, basically. not hard to do; you just have to internalize how arbitrary the system really is, and how baseless most measures of productivity. think of the boss as the enemy, not as a santa who will give you gifts if you’re good.

    1. LawLady*

      The reference to “efficient hours” makes me think this may be law and there are billable hours at play. (At law firms there’s a lot of talk about efficient hours.) If so, any kind of gaming would be fraud of the type that could get you disbarred.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Might be hard to be “seen” working late when you have two small children that you have to pick up on time.

  70. different seudonym*

    LB noted above that it’s surprising how many people are “simpimg for the status quo.” i agree, and i also think that Elizabeth could solve a LOT of her problem with some image management. she doesn’t need to work 60 hours, unless there’s a tracking system that is impossible to game. she needs to BE SEEN AS working long hours. i guarantee you the sharpest ppl on the promotion track cultivate an image as opposed to actually grinding. so appear at the right moments for max impact, time e-mails to look like youre working from home, control the small talk so that you always seem engaged in something pressing. lie, basically. not hard to do; you just have to internalize how arbitrary the system really is, and how baseless most measures of productivity. think of the boss as the enemy, not as a santa who will give you gifts if you’re good. jjj

  71. Junior Dev*

    How on earth do we identify these companies in interviews? I’ve had a company where I asked about work/life balance, they explicitly said no one is expected to work more than 40 hours, then scheduled so many meetings and assigned so much work it was impossible to keep up with only 40 hours each week. I would love for companies to follow Alison’s advice and disclose this stuff in interviews but I’m not sure anyone ever actually does.

  72. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    One thing I’d add to Alison’s script is to make sure that you’re super clear that you have no issue with her choosing to stick to her current hours and output at her current position. Like, if she decides she wants to stick to the status quo, that’s totally fine and her job is not in jeopardy.

  73. Dr. Hyphem*

    Okay, so the crux of it, for me is whether the opportunities for development are part of the 40 hours she’s working or expected outside of it.
    Scenario A:
    LW: There is seminar on creating new tea blends on Friday morning. If you wanted to attend and apply what you learn to make 2-3 new blends, I can make sure some of your other responsibilities are covered.
    E: No thanks, I’ll just keep blending tea according to our existing recipes.

    Scenario B:
    LW: If you want to be promoted from Senior Tea Blender to Lead Tea Blender, you’re going to have to start learning about creating your own blends. [With no adjustment to schedule to allow for that learning, recommendation for training outside of working hours, that may involve travel etc.]

    If it’s scenario B, then yes, it is a problem and it is inherently biased, and you can look to the manager’s script in scenario A to present ideas for development–development opportunities that fit within her 40 hour work week, allowing her to prioritize those tasks by finding someone else to cover some of the more basic tasks, etc.

    If it’s scenario A, you can be more clear that taking on development opportunities leads to a promotion trajectory and that the choice is up to her–she can ignore development, but that’s not going to ladder up to a promotion, or she can take the opportunity.

    I also think it’s worth reflecting on if it may be easier to blame “the culture” than to give her feedback of where the substance of her work might be falling short. I think it’s easy to blame the culture because a) it’s less awkward than having to point out her weakness, b) the fact that she’s unlikely to take on the extra work hours means that it’s unlikely that there is a need to address the issues in her work that are actually the cause of the lack of promotion and c) then it’s not you, it’s not her, it’s external factors. All of that to say, I think if it is more like scenario A, you owe her an honest discussion of where her work is falling short.

  74. me*

    I wonder if there are opportunities for growth for Elizabeth that can be found by giving her time to work on stretch / growth projects within her 40 hours by taking something else off her plate/ giving her room to prioritize working on that type of work and expand / hone her skills. For example, if she normally spends a significant part of time tracking RSVPs to events but doesn’t have any other responsibilities for that event, giving her time within her normal work hours to get catering quotes, or work on the team that puts together the agenda, and letting this work take priority. This may or may not be possible depending on the type of work that is and needs to be done. It’s not a promotion, but it’s an opportunity for skill / resume development / professional growth.

  75. Professional Lurker*

    What I keep wondering is why Elizabeth would want a promotion if she’s already at capacity. Don’t promotions, by nature, involve more of everything that tips the balance toward ‘work’?

    1. KoiFeeder*

      I’d assume , perhaps ignorantly, that in OP’s company promotions are the only way to get a meaningful pay increase without leaving for a different job. That seems to be relatively common?

    2. Dr. Hyphem*

      It might be different sorts of work. In my organization most people are hired at the “Senior Llama Analyst” level and they might have experience designing llama analysis technique, but you really don’t get to design llama analysis until you’re a Lead Llama Analyst, you just run existing llama analysis techniques, so you might want the promotion because it opens you up to what you have a background in. Alison has gotten letters before from new grads in entry level jobs talking about how their education made them think they would be doing x and y, and she laid out how those responsibilities are more senior, so it may be that moving up the chain=more interesting work.

      The weird part is that Elizabeth doesn’t seem interested in those higher order tasks. The more I think about it, the more I think LW needs to approach Elizabeth’s career goals with a spirit of curiosity. Where does she want her career trajectory to be? What appeals to her about that work? Because the more I think about it, the more it feels like she may not understand career development on the whole–what a promotion means (beyond money and title), what career path options exist, etc.

  76. Quickbeam*

    I just retired from a 50-60 hour a week nursing job. Happy to be out of it. I found that as a childfree adult/no grandkids either, I was constantly expected to fill every hole, every medical leave, every sick kid day. It took retirement to see how uneven the playing field was. Had I said “no” to the constant requests I would have been fired.

    There are certainly fields where that many hours is a norm in the US.

  77. Be kind, rewind*

    I get that the culture seems messed up, but that’s not the full issue here. “Meeting expectations” shouldn’t get you a promotion. It should be
    possible to do exceptional work in 40 hours.

    1. Avril Ludgateaux*

      This is a fair criticism and I agree. It’s interesting, though, that the OP spends more time focusing on the hours Elizabeth puts in, and her home life, rather than her middling output. To me it signals a bias that is clouding their judgment when they could instead easily fall back on the “your work barely meets expectations” rejection. Why the emphasis on her family status and not her work, I wonder?

  78. Sarah*

    Elizabeth’s company probably also can’t figure out why they have very few women in their mid-level management and zero in their C-suite.

  79. Elizabeth*

    Did we take into account at best she is an average employee? Everything said was that she is adequate. I mean someone who was amazing at getting things done who work the same hours might get promoted.

  80. Qwerty*

    Focus on promotion criteria, not the number of hours. I doubt you are promoting based on timesheets alone.

    For example, say the salespeople who get promoted are the ones who bring in the most revenue. It’s easy to see people working 50% more are going to have an advantage. Or maybe it’s skills – someone working 50% more is going to gain experience faster. Tell Elizabeth what target she needs to hit and why the overworkers have the advantage. I’ve known plenty of people who are more efficient with their 40hrs than the overtimers, but often that came with experience.

    What jumps out at me is it sounds like Elizabeth wouldn’t be in the running for promotion even if her coworkers stuck to 40hr work weeks
    – She works “at most a 40 hour week” -> Is she even putting in full time hours?
    – “zero desire to further develop her skills or take on stretch opportunities” -> She isn’t willing to improve
    – You describe her as “not the most skilled”, “adequate” and “middle to lower” performance rank -> Is this objective or in relation to the overworkers? If it is objective, you need to be frank about her current skills. If it is relative, then it goes back to my original point that she’s competing with coworkers for the spot
    – “She has stated how she is already at full capacity in her work-life balance” -> She’s not even putting in a full week and is overwhelmed.

    I think the overtime hours are red herring. It sounds like Elizabeth might be overwhelmed in her current role? Do you know why she wants the promotion? What is she doing to go after it besides telling everyone? (actions vs words).

    Check if Elizabeth’s salary makes sense for her position – she might be after the promotion for the higher salary. I’ve found that people who stagnate in roles can get left behind on their salaries keeping up with market rates, so doing occasional salary evaluations helps mitigate that.

  81. Jane*

    One of the kindest things a former manager ever did for me was be honest about my chances of promotion. Prior to that every time I got passed over for promotion my manager/ colleagues would say supportive but ultimately patronising and unhelpful things along the lines of ‘if you just keep working hard you’ll get there one day’.

    Then I got a blunt (but lovely) manager who told me straight out that it was never going to happen at my very competitive employer. That whilst I had the skills, the senior managers would never promote someone without university degrees which I didn’t have. Her very blunt advice was to either get a uni degree or to change careers and/or employers.

    Was it fair – no. Did it suck to hear that – yeah. But it allowed me to reassess my situation and make informed choices about my future. I did eventually get a uni degree, pivoted towards working in roles that were a better fit for my skill set and ultimately move to a different company and my career has finally gotten some forward momentum. That never would have happened if someone didn’t tell me the cold hard truth.

  82. Casta Fierce*

    The 50-60 hours is a red herring, honestly: she’s an average employee who apparently* deliberately chooses not to do things that will elevate her. Why does she think she should be promoted? Even if the company culture were a super relaxed, everybody leaves right at closing time every day environment she still wouldn’t be doing anything promotion-worthy. A promotion would mean more responsibilities. She does not seem to want more responsibilities.

    I’m A Crier too, so my advice there is to just let her cry. Offer her tissues and offer to continue the conversation at another time if she’s seriously upset. Otherwise, just be honest. LW, you seem pretty empathetic so I think you’ll be okay.

    *you have actually explicitly offered the stretch projects and skill-building activities, right? Just because she hasn’t asked doesn’t mean she’s not interested. If there’s a way to build this stuff into her regular work hours without burdening coworkers or something maybe that’ll make her happier?

  83. Luna*

    Tell Elizabeth bluntly that she has no promotional future in this company. The structure and expectations for people getting promotions is a good 50% increase of hours she usually works, as well as advancing her skills. And she has expressed no desire to advance skills or put in the extra work.

    It’s basically a dead end street in both directions. The company requires her to do things she’s not willing to do. And it’s Elizabeth’s perogative to not infringe on her work-life balance, and/or her time with her children, in order to gain skills that might lead to a promotion… but that would probably then result in a worse work-life balance than she has.

    Best for her to know the parameters and she can decide if she will, well, resign herself to the position she is in or if she will resign and find a potentially better position at a different company. Unless she can get raises in her current position at this company, which should also be discussed, if promotions are off the table. But if, as you say, she is efficient and performs basically the norm, that seems unlikely.

  84. Somehow_I_Manage*

    There are a select few jobs where overtime is not too terrible on the psyche- typically ones that include some “brain-off” downtime on the clock, for example, if you’re in sales and getting paid to drive between client meetings. But I’ve found that for most people, especially if they’re working a desk job, 40 hours of “brain-on” time is hard work. I realize that for many people it’s a priveledge to *only* work 40ish hours a week, but that doesn’t make overtime culture ok.

  85. CatLadyLawyer*

    Big Law doesn’t need to have the hours it does. It’s just a way to keep big law partnerships a boys club. It didn’t always used to be this way, and it doesn’t have to continue to be this way. It should be cyclical like accounting (long hours some times of year with periods of calm, and lower comp is fine for god’s sake).

    1. Avril Ludgateaux*

      Big Law doesn’t need to have the hours it does. It’s just a way to keep big law partnerships a boys club.

      Wish more people would say it instead of just accepting “it is what it is”!

  86. Avril Ludgateaux*

    They tend to be young, or child-free, or have a partner who has sacrificed their own career to support them.

    If these happen to be overwhelmingly men (regardless of family status, but ESPECIALLY so if they are, indeed, fathers) who are being promoted, is this not a manifestation of gender discrimination?

    1. Brittany*

      No, it’s a manifestation of women making different choices that result in different outcomes. Some women are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to reach the top tiers. Most aren’t. We aren’t stupid we know how to play the game we just aren’t willing to make the sacrifices. We don’t get to turn around and claim discrimination because someone else was willing to work harder and longer.

  87. MCMonkeyBean*

    “She is unlikely to improve her career trajectory without making some of the same sacrifices as our top performers or changing company/industry. Or just learn to gracefully accept it.”

    There is an obvious third option here, which is that she should leave your company and find one that treats their employees better.

  88. WhenisRetirement?*

    This is my company’s culture. The bad part is (well there are many) is that new hires are not told this up front. You either notice it shortly enough, or not. The company was found by men with SAHM wives. It is not law, it services the pharma industry, basically. And yes it has high turnover. Lately my boss is saying things like “is so and so quiet quitting?” and I want to scream. Yes I am looking. The worse part lately is the gaslighting from up above. “Make sure to take time to rest and recharge!” Uh, ok.

  89. Brittany*

    Elizabeth sounds exhausting. She has eyes and presumably isn’t below avarage intelligence. If you want to compete you have to preform. If you don’t like the rules go somewhere else. Don’t cry and complain. I never put my career first because I wasn’t interested in working the hours required. This is why women don’t make as much as men. We make different choices than them. Then we complain that we aren’t getting the promotions and pay when they’re willing to put in the hours and effort and we aren’t. I would never promote Elizabeth because she has such a huge sense of entitlement for someone without basic reasoning skills.

  90. H3llifIknow*

    Ugh. One of the govt contractors I worked with was a huge (110K+ employees) and the culture there was similar. There were all kinds of metrics tracking our “utilization” (billable time) PLUS we were expected to put in a minimum of 400 “hours over standard” doing recruiting, networking, community service activities, marketing, and business development. People were praised in meetings for having “113% utilization” and burning hours (i.e. charging the client). BUT, it didn’t really inspire people to work harder. It inspired them to pencil whip their time cards. Nobody knows if you spent 2 hours talking to a potential client over dinner, so why not claim the time. Bonuses were tied to these metrics. My first year I got a great bonus, second year, mediocre, third year “the minimum” because I had been out for surgery and had not MADE UP MY SICK LEAVE so my utilization was only (ONLY) 93%. I left a few months later and my work/life balance is sooooo much better now AND I make 30% more w/o having to shill for bonuses that get taxed to high heaven.

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