I resent our new hires for setting better work-life boundaries than our company normally has

A reader writes:

I am part of a team in a high-pressure industry at a company known for demanding a lot but paying very well in exchange for availability, etc. We purport to provide near-constant availability to our clients, but it’s unclear whether this near-constant availability expectation extends to individual employees for their teams (depends who you ask, maybe especially depends on seniority). Whether or not it’s a healthy expectation is a totally separate issue — a lot of junior employees come and go after a few years, never expecting a promotion, but that’s the expectation.

I try hard to not drop things on others’ laps unless absolutely necessary. I take a few calls and answer emails here and there when I take a sick day but can still keep my eyes open, and usually work on the first day of scheduled vacations if I’m not able to wrap up certain things before I head out. My sense is that this is the norm around here, as it’s usually very difficult to transition work and nearly all our deadlines are considered extremely urgent. Then again, I completely recognize that this is not healthy or sustainable, and frequently commiserate with coworkers about how tired and miserable we are.

Some new hires recently haven’t been subscribing to this, whether it’s that they don’t realize the norms yet or that they have consciously decided to establish work-life boundaries. Some chatter on the internet suggests this might be a Gen Z thing. Whether or not that’s true, and I generally hate generalizations like this, I am conflicted. On the one hand, I completely applaud them for taking care of themselves and not blindly subscribing to unsustainable expectations. On the other hand, doing this independently on an individual level (instead of starting a broader conversation about work-life balance at the firm, which admittedly would go nowhere) sort of screws over other members of the team, such as myself, who have to pick up their work when managers don’t adjust deadlines simply because team members are out of office.

I’m starting to resent the people who assert more boundaries than I do and prioritize their own needs, because of the extra unexpected work it’s been causing me, but I also am extremely jealous because I know that I need to assert my own boundaries more but am just too worried about what others think of me. I know I have internalized these toxic work habits and need to stop … but also I feel like they are being inconsiderate.

What are your thoughts on this situation? I would appreciate anything you have to say on this, either philosophically or pragmatically!

Expecting any one person to provide near-constant availability should be a non-starter. It doesn’t matter if that’s traditionally been the culture of your company — it’s unsustainable, unreasonable, and bad for humans. It will exhaust people, harm their health, strain their personal lives, and make it close to impossible for anyone with health issues, young kids, or other dependents to succeed there at all. It will also result in worse work because burned out and exhausted people make mistakes, stop innovating, and generally do a poorer job over time.

If your clients really need constant availability, the way to provide that is by staffing at higher levels so that it doesn’t fall to individual employees to make that happen on their own. If it’s not worth it to your company to hire more people to achieve that, then at some level they’re saying it’s not really that important. Why should individual employees sacrifice on their own when the company isn’t willing to do something as basic as staffing appropriately?

You’re accepting this as just the way it works in your company — but it’s not some unchangeable thing about the work. It’s a choice your company is making, and they’re making it at your expense.

One of the most interesting things about work cultures with unreasonable norms like this is that they often become self-enforcing in exactly the way you’re describing your own feelings: you don’t like the culture, you recognize that it’s unhealthy and unsustainable, you know it’s making you miserable — and yet you are not okay with newer coworkers seeing it for what it is and declining to participate, and you feel they’re doing something wrong by maintaining more reasonable boundaries (the exact same boundaries you say you wish you could enforce).

They’re not the ones in the wrong. Your company is. All these newer employees are doing is showing the rest of you a path to a saner life. At a minimum, you shouldn’t resent them for lighting that path — and what if you even joined them on it? What if you just did what they’re doing?

And look, I know. When a culture like this is deeply rooted, it’s not as easy as just shouting Viva La Revolución and declaring you won’t be working evenings or on vacations anymore. Pushing back can have professional consequences for you. It can affect how you’re seen and what opportunities you’re given and what kind of relationship you have with your boss and other people who have influence over your career.

And yet … very often, the consequences that people fear for this kind of thing aren’t what actually happens. Especially if you have a track record of doing good work and have built up some capital, you might be surprised by how much room you have to push back and set better boundaries.

Some people do that by just quietly asserting their own healthier boundaries and expecting them to be respected. Other people do it by calling out the cultural problems more directly, pointing out the ways these unhealthy norms are bad for the organization and its employees (including its ability to attract and retain good people — like explicitly saying, “the world is changing and the priorities of the people we want to hire are different now,” as you’re seeing is true). I generally like the latter, but there can be good reasons for choosing the former.

Ultimately, though, this is the big thing to keep in the forefront of your head: your and your coworkers’ willingness to go along with what you know are unreasonable expectations is the thing that allows your company to keep imposing them. And if you see it through that lens, then letting yourself resent your better-boundaried coworkers is a tool of your own oppression. It puts you in a role where you’re policing — and in some ways enforcing — the very thing you wish would change.

If you can start to see that clearly, it might feel easier to at least experiment with laying down some of the burden you’ve been carrying and setting the boundaries you know would be healthier. I hope you will try it for a month, or even just a couple of weeks, and see what happens.

{ 624 comments… read them below }

    1. Beth*

      This!! OP, the scary thing about setting boundaries in a culture like you’re describing is the possibility of experiencing negative consequences–getting pushback from management, losing opportunities for advancement, being seen as ‘not a team player’, etc. That kind of low-key pressure is a huge part of how overworking-based work cultures sustain themselves.

      But your newer colleagues are showing you that your employer is all bark and no bite. They’re setting the boundaries you want to set, sticking to them, and not experiencing the negative consequences you expected. What if, instead of looking at their behavior as letting down the team, you think of it as giving you and your other more senior colleagues permission to do the same? They’re showing you that your management isn’t invested in enforcing this culture, and that frees you to opt out of it too.

  1. Bluebonnet*

    I definitely agree with Alison’s advice about the importance of work life balance and the harm companies can cause when they are culturally opposed to this. Not having work-life balance is a recipe for increased employee turnover due to burnout (as well as negative Glassdoor reviews that dissuade other applicants from applying to work at your employer).

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      The problem people aren’t weighing is that many of these jobs pay more for a reason. The pay isn’t set high on accident. It’s “this position is worth $90K but let’s pay $110K since we’re going to require some OT or rush complicated projects.”

      I notice people never get this part.

      I mean, Wall Street isn’t going to be offering 22-year olds work-life balance AND $100K salaries since the high salary is literally the sacrifice they are willing to make in exchange for the worker to sacrifice time and sanity

      1. Colette*

        I learned many years ago that if I work 70 hours a week, I will get as much accomplished as if I worked 37.5 hours, but I’ll be a lot more tired and grumpy.

        If they’re paying for people who are willing to work occasional overtime during a crunch, that’s one thing. But if overtime is expected every day, that’s not reasonable or sustainable.

        1. Bella*

          If it’s a billable hour model, the firm doesn’t care if you accomplish anything in those extra hours. They want to send clients the biggest bills those clients will pay, so 70 hours for what you could have accomplished in 35 is a plus for them. (Yes it’s a horrible and unethical industry but it’s the incentives the system creates so the whole thing needs to be overhauled, not just pointing out the efficiencies).

            1. Colette*

              Sure, in those industries. But there are plenty of companies where those unspoken expectations exist for no reason whatsoever.

            1. Bella*

              Yes nobody is going to argue with you. But it’s also actually not that easy to come up with other models to price complex legal services so there’s a lot going into figuring out alternatives and, at the same time, enough people are profiting and don’t want it to change that that’s hard too. The LW is almost certainly not in a position to switch it.

              1. Ismonie*

                I mean, boutique firms seem to do just fine. Some with or without alternate pricing models.

                One explanation I heard that rankles, but seems correct, is that there is no incentive to promote people to big law partner because they are good, or even competent managers. What matters is do they make money. Which is much more a function of about anything other than how they treat associates, as long as the supply of associates are plentiful and clients don’t push back.

                1. Bella*

                  I was a partner at a boutique firm and honestly we didn’t do fine. Making the economics work was HARD. I ended up leaving for a state government job as a result and it was a pay increase. In our case we were on the “consumer” side of a highly regulated industry and big corporate entities were paying for big law firms on the other side. We couldn’t come up with many alternate fee arrangements because we had dockets going on for years with very unpredictable amounts of work. We had to pay associates who could do the work and understand the industry well enough to compete with the BigLaw firms that would also hire them. That didn’t mean BigLaw wages due to our better quality of life and satisfying work but it did mean that we got to the point where mid-level associates were bringing home more than most of the partners some years. It’s just brutal out there in a lot of law subfields
                  I don’t think the Biglaw model is good but I couldn’t come up with a functional competitor either. The debt burdens of graduating students are too high and the per hour costs you have to charge to make ends meet so exorbitant. As a junior partner I was billing $340 an hour which is an insane amount of money by normal standards but less than what Biglaw firms bill their paralegals out at.

                  I would never be able to work in Biglaw for a multitude of reasons but nor am I sanguine about “push back and it’ll work out.”

                  (And I know there’s no way to verify this online but we did excellent work. That wasn’t the issue.)

              2. NotAnotherManager!*

                It is really complicated because the inputs and outputs are so non-standard in a lot of legal matters (and the ones with standard I/O have already been commoditized and outsourced). I have a professional acquaintance who does AFA analyses and pricing, but he’s extremely smart and has exceptional quantitative skills that many of the lawyers he’s doing pricing for have zero interest in understanding. AFAs also often require some discussion with clients about what’s in and out of scope, and most lawyers are terrible at that.

          1. zuzu*

            And importantly, once the associate’s salary is paid, every hour the associate bills on top of that is pure profit for the firm and goes into the pockets of the partners.

            I was a Biglaw associate years ago and burnt out. I switched to contract work. Suddenly, my hours became much more reasonable. Why? Because every hour I worked, they had to pay me for. They weren’t extracting extra profit from me by making me work more. And yet I managed an equivalent workload to the other associates in half the billable hours.

            I didn’t get paid as much as them (or as much as I had been), but it was worth it for the sanity, the free time, and the absence of office politics.

            Funny, that.

        2. ferrina*

          Yes! Seconding all of this!

          I’m fine with overtime during a busy season, but it’s not a sustainable way of life.

      2. mreasy*

        I don’t know anyone of any age who would work a high-pressure on Wall Street for only $100K! But to the point – if it’s the type of thing where people in the industry know that they will have to work crazy hours early in their career in exchange for tremendous financial advantages (e.g. a friend of mine who was working 14+ hours at Salomon because he knew he could buy his mom a house and pay for his brothers to go to college by doing it for 5 years), that’s something everyone is up front about. But this is the exception, and the OP would have mentioned it. However, lots of industries that pay middlingly well are known to be “high-pressure/high-expectation” without an end point because of the industry’s culture, or the individual company, or whatever perceived perks or status people associate with them, outside of salary. I am paid fine now, but made under $50K until my 30s (in NYC) because I work in a media industry that is considered “cool” or a “labor of love.” This of course means it’s an industry largely populated by rich white kids who could afford to make basically nothing for their first 10+ years. (I used credit cards.) There is no way to change this type of unhealthy industry & organizational culture without pushback, and support for that pushback. Managers and the execs need to feel the pressure / friction created by their understaffing choices.

        1. Prospect Gone Bad*

          You’re reminding me of one of my favorite Bravo shows that no one watched and got cancelled, Kell on Earth. It was about Kelly Cutrone’s fashion PR agency where everything was ran on a shoe-string budget. I remember one time they had a new worker and she left “early” at 7:00 becuase all they were doing was rearranging a show room and they called her to come back!

          1. Lily Rowan*

            That show was great!

            In other NYC fields, a friend of mine early in his biglaw job, asked to leave at 6pm one time because his mother-in-law was dying, and the boss said no, and this was on a Saturday.

            1. The Original K.*

              My best friend was working weekends at her BigLaw job as soon as her maternity leave was over – literally her first week back at work, she worked through the weekend.

        2. sb51*

          Yeah, the numbers are different now – a 22 year old CAN get a work-life balanced software job paying 100k; you’d have to be offering two to three times that, minimum, to ask for no work-life balance. (Obviously, getting either that or the Wall Street job requires planning to go into those fields and getting a relevant degree, so neither is an overnight life change option.)

          But it’s the same argument, just commenters here are likely thinking of what the numbers were when they were 22, not what they are now.

          1. irritable vowel*

            Those jobs with lower pay but better work-life balance are usually more attractive to people who have been out of college longer and perhaps have family needs. A 22-year-old is more likely to sacrifice work-life balance for a higher paycheck because they have enormous student loans that are coming due. (Source: I work in higher ed IT – we typically have lots of developers, etc. who are in their early/mid 30s with young children because they actually get to turn off their computers at 5pm and on weekends.)

        3. Smithy*

          I agree with this, and I’d also say that because such a wide variety of “labor of love” industries exist that when pushback comes the kind of reaction the OP has I think is also really normal. Because we know those behaviors aren’t healthy or leading to massive financial tradeoffs, but we’re also so accustomed to them that breaks from that norm are disruptive.

          That being said, if the OP does opt to become that change I have two practical recommendations. The first is to get a new job with the intention of specifically working that way going forward. In a new space this won’t be seen as a behavior change but rather a set behavior and set boundaries around how the OP works. In addition to new coworkers learning that’s how the OP does business, the OP won’t have to break any cycles with old coworkers or old projects. There also won’t be any instances of supervisors asking why this change is happening and having vague feelings of “preferring old OP to new OP” even if they refuse to articulate exactly why.

          If the OP works for a place they really don’t want to leave, then I recommend finding places to insert hard stops throughout the week. Whether it’s a class or a regular appointment that means you *have* to leave work two days a week at 5pm or something similar. If it’s a class like yoga or pilates, I’d even find a way to white lie or lie of omission that to being thought of as occupational/physical therapy. Not a fake deadline you can sometimes work beyond, but a real one that forces you out of the office and where you then try to train yourself to not work later that night.

        4. Sloanicota*

          I feel like all the levers of this type of decision have been shifted. It used to be that companies would pay a salary that solved all your problems when they demanded this kind of complete loyalty, and there was often an unspoken time-limit by which you could escape the trenches (such as by making partner). Now, kids are already 100K in debt before they hit their first job, and with health care costs, childcare, and housing all so sky-high, especially in cities like NYC where these things happen – you’re still asking them to sacrifice everything but you’re probably not actually paying them them “no more problems” money.

          1. mreasy*

            This is a great point. And I wonder if part of the problem is that execs in their 50s+ look at that salary as “no more problems” money, because it would have them when they were junior employees.

        5. Sara Smiles*

          Same, I spent my 20s working at talent agencies (we repped actors, directors, comics, producers, writers, etc.) where we made about $500 per week as agents’ assistant and worked 60-70 hours weekly, and we knew there were 1000 college graduates in line who would scoop up our jobs in a hot second should we leave. Essentially every assistant job in entertainment was this way, overworked and underpaid and we were made to believe we were lucky to be there. Add to this being treated pretty horribly and having little to no benefits, it’s absolutely wild that companies got away with this stuff. I hope it’s different now (I was an assistant 20+ years ago) but I have a feeling the hours are still crazy and the pay isn’t great.

      3. Well That's Fantastic*

        If a company isn’t explicit about their expectations in the hiring process, that’s on them, not the employees for not knowing. The biggest pay raise I ever received was going from a company with no work-life balance to doing easier work with a healthy work-life balance. I went from having a boss who was angry I didn’t reply to a 3:30 a.m. email by 6 a.m., even though I was hourly and didn’t start work until 8:30, to a salaried position with a boss who was adamant that I shouldn’t reply outside of my work hours to non-urgent emails because I need to let my brain turn off “work mode” to avoid burnout.

        1. I have RBF*

          My current employer underpays a bit, but my boss not only expects us to preserve our work/life balance, he models it as well. Most of us are remote. Yes, the job entails occasional Saturday and evening work, but he expects us to flex our hours within the pay period (two weeks) to balance it out.

      4. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        “I mean, Wall Street isn’t going to be offering 22-year olds work-life balance AND $100K salaries…”

        Maybe they’re not. But if they can’t find anyone who will take the bargain they’re currently offering, maybe they’ll have to. That’s capitalism for ya.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          It’s funny how people pushing the “free market” are quick to abandon it as soon as workers have some kind of market leverage.

          1. Prospect gone bad*

            Are they? I feel like you’re trying to find a contradiction where there is none. Some people are willing to work more hours for more pay and people here have a problem with it. There is no contradiction.

            1. Sloanicota*

              This is an interesting framing. It sounds like OP is one of those who is/was willing to work these hours for the money. But the company is just going to grind her down to dust by adding more work on top of what she’s already doing. And is she going to end up in a cushy leadership position eventually? I feel like not.

            2. Kevin Sours*

              Listen to all of the “nobody wants to work” rhetoric of recent years. Or the whole “rising wages are causing inflation so the government needs to do something about that” which happens every time wages go up. Never heard the media going on about how “corporate profits are causing inflation”

              1. Inkhorn*

                I’ve heard that multiple times recently, though I’m non-US so probably consuming different media.

      5. Qwerty*

        This is a good point that often gets ignored. If you accept a job that averages 60hr weeks and refuse to work more than 40hrs, then it is like accepting a standard 40hr/wk job and placing a boundary at 30hrs.

        When I was “underpaid” in high intensity finance, it was because my firm had much better work/life balance. There were plenty of opportunities that were almost double my salary but averaged 60-80hr work weeks. Most people took the jobs knowing they’d burnout in a year but bank a bunch of savings or they’d stay sane by using the higher salary to outsource their cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. Teams that deviated from the company norm had lower salaries to go with their normal hours.

        The problem for OP is that they are effectively covering for their coworkers and doing the leftover work rather than having management deal with it. OP needs to be transparent about their own workload with their manager and let that manager sort out what to do. I’m guessing part of the workflow is self-managing teams where everyone pitches in and uses their best judgement, but if the team has two different mindsets it’s the manager’s responsibility to calibrate.

        1. Starbuck*

          So what? Honestly, it’s about time that we should be working less for the same pay. Have you seen all those reduced work week studies? The graphs of improvements in worker productivity over the years, without a matching line of increase for pay? These companies and their cultures are dinosaurs (in the bad way) and it’s time they all do better.

          1. Prospect gone bad*

            This is all generalities. There are studies that literally show both sides of every issue when it comes to this. Also a lot of those studies focus in an individual task but don’t look at the larger picture of that company’s automate one thing and then usually different work replaces it, such as expanding into new territories or designing new offerings or updating your website or trying to comply with new laws. It’s not like it gets automated and then people sit around

            I think we should have a open thread for people who’ve greatly increased their income and worked in these industries to give their point of view.

            Every time this comes, people start chiming in with what they want for their own job and don’t realize that there’s millions of other people who are willing to make the sacrifices to make these more complicated jobs work. Usually for the money. And many times it’s not possible to just not do the work. I think it would be nice for people in those sorts of jobs to chime in on what the work actually is before we just assume they should walk out at five every day leaving it unfinished.

            It seems a lot of people here want to work as a little hours as possible which is fine, but if you want to get a lot of experience right away or grow your income quickly or working something like show business, and you’re willing to make the sacrifices, it’s sort of irrelevant what other people want for themselves

            At one company I worked at they churned through younger people because the pace was so slow that once people were there for six months, they realize it would take them fifteen years to get up to six figures in today’s dollars. And no the business couldn’t print money to pay them more prematurely, since they didn’t let us young people do anything complicated for what felt like forever. It’s a horrible environment.

            Work at a place like that and you will love “work hard play hard” even if you don’t think you would. Also yours and days fly by at the “work hard play hard” places. The slow pace place was actually more stressful

      6. HA2*

        It feels like it has inherent dishonesty, though?

        Like, if the position offers 2 weeks vacation, it should give 2 weeks vacation. If the position gives 1 week vacation, say 1 week vacation.

        …but if the posting says “2 weeks vacation” but really it’s “you can’t take your 2 weeks vacation because we’re going to expect you to work during it”, just seems like lying to the employees.

        1. Observer*

          Not “seems”. It *is* lying. They know that people are not allowed to take TRUE vacation. The OP is even unable to take a true sick day unless they are literally unable to physically work!

          1. Lily Rowan*

            It’s funny, because I have opposite outrage from you — if I’m just sort of sick, I’m happy to keep an eye on email, but there is no way I’m working from vacation if it’s not a true (rare) emergency.

        2. Bella*

          It’s known going in. Super toxic and nothing I was ever willing to do because I knew it would tank my mental health but it’s absolutely a known facet of the job.

        3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          Well, it may or may not be dishonest. With BigLaw (and similar industries), everybody knows going in. With other companies, I think this usually comes up in the interview process.

          1. Katara's side braids*

            Going to repeat my reply to Bella above – I keep seeing people say that “everyone knows going in,” but then why not just make it official on paper? It seems like the companies must be getting SOME advantage out of being able to pretend their working conditions are better than they are, but if the employees know none of it is real then what’s the point of pretending?

              1. Katara's side braids*

                Does it, though? If everyone knows going in, then presumably candidates are already factoring unspoken expectations into their comparisons rather than going by what appears on paper. If that’s not the case, then maybe everyone doesn’t really know what they’re getting into, which is what a lot of the pro-unsustainable-norms comments are based on.

                1. Sal*

                  I think the theory is that if a firm gives lip-service to “work life balance” there’s at least some leverage there from the employee’s POV for arranging things so that the firm can’t then on purpose grind you into dust (the baseline). Which would make it more attractive than a firm that doesn’t even give you that wiggle room by having paid lip service to WLB.

                  The other thing is that I don’t think anyone *really* knows what it’s like til they do it. (With the possible exception of people who have grown up around it—so some subset of the most privileged and nepo-y baby lawyers, and completely excluding FGLI baby lawyers, who are the ones who most need the biglaw money.) So there may be some “I can do this” by juniors that then just turns out to … not be true, once they get into it. But by then, you’ve got a monthly loan payment and you are in survival mode.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              It is official on paper in BigLaw. You are expected to bill X number of hours – not work, BILL. You can do the math on how that works out. If you’re expected to bill 2,000 hours, that’s 38-39 hours per week not accounting for holidays or vacations. That means if you bill less than your average amount or take a week off, you’ve got to figure out how to get those hours done some other time. (If your work quality is poor or you’re not responsive, too, you’re not going to be invited to work on client’s matters. Partners tend to vote with how their client’s hours are delegated down.)

        4. Siege*

          I just want to point out that it is not universally known going in, actually, which is why I ended up losing a job over, essentially, being unwilling to work the expected 60 hour weeks for a salary that, generously, compensated me for 30 hours of my time at best. That was at an international trade agency, so I had no reason to assume that BigLaw standards would have applied.

      7. Observer*

        The problem people aren’t weighing is that many of these jobs pay more for a reason.

        There is still a limit to how much you can push. And unless they are paying WAAAAY more than $100k to a newbie, they simply cannot expect people to essentially be available 24/7, which is what the OP is describing.

        These new folks seem to be saying that this is their line in the sand – and are also pretty clearly willing to move on if it comes down to it.

        1. NeedRain47*

          Also it’s not like you get to pick. I can’t quit right now and go get a job that pays twice as much but has worse work-life balance, it just doesn’t work like that in most fields.

        2. Siege*

          And the other question is whether they’re actually “paying more”. Most salaries in the US lag behind the cost of living, and jobs in the 6 figure range are often not as far ahead of the cost of living as they’re pitched. Like, if you could buy a house with a 60K salary in 2000, and now you make 120K but you can’t buy that house, you’re not making the same amount, even if that 120K keeps you comfortably ahead of the curve on your day to day expenses.

          1. mreasy*

            I make $150K and my spouse $120K and there is no reality in which we could buy a home here in our city or even in the suburbs within 10 years. And we are in our 40s, and NOT spenders.

          2. C.*

            Our household income is $180K, a figure, which on its own, sounds astronomical to me. But in reality, it just isn’t. And I’m certainly not saying that we’re destitute or anything of the sort. We’re not. But we live in an *extremely* modest, fixer upper in one of the most expensive states that we were essentially forced to pay top dollar for a year ago because of the housing insanity. Both our employers take a load of taxes off us each pay period, not to mention the state we live in. And every purchase we make gives me extreme anxiety, so I can assure you that we are not big spenders. I’m lucky that we’re a dual income household. Any of my friends who are single and make a similar salary as I do are genuinely struggling with the COL. Not poor. Not broke. But struggling.

            All that’s to say is that I have no problem setting the same boundaries with my employer that the OP is currently describing of her newer colleagues. Our president makes 20x what I make. There are others in the company who make more. Much more. Our VP’s monthly paycheck is the equivalent to the majority of our workforce’s annual salary. Enough is enough, and I refuse to feel bad anymore.

      8. Kevin Sours*

        Meh. Nobody should be sacrificing sanity so that companies can shovel billions to already wealthy shareholders. This sort of company cultural pressure is intended to push people to do stupid things. Don’t play that game.

      9. Ace in the Hole*

        Then they should let the employee know what the expectations are, and let them go if they aren’t able/willing to meet those expectations. Just like any other job.

        If what they’re offering is reasonable for what they’re expecting from employees, they should have no problem finding a replacement. The fact that many employers are struggling to find employees willing to work under these conditions is a sign that their offers are not, in truth, reasonable.

      10. Bridget*

        Except the new hires ARE working that way. This isn’t people coming in and complaining that they should be able to, they are comfortably asserting those boundaries with seemingly no pushback.

      11. Critical Rolls*

        The “reason” is because the companies are choosing to exploit their workers, paying 1.5x salary for 80 hours from one person instead of 2x + benefits for two people at 40 hours, rather than hire enough people to do all the work in a reasonable number of hours each week, and then calling it “company culture” or “just how the industry is.”

      12. Twix*

        I don’t think that’s a point that’s lost on anyone. The problem is that if there’s an expectation that $X/week is in return for Y hours/week and Y isn’t 40, it needs to be an explicit part of the hiring process. Companies have been playing fast and loose with this to take advantage of employees for way too long. What younger workers are doing is holding companies accountable for the job descriptions they actually agreed to when hired, and I applaud them for it.

      13. Candy Morningstar*

        But what is the point of making that much money if I never get to enjoy my life because I’m exhausted? I would rather make a little less and have work-life balance. And I would expect a lot more than 100K if I had to be ‘constantly available’…

      14. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        yeah, well in my last job I kept very strict hours because I had to pick the kids up from school. I did occasionally do overtime, which then meant I could take time off to make up for it.
        My colleague systematically put in extra hours, because she was a young graduate who wanted to prove herself. She stayed late practically every night, and often finished up bits for me.
        She was the boss’s Golden Girl, he always compared her favourably to me.
        Then we discovered that actually, I had been paid more than her since the very beginning. Simply because I had asked for more and the boss hadn’t found anyone willing to do my job for less.

  2. mlem*

    Oh, OP. It’s not the newer employees who are screwing over anyone. It’s the company, by refusing to adjust deadlines; and to a smaller extent it’s the people who don’t stand up for themselves, because that just perpetuates the model.

    The company profits from your blaming the newer employees and grinding them down. Please, please don’t help them with that. Don’t set yourself and your more junior colleagues on fire to keep the company warm.

    1. rayray*

      I agree. Though there is a reasonable expectation for employees to complete their tasks and responsibilities, there should be procedures in place to ensure people have a proper and healthy work-life balance. If someone schedules time-off in advance for a vacation, then there should be a procedure in place to make sure things are taken care of in that person’s absence. Sometimes people will get sick, and that should be accounted for without panic and extreme burden on others. People will put in their hours and work, but at the end of the day, these people have personal needs, such as eating, exercising, spending time with loved ones, appointments, errands, chill out time, etc.

      I am glad to hear that more people are resisting working their selves to exhaustion. I will do what I am hired to do, but I don’t believe anyone should have to pull super long days or sacrifice their wellbeing when it’s just a job. Sometimes things will come up and I can pitch in extra help on occasion, but if things are falling apart because people simply want healthy work-life balance, something is wrong at the workplace.

      1. Live Laugh Love*

        I agree that we all have personal needs such as eating, and I’ve always wondered how workaholics eat. The ones I know fall into three camps: they literally hardly eat anything (a granola bar is all they’ll eat until 8pm); they have a spouse doing everything for them including meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and dishwashing; or they eat fast food/ convenience foods for 100% of their meals (frozen pizza, ramen noodles, A&W, coffee shop fare).

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Yes, a lot of the workaholic “high performers” I’ve known were men with SAHWs who didn’t ever have to do laundry, grocery shop, do pet or child care, arrange house maintenance, etc. etc. Turns out it’s a lot easier to work 60+ hours a week when you have an unpaid domestic worker on-call 24-7.

          1. cottagechick73*

            +1, I noticed that too. A lot of the higher ups (men) in the companies I have worked at who were the “burn the midnight oil” workaholics had what I called “staff” at home (not a dis to SAH partners, just an observation). Those guys could literally not work the hours they worked and survived without someone to support them with every and all important life tasks on the home front.

            1. Live Laugh Love*

              I’m sure a lot of them do have staff at home… house cleaning service, dog walkers, nannies, lawn mowing services, snow removal services, etc. You can hire out most household chores if you have money and live in a city. Although hiring and paying bills is a job on its own.

          2. ferrina*

            I like that you put “high performers” in quotes. I think we’ve all known those people that hang out at the office for long hours while their SAHWs do everything there, but strangely, their productivity isn’t any higher than other peoples. It’s almost like they’re just avoiding their home responsibilities….

            1. rayray*

              Yeah, I’ve observed this too. I think anyone can push through if they’re especially busy and maybe an occasional long day here or there really can be productive. There are some people though that work 12+ hour days every day and you can not convince me that they are actually working all those hours productively. If they aren’t taking care of their selves properly, that plus the mental exhaustion will catch up to them quick.

              I also think a lot of the push for work-in-office even when people were working productively from home for years is interesting. I saw a comment somewhere that this is being pushed by people who don’t want to be at home with spouses and families, and I honestly do think there’s a lot of truth to that.

          3. Modesty Poncho*

            Which, honestly, is fine if it’s a consensually chosen state. One of my best friends is a house husband – his wife pulls in a large salary working long hours and his job is to make sure she doesn’t have to think about chores when she gets home. Gender dynamics just play into this so often that people get into it thoughtlessly and take each other for granted. The very least these people can do is acknowledge the work their spouses do (which my friend’s wife does!)

            1. CommanderBanana*

              This was the dynamic in my house growing up. My father was an Army officer and at that time, there was basically no way you could advance as an officer through multiple deployments and do what was required to survive multiple RIFs and get promoted if you had a family without a stay at home partner doing literally everything else.

              It was even incredibly difficult if you were single, because you needed someone to do everything else (moves, standing in line for documents, shopping, figuring out all the bureaucratic hoops to jump through) while you were actually being a soldier. I think half the officers I knew got married in large part because they knew they couldn’t have a successful military career without a spouse doing all of the support work.

              1. Book lover*

                So, true. Being a military spouse is a full-time job.

                My husband left big law, in part, because there were no (zero, zilch, nada) partners with working spouses (read: wives) at his firm.

                1. Live Laugh Love*

                  This just enrages me. And the men get all the credit for being successful when really their wives are 50% of the equation. My ex-boss won several awards for his work in an environmental field, meanwhile his SAHW did all of the office administrative work to enable his career. She did not get any credit for his achievements.

          4. Justin D*

            Most of the ones I knew either paid people to do that stuff or had a 1br apartment and no pets or family.

        2. ThatGirl*

          I know a workaholic who also happens to have ADHD and some intense dietary restrictions, and he eats roughly one meal a day, sometimes with safe snacks, and he and his wife use one of those meal-prep services (like BlueApron or Hello Fresh) so that whoever’s making dinner can do it quickly and easily. He does work from home a lot so can take breaks more easily but then ends up working a lot of evenings and weekends.

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Former workaholic: you survive on caffiene basically. I barely had any time to have a shower daily let alone a meal.

          (Sidenote: do NOT do a 4am – 8pm working day for 3 years. It’ll destroy you)

        4. Rocket raccoon*

          My husband works a job that is half time in the winter and 12 hour days in the spring/summer. Team work makes the dream work, and that means I’m a SAHM. He’s good at his job, I’m good at mine.

        5. Gabby*

          Single workaholic checking in (in between contemplating how soon I should quit my job – management consulting fwiw…)

          I either order all my food via DoorDash (thankful to live in a big city with lots of healthy options), or make something quick (e.g. bagel with cream cheese, peanut butter sandwich). When I’m working in the office, they also provide free breakfast & lunch. Sometimes I’m able to take an hour in the evening to cook dinner as a break from work :’) – when I do this, I order meal kits to remove the need for shopping/recipe planning.

    2. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

      “Don’t set yourself and your more junior colleagues on fire to keep the company warm.”

      X1000000. I want to hire a plane to skywrite this over every major metropolitan area in the county.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Are the newer employees screwing anyone by working their assigned hours and using their time off or is OP screwing herself by not doing the same?
      The long time employees complain about how overworked and tired they are. But they never say no, I can’t do that.
      This isn’t about starting a revolution, this about recalibrating to square one.
      OP, you are sounding more like the employee who refused to eat the pizza the provided to “help the company” more than someone in a truly “work hard; play never” industry.
      How much are you putting on yourself? Do other people work on vacation? Do other people NOT take vacation?
      When you are complaining to your peers, really listen. See if they are doing what you are doing or if this toxic culture is more in your head.
      I hope you find that you’ve just lost your perspective and can reset yourself to something sustainable. Good luck

      1. Sloanicota*

        This is why I didn’t like the ““the world is changing and the priorities of the people we want to hire are different now” – because it makes it sound like “kids these days” just don’t want to work, rather than that you actually agree with them and they’re right. My boss is always team Kids These Days and I’m over here rolling my eyes so hard they’re about to fall out of my head.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Good lord that would be tiresome.
          “They just don’t understand how the world works.”
          Oh, they know exactly how it works.

    4. turquoisecow*


      Why is it the new employees who are blamed, not management’s ineptness or the long-term employees for not pushing back against a terrible culture? Could it be because the newbies are an easier target?

    5. ursula*

      Pass the difficulty up the chain of command, not down. Make workflow your manager’s problem and don’t solve it for them. It’s the only way that management in a place like this will make any changes whatsoever.

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      What OP describes sounds a lot like a law firm, and, if that is the case, you can’t just adjust the deadlines. The deadlines are imposed by courts, government agencies, etc., and failing to meet them can result in default judgments against your client and malpractice claims against your organization. Even if your client doesn’t get you the documents you need to do your work until the 11th hour, you can’t just email the judge and be like, “so, this isn’t happening by when you ordered us to do it, sooo. . . we’re still good to file, right?” You can’t just sub bodies in and out of cases either – there are institutional/fact knowledge issues and billing considerations. This is also why the client pays hundreds to over a thousand dollars for an hour of time.

      This is also why law firms often pay much higher salaries. The deadlines are external and not infrequently flat-out unreasonable, and the expectation of availability and responsiveness to clients and partners is high.. When I worked in legal, one of our practices had to prepare briefing that was hundreds of pages long plus supporting exhibits within three day’s time from a specific event, and what happened at that event dictating the substance of the briefing. There was no way around it. (Adding more people doesn’t necessarily make these easier, either – sometimes, it’s a too many cooks in the kitchen situation.) The law is also slow to catch up with things like discovery deadlines being stuck in the days of a few boxes of paper files and not matching the exponentially larger data sets that are created in modern times.

      Law is an outlier situation, but it’s exactly what OP’s post sounds like to me. And it’s not their coworkers’ fault for setting better boundaries, their firm should be the one setting expectations about availability and responsiveness and compensating appropriately for the factors they can’t control.

  3. Legal Beagle*

    This is so industry dependent and it can be nigh-impossible to set reasonable boundaries when the only reason more junior team members are “getting away with it” is because more senior team members are picking up the slack and “covering” for it so management is not aware. Completely sympathize because, as a Biglaw mid-level I absolutely see this phenomenon going on with my juniors and it is incredibly frustrating to deal with.

    1. Katrine Fonsmark*

      What if people just stopped covering? Isn’t this the staffing issue Alison mentions in her response?

      1. Duckles*

        I feel like commenters are outraged without actually offering a solution. Here’s the reality (coming from a biglaw example, which sounds pretty comparable): You’re paying twentysomethings $250K for their availability. That’s it. And people say to OP “what would happen if you just don’t do their work”– the way the work would actually go is:

        It’s Wednesday. Deal is closing Friday. For whatever reason (opposing party is a jerk/a mess/someone screwed up), at 3pm batch of new documents comes across today. They need to be reviewed tonight so if any documents need to be drafted relating to them, that can get done, and executed, on Thursday before closing.
        If the GenZ says “I can’t tonight, sorry,” then either 1) OP kills herself to do it herself that night, even though it’s properly GenZ’s work and OP has her own work to do, 2) the documents just don’t get reviewed before closing, potentially opening the firm up to huge liability, potentially jeopardizing OP’s career or 3) OP would have to tell the partner that the work didn’t get done, the deal can’t close, torpedoing her own career, because now the client has lost potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars (closing dates are often immobile) and potentially losing the client’s business. None of these are good options.

        At high level, complex work, people are not fungible (eg, another GenZ can’t take over just for the day to handle it). Higher staffing helps, so that on very large matters there might be two GenZs in that role who can coordinate coverage, but client’s won’t pay for an attorney’s time as a “backup” person to be briefed on the case just in case it becomes necessary. But just “setting boundaries” when you’re dumping your work on another person, and the work has a very real deadline, isn’t a viable solution.

        1. NeedRain47*

          In that scenario, assuming it’s a repeating thing and not a one-off, it’s OP’s choice to kill herself over it. If it’s not her work she’s not gonna get punished for it not being done. (or if she is, she already needs a new job b/c this one is full of clowns.) Businesses don’t change their practices if things are working for them. Continually rescuing them from their failure to staff adequately or plan ahead only shows them that their current practices are fine.

          1. LawLady*

            It is her work, in the sense that she’s responsible for making sure the work gets done. She will be penalized for it not getting done.

            1. Duckles*

              I think that’s the key piece– if it’s a true peer and there won’t be blowback, I agree that you just let the balls drop. But it doesn’t sound like they’re truly peers– maybe a midlevel to junior relationship in whatever the industry is– so if OP doesn’t have firing authority over the junior workers, but responsibility to make sure the projects are getting done (this is a pretty common model unfortunately across many industries), it puts her in a really hard spot.

              1. A person*

                Yes this! I don’t work in big law but am in a role where I am frequently accountable for results of people that don’t actually report to me. Which does mean that my options are limited if someone doesn’t get their part done. The culture at my company is ver anti throw someone under the bus (well… for some people anyway) so responding to work not getting done with “well it was x’s task but they won’t work a second past 4 and the work wasn’t done by 4 pm so it didn’t get done” is not typically seen as an appropriate response for the accountable person. This is true even if the person who didn’t get the work done didn’t get it done because of their own time management skills. I’ve had to cover work that I would’ve been blamed for not being done because the person who was supposed to do it, did non-urgent things that they preferred instead and then said “nope I leave at 4 no questions, no exceptions” and their manager refused to address the behavioral issues of not properly prioritizing work. Now yes… this is crappy management too but I do believe there are times when it might be ok to also be a little annoyed with the person that routinely screws you over due to poor time management but whose manager won’t deal with them.

          2. Heather*

            The way it works when you’re mid-level is that you get assigned juniors to help, but the job is your responsibility.

        2. Bridget*

          Except the letter sounds like OP is their peer, not their boss. So why would OP be held responsible for a peer not doing their work? And if it’s important enough, why is their boss not directing them to do so?

          1. Bella*

            Because the way this stuff works is that a sixth year associate is responsible for a second year associate despite not being their boss in the formal sense.

        3. HA2*

          Well, the big question is – what would happen to that junior employee who said “nope, I can’t tonight, sorry?”

          If that has no consequences – if the person says “no, can’t do it, sorry”, then we go through one of your options (1)-(3), and then the person comes in on Monday and keeps working at that same $250k/yr salary – then that’s the management failure right there. Why were your points 2-3 closing with “this jeopardizes OP’s career” rather than “This jeopardizes GenZ’s career”?

          If saying yes to these sort of requests is part of the job, then it should be stated, written down, and enforced. That would lead to it being rare – since people who don’t meet expectations get let go, someone declining this overtime would be an unexpected/unusual event, and, well, then it’s well within the OP’s job to deal with these unexpected/unusual events with overtime, as you say it’s part of the deal.

          …but if it’s not written down and enforced – if the person sets those boundaries, and their work continues as normal, they don’t face any sort of discipline, they find that they’re not actually violating any policies – yeah, then it makes total sense that they wouldn’t want to do pointless overtime “just because that’s the way the field is”.

          There IS a viable solution. Write down the policies that these junior employees are expected to follow. The ACTUAL rules they’re expected to follow, including the expected hours and behavior around last-minute requests. Not the fake rules that pretend these people have work-life balance with a wink-wink-nobody-actually-does, the real expectations that the company has of their employees. Then, enforce them with the usual tools of management – communicate them early in a junior person’s employment, communicate when a person is violating those rules and be clear about the consequences for their career there if they don’t, and let people go if they can’t pull their weight.

          1. LawLady*

            Realistically in 2021 and the first half of 2022, there was SO much work that associates who were setting boundaries could get away with that. No one was willing to fire even half-assing associates.

            But the market has cooled substantially and those juniors are now being laid off. Google “BigLaw layoffs” and you’ll see that there have been quite a few layoffs this year. The juniors who were setting boundaries are being let go.

          2. Skippy*

            Absolutely. I am a firm believer that there should never be any “unwritten rules.” If it’s a rule, then it should be written down. If it’s not written down, it will always be up for interpretation.

          3. Duckles*

            I thought it was obvious that it jeopardized GenZ’s career, and was just pointing out that it sounds like it also would be damaging for OP if the work didn’t get done. I assume since OP is more senior she has some responsibility for getting projects completed but no authority to actively discipline/fire the junior workers.

            FWIW, when I was in a similar role, the explicit (not implicit) expectation is “you are always available unless you have arranged coverage.” You can say that’s unreasonable/not worth it/etc, but it sounds like this is one of those industries and this isn’t a case of unclear expectations.

        4. cabbagepants*

          I relate.

          The LW is a victim of their workplace’s system and it’s unreasonable to task LW with the burden of changing it all from within.

          LW’s workplace *should* increase staffing and, if they truly must have availability, put in place some sort of framework (contracts, perhaps?) that require people to be available as needed. Or, barring that, fire people for not being available when needed, just like they would be fired for not being available during regular business hours.

          In practice, soooooo many workplaces let this burden just fall on the nearest person. And if you are that nearest person, and/or you care about the work being done well, then you do get screwed.

            1. cabbagepants*

              ? Your customers certainly might. I thanked my doctor profusely for taking extra time to check on the health of my developing baby, for example, even though it made my appointment run long and probably annoyed the bean-counters at the hospital.

              The comment section here is forgetting that the LW is a real person and not just some symbolic pawn of the antiwork movement.

              1. Onward*

                I’d argue that it was the doctor’s job to check on the health of your developing baby, no?

                Also, for most people, these situations are not life or death as in the case of the medical field.

                1. cabbagepants*

                  The letter doesn’t give the LW’s industry.

                  As for my doctor, he went above and beyond what the corporate owners of the hospital had proscribed.

                  I can’t believe the people who act like no jobs do important work or that management is the final decider of what work is important.

          1. Parakeet*

            A thing missing from a lot of the “Well you should assert boundaries too!” rhetoric is, what about collective action? Real justice in the workplaces isn’t about individuals choosing to set better boundaries, it’s not some individualistic thing. It’s something that workers organize for together, and negotiate together. This is what unions are for, and that way, nobody gets all the work dumped on them.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              I suppose the word I should have used is rewarded. If thanks are all you require, then that’s an option definitely. (I don’t really believe people who read a work blog are anti work, though. I think people are genuinely looking for good answers to drains on their productivity).

        5. ABK*

          Yes! This is exactly what happens. It’s because the buck doesn’t stop with the company, it stops with whatever executive is in charge of the engagement. SO that executive ends up taking over the responsibility of stuff not getting done. With a lot of client-facing careers, individual reputations matter more than reputations of the company/firms. So the client exec can’t just slack and let the company take the hit.

          A solution is for all the executives to invest more in jr level staffing and make “on call” days more explicit. Staff 2 or 4 juniors on each engagement and they alternate on call evenings and weekends. Be very explicit that on call is an expectation and they shouldn’t make irreversable plans for those evenings. This is what shift work does so that everyone knows the expectations.

        6. Sloanicota*

          I think the solution is to hire two junior associates for somewhat less money each and explain the situation in advance, but promise the three of you will take turns so everybody will sometimes get extra work but sometimes get the weekend totally free – and also, when that happens on 3PM on a Friday, you tell them they can have Monday off if they get it done, or they can take a long weekend, or whatever.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            In BigLaw, associate pay is generally lockstep. The second Cravath Swaine & Moore ups first year salaries by $10-20K, everyone will be following along on Above the Law to see the trickle-down. Same for the annual Associate Bonus Watch. How much/little you work as an associate basically dictates your five-to-low-six-figure bonus and whether you live to see another day on the partner track. Some firms offer two tracks for higher/lower billable hours, but people on the lower hours track rarely make partner, if that’s what one is shooting for.

        7. Boof*

          There’s a LOT in the details and I am reminded of the LW from a while back in what sounded like investment banking – supposedly very lucrative but brutal, though in that case people dropped out of the program leaving LW with more work instead of just declining to do the crazy schedule.
          So it comes down to making expectations and salary explicit
          — are they paying a lot extra for the constant availability; if so are the hours clearly stated up front and then if so that is part of the junior performance if they are not doing it
          — if they are wanting to diversify or struggling to add talent with a brutal schedule no matter the pay then consider adding other plans ie hiring two people for half the salary (I am assuming the salary is something huge) and half the time – like instead of 250K for 80hrs/week, make it 125K for 40 hrs a week, or whatever makes sense when you factor in benefits etc. And then those two are a team who cover each other so all the work gets done as it needs to.
          Overall I while I don’t think LW should just absorb others work without comment, either LW puts it back on them if it’s a real expectation of the job or else change the whole team structure so everyone can have more normal work-life balance and someone else covers.

    2. vegan velociraptor*

      Why is it frustrating to deal with? What would happen if you didn’t pick up the slack and cover for them, but worked a reasonable amount instead?

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        One main reason is that you are paying higher-than-average salaries which may require sacrifice elsewhere (including in your own salary) in order to be able to pay people enough to warrant the OT and interruptions……and then they don’t do the extra stuff. So you’re paying for something you’re not getting. I feel like many people don’t realize these things work both ways since we’re going through a period of time that is very worker-focused. But there is no logical case to pay someone for no reason

        1. vegan velociraptor*

          I think my issue is that I don’t believe it’s ever reasonable to ask people to do the kinds of things described (constant availability, working on holiday, etc), so I don’t see it as the kind of exchange that can ethically be offered/consented to.

            1. Prospect Gone Bad*

              This isn’t usually an ethical question or “belief” as this thread puts it. I’d get the point if we’re talking about data entry clerks, but these sort of arrangements usually happen in jobs paying a couple X more than average jobs. There isn’t as much a reason to have black/white thinking about them.

              Also the world does need people working hours outside of 8-5 M-F to keep the world working. Many people never even get into that schedule to begin with. Some people are used to evening shifts, an occasional weekend shift. They like Wednesdays off so they can do things when most others are working.

              1. vegan velociraptor*

                Yes, but we’re not talking about shift work – that’s usually reasonable hours but at unusual times. We’re talking about permanent availability, working while sick, working on holiday, etc.

              2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                In this case, if there’s a need to have someone available all the time, it sounds like the company needs to bring in staff with a different schedule (e.g., 4-12) to provide coverage, rather than expecting all the 9-5 or 8-4 people to be available all the time.

                I like to think I’m a pretty reasonable human being. In a genuine emergency, I will absolutely put in extra time to get things sorted. My employer is flexible with me in return; if I have an appointment or something during work hours, I can do that and just make up the time. Expecting me to regularly be working OT and available at all hours is a very different thing.

                1. turquoisecow*


                  In an emergency, I’m happy to put in extra hours. But *everything* can’t be an emergency, because then nothing is an emergency.

                  And if you keep having “emergencies” requiring people to work late, then maybe you need to adjust some processes and/or hire more or new people.

                2. Lily Rowan*

                  Right — a friend of mine was a legal secretary who worked a late shift, but that was because the lawyers were working all the time.

                3. Prospect Gone Bad*

                  neh, I mean, have you ever worked with someone who is an industry leader? You can’t just have random people fill in for them. This is where the movie Devil Wears Prada sort of came from. They couldn’t have someone stand in and decide what color will be in next year because Miranda felt like a sabbatical.

                4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                  Run out of nesting. Reply to Prospect Gone Bad:
                  How many people in the workforce are industry leaders, though? I’m certainly not. I don’t think OP is (no offence, OP!). Even if an industry leader is in this type of position of being always available, that doesn’t mean that every staff person also should be. Plus, Alison has pointed out before that it is generally understood that being in senior leadership does mean not always having 9-5 hours, because you’re in charge. But there’s no reason that all the people who are not in charge need to do the same.

                  Doesn’t apply to all industries, but senior leaders in my organization absolutely do take time off on vacations. They just designate someone to act on their behalf will full signing authority while they’re away. And I wouldn’t expect them to be in contact unless a really big emergency that nobody had ever seen before or planned for happened. Yes, there will be some exceptions like law and medicine where that might not be as possible, but I figure this can apply to lots of industries. The organization just has to have people in place who can take on the role while someone is away.

              3. Berin*

                Working non-standard hours and working 80 hours/week are two different balls of wax though. There are tons of jobs that have non-standard working hours, or that work more than 40 hours/week, or have two weeks on/two weeks off. That’s not the issue.

                The issue is that companies for so long have gotten away with assigning the work of three people to one person by creating a culture of perpetual availability and thru fear of professional consequences, which is what is hampering OP. Unlike non-standard work schedules, this practice of under-hiring and overworking was never ethical or reasonable, and that’s the issue that OP is now having to confront.

              4. Ismonie*

                Sure it is. There are all kinds of ways we agree we aren’t allowed to treat people, even in the workplace. The boss can’t make you have sex with them or anyone else. You can’t be physically assaulted.

                Sleep deprivation is literally torture. Working these kind of hours is life-shortening. And with well organized staffing, they could absolutely rotate “on call” or late hours if they wanted to. They don’t want to. They want to extract as much money out of associates, contractors, of counsel, and non-equity partners as possible.

              5. Starbuck*

                You keep saying these jobs are $100k… that’s not actually that much for the level of work you’re describing, especially with the qualifications involved and being in very high COL cities as well. Are you really current on this, that you know how this should work? Where are you getting your info?

                1. Little pig*

                  These jobs are more like $200-$400k. In my (similar) field, you can expect to make $1M/yr within a decade

                2. NeedRain47*

                  $100K is still a lot in a lot of places, I know everyone likes to pretend the midwest and small towns don’t exist, but they do.

              6. Irish Teacher*

                Yeah, the world needs people working outside 9-5, but…it doesn’t need people working 9am – 11pm. It can have one person working 9-5 and then another working 5-11.

                I would think it would generally make more sense all round to hire more people, pay them a good wage and have them working reasonable hours than hiring less people, paying them an extremely high wage and having them working long hours. Two people working 8 hours each will do more than one person working 16, because the latter just won’t be able to sustain the effort. Pay three people $70,000 each and have them work reasonable hours instead of paying two people $100,000 grand each and expecting them to work extremely long hours.

                1. Bella*

                  Lawyers can’t do shift work. Clients are not going to accept getting the “evening” lawyer. It’s just not a thing even in non BigLaw.

                2. New Jack Karyn*

                  Bella, if they don’t want the ‘evening’ lawyer, then they don’t get an evening lawyer. Their problem can wait until 8 am.

                3. Bella*

                  Yes, please tell that to the client paying $800+ an hour. TO BE CLEAR I don’t practice that kind of law and have no intention of ever doing so for numerous reasons including that expectation of availability. I think it’s messed up. But it’s not something individuals can opt out of.

                  (And also, when I was in private practice charging way less than that I absolutely answered calls at 8pm. I don’t really care about the Wall Street guy being able to reach his lawyer late but it actually is a field where true emergencies exist.)

                4. Emmy Noether*

                  Well, that’s easy. We don’t pay our lawyers 800$. We don’t expect them to answer after 6 except in true emergencies, and when they’re on vacation (which they do plan around client’s court dates) we get their replacement or wait. The quality of work is good (because it’s done while fully awake), and litigation costs about 10-20% of what it does in the US. And the lawyers get work-life-balance. It works, everyone wins.

                  It would require a complete culture shift in US law though, which is unlikely.

                5. New Jack Karyn*

                  I am not advising that individuals opt out. I’m advising that, if the client needs those kinds of late hours, they get a somewhat larger team with staggered hours and a rotation of who’s on call from 10 pm to 7 am , weekends, etc.

                  We used to think that factory workers *had* to work 12 hour shifts, and any job was a good job. We used to think it was just fine for children to work in mines, to have little in the way of safety regulations, let alone environmental laws. We grew past these ideas. BigLaw can change their norms if they want to. These conditions aren’t laws of nature.

          1. doreen*

            There are some jobs that legitimately require constant availability and some work while on vacation – but there’s a difference between someone getting an occasional phone call at night/the weekend/vacation and routinely spending the first day of a vacation working or working while taking a sick day. I had a job where I was supposed to answer my phone 24/7 – but I didn’t even get one call a month and they weren’t for routine matters so it wasn’t exhausting or unsustainable.

          2. Observer*

            I don’t believe it’s ever reasonable to ask people to do the kinds of things described (constant availability, working on holiday, etc), so I don’t see it as the kind of exchange that can ethically be offered/consented to.


            1. Lilas*

              Very much this. Working during vacations and sick days is inappropriate, full stop. It’s one thing if vacation time has to be scheduled way in advance and/or few can be out at the same time. But if you’re working, you are not getting your vacation, I don’t care if you’re in Bora Bora.

              24-7 availability is scummy to ever ask of any human employee, and if you can’t staff up to where it’s not the norm, you don’t deserve to exist as a business.

        2. Ismonie*

          No, they aren’t factoring in overtime, otherwise they could pay based on overtime. They are treating salaries as a fixed cost while squeezing as many additional hours out of associates as they can.

          The guy I knew with boundaries in big law is the one they wanted to make partner. And he was brilliant, but because he had boundaries he was always turning in A+ work. When I let them push me around, it became B+ work from me, at best.

        3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          If you define it as extra stuff, why the heck should they do it?

          Pay people for everything that you want and be up front about it. Then it’s not extra.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Exactly. If the expectation is that you’re being paid a much higher wage to regularly put in way more than 40 hours a week, make that clear in discussions with applicants and on the employment contract. An employer doesn’t get to just decide that and not tell anyone.

            1. Bella*

              They do. These places have billable hours requirements that are something like 2,000 hours a year. Which means much much more time in the office because not everything is billable. The expectations are known. But it’s not an immediate termination thing.

              1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                I can certainly see how that applies to some industries, like law. But the sense I get from AAM is that a lot of types of jobs have these expectations that people are available 24/7, including where billable hours aren’t relevant and where you’re not dealing with life/death/freedom-related emergencies. And that it’s often not communicated in advance.

              2. Snoozing not schmoozing*

                I’m replying to your other comment that had run out of nesting. “Lawyers can’t do shift work. Clients are not going to accept getting the “evening” lawyer. It’s just not a thing even in non BigLaw.”
                That norm can and should change, then. It’s like saying patients are not going to accept “evening” doctors so they won’t go to urgent care.

                1. Bella*

                  It’s not the same thing. it’s nice to think it is but for the some reason neurosurgeons don’t always do surgery between 9 to 5, neither do lawyers only work those hours. That doesn’t make Biglaw reasonable but it’s a field where actual emergency situations exist and the expert handling the case needs to handle the case.

        4. Observer*

          One main reason is that you are paying higher-than-average salaries which may require sacrifice elsewhere (including in your own salary) in order to be able to pay people enough to warrant the OT and interruptions……and then they don’t do the extra stuff.

          That’s baloney. No one is paying people enough to warrant the kinds of workloads we are talking about. Sure, not expecting a strict 40 hour work week is one thing. Constant 70-80 hour weeks? Not being allowed to take sick day unless you literally cannot pick up a phone? (The OP says that even when they are sick they take calls if they “can open their eyes.”) Never being able to actually take a full vacation?

          Sorry, even with a really high salary, that is NOT reasonable.

          1. Onward*

            Right – even if you’re paid $250K per year, if you’re always working 80 hour weeks and getting no time off, that amounts to $60/hr…. Worth the constant stress and a few years off your life? I don’t think so. It’s still exploitative even if you put a big bow in the shape of a salary on it.

        5. Zarniwoop*

          Unless they’re exempt you do that by paying them overtime, not by asking them to work off the clock during sick days & PTO (which is illegal.)

      2. Parenthesis Guy*

        Things would drop, deadlines wouldn’t be met, and people would be written up and fired. If you don’t want to work eighty hours a week, don’t go into BigLaw. There’s a reason why they’re paying lawyers $300 an hour.

        1. Raezen*

          I think a lot of people in my generation would rather make $200 an hour and have work-life balance, so that adjustment may need to happen in the next few years to get the best talent.

          1. Somebody*

            Speaking for myself, I went to a law magnet program in high school and won mock trial awards but noped way out of applying to law school when I saw the hours lawyers were working. Now, I fundraise for a university. I make $80k for about 25 – 30 hours of work and am confident this was the right decision.

          2. Parenthesis Guy*

            Most people in all generations would rather something like that. The question is whether you can find enough smart, ambitious go-getters willing to work insane hours for massive pay. You know, the go-getters that worked eighty hours a week in college to get a tough degree to make them eligible for these jobs.

          3. Meow*

            One thing I think people forget is that “best talent” in some cases also means employees willing and able to work well in the circumstances the employer wants or the industry dictates. It doesn’t just mean who is smartest or has the highest GPA.

            1. Observer*

              But it also means the people who actually do the BEST job. And that may not be the person who is willing to work those hours on long term basis. Especially if you care about things like ethics and humanity.

              People who are this invested in their jobs really do tend to lose any sense of empathy and what is reasonable and human. And it can lead to decisions that range from not very good to ethically and practically broken.

      3. Little pig*

        They would probably get fired. Industries like Big Law charge premium rates because they deliver high-quality results very very quickly. The reason they are able to do that is because they expect each individual to deliver high-quality results very very quickly. If you stop doing that, you are fired. It’s a high-churn machine. Legal Beagle is probably compensated very well and I think we can assume they are capable of deciding to leave their job if and when they want to. But ‘working a reasonable amount’ and ‘Big Law’ are incompatible by design

        1. Ismonie*

          This is nonsense. I beat the pants off of several biglaw firms in private practice working about half the hours. Because I slept and thought deeply and wasn’t running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I also did well in biglaw, but much better when it was 2008 and the downturn meant we didn’t have “enough” work so I could turn in A+ stuff, and quickly. Being well rested is underrated.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            Four people working at half power does not equal one person working at full steam. It doesn’t work in manufacturing, construction, sales or law.

            1. Ismonie*

              You’re right. I get way more ideas out of four people.

              And efficiency studies show that working 30-40 hours per week isn’t “half power.” Regular overwork is though.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Nobody mentioned working at half power here yet. It’s more like four people working full steam (apparently unacceptable) vs one burned-out person running on fumes (acceptable and commended).

              1. Professional Staff*


                I used to have a roommate who was a Big Law guy. I still don’t understand how those firms don’t get done for billing fraud. There is NO WAY my roommate was doing work worth anything, let alone whatever they were billing him out as, on his 20th hour in the office.

            3. Random Dice*

              Agree. 4 good part time workers – if they’re not also working multiple other jobs – are going to do the work of 3+ good full time workers.

          2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            In grad school, some of the best advice I ever got was to put limits on our working time, rather than leaving it open-ended. If you know you have to get X, Y, and Z done by 6, you’ll procrastinate less and get it done. And then you also have time to take care of other life stuff, rest and relax, spend time with friends and loved ones, etc. Worked like a charm for me.

            1. AngryOctopus*

              I saw the flip side of this a LOT in grad school (STEM). PIs would expect their people to be in the lab from 8-7 or 8-8. So people took extra long lunches and coffee breaks to spread the work around the day so they had something to do to stay that late. Toxic AF (and a lot of newer PIs are shying away from that model, because so many biotechs offer strong work-life balance, they’ll lose students and the academic pipeline).

              1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                In my social science program, there were two streams. The stream I wasn’t in had a super intense class schedule for the first year. Typically, a full course load was 2 classes a semester. In their first semester, they had at least 4, one of which was stats, which we all took together. They were working all the damn time. By December, all the first years in that stream were zombies.

              2. cabbagepants*

                This was 100% my PhD. People basically lived in the lab, but then also spent endless hours messing around, getting coffee, socializing, etc. It was a lifestyle that was fun for me for a while but not good for either getting the work done or having a life outside.

                1. amoeba*

                  Yeah, I mean, it’s also different because you basically have your whole social live at work – you hang out with your friends, you go for coffee, you go to the gym… It’s hard but definitely not as bad as it would be to work 12 h/day in my “regular” industry job nowadays.

          3. Local gov*

            I agree with this, I am not a lawyer but recently read through a lawsuit filed by one of the largest scariest firms in my area and it was crap. They had a good argument to make but failed to make it and made a lot of factual errors that they really should have caught. Read like the paper I wrote in college at 3 am.

          4. Bella*

            Yes as a non-Biglaw lawyer, we all know that’s not where most of the top legal talent is. But it doesn’t help anyone trying to navigate their business model which is throwing warm bodies at cases for as many hours as the client can stand.

      4. Corporate Lawyer*

        What would probably happen is that Legal Beagle wouldn’t make partner, or if they’re already partner, wouldn’t make senior/equity partner (I’m assuming that by “mid-level,” Legal means senior associate or junior/non-equity partner). The whole BigLaw system is set up to make it almost impossible to set boundaries without sacrificing your career goals, if your career goals include staying in BigLaw. I say this as someone who left BigLaw 25 years ago because I didn’t want to give up my entire personal life to make partner. I’m currently earning less than a third of what I would have been earning at this point in my career had I remained in BigLaw and made partner – and I’m perfectly happy with that trade-off to have a personal life, but there are plenty of lawyers who wouldn’t be happy with that trade-off.

        Is BigLaw super dysfunctional and brutal for its lawyers? Yep! Do I have friends and former colleagues who are still in BigLaw who have been trying for many years to figure out how to change that? Yep! Has anyone actually succeeded in changing it? Nope, not even a little bit!

        1. Ismonie*

          Truth. I remember I always went in as a short timer (I was thinking 1 year, stayed 3 because of the 2008 downturn) and I remember looking at the partners, including the ones I liked, and thinking that there was no way I wanted to be in a marriage like any of theirs.

        2. Observer*

          and I’m perfectly happy with that trade-off to have a personal life, but there are plenty of lawyers who wouldn’t be happy with that trade-off.

          If someone is happy with that trade off, they have no business resenting people who are not happy with it, and won’t make it.

          There is simply no scenario where it’s ok to resent people who are setting reasonable boundaries.

          1. Corporate Lawyer*

            Agree 100% that resenting your coworkers who set boundaries isn’t okay! Resentfulness isn’t the answer here, no matter what.

          2. Unkempt Flatware*

            Yes. Look into your neighbor’s food bowl to ensure they have enough, not to ensure they don’t have more than you. I think this applies here as well.

        3. No Tribble At All*

          As someone who doesn’t know about BigLaw, I’d love for a Friday thread to be “what the heck is BigLaw and how did it get this way?”

      5. Legal Beagle*

        Yes, I would likely get fired because time-sensitive matters would get dropped, deadlines would get missed that aren’t fixable, and potentially sued for legal malpractice.

        It’s not feasible for me to take that risk in the hope that management will fix things when that would involve overhauling the entire biglaw regime, and it frustrates me when people DO take that risk in the security of knowing I will be there to handle it so the risk doesn’t actually fall on them.

        It’s also not a pure question of hiring more. If a client emails you at midnight Friday with an emergency, you’ll have to hop on the phone and work through the weekend and that doesn’t really change no matter how many people are staffed.

        1. nnn*

          But in the LW’s case, her co-workers are doing it and not getting fired. So it might be a different situation.

          1. Yeah, nah*

            They aren’t getting fired because the risk is falling on LW (the more senior employee), not because the risk isn’t there. It’s pretty much exactly what Legal Beagle is talking about.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            BigLaw generally doesn’t fire people immediately. They manage you out, often as part of the review cycle with a fairly generous window for you to find a new job, like leaving your bio on the website for three months or so while you look. When I was in it, there were usually a rash of departures 30-90 days after associate evaluations.

        2. vegan velociraptor*

          With your last point, wouldn’t one solution be to have shift patterns so that people were specifically scheduled to work weekends? I briefly worked in a role where the building needed constant staff presence, but that didn’t mean overtime – it meant there was a schedule.

          I think the issue I have with your and other people’s responses to this is that it seems like from your perspective there is literally nothing employees should do in response to unhealthy working conditions because things aren’t going to change. If biglaw isn’t going to be overhauled any time soon, what can people do other than set their own boundaries? (I imagine unionising is out? I’m not sure what the US context is like in that regard – UK lawyers are unionised.)

          1. Tau*

            Or an on-call rota with something like comp time for hours worked out of hours. Other industries have emergencies too, and the answer doesn’t have to be that you grind your employees to dust expecting 24/7 availability from everyone.

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              My dad worked in a job where there were sometimes big emergencies, including chemical spills, which could happen at any time of day or night. So they had people on call. And he definitely did get called out in the middle of the night sometimes. Fortunately, I believe they paid a little extra for the on-call hours and paid the wage for any time on calls.

              1. AngryOctopus*

                Same with my dad. He had some late-night call outs to the plant. But he then was allowed to either 1-not come in the next day (if a workday) or 2-take time of his choosing in recompense. He was salaried so it was a little different, but he and the other engineers felt it was a fair system.

              2. Tau*

                I’m a software engineer and we have an on-call rota for outages in our production system which I’m part of. Hasn’t happened yet but in *principle* I could be woken up in the middle of the night when it’s my turn. The way it works is, and please note my disclaimer that I am in Germany, not the US:

                * you get paid a low hourly rate for every hour you’re on call (about half minimum wage for me)
                * any time you spend actually working you can/have to take as comp time later
                * the legally required minimum break of 11 hours between work sessions must be upheld. I.e. if I was working until 5pm, then get a call at 1am and work to fix it until 3am, the clock starts ticking again – I don’t need to show up to work until 2pm the next day, nor do I need to make up the hours. (Have not tested the latter in practice but verified with HR this is how it works.)

                Just… I get that there are entire industries that run on the practice of shoving their employees into the mill[1], and that if you’re stuck in one you have limited to no power to change anything. But it feels weird to have these practices then be justified like “oh, but what if it’s an emergency?” as if other industries don’t also have emergencies which are often much more critical/haven’t found a way to deal with those without requiring absurd hours with constant 24/7 availability.

                [1] even if I wonder – does Germany just not *have* investment banking or BigLaw the way the US does, have those industries found a way to manage with humane hours, have they found a way to dodge the extensive and forceful employee protection laws, or what?

                1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                  I’m in Canada, where worker protections are better than in much of the US. Though we certainly have room for improvement!

                  My dad was also fortunate that his was a union job. I don’t recall the exact rules about any of it, but I think he did have options to not come in and work the next day if he got called out in the middle of the night. But maybe it was just that he could use a vacation/sick day.

                2. Penny foolish*

                  “But it feels weird to have these practices then be justified like “oh, but what if it’s an emergency?” as if other industries don’t also have emergencies which are often much more critical/haven’t found a way to deal with those without requiring absurd hours with constant 24/7 availability.”

                  Thank you, Tau. You nailed it.

                3. allathian*

                  It’s interesting because Frankfurt is the (investment) banking heart of the EU, now more than ever following Brexit.

                4. amoeba*

                  I’m pretty sure there are loads of industries in Germany where employee protection laws are basically just ignored. (Mostly by not tracking the hours you work at all, I imagine!)
                  Have definitely heard so from consultants, doctors (a whole other problem as well, as I really don’t like the thought of being operated on by a surgeon at the end of a 48 h shift!), bankers…

                  Even in more reasonable fields, the rules are very often not implemented very well. (For tracking hours, my partner basically just ticks a box saying “I worked the legal amount of hours today” every day, no matter how much they actually worked…)

                5. Emmy Noether*

                  It’s a combination, I think. For one, those industries are certainly nowhere as extreme as in the US. The system for paying lawyers is also quite different (it’s not always per hour, sometimes per task or a percentage of the case value).

                  For another, only employees are subject to employee protections. Partners in firms are not employees, for instance, and don’t have the same protections (for example the 11h break). Also, sometimes just blatantly breaking laws as amoeba says (asking people not to record their hours).

            2. Merrie*

              That doesn’t work though if you need someone who is intimately familiar with some complex case and not just anyone would be able to do it. If something blows up, one particular person may need to handle it even if they’ve already worked 60 hours this week, because they’re the one who knows all about the case already. Other fields that need to have 24-7 on-call coverage, typically the kind of stuff that comes up on call is fairly generic and lots of people who are trained in the area could handle it. If you go into labor at night and get the on-call obstetrician, they’re familiar with what to do even if they’re not your usual doctor. If a team of IT people take turns taking call, they’re all familiar enough with what they’re all working on that they can cover for each other. And even in these fields, if something really screwy does come up and one person has that in-depth, intimate familiarity and it really is needed in this case, there will usually be a way to get access to them, but it won’t be necessary in the majority of cases.

          2. Starbuck*

            Right, if this is widely acknowledged as a churn industry – what on earth is their incentive to break their backs for you? If they’re not going to be staying long anyway, what’s the point?

          3. UK lawyer*

            In my UK jurisdiction, lawyers in private practice are definitely not unionised. it’s only public sector lawyers. I’d be interested to hear more details about the lawyers you know are unionised.

            1. vegan velociraptor*

              Sorry, I was being very broad – I didn’t mean to imply that all lawyers were unionised, just that some are. I know there was a barristers’ strike a while back, for instance, and I’m pretty sure my friend’s husband who’s a barrister is in a union.

          4. MourningStar*

            One of the problems for law, is that often you can’t just sub laywers into a case. That seems to be a point that many of the commenters championing “be the change you wish to see!” and “set your own boundaries!” are missing. In BigLaw you get paid 200 to 250K, and you get your cases, and the deadlines are the DEADLINES. These are cases with FEC deadlines and things that CAN NOT BE MISSED. It’s like a group project at school where everyone else is slacking off. It’d be GREAT if you had an awesome professor who cared about individual work – but many do not. They want the final project – so you can turn in a dumpster fire and fail, or do all the work yourself and everyone can pass.

            People stay in biglaw for many reasons. What Legal Beagle is trying to ask is, “how do I let my younger associates know that this isn’t how it works and they are affecting all of us badly in ways that cannot be fixed by me just setting better boundaries”. Their fellow associates need to get with the program or get out of BigLaw and into jobs that support better work life balance.

        3. Ismonie*

          There are so rarely true emergencies in biglaw. I did a ton of TROs and injunctions compared to all of my friends/colleagues/schoolmates in biglaw, and that said, I only did a handful.

          My boss in small law and I stuck around until 6-7 one night doing an injunction. That’s it.

          1. Avery*

            Shout-out to small law! Where I can work remotely as a paralegal and when my boss called me at 5:30 the other evening he apologized for calling “so late”! (Extra funny because, as a certified night owl, I often work until later than that because I sleep in most mornings.)

        4. Anon for this*

          “it frustrates me when people DO take that risk in the security of knowing I will be there to handle it so the risk doesn’t actually fall on them.”

          As a Big Law lawyer in a similar position – this is so well put. For me the issue is that my bosses’ expectations don’t square with how my junior colleagues are willing to work sometimes – but it’s still my responsibility to deliver the expected results as if the juniors still all work the way I did when I was a junior. (Not saying that way of work is reasonable, fwiw!) It’s frustrating that in the event of a 7pm Friday client emergency, when a partner expects me and the team to cancel our dinner plans and be there, I am the only one on the hook for meeting that expectation because a junior has logged off and is not checking email. Sure, I can give feedback later that they should check email Friday evenings unless they have made specific arrangements otherwise in order to meet team expectations. But when it comes down to it, they had their Friday evening and I didn’t. I’m not a monster; if you tell me it’s your birthday dinner or your mom is in town or whatever I’ll gladly help cover for you. But like Legal Beagle, I get frustrated when there’s no discussion of who can be flexible and deal with the thing, and so it falls on me.

      6. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        Yeah, continue to pass the pain upward. If it’s just too much work for current staffing to cover, and it remains that way despite unreasonable demands (people maintain their boundaries), eventually the people at the top realize they need to adjust the system.

        Consideration for colleagues is not a reason to let your boundaries be stomped. It perpetuates the system for them, as well as for you. Don’t cover for the young people, but don’t contribute to stomping them into submission either. Follow their lead.

    3. JustKnope*

      It sounds like your frustration is exactly that of the OP of this letter! Can you read Alison’s advice and ask yourself why, as a senior employee, you’re “covering” for your juniors and picking up all the extra burden instead of pushing for more employees to be hired spread the work out more equitably? I know it probably feels like management won’t hear you or care but if nobody speaks up, of course they don’t have to care. You’re in the same boat as the OP: the culture only continues to exist because you and other senior employees continue to work at this pace and accept that it’s reality.

      1. Another Lawyer*

        You’ve clearly never worked in BigLaw…it’s not a predictable workload and the comment above yours by Corporate Lawyer is spot on. As a litigator, I never knew when a judge on one of my cases that had sat dormant for months was going to order supplemental briefing, or when a client was going to call needing an emergency TRO or a question resolved. Some months were 300 billable hours and then a big case would settle and there’d be a bit of a breather. Sure, sometimes work can be moved around but if you’re the person with the institutional knowledge of the particular case/client/issue you’re going to be on the hook, particularly as you get more senior. It makes zero sense to staff a case with an additional associate or two just in case someone happens to be on vacation when an issue explodes. Is some of it unrealistic client expectations vs actual need? Sure – but they’re paying $$$$ (I think my billing rate, as a non-partner, was close to $500/hour when I left BigLaw 7 years ago), and associates are very well compensated – in the early 2000s my first year out of law school I was making more than my dad who has a Master’s and at the time was 25+ years into his government job. I am now in-house and while I’ve taken a pay cut to do it I probably make more now on a “hours worked” basis than I did at the Firm. To change the culture would require a concerted effort from essentially the AmLaw top 100 and that’s not going to happen.

        1. Ismonie*

          A lot of this is busyness culture. Those of us who have practiced in mid and small law, including against large firms, are still able to handle the same types of cases without working ourselves into the ground.

          Also, just about every efficiency study of knowledge work ever done shows that 35-40 hours is about the most productive time a person can manage per week. (And I’m not even talking billable hours, just hours.)

          Working more than that, beyond massive health issues, also produces less work. Not less work per hour, but less overall work. The billable hour distorts all this, though, because it means the firm makes more money the less efficient the workers are.

          Here is more on that: “The Business Roundtable study found that after just eight 60-hour weeks, the fall-off in productivity is so marked that the average team would have actually gotten just as much done and been better off if they’d just stuck to a 40-hour week all along. And at 70- or 80-hour weeks, the fall-off happens even faster: at 80 hours, the break-even point is reached in just three weeks.”


          And again, this isn’t a 40, 60, or 80 billable hour work week, but an 80 hour week. This is why biglaw is such an inefficient shit show.

        2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          ( warning suicide) Big Law is insane. I don’t have to take calls on midnight on Friday and my clients might actually kill themselves

        3. Sal*

          I think the institutional knowledge part is key, especially in law (not just biglaw—I’m a former public defender). No one knows your cases like you know your cases; it makes having an emergency plan/sub harder because you would have to include “getting my emergency sub up to speed on everything I know that might be relevant in an emergency” on a regular and ongoing basis—it’s not just about staffing but rather about contingency-planning on a regular basis so the staffing surplus would actually be ready to hit the ground running in an actual emergency. And the employer isn’t going to want to take the hit on billables that that time would cost, when from their perspective, that’s what the salary premium is for (you just being available for emergencies).

          This is not a defense of biglaw for the record! It’s just laying out a cost that biglaw culture will likely push strongly back against absorbing.

          1. Boof*

            Eh. No one knows my patients quite like I do and yet there are very few emergencies that only I can handle. People know my private cell and/or can page me I will answer but I also don’t have to drop everything and handle medical emergencies myself – I trust others whose job it is to handle the emergency and page me if there’s a question that I’m the one who can best answer. Honestly I don’t get many pages; those I do get are usually quick and to the point and aren’t a lot of extra work for me since I’m answering what only I know, not trying to figure out a bunch of new things. Big law gonna big law and I know some people out there like being workhaholics but there’s always alternatives and things are probably overall more functional if no one is worked to the breaking point.

      2. Meow*

        This is more realistic advice for employers within relatively reasonable industries. Industries that are not reasonable are not going to be as receptive or even as likely to adjust if someone quietly changes their behavior. High pressure industries like big law, wall street investing and others are simply going to let that person go and move on the next person in line who wants to make crazy money.

        1. Observer*

          This is more realistic advice for employers within relatively reasonable industries. Industries that are not reasonable are not going to be as receptive or even as likely to adjust if someone quietly changes their behavior.

          Then you* don’t get to resent people who DO quietly set *reasonable* boundaries.

          It’s not reasonable to expect people to set them selves on fire to keep you or the company warm. It wildly unreasonable to resent people who refuse to sacrifice themselves for refusing to sacrifice themselves. Not sacrificing themselves is NOT messing people over. The ones who are messing people over are the main profit makers whose whole model is predicated on churn and exploitation.

          1. Meow*

            You’re not responding to the point I’m making in this comment, you’re responding to what you think my opinion is about this topic overall.

      3. LawLady*

        Part of the issue here is that the senior folks are not “just” employees. They own client relationships, and when those relationships are lost, the partners and senior associates lose their “book of business”. When you’re a partner, you can’t just “pass the pain up”. You have to cover for the juniors, because otherwise you’ll lose the client.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          Yes, if you’re at the top, you can’t pass the pain up. Correct. The point of passing the pain up is so that it reaches the top, where the people who can make changes are located.

          1. LawLady*

            But senior associates and non rainmaker partners are not at the top. They can’t change the culture or expectations of the firm or BigLaw. However they do own their own books of business, so will face the consequences of losing the client.

    4. Observer*

      I absolutely see this phenomenon going on with my juniors and it is incredibly frustrating to deal with.

      If you are frustrated with the new folks who are refusing to destroy themselves, then I really don’t have any sympathy.

      “I’m killing myself so you should too” is NOT acceptable unless there is a TRUE emergency. Making a few extra dollars in client billing is absolutely does NOT qualify!

      1. HR Friend*

        That’s.. not at all what they’re saying. They’re saying that *if they don’t cover for their junior staff*, everyone loses their jobs. Juniors too. So it’s frustrating that juniors don’t realize what’s happening and step up.

        The commenter here is not the problem, and I don’t know why you think YELLING at them to FIX the LEGAL industry is going to help.

        1. Danish*

          Really? You think a firm would fire EVERYONE who worked there, if they all refused to do more than is reasonable? And that they would be incapable of getting a job anywhere else? The whole “I have to pick up your slack” is just back to blaming the junior employees for the dysfunction of the industry.

          “stepping up” to help in their own exploitation isn’t a good goal. Not to mention, how else will a culture shift happen, if not by a big shakeup like “BIGLAW firm had to fire everyone who worked there because they decided they would no longer work themselves to death”?

          1. HR Friend*

            …yes? Law firms will fire associates if they don’t work the hours and service the clients. Believe me there are 1000 others waiting in the wings. This isn’t a problem that individuals can solve by just refusing to do their jobs.

            Grads who join a big firm know what they’re getting into. So, yes, it’s frustrating if they want to have it both ways – join the firm and buy in to the career path and then let their more senior associates pick up the slack.

          2. HR Friend*

            btw I agree that it’s dysfunctional. It’s understandable for people to be frustrated when they’re working within dysfunction. But frustrated ≠ outraged, exploited, or willing to start a revolution lol

          3. NotAnotherManager!*

            No, I believe what they’re saying is that if you just let things not get done, you’re going to have client satisfaction issues, at best (malpractice complaints, at worst). If you are unable to provide white glove service for BigLaw prices, your competitors will happily take your business. No business = no jobs.

    5. nnn*

      IS it the industry in this case though? The LW said this is the culture at their company, not industry-wide. And I would think if the deal was “work horrible hours in exchange for amazing riches,” they would have mentioned that. There are a lot of companies where that’s not the deal and it’s not an industry-wide expectation.

  4. vegan velociraptor*

    I really love this advice.

    I’ve got a weird one in my own workplace where I am part of a pretty autonomous team. A couple of us have very strong boundaries around work, in terms of not answering emails on days off/sick days, going home at 5.00, etc. But a couple of my colleagues really don’t – they answer emails when they’re sick, come in early every day to answer emails, apologise for going on holiday. I really don’t get it: there is absolutely no downside to setting boundaries, we don’t get told off, we don’t have much managerial oversight, our work is never so urgent that anyone will come to harm if we let an email sit, and yet they still (from my perspective) overwork. It’s a mindset that I find really alien!

    1. vegan velociraptor*

      In terms of advice for the OP, I just want to emphasise that your coworkers setting boundaries really isn’t screwing over the rest of the team or being inconsiderate – it’s your company doing that by piling on the pressure and not providing adequate staffing. In a properly functioning company everyone should be able to have reasonable boundaries, the very least of which is not working when you’re sick or on holiday.

    2. Fed Up*

      SAME in my office. Last Monday morning, I opened an email from someone who was working at 10 PM on Sunday evening. FOR WHAT. All our deadlines are essentially self-imposed! I can’t even fathom being so anxious to work that I would open my laptop a minute before I had to.

      1. vegan velociraptor*

        It confuses me so much! In my role we mainly meet with students – but we set our number of appointments, appointment times, etc. So when my co-worker says she’s coming in early so she can get on top of her emails, I’m like…just set fewer appointments so you can answer them! I have another co-worker who often leaves a working day in the middle of her holiday days so she can deal with stuff – baffling.

      2. I have RBF*

        So, I do know of people who work at odd hours, but they also are often unavailable during standard business hours off and on over the week. They can’t keep a schedule to save their lives, but are sufficiently expert that as long as their work gets done in a timely manner no one much cares when they do it, even if that “when” is 2 am on a Sunday morning, and it was due at 5 pm Monday.

        It’s not my preferred way to work – I like having times when the company computer is off – but it works for them. Some people even do it as a disability accommodation for things like sleep issues or chronic fatigue.

      1. vegan velociraptor*

        One of them looks a bit flustered and says she’s happy to do it; another says that she feels more stressed if she’s not connected to email and responding to stuff.

    3. ThatPerson*

      I am that person who is always available. I have a coworker who literally never, ever works on weekends unless the world is coming to an end (read: twice that I know of in the last 10 years). But I hate coming in Monday morning to a deluge of emails, it’s much easier for me to deal with things as they happen, even if it’s Sunday at 10pm. It’s not in my job description, but I do a lot of support, and, yeah, most of it could wait, but if I can tell somebody, “oh, just do A” on a Saturday, then I don’t get an email on Monday that they had no idea what to do and they did B and C and now it’s going to take me hours to untangle the mess.

      Also I know everyone says not to do this, but staying connected to work most of the time drops my stress level. Checking my email 3-4 times a day keeps me connected and on top of things, and people know they can contact me anytime and get help, and I don’t have to spend weekends wondering what fires I will have to put out on Monday.

      1. Skippy*

        The problem is that sets up an expectation for your colleagues that many of them simply will not or cannot meet.

        1. There You Are*

          Nah. I’m the same as ThatPerson and it is spelled out really, really clearly to my peers and staff below me that this is my personal preference. Our managers (and me, too) will push back if someone responds to work stuff during non-work time.

          If communication around these things actively happens in a department, then everyone knows what is truly expected of them.

        2. ThatPerson*

          No. There are two other people on my team – the “only two weekends in 10 years” guy, and another newer person who generally also shuts down outside of work hours, but I maybe ask for something one weekend/evening every 3-4 months. They pick up more of what is our actual job, which can be done from 9-5 and requires focus, and I do more of the “soft” things which would interrupt that focus but which also tend to happen out of hours. It works out well.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I hope that you take extra breaks during your regular working hours to balance out the extra time you end up spending on working during the weekend.

    4. Constance*

      I’m one of those people who sets boundaries while my colleagues work themselves into the ground. And even though my employer insists they are all about work/life balance, and we’re in an industry that doesn’t have emergencies, the raises and promotions and praise only go to the people who work every weekend and take on so many projects and responsibilities that they exhaust themselves. The quality of my work and the satisfaction of my clients doesn’t matter. I’m not a team player because I’m choosing my own health and wellbeing over the company’s bottom line.

  5. Richard Hershberger*

    “If your clients really need constant availability, the way to provide that is by staffing at higher levels…”

    This is key. There may be exceptional cases, but in general two people working forty hours a week will produce better work than one person working eighty hours. If the company is able but unwilling to hire two people, it is simply abusive. If it is genuinely unable to afford two people, then it does not have a business plan.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      “ it is genuinely unable to afford two people, then it does not have a business plan.”

      Or its business plan is ‘take advantage of the people willing to work 80 hours and of their vulnerabilities (afraid to set good boundaries because of perceived change in status)’

      Maybe it wasn’t that when they started but it sure is now.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      In my experience, the second person is usually cheaper than riding the first person harder; it’s more finding that second person to hire and getting their headcount approved.

      1. Antilles*

        In my experience, that’s not how companies make the decision.

        A salaried, exempt junior staffer makes the market rate. Let’s say $100k per year as a round number. That salary is basically the same if he works 40 hours per week or 80 hours per week – at most, maybe some minor bonuses if he goes 80 hours. So for 80 hours of work per week, I’m paying at most $120k total.
        But if I hire a second junior staffer, that person is also going to get paid the market rate of $100k per year. So having two guys working 40 hours per week means that I’m paying a total of $200k for that same 80 hours of work per week.

        Now we can talk about bigger picture items like risk of burnout and how overwork means 1×80 isn’t actually equal to 2×40 and so forth. BUT those are nebulous items whereas the cost of hiring a second person is black-and-white right on the balance sheet, so companies working employees like this almost always just look at the straight financial when deciding to just keep pushing current employees harder.

        Oh sure, if you have trouble finding people, that can play into it…but at heart, the decision is raw finances of “no, we’re not doubling the department labor budget by doubling our staff”.

        1. mreasy*

          Absolutely. My company, currently, who failed to hire another person in my department for the past 8 months, is now dealing with the fact that I’m on medical leave for a month due to stress causing my chronic illness to flare up. Companies who are focused on hypothetical “what can we get out of them” bottom lines are the problem.

        2. Warrior Princess Xena*

          The problem is that it’s easy to quantify the cost of adding an additional person and hard to quantify the cost of having one overworked person. There are times when it becomes very obvious (like your poor overworked staffer quitting and then you lose three contracts because you don’t have anyone to staff the position) but that math is much harder to do because like many other good changes the results are almost invisible when they’re done well.

          1. mreasy*

            Yep! Companies need to count burnout & employee exhaustion, stress, health issues, etc., into the equation (but you’re right – they never seem to do so).

          2. Antilles*

            The cost of adding an extra person is a direct hit to the department budget and shows up immediately in black-and-white in your “labor budget” line item.
            The cost of overworking someone is long term and vague, so it’s a lot easier to overlook and discount. Especially since a lot of these costs are often more of “missed opportunities” that aren’t clearly linked to the overwork – e.g., finishing second on a proposal because there wasn’t time to make it truly sparkle.

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              It’s hard to set up the counterfactual on this one: what would the overworked person’s productivity and work quality look like if they were no longer overworked? Of course, lots of places don’t even realize that this is a thing to think about and assume that the relationship between hours worked and productivity is linear, when it isn’t.

          3. Richard Hershberger*

            This. It was a great leap forward in my education when I realized that once a company reaches a certain size, the only things that matter are what show up as line items on a spreadsheet. Anything that can’t be quantified this way is dismissed as fuzzy-headed nonsense.

        3. Your local password resetter*

          Sounds like your company is abusing the exempt status to give people absurdly high workloads and only pay a normal workload.

          Of course it’s cheaper to force people to work for free than to pay them fairly. Which is why they shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

    3. Parenthesis Guy*

      “in general two people working forty hours a week will produce better work than one person working eighty hours.”

      It depends on the difficulty of work. The harder the work is, the less likely a second person can do it. And the less likely it is that a second person can do it, the more likely that this second person ends up being largely useless and the first guy is in the same spot.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        The harder the work is, the more likely it is that being tired all the time and burned out will lead to lower quality work and more errors, though. Being exhausted is bad for cognitive processing. I can do easy stuff when I’m tired, but it doesn’t go well if I try to do complicated stuff.

        The solution here is to not take on more of that super difficult work than the staff can accomplish. If you have one guy who can do X, you can’t take on two people’s worth of X!

      2. T*

        This is silly. Sophisticated knowledge-based work is some of the hardest to be good at working longer hours. I understand that a lot of people in these roles really believe that they are specially talented and specially educated and only they can do their job. People really buy into this idea of themselves as a hero and this being the way it Has To Be, I think this is true across industries where people are required to work absurd hours because people want to convince themselves it’s necessary. (Hospital medicine, biglaw, blah blah.) But unless you are literally Einstein it’s probably not true.

        1. cabbagepants*

          This is an unkind take. I’m in another one of those industries with the expectation of round the clock availability. It’s abusive and shitty but it’s very, very hard to give a perfect pass down of high-ambiguity work every single day. Characterizing “wanting my work to be done right” as believing that I am “special” is just really inaccurate.

      1. I'm fabulous!*

        That’s the sad thing. Management will just pass on the work to someone else. That’s what happened at my salaried Old Job. The person who set boundaries did less where I got stuck doing more with no say in the matter. My only way to balance my time out was to come into work later or leave much earlier on Fridays.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          A friend recently left a job where there was the expectation that people would work a bunch of OT (and get pressured to not claim the extra time). She was getting super burned out and wanted to set more boundaries, but she knew that if she did, the manager would dump all that work on the junior staff, which she didn’t want to do. So she found another job and is much happier.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Because OP is a human, and this is an extremely human thing to do. I commend OP for having the self-awareness to realize this is not the right response, or a response that changes the culture.

      See a zillion family conversations about how well of course Aunt Zelda is being unreasonable, she’s an unreasonable person, as a family member who is not Aunt Zelda you need to apologize to her and tell her she’s right so she will stop setting everything on fire.

      1. Bearly Containing Myself*

        Ah, from your reference to “Aunt Zelda”, I can see you have met my sister! I recently shared with another family member that she is like the boy everyone is afraid of in a classic Twilight Zone episode titled “It’s a Good Life”.

    2. Delta Delta*

      Because workplaces like this completely warp your sense of normalcy. If you’ve ever hyperventilated intermittently over an entire business day while on vacation because you know you’re going to get in trouble for not answering that email or taking that call, you have some sense of how OP feels.

      1. mreasy*

        100%. Also culturally we are still very much in the mindset that hard work / long hours are important/good/the way to get ahead, because the folks at the top benefit tremendously from that attitude in workers. It’s hard to have been in the workplace for 10-20+ years, be realizing that how much you’ve given up to this narrative, and to see young people early in their career rejecting it. Being able to accept that we’ve all been duped is very difficult, while resenting one’s younger coworkers is much easier, especially since there is an actual day to day knock-on effect of their stand.

        1. Random Dice*

          “Being able to accept that we’ve all been duped is very difficult, while resenting one’s younger coworkers is much easier”

          Dang. That’s realigning some stuff inside my head.

    3. Prospect Gone Bad*

      This sort of language is very much a simplification. If you’ve ever been in this sort of job, there are 10000 moving parts. It’s rarely your boss dictating you do a specific task or work to a specific time. There are various motives pushing you, one is to please a customer, one is to get a customer from a competitor to you and get them in your book, one is out of pure curiosity to work on a new thing and figure out how it works and not being able to put down the laptop at 5:30. For me it was a way to do my regular work and get onto higher-profile projects and rub elbows with people 15 years older than me with much better experience.

      There is usually higher pay to compensate which can mean saving for a house and building a retirement nest egg and being able to retire earlier than if you had lower pay and work life balance.

      Then there is a relationship-building part and the resume building part. You build stronger bonds in jobs like this than in “regular” jobs and many people are attracted to that aspect

      1. Observer*

        Which is a long way to explain that a large part of the model of these industries is to be exploitative and creating “sick systems” / using Stockholm syndrome to get “the most” out of people. The other piece of the model is the few people who actually like what’s on offer, but don’t care about the human cost.

        1. Prospect Gone Bad*

          I come from a place of accomplishing and overcoming, I really don’t like life being couched in negative language like this unless it’s warranting. You are ignoring the points and calling it something it isn’t:

          1) pay will be cut not because people are mean, but because there is no reason to reward someone for something they don’t do. For example, you don’t pay a contractor to replace the roof and redo the bathroom if you’re only getting the roof done
          2) Some people do this on purpose to build history in a short # of years. Some people want to have their career then have a family. Not everyone wants an 8-hour-day career that last X # of years. Some people want to cram it into a shorter # of years. That is their prerogative and the exact opposite of exploitation
          3) You’re ignoring things like optional travel, conferences, customer meetings, work lunches, pet projects, stretch assignments that show up in these sort of jobs. It’s not realistic to fit every opportunity and stretch assignment in an 8 hour day.

          I feel that you need to accept that other people have different wants and desires and goals and timelines

    4. Double A*

      This is such a common way power is maintained! People are more likely to be resentful towards people closest to them, and people in power take advantage and stoke those resentments.

      1. oranges*

        Yep, and it’s not just corporations who do this. Plenty of powerful people and groups retain that power by turning everyone “below them” against each other. (Different races, socioeconomic groups, etc.) That way none of them look UP.

    5. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      This is classic internalized oppression. We also see it in senior women execs who didn’t get maternity leave when they were young, so why should women get that now?

      1. Lilas*

        It’s the last generation to get hazed resenting the first generation not to. They’re not getting away with something extra, their experience is normal and yours is f’d up.

    6. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Perhaps partly because the “easy” way to solve the problem would be for the coworkers to change their behaviour. (Easy compared to a big culture shift at the organization). And partly from being resentful that she suffered while these new people aren’t, and maybe she didn’t have to; this resentment is probably rooted in jealousy. I think people will sometimes turn to anger to avoid feeling sad.

      Like Falling Diphthong said, I think the LW is aware that the resentment she feels is misplaced and that’s why she’s reaching out to AAM. We can’t control the emotions that we feel, but we can interrogate, reframe, etc. My read of the letter is that the LW wants to question and challenge the emotions that are coming up.

    7. Parakeet*

      This is pretty uncharitable to someone who is struggling. I don’t think the OP should be blaming them! But I understand why the OP is stressed and under pressure, and I don’t think it’s just passing on hazing – it’s trying to survive in the moment. I said above, and I’ll say here, that I think the way to go is collective, planned action, juniors and seniors together. Not just “individuals decide that they’re going to do less work than other individuals and use some pop psych mixed with pop antiwork to justify it” but “everyone bands together and negotiates collectively to fight against anyone being screwed.”

    1. Ashley*

      This sounds easy but there are times in my industry it can be life and death, but 90% of the stuff isn’t. So it becomes a question of disconnecting but catching the life and death. (And people will definitely abuse any opening so just saying don’t call me unless it is life and death doesn’t work with folks outside the office.)

      1. Ama*

        I do think this is a nuance that sometimes gets lost when we talk about work boundaries. I have very strong boundaries around not working outside of office hours, except for the couple times a year when the nature of a very time-sensitive project I do annually makes peeking at my email a couple times over the weekend worth it to not get slammed with dozens of emails that must be urgently handled on Monday morning. But I think it can be really hard for people new to my employer to pick up on what is a “maybe I should check in over the weekend” project and what is a “eh, I can leave it until Monday” project.

        I try to give my reports and new colleagues some guidance on setting priorities but I have a particular colleague who joined us a little over a year ago who will basically always default to doing work off hours despite constant feedback from the rest of us that no one expects her to do that.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        A friend explained it to me once, when I was talking about work and explaining how XY and Z needed to get done, but weren’t getting done and I didn’t have the time, resources, whatever to get them done: “don’t be more vested in whether stuff gets done than the people who own / run the business are”

        If the business owners aren’t super concerned (to the point of action) about something, don’t be a martyr and take it on. If the people responsible for staffing, and funding and scheduling aren’t doing what’s needed to get certain things done, in many circumstances, it makes no sense to knock yourself out, upend your own life to try to do it.

        Also, perversely, in some workplaces, being the person who always puts in the extra time, buttons up all the details that no one else was keeping an eye on – it’s as if by treating your self, your time as expendable and perpetually available to your employer as resources, you enable your employer to devalue and discount you, sometimes to the point of them giving more opportunities, flexibility and rewards to the people who ARE setting better boundaries (x 10 if you’re a woman who has been at the same company for a while)

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I can see how in some organizations, the person who is always available wouldn’t get opportunities or promotions because they know they’re reliant on that person in that role. Especially if they figure they’d have to hire 2-3 people to cover what that person takes care of on the regular.

  6. KatEnigma*

    You admit that talking to management about the unrealistic expectations would go nowhere. In almost every instance like this, they would go nowhere. The one and only way to change the culture is for individuals to say no, and then more and more individuals to join in, when they notice the ceiling doesn’t cave in and no one gets fired (because who would do your work if they fired you?) If you don’t have the guts to set boundaries yourself, at least be glad for those who do.

    Maybe take a small step by refusing to take on the extra work they refused? Or stop taking calls and answering emails, period, when you are sick? Small steps to freedom?

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Seriously, at least don’t answer calls and emails when you’re sick. You have a ready-made excuse and you’ll get better faster if you rest, anyway.

    2. Artemesia*

      It seems pretty self punishing to ‘work on the first day of vacation’. Sheesh. That is the place to start. Book vacation and then don’t response; if anyone whines about it, say ‘I was in the air — or we were traveling and didn’t have internet’ — or just say nothing and probably no one will say anything. That is really self imposed punishing behavior.

      1. KatEnigma*

        I really feel for the LW. They seemed so proud and eager to describe the boundaries they have set, not realizing that most of us are horrified that LW is working when sick and on vacation.

        LW has been warped into thinking those expectations are just acceptable norms. I know they talk about it not being right, but then all the rest of the words support it as just the way it is. What LW really needs is a job in a different firm, where maybe they could set fresh boundaries- but I’m really afraid that LW doesn’t even understand what those should be.

        1. Lilas*

          Yeah OP, you’re describing these things you feel you have to do as though you casually mentioned that your office makes you wear a duncecap if you make a typo, but you resented need hires for refusing to wear it. You shouldn’t be fine with this!

          1. Florida Woman*

            I get the sense that many commenters are approaching this LW’s issues with assumptions about the true importance and urgency of the work that’s informed by their own work experience. Personally, I’ve worked in regulated industries where failure to make timely and accurate regulatory filings jeopardizes the company’s ability to do business and therefore the livelihoods of hundreds or thousands of people. Having a team member leave early to go to trivia night at their local bar or pursue other hobbies while the team is staying late to meet the filing deadline would not be viewed kindly. It’s not a “dunce cap for typos” situation, for sure. Obviously we don’t know exactly what is going on with the LW’s workplace, but I don’t think we have enough information to make sweeping judgments about the urgency of overtime work or out-of-office availability.

            1. Eyes Kiwami*

              But presumably if it were really urgent, OP wouldn’t be taking vacation time during it? And the juniors would face consequences for turning down work, and OP would be mad instead of jealous?

              And if huge deadlines with big consequences are part of the work, surely smart companies would staff a couple people deep so that they can meet those deadlines even if OP is sick. There are 2-3 backups for each professional sports team position in case someone gets hurt, why isn’t there a backup for OP?

      2. rayray*

        I agree. I’m going on a short trip over the weekend, I got my out-of-office auto-reply email ready to go earlier today, stating I am out of the office and have no access to email or phone calls, please contact this person and this person for any questions or work matters. It’s set to start as soon as I leave on Thursday.

        I don’t even have Outlook on my phone. If I get any phone calls, I will most likely have my phone on Do Not Disturb or will be otherwise occupied anyway.

        1. mreasy*

          I took my work email off my phone and only put it back on when I’m traveling for business. It really helps!

          1. Ama*

            I have a “Work” apps folder on my phone that is tucked on a different screen from my home screen and the apps I use for personal use and that does the trick for me — I can get to it in an emergency or when I’m traveling on business but I have to consciously choose to go to that page, open the folder and hit the button which keeps me from “just checking in.”

            I also turned off the setting that shows how many unread messages there are before you even open the app. (I think I got that tip from someone here years ago.)

        2. I have RBF*

          Yeah, I’ve had jobs where I had company email on my phone, and it sucked. I now don’t. I have our Zoom chat on my phone, but it is set not to notify. I have regular “do not disturb” hours on my phone. It helps a lot.

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      This. Those larger conversations OP refers to happens BECAUSE individuals start say “This is wrong.”

    4. Your local password resetter*

      In other words: have you considered unionizing?
      Using your collective power to force management to adress the problems instead of punishing anyone who doesnt destroy themselves for company profit?

    5. Danish*

      Yes, I found that such an interesting point and really sort of illustrates, LW’s internal struggle, I think. That they were like “listen I just wish instead of independently deciding to set healthy boundaries they would have engaged in a conversation that I KNOW would be absolutely useless to have but…”

      LW, sometimes the more-objectively-correct path (having industry wide convos about healthy boundaries) is not a path that is available. You can more the unavailability if you want but you should still seek another path, which is what your coworkers are doing.

  7. Falling Diphthong*

    I really love this letter as a microcosm of the emotions that swirl around noticing that a norm is an unreasonable norm. OP, I commend you for having the self-awareness to recognize that your ire is directed at the wrong targets. (And that the broader conversation would have changed nothing whatsoever.)

    My advice is to start setting and enforcing your own boundaries. That’s how the culture shifts over time.

    Gen Z: My kids are in their 20s, and dead serious about work-life balance being very important to them.

    1. BBB*

      this! good on OP for acknowledging their feelings but also recognizing that those feelings are being unfairly directed at their coworkers.
      good luck OP in following the example your coworkers are setting and establishing your own healthy boundaries!

    2. Hannah Lee*

      Personally, when I’ve had similar feelings of resentment towards co-workers over issues like this, if I take some time to really sit with it, it comes down to a handful of things:

      1st – Frustration at the “injustice: of what’s going on “Why do THEY get to just clock out when I (and a handful of others) don’t”? That’s the part that (incorrectly) aims resentment at the wrong people.

      2nd – Some really old, baked in from childhood and the place I’ve always lived in old-school puritan + capitalistic work ethic which values working more, working harder, always delivering whatever is asked by an employer, even when the incentives or value of doing so isn’t a good trade off, and even when it comes at a really high personal costs. It may have ramped up when in my first jobs, I was poor and working paycheck to paycheck with no safety net, so pleasing my employer, never saying no felt necessary to ensure a roof over my head. But I’m not in the situation now, so I need to dump that thinking.

      3rd – Realization that I’ve got more power in the situation than I first thought …
      – I can either start setting my own appropriate boundaries
      – decide that I’m going to keep doing all the stuff because the reward for doing so works for me (whether that’s pay or simply the satisfaction of doing it or something else)
      – decide there’s no way to do either of these at the current job so it’s time to start job hunting and get out of there

    3. Random Dice*

      “I really love this letter as a microcosm of the emotions that swirl around noticing that a norm is an unreasonable norm.”

      Good point.

    4. Fives*

      Gen X here. I have boundaries because a work/life balance is really important to me. I do log in/go in early most days because I like to and it covers any dr’s appts, etc I might have.

    5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Totally agree. I’m really glad the LW wrote in! It’s a tough situation because it involves questioning beliefs, including unacknowledged beliefs, and considering making profound shifts in perspective on some things.

      Setting boundaries isn’t usually the hard part, it’s enforcing boundaries when they’re crossed. So yes, LW, start setting a few small boundaries that you will enforce unless something is on fire and see how it goes. The reaction will give you lots of very useful information about how to adjust your approach and next steps.

  8. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    “On the other hand, doing this independently on an individual level (instead of starting a broader conversation about work-life balance at the firm, which admittedly would go nowhere)”

    Doing this IS starting a broader conversation, in a way, because it forces people to confront it or to suffer the impacts in a way that just talking about it wouldn’t do. Now you can also petition your manager or gather up other coworkers and petition together.

    “..but I also feel like they are being inconsiderate”

    I can see what you’re saying – they are watching their coworkers work and be stressed so why don’t they feel compelled to pick up their share? I would propose a different response. Imagine someone participating in a harmful behavior and lamenting the real negative impacts of it. An abusive relationship comes to mind. Why should I (for example) bail you out again by lending you money after your spouse gambled it all away again? I’m just going to enjoy my own hard-earned money and not throw good effort into a black hole/bottomless pit. It’s not like them helping you is going to make any appreciable difference, after all.

    1. oranges*

      Yeah, your company is never, ever going to “start a broader conversation about work-life balance.” They’re never, ever going to give you permission to set better boundaries and stop giving them free labor. They are trying to make the most money by spending the least.

      You can’t change the (company) world, LW, but you can’t change YOU.

    2. El l*

      That’s right, OP. You know how you start that broad conversation about work-life balance you want? By taking a deep breath and actually saying to your manager things like,

      “No, the deadline is not achievable. Please adjust the client’s expectations.”

      “No, I cannot pick up the slack for someone else. I’m at capacity, and if they say they are too then I’d expect they are.”

      “Sorry for not responding to you, I’m sick / on vacation.” If pushback, “First day or not, it’s vacation, I’m out.” Or, “I’m in no state to reply. It’ll have to wait.”

      Notice the tone. Down to earth – but firm. Statement of fact, with no give.

      That’s how you get that conversation.

      1. AABBCC123*

        “Then you will be terminated immediately and possibly face legal liability including criminal action”

        Those are the stakes for some people in these kind of jobs (fiduciaries, guardians, etc).

        Imagine if child protective services just said “no” because they are overworked and a kid died?

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Hey, watch it. CPS workers do have the right to go home at night. They have the right to sick days and vacations, and everything else in their pay & benefits package. They are often overworked, and tragically, sometimes children have some very bad outcomes. That is not always the fault of the case worker who turned off their phone at 6 pm.

          How dare you bring abused & murdered children into a discussion of work/life balance.

          1. AABBCC123*

            You missed my point entirely. The point is that sometimes the decision on the right balance between work and life is not an easy one to make and there can be serious “real world” consequences beyond a client being unhappy or a boss being mad.

            I spent years of my life in the emergency services. Do you think I liked having to work double shifts and midnight callouts? No, but I did it anyway because if I chose not to, and someone died, I wouldn’t be able to live with that.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              I didn’t miss your point, and I resent your implication that my reading comprehension skills are that poor.

              My point is twofold: First, that OP’s job was nothing like emergency services or CPS, so your comment has no bearing on the issue at hand, and borders on being a strawman. Second, CPS workers have the right and responsibility to object to unreasonable demands. People continuing to ‘suck it up’ and carry the huge caseloads is actually how we end up with abused and murdered kids. Placing impossible burdens on caseworkers leads to burnout and bad judgment calls.

              This is similar to telling people in ‘helping professions’ that they shouldn’t be in it for the money, they should be in it for the patients/students/kids. That line of thinking leads to more work being piled on, for less and less money. It’s an argument used against collective action taken by people in those jobs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many (most?) of these roles are primarily staffed by women.

        2. El l*

          There is zero suggestion in OP’s letter that anything you describe is the case.

          Far more likely is that they’re a busy provider of professional services. They have demanding clients, and both clients and management are not used to observing boundaries.

    3. Parakeet*

      This is pretty victim-blamey toward people in abusive relationships. “You’re acting like an abused partner” is usually a bad metaphor, and saying that someone who is being abused is “participating in harmful behavior” is…no.

      I know I’m a broken record in this thread but meaningful social change requires collective action. There’s a lot of people right now who like to play at resenting capitalism but won’t do the work to get rid of or even mitigate it. Which must be collective in order to be just. Or effective, for that matter. Forget “starting a broader conversation” and try “union card drive”

  9. saltine*

    I had a similar issue at the job I just left. My solution was finding a new job that DIDN’T have those expectations in the first place. It’s been great so far.

  10. AGD*

    Fantastic answer. If this is indeed a Gen Z thing (I’m Gen Y), then I say everyone else should absolutely take a cue from the young adults! I work with college students, most of whom are Zs, and impressionistically anyway, they’re doing so many things I would have liked to see previous generations do in larger numbers. A lot of my responses amount to an affectionate/impressed “darn, why wasn’t I this awesome when I was that age?”

    1. Newly minted higher ed*

      I’m a younger Xer, and I think why I wasn’t so awesome at that age was because the job situation was pretty bleak (BA during tech bust, MA in great recession). I put up with a lot because otherwise I wouldn’t have a job. (The region wasn’t so hot job wise either).

      I carried that forward and turned into a horrible and sick person. Finally I started setting boundaries but for a long time lived in fear the ceiling would cave. But! It never did!

      I encourage my students now to assert their right to balance and am hopeful that finally the grind that came out of the last recession is at a turning point. It’s still hard and I still work too much, but I’m learning. But I feel the OP. It’s HARD to work through the feelings around this. It takes practice.

    2. Ama*

      I am hovering on the border between X and Y and I always say that if my first office job out of college hadn’t been one where the two bosses were constantly overstepping normal work-life boundaries in such an extreme way that I had to learn to say no, I would not be as good at boundaries as I have been for the rest of my career. I think a lot of new to office work employees get much more subtle boundary pushing that means you are swept up in “need to work all the time” before you realize what’s happening.

      Examples: one boss wanted me to babysit her three children — who I had never met– for three weeks while she and her husband went to Europe while still doing my day job (I declined). The other once freaked out because a client left a message on our voicemail at 7 am and tried to convince me that I needed to start coming in at 6:30 just in case I needed to forward a message to her — I pointed out to her that by that logic I might as well sleep in the office overnight because someone could call at anytime, maybe we should just have clearer info on the answering machine about how to contact her outside of office hours.

      1. Random Dice*

        WHAT. She wanted you to babysit her three kids, strangers, for weeks, while doing your day job for get.

        Just… what.

    3. EastCoastGrump*

      I don’t think this is necessarily a Gen Z thing. I feel that its a pandemic thing.

      For those of us who were able to work from home for the bulk of the pandemic, it was necessary to set boundaries to have some semblance of order. Also the pandemic showed how companies could be flexible in “extraordinary times” with no ill effect, so why not now?

      I’m Gen Y and I’m keeping the time boundaries in place that I set during the pandemic. A lot of my friends are as well.

    4. sundae funday*

      Does anyone have any hypothesis as to what changed between millennials and gen z? I’m a younger millennial (born 1991, so only 6 years before the start of gen z), and I feel like I was definitely raised with the expectation that you’ll be signing your soul over to the workplace when you grow up and get a job.

      I suspect it might have a lot to do with the 2007 recession… I was in high school at the time and there was a definite sense of “you’re lucky if you can even get a job at all! Much less a job in your preferred field… and much much less a job with a good work/life balance.” Gen Z is also one of the rare generations coming into the workplace during a labor shortage.

      I hope there’s something else besides those factors, though… I’d like to think there’s some kind of culture shift above and beyond economic factors… because I really want the Gen Z way of thinking to continue!

      1. HA2*

        I think it’s the economic conditions and the recession. When unemployment is high and lots of people are desperate for a job – any job – employers get to get away with all sorts of abuse. When workers are scarce and employers are desperate for an employee – any employee – then workers can push back.

        It does create culture, though. People who grow up in one environment or the other internalize that that’s the way things should be.

      2. Orange You Glad*

        I think you’re on to something. I was hired during the last recession, I was lucky to just have a “real” job in my field (and let’s not talk about the hit to my salary that has followed me around ever since then). I worked hard and worked my way up to having the responsibility and flexibility to set my own schedules, workloads, etc. I’ve noticed a lot of that is taken for granted by newer employees.

        I’ve noticed a shift as well in GenZ’s confidence in what to ask for at the interview/hiring phase. So many come through wanting high salaries (higher than what their supervisors would make) and guaranteed remote work. I can be flexible, but the nature of our work requires some time in the office and the ability to meet hard deadlines.

        I also noticed my younger coworkers just taking time for themselves without asking. Usually, if you have a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day, you let your manager know and clock out for that time. Newer workers just leave without a word and don’t come back afterward. I keep having to track people down to fix their time sheets and hear their outrage that if they were going to make that hour up, it would be outside of work hours.

        I will say the recent attitudes have helped me be more assertive about my own boundaries, but at this point, I’m high up in my field so I’m valuable to the company in a way that an entry-level person just isn’t. The company is willing to go out of its way to give me additional flexibility and accommodations because of my proven track record of good work. I try to pass on as much of that to my team as possible, but no I probably can’t have the new hire starting their first job work from home on their 2nd day.

  11. MourningStar*

    I feel for you OP – but you said it yourself, you worry about how other see you. That is a YOU problem, not a new employee problem.

    I have a “no phone, email, text” policy unless otherwise stated for vacations. I have been flexible for sick days if it’s for doctors appointments or non-emergencies. But, I also respect this for OTHERS. Funny enough, I learned this by having someone I supervised setting boundaries that initially I saw as a lack of dedication – just like OP. With some soul-searching I realized they were instead practicing self care.

    Unlike many, I really like working, just the actual act of doing work. I’m not the type to say “I only do what you pay me to do”. I’ll go above and beyond at times, I like putting in work. But I have also learned that this must be measured against any cost to me personally, and then I *must* draw a line – not just for myself, but anyone else watching.

  12. Meep*

    As someone who is a workaholic and used to run myself into the ground like you are… If you resent them, maybe re-evaluate how you act. Stop working on vacation is a good start.

  13. Delta Delta*

    I worked in a similar workplace. There was an expectation (unwritten and unspoken but there, nonetheless) that everyone would work through vacations. All emails would continue to be answered. Phone calls returned. Oh, also, we were all encouraged NOT to tell clients we were away so they wouldn’t think we were “slacking.”

    In reality, what happened was balls got dropped because people weren’t glued to their phones 24/7 while on vacation. The Big Boss would not allow anyone to field his calls and said he’d do it while away. But he just…. didn’t. And then didn’t understand why he lost some business. It all got to the point that I felt physically ill when I went away for a couple days because there was no doing this right and there was never a break.

    I left and opened my own business. I just decided to assert boundaries. I tell clients when I’m gone and they understand. I’ve developed a habit of checking email once a day while I’m gone, just to see if there’s anything I need to deal with emergently, and also so I don’t have a million emails when I get back, and that works for me. but it was a big mental shift. Rather than feeling resentful or holding a grudge, I had to actively re-train my brain that it is okay to stop working sometimes. It took some work. You can choose to do it, too.

  14. Jennifer Strange*

    On the other hand, doing this independently on an individual level (instead of starting a broader conversation about work-life balance at the firm, which admittedly would go nowhere) sort of screws over other members of the team, such as myself, who have to pick up their work when managers don’t adjust deadlines simply because team members are out of office.

    So what would happen if you also began enforcing boundaries instead of choosing to pick up their work? Presumably the managers would either have to pick up the work or recognize that they have to adjust the deadlines (or that more staff is needed).

    I remember I was stage managing a show about ten years ago. Eventually I was going to be in the booth calling the show, but for the first night of tech week I was backstage just to observe. There were moments when I wanted to jump in and help the crew (help with a scene change, a costume change, handing out props) but I had to resist the urge because if I jumped in and helped then it would give us the idea that they only needed x number of people for that part, when in reality I wasn’t going to be backstage for the show so they would be down a person. So I sat by and let things occur (making note of where those issues were).

    By letting them “fail” it helped show where problem areas were and gave insight on where more help was needed or where we needed to rethink something (and really, that’s part of the purpose of tech week!). The same applies to any area of work; sometimes you need to let balls drop so that it can be made clear where things need to be adjusted.

    1. JustKnope*

      This is a brilliant illustration of the issue! Working unreasonable hours or picking up slack where junior employees protect their boundaries gives a warped sense of what is ACTUALLY needed to accomplish the work at hand.

      1. mreasy*

        And upper management tend to “recognize problems” when they’re the ones being forced to pick up the extra work!

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Yeah, it’s taken a long time to learn, but strategic letting the balls drop often is the best way to spark systemic change.

          It’s kind of the workplace equivalent of “return awkwardness to sender”

          Being a good doobie and patching the holes, retying the strings, fixing issues on the fly or pitching in with OTT time and effort can mask the fundamental problems that are causing the holes, breaks, issues and labor shortfalls in the first place, and allow them to happen again and again.

    2. anon teacher*

      This is what I was coming here to say, albeit with a different example: when you consistently jump in to do things that are above and beyond what’s required, you are inadvertently teaching your employers that they can expect that kind of performance – not only of you, but of everybody else.

      I see this in schools all the time – nobody wants to see [program] fail, but there’s not money in the budget to hire someone to run it, so some well-meaning teacher steps in to cover it on a volunteer basis. In the short term, that’s great, because kids get access to this program…but in the longer term, it teaches School Committee that they don’t need to find the money to cover that position, because, look, teachers are willing to do it for free!

      I have a ton of sympathy for OP, because it’s very hard to disrupt this kind of cycle once it gets going…but ultimately, if nobody ever pushes back, things will only get worse.

      Or, to bastardize a quote: If it can be destroyed by the truth people setting boundaries, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth people setting boundaries.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        My mother used to tell the story of her first official job, working as a piece assembler in a local factory. She was maybe 18, and wanted to do a good job, not disappoint her manager and the person who’d recommended her, so as she learned the task and got better at it, she picked up the pace and did more and more. It was hard, but it was fun for her. She tried to beat her previous output every shift.

        Her co-workers very kindly but emphatically asked her to stop doing that … because her speediness and increased output was raising the expectations for everyone else in that work-group. She was likely going to move on to a new job in the next year, they were going to be left with the ever increasing output standards, which weren’t really sustainable or reasonable, shift after shift, day after day. Especially with no increase in pay or other incentives, benefits for meeting them.

  15. Book lover*

    This right here:

    “… your and your coworkers’ willingness to go along with what you know are unreasonable expectations is the thing that allows your company to keep imposing them. … It puts you in a role where you’re policing — and in some ways enforcing — the very thing you wish would change.”

    It’s a catch-22, and it’s one that’s awfully convenient for the folks at the top of the pyramid.

  16. Avril Ludgateaux*

    On the other hand, doing this independently on an individual level (instead of starting a broader conversation about work-life balance at the firm, which admittedly would go nowhere) sort of screws over other members of the team, such as myself, who have to pick up their work when managers don’t adjust deadlines simply because team members are out of office.

    Emphasis added on the parenthetical.

    OP, why do you expect them to waste time on a “conversation” you know and freely admit will be ineffective, instead of doing what they are already doing, which demonstrably is working for them? A sad fact I’m coming to realize is that cultural change (on any level) comes from collective behavioral changes, not “conversations” with the powers that be (where only one side is even remotely invested in challenging the way they’ve always done things). You can’t talk the status quo into progress.

    Your resentment should be directed at your company. And, while I fully, fully understand “easier said than done,” you need to take your cue from your juniors and start enforcing your own boundaries. Start with not working on any part of your vacation, regardless of what was left undone. Then maybe move up to pushing back on unreasonable deadlines or workloads – or simply letting them lapse (at your own risk, YMMV). Granted I am in the public sector and I realize the rules here are vastly different, but outside of actual life-or-death situations, most deadlines aren’t nearly as rigid as we’re pressured to believe they are, and if the only way your employer is going to learn about adequate staffing or timelines is by failing because “I’m sorry boss, I worked 24 hours a day and there simply was not enough time,” then it’s past time they should have learned that.

    1. Czhorat*

      You can give a heads up to your boss if the workload is too heavy. “I have task X and task Y, both due Friday and each will take four days. Which do you want me to prioritize? Can we get help on the other one, or will we have to push the deadline back a week?”

      Now you’ve lobbied the ball into your manager’s court and put them in the position to make the choice. Enough of this and there doesn’t NEED to be a broad discussion on work/life balance; just a series of small choices that set boundaries.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        That might work for reasonable people in reasonable industries. But it sounds like OP works in BigLaw or Investment Banking, and the answer will likely be something like “It is what it is, figure it out”.

        1. mreasy*

          Not necessarily. I and multiple friends are in industries that have similar expectations, without huge paychecks (media, entertainment, nonprofit, some tech). This type of culture is not restricted to those types of businesses.

        2. Blj531*

          And then op gets to decide whether or not the risk is worth the reward.
          And it sounds like the answer is… there haven’t been consequences for the folks doing this.

          Also, i work in a very high paced, stressful, overworked, deadline ridden, non big law legal job. and the big law hours are 100% because big law refuses to hire enough staff to appropriately get work done or to set appropriate client boundaries, and also spends a lot of time and money on status symbol type perks and client “networking activities” and acts like deadlines are magically firm when the consequence of push back is being yelled at or making a tiny bit less profit for the firm (read, partners).
          Big law relies on the idea that they can convince enough young associates to work themselves into the ground for the salary with full knowledge that means most of them will leave big law pretty quickly. And take with them the aorta of experience and expertise that would allow work to be done efficiently and more quickly and would likely benefit clients.
          These industries are built on experiences of people who had stay at home spouses and who were often chill with not having a life outside work, and who, in high numbers, developed substance abuse problems and/or untreated health issues and/or untreated mental health issues that led to incredibly high rates of death by suicide in the profession.

          Many of us newer lawyers have decided that trade off isn’t one we want to make because we saw how it played out.

          and for jobs that are “important” and have big consequences… well it turns out there is pretty much a never ending need. I could work all the time and still not be out of crises and clients and i would burn out and leave or be way less effective in the work i did.
          And my clients deserve better than that. And so, ultimately, the issue lies in an incredibly unsustainable system and my killing myself and burning out is playing into that. And the solution, as always, tends to be that we need systemic change. and my being willing to play martyr for work sure as heck isn’t going to make the system sustainable.

          Sometimes we are faced with consequences- like getting fired or big bad things happening- and we make choices to balance those. And we may make different choices. But those of us setting boundaries aren’t setting boundaries AT our coworkers.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Yes to this! Also, the conversation will go nowhere right now because the current system works for management and clients. If all the employees start holding firm boundaries of not working when sick or on vacation, either that management and clients will adjust without issue, or that will force the conversation about work-life balance. If it comes to the latter, possible solutions may be (1) hiring more staff, (2) more cross-training so there are multiple employees who work with each client and can step in when needed, (3) setting more reasonable expectations (are things really that urgent? in some industries, yes, in others, no) or some combination of the above. Or something else I haven’t thought of, but the main point is that management won’t address the problem until it becomes their problem.

    3. The Original K.*

      OP, why do you expect them to waste time on a “conversation” you know and freely admit will be ineffective, instead of doing what they are already doing, which demonstrably is working for them?
      I had the same thought. Why waste time having what is known and recognized to be a pointless conversation about something when they can just do the thing? OP essentially wants them to ask to be denied. What’s the point of that?

  17. Avril Ludgateaux*

    OP, you are not Atlas carrying the world. Don’t let your company convince you to shoulder more than your burden. You are a human being with all the limitations thereof.

  18. SMH*

    About a year or so ago I left a job in management where it was commonly accepted that managers would work 60+ hours per week. I just…didn’t. I got my job done in 40 hours (realistically it was more like 30). I went home at 5 and took weekends off and was unavailable on weekends/vacations/etc.

    And, yes, my peers seemed to resent me. The head of the agency even mentioned during one of my performance reviews that I didn’t seem “committed” enough, but when I pushed back and asked her what goals I wasn’t meeting or exceeding, had nothing to back it up.

    I also told my direct reports not to overwork, made sure they went home on time, took vacations, etc.

    All of that is just to say, change has to start somewhere. It could start with the LW!

    1. Artemesia*

      In my experience lots of people who work long hours are not more productive than peers who work far less. They have personal reasons to not go home, or lack the imagination to have a life that is not all work. Old story. My daughter on the college newspaper was laying out the edition one evening with another staffer. She went home at 7 and the other woman stayed till midnight ‘working’ — the editor chastised her for going home and leaving most of the work to Cecily. My daughter’s response ‘yeah, I laid out 6 pages and Cecily laid out two; I got more than my share done and went home.’ Some people are productive; others fritter away time and spend most of it at ‘work.’ (and some are genuinely working their tails off for 60 or 80 hour weeks and that is a management/resources problem)

      1. Other Alice*

        I had a manager who would waste most of the day chatting with people in front of the coffee machine. Then, around 5pm, he’d sit at his desk and complain about how many things he had to do, and joke that the people who left on time were working “part time”. There was a deeply entrenched culture of staying late to prove you were committed, just because. I always did my 8 hours and then went home, and I had better results than many peers, not that this was recognised at any level. I found a better opportunity after about a year.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, a friend of mine worked for a place that gave you dinner and a cab home if you worked past 7 or 8 (I forget) and guess what? She often “worked” past 7 or 8! But I know she was screwing around and chatting a lot of the time.

        2. Fishsticks*

          I am fairly certain one of my coworkers is doing a version of this. She comes in at 9 or 930 but stays until 6, which isn’t common. I think she does it because a higher-up works until then, and that way he sees her “staying late” but doesn’t notice that she comes in later than those of us who leave early.

          My workplace is actually very flexible about this – I arrive at 7, take no lunch break and eat at my desk, and leave at 3. Sometimes 730 – 330, depending on the day. Others come in 9-5, 8-4, etc. But there are definitely martyrs who bemoan their long hours to make a point about how ‘dedicated’ they are. Meanwhile, my coworker quietly figured out a solution that gets her her hours, her lunch break, and doesn’t involve forcing herself to work long hours just to look good.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        ^^ THIS. SO MANY of the coworkers I had who were constantly “working” late or on weekends and huffing and puffing about how “busy” they were were just horrible at time management or grotesquely inefficient (often from being really technologically inept). But the optics were more important than the actual work being produced.

        My thankfully former director always made a point to complain about how late she was working or that she was “up all night” doing X or Y, but she actually didn’t produce any work product.

        1. Penny foolish*

          I had a boss like that: complaining of having to come in on Sundays to finish everything up and I’m thinking well, if you just worked M-F instead of screaming at us maybe you’d get more done.

      3. Spearmint*

        My predecessor was like this. She’d work 60 hours a week doing time consuming extra projects and responsibilities she invented for herself, but which didn’t add much value. Meanwhile her burnout meant she made more mistakes on the core responsibilities, so she arguably produced the same or less value than I do even though I work far less.

      4. Avril Ludgateaux*

        I call this “the Japan model”: presence, not presents. In traditional (at least, post-war) Japanese corporate structure, there’s a huge emphasis placed on putting in hours, with far less placed on being productive that entire time. You’re not supposed to leave before your boss does, but your boss isn’t supposed to leave before their boss, and it goes all the way to the top, with a guy who probably isn’t doing all that much day-to-day but knows that he has to give the impression of being The Busiest so stays as long as possible. But ultimately, they don’t get any more done in an 84 hour week than the Germans or French do in 37.5 hours or less. It’s not about getting things done, it’s about the appearance of loyalty to the hierarchy. It’s about showing that you can abide by and uphold the system as it is.

    2. Ama*

      Your second paragraph illustrates my feelings on work-life boundaries — if my boss has a problem with how I set my boundaries they need to tell me directly “we expect you to work more than 40 hours a week” or “we expect you to answer email on weekends.” I think a lot of companies hide behind double speak about “commitment” like you experience but don’t want to actually say explicitly they expect you to work more because that could open them up to discussions about whether someone should get paid more, whether job descriptions should get changed to reflect the actual expectations, etc.

      If my current employer ever said “we expect you to start answering emails every weekend” I’d say “ok, it says in my annual compensation letter that my salary is based on a 40 hour work week so let’s talk about raising that if I will be working more.” (They actually wouldn’t say that which is why I work here, but that’s an example.)

  19. Czhorat*

    I feel that part of this needs the kind of matter-of-fact answers Allison often suggests. If you’re going on vacation, tell your boss, “I’m off starting next Monday. Who would you like to have cover my projects?” in a simple, clear manner as if you *of course* expect your work to be covered, and that you will OF COURSE not work through your vacation.

    By quietly doing more than you’re contracted for (and giving up some of your PTO, which is a benefit you’ve earned) you’re making coverage your problem instead of management’s. If you keep doing that, they have little incentive to improve it.

    It feels clear from the letter that OP knows this – knows that the “always on” habit *is* unhealthy, but doesn’t see the road to break it. I sincerely wish them luck in getting there.

  20. FashionablyEvil*

    I am all about boundaries at work (to the point I have had multiple people tell me I’m the best person at setting boundaries they’ve seen, which I dunno, makes me think other people have issues/not that I’m particularly strong in this area.) But, here’s what I tell people when I get the, “I wish I could do that too!”:

    -Think of being away as a growth opportunity for your team. You’re not there? Someone else is going to have to lead that meeting, talk to that client, tackle that new task. Prepare your team and your management for this kind of stuff to happen! Feeling like your absence is a gift to your team can help re-set your thinking.

    -Have a “must get done before vacation” and then a “things I will take care of when I get back” list. Knowing you have a place for those lower priority tasks keeps them from taking up too much mental space while you’re out.

    -Don’t do stuff on vacation! It trains people to expect a response which in turn makes them more likely to contact you while you’re out, and so it goes in a vicious cycle. I used to email my old boss when he was on PTO because I knew he’d still reply. Bad habit on my part? Yes. Was he ever going to stop checking email? No.

    -Turn off all the alerts and potentially delete work email and apps from your phone while you’re out. Another option is to drop all those apps in a folder or reorganize your home screen so you’re not mindlessly clicking into work stuff via muscle memory.

    -Have a trusted colleague who can reach you in a true emergency, but the truth is, there are a lot fewer emergencies than people really seem to think.

    -Actively decide when you’re going to say yes. I got stuck doing this this summer (the people who would have normally backed me up were on medical leave or at their child’s wedding) and I didn’t like it, but I knew that it was something I was choosing to do for the team.

    Good luck!

    1. Orange You Glad*

      This is a really healthy approach to knowing when to say yes or no.

      In the OP, I think there is a difference between checking email while sick and staying late to finish things before vacation.
      Sick time is for you to get well, everyone understands if you are out for the day.
      I feel like wrapping up your work before vacation is sort of an expectation like you need to close these loose ends before going off the grid for a week or two. I would never work the morning of my first day of PTO but often might stay an extra hour the night before to finish everything up so I can go on vacation without worry.

      I think there seems to be a feeling nowadays that it’s all or nothing. Reality is more of a grey area, especially if you plan to stay with your employer for a while.

  21. Stella*

    Fantastic answer, Alison.

    “On the one hand, I completely applaud them for taking care of themselves and not blindly subscribing to unsustainable expectations. On the other hand, doing this independently on an individual level (instead of starting a broader conversation about work-life balance at the firm, which admittedly would go nowhere) sort of screws over other members of the team, such as myself, who have to pick up their work when managers don’t adjust deadlines simply because team members are out of office.”

    LW, read this back to yourself – this makes it pretty clear that you and your workplace have unsustainable expectations, that there isn’t enough staff to cover the work in reasonable working hours, and that an attempt to discuss this company-wide would go nowhere.

    So what should these juniors do? Suffer because you do? (It doesn’t sound like their work is of low quality – just that they have strict boundaries around hours and vacation time.) I say, try setting some boundaries of your own. Start small. Leave on time tonight (or, say, an hour before you usually would?) and then don’t check your work email until you’re back in the office tomorrow. If one night of you not checking email after hours will sink the company, it’s even worse than you’ve described!!

    1. DoodleBug*

      “On the other hand, doing this independently on an individual level (instead of starting a broader conversation about work-life balance at the firm, which admittedly would go nowhere) *results in management screwing over* other members of the team, such as myself, who have to pick up their work when managers don’t adjust deadlines simply because team members are out of office.”

      Rewrote part of the sentence to accurately place responsibility… read that version to yourself, OP.

  22. amari*

    Oh, OP. I worked in one of these industries before the pandemic and if you were the PM of the project you were absolutely on the hook for consequences if things didn’t get done… 12-14 hour days 6-7 days a week were the norm. There would have been no pushback opportunities without screaming clients, furious that things weren’t getting done, getting escalated to your boss and your boss’s boss. The company was never going to change. It was an industry wide problem. I was lower on the totem pole and like your junior employees, able to push back in limited ways, but if I wanted to advance anywhere, it would have been a total sacrifice of the self for the work.

    …Anyway, I quit. Now I work in an adjacent industry for a company that actually values work life balance. I make less money and I’m a million times happier. I should have quit sooner. This may or may not be possible for you but I just want to say, it was absolutely worth it for me.

  23. I'm A Little Teapot*

    OP, I am the somewhat unusual person in my firm that I have boundaries. I’ll work overtime, etc, but I’m not chasing the billable hours. I will not kill myself working. I will not neglect my responsibilities outside of work. If my employer has a problem with this, then they are free to fire me. Instead, I’m being openly called the right hand of one of the audit managers, the other audit manager prefers having me on his audits because I’m good at what I do, and I don’t get crap from the partner about not meeting billable hour targets.

    Stop working while you’re sick. Stop working on the first day of your vacation. The world will not end, I promise.

  24. Hlao-roo*

    On a pragmatic level, I suggest starting with sick days:

    (1) When you call out sick, include the line “I won’t be able to take calls or emails today” so your boss knows what level of availability to expect from you that day (none).

    (2) If you can, set up an out-of-office message on your email that lists either coworkers or your manager that clients can get in touch with if they have anything urgent. I know you don’t like dropping things in other people’s laps, but that’s part of the work world, and I will also argue that most of the time it’s better for the client to get an answer from a fully healthy person who is peripherally involved in their project than from a sick person who is fully involved in their project.

    (3) Once you have accomplished (1) and (2), turn off your work phone and computer. If you hear the phone ring or the email ping, you’ll be tempted to answer, especially the first few times you do this. So don’t put yourself in a position where you’ll hear/see notifications.

    Do this the next few times you are sick and see if there is any pushback from management/coworkers/clients. Also, evaluate how you feel taking a sick day where you still answer calls/emails vs. a sick day where you are only resting/healing. If it feels like something you can and want to continue doing, then continue holding firm boundaries around sick days and consider extending your boundaries to not working on vacation days too!

  25. Spaceball One*

    I was in a somewhat similar situation in early 2018 when our staffing levels were cut but our workload was not. I was burning the candle at both ends, working nonstop and making myself quite sick. Therapist said look, you have to tell people no. They will not like it and they will tell you you’re failing them and they’re disappointed in you and blah blah blah. The alternative is to work yourself to the point where you do something drastic to escape the stress (I was reaching that point). I resisted the advice, I’d worked too hard to get where I was to statt letting people down, etc. Well eventually I couldn’t do what my employer wanted because I’m not a damn machine. I started saying no because I didn’t have a choice. Guess what. They didn’t like it and they frowned and acted disapproving… and then they found other ways to get what they wanted or they suddenly decided some things weren’t so important after all (once it was up to them to find an alternative to me doing it).

    Your employer is unreasonable. It’s not the new hires’ fault.

  26. Anecdata*

    Would you have a different response if the expectations are more reasonable — for eg. at my company we’re expected to have 9-hr availability with a 1hr unpaid lunch (with some flexibility to set your own start time). But we’re salaried exempt, and we do a lot of work with teams in other time zones, and the cultural expectation has been that you schedule meetings outside of your normal hours when needed and possible — not at crazy hours but eg. taking a 4-5pm meeting when you regularly do 7-4; or occasionally work more than 40 hours (like 45 for an important project, not something like 80!)

    But I’ve noticed our new hires will just…Not. We have a lot of flexibility, but it is more meant for a judgement call on the employees side — eg. I’d usually take that 4pm or 7am meeting, especially if it saves a colleague in a different time zone from having to do an even worse time — but if I said I couldn’t, that would be respected. But I would only say I couldn’t if I had a real conflict, or was already working overtime for a different project and was swamped or something. Our new hires seem to just…stop at 4pm. And I want to respect that, but also, it seems like part of the deal of salaried is occasional overtime/flexibility that benefits the company; and I am worried about management rolling back some of the trust to manage my own schedule in response (ie. Right now if I say I can’t do X extra, or in swamped and need to drop Y, my management trusts me that it’s real, and no further justification is asked for)

    1. Artemesia*

      If this is a regular thing then people need to have schedules where someone can take those out of zone meetings not just add them on to an already long workday. Not everyone can do 7-4. or if you do out of time meetings you comp time it.

      1. Orange You Glad*

        I think the point in Anecdata’s post is the employee can choose to work 7-4, not that they are being forced to work 7-4 and then take meetings outside of those hours. The reality is sure you can work 7-4 if that work for you, but if your job requires a meeting from 4-5 the expectation is that you take it and work 8-5 that day, or 8-4 the next day.
        I work in a similar environment where a lot of trust is placed on the individual to know their work and what schedule works best. Some people love this freedom, others really need a rigid schedule. I’ve seen similar attitudes to what Anecdata described – and not just that 5pm today doesn’t work but that 5pm will never work because the employee will only ever work until 4.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Does the flexibility go both ways? If so, I think it’s fair to explain to the newer people that they are expected to occasionally attend meetings outside of usual working hours and that the flip side is that they can [start an hour late/end an hour early/go to a doctor’s appointment on work time/etc.].

      I had a job where I had a few 7-8pm meetings because I was working with people in different time zones. On those days, I would usually start work at my normal time, log off an hour earlier than usual, and then join the meeting at 7pm. If my company had expected to keep my regular hours and then join the late meeting, I would have chafed a bit at that expectation.

      1. Eng Girl*

        So much this! It’s a constant struggle for me at my current job because we have set hours. My boss is in a different time zone and will frequently push out meetings until past my end time, but he’ll do it same day and I’m not really able to flex my schedule so I’m basically expected to just donate that time. If my company let me be flexible I would be flexible back but if they aren’t going to be flexible, sorry I’m out the door when my shift is over

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        Was just going to say this. I’m happy to flex my time, but that works both ways. If I work 7-4, but need to attend a meeting at 4… then I’m coming in at 8. I’ll be flexible, but only to a certain extent.

    3. Parenthesis Guy*

      It’s very common that experienced hires have different rules than new hires, or that upper ranking people have different rules than lower ranking for exactly this reason. You’ve earned rights that they haven’t because you’ve shown that you’ll go the extra mile, but they won’t.

  27. AthenaC*

    The reality is, the industry norm is that a certain level of work / availability is expected for $X salary. If the new hires are setting the boundaries you describe, they are basically unilaterally deciding that “I still want $X but I want to work less than expected / needed.” You can argue all you want about the expectations that shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the reality of the expectations and expected tradeoff. And when you unilaterally decide that you’re not going to hold up your end of it, you make it more difficult for your team members because that work doesn’t just disappear because you decided not to do it.

    It’s very easy to say “Just hire more people!” and if the company could realistically say – sure, people want to work less, that’s fine – but we’re also going to pay them commensurate with the work they agree to perform. But no one wants that – they all want to demand that “constantly available” salary and just do less work for it. And yes, it’s easy for those of us who are holding the bag to be resentful.

    I don’t have an answer for you other than to commiserate, tell you you’re not crazy, and also that this problem is way above your pay grade and even possibly above anything your company can control. There’s lots of changes in the labor market now and I don’t know that I can predict where we’ll all end up.

    Source: CPA in busy season who understands what it means to work as a team

    1. Legal Beagle*

      Yes, my feelings (as a Biglaw associate) exactly. Part of the reason you’re making $250k+ out of law school isn’t because you really know that much about the law, it’s so that you are constantly available.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Very few BigLaw clients will pay for first-year time at all any more, mostly because they legit know nothing except how to do research and maybe write a memo. The paralegals are more productive, both in terms of work and billing recovery. First-year associates are an enormous investment with little to no ROI for about 18-24 months. Availability to pick up pretty much anything that lets you learn or takes low-hanging fruit off more senior people’s plates is the primary benefit of most junior associates. Most clients will not even pay for them to do document review anymore because contract attorneys are $45/hour, and there is AI technology to speed reviews.

      1. (Former) Law Student*

        Fellow Big Law associate here. I’m finding the responses to Legal Beagle on this thread very surprising. Yes, the expectations for Big Law associates are unreasonable and unsustainable, but they are paid huge, huge amounts of money before they have any job experience. We are talking $250K plus $25,000 bonuses to people who have never had a job before.

        If OP had led with that: “my junior colleagues are 25 years old and paid six figures simply because they went to law school,” I think the comment section would be approaching this discussion very differently.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          It’s because BigLaw is not normal and, after you’ve spent enough time in it that it seems normal, you forget that other people don’t live like that. It’s a real outlier in a lot of ways, and the traditional suggestions of adding more people, not answering the phone/emails outside of normal business hours, or, my favorite move/miss a deadline just don’t work in the BigLaw context.

          1. (Former) Law Student*

            Oh I know–Big Law is my second career and its expectations are extreme. But my point is that the trade offs are generally perks that on their face seem ridiculous. One often hears a lot of “$500 an hour! For what?!” and the answer is this kind of extreme accessibility.

            Assuming OP’s situation is BigLaw (or Big4 Accounting or Investment Banking), if she had started with “These people are 25 and make $250K”, many commenters might have said “well that’s the going rate for this kind of accessibility/lack of work/life balance.”

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              I’m with you, though I do get people all the time who try to give me what I’ll call “reasonable” career advice and just do not understand how unworkable it is in BigLaw. :)

              As a rainmaker once told me, “If we don’t answer the phone when the client calls, someone else will.”

        2. Jackalope*

          I disagree with that, actually. One of the stories that pulled up in the “You may also like…” section for this is a letter about someone whose highly paid, overworked junior employees are leaving just as soon as they get fully trained. The junior employees in that letter were also making $250k working in investment banking, and the near universal response from everyone was that the hours were unreasonable even for the pay and they needed to cut the hours, end of story. It’s even more egregious when someone is working insane hours for low pay, but people here are still against it for the ones making lots of money.

        3. AthenaC*

          ‘If OP had led with that: “my junior colleagues are 25 years old and paid six figures simply because they went to law school,” I think the comment section would be approaching this discussion very differently.’

          I don’t think they would – based on my experience, this comment section doesn’t really listen when those of us who are in those industries / familiar with those industries explain this. At this point it’s just amusing to me how clueless some of the conversation threads are.

          1. Feral FatCat*

            Oh, no, we get it. We just think it’s kinda silly. Most of the responses from Big Law/IB/Consulting/Big4 are just rehashing, “I can’t make people do x no matter what because we have no power over the structure of anything, ever,” and it’s frankly redundant and applicable to a pretty small % of letters. Either change the culture around the way money drives your life, or don’t. But the constant BUT YOU DON’T GET IT THEY GET PAAAAIDDDDD ain’t it.

            1. AthenaC*

              So, since you think it’s “kinda silly,” I assume that you decided to go into a field OTHER THAN Big Law/IB/Consulting/Big4? Because you looked at the tradeoff, decided it wasn’t worth it to you, and did something else? Because that’s perfectly fine and that’s what reasonable people do. No one is sitting here saying that EVERYONE should work like Big Law/IB/Consulting/Big4.

              What we ARE saying is that “people who choose the tradeoffs of Big Law/IB/Consulting/Big4 need to honor their part of that tradeoff.” That’s really it.

              1. Feral FatCat*

                Sorry, I should be clearer: think the *conversation* around it is kinda silly, in that it’s repetitive and assumes those of us not (currently!) in these industries don’t understand the pressures or tradeoffs. We often do, but presumably the LW didn’t write in to get the answer “sorry, you made that tradeoff when you got promoted, suck it up” much like the LW a while back who’s junior associates kept quitting at the first possible moment.

                Letters like this one keep coming in from people in these industries, and often it’s some variation of “I hate my job and/or life, but love the money, what can I do?” It makes sense, then, to offer potential ways to push back against either the job or the culture that glorifies hoarding this much wealth. Alison certainly understands the culture in BigLaw etc, and yet answers these letters thoughtfully because eventually, enough people pushing back helps everyone.

                I’m not trying to be an AH here (but maybe I’m failing). But when you note that your source is someone “who knows what it means to be part of a team” — yikes, honestly. A whole lot of people know what it means to be part of a team. Sometimes being on a team means knowing that honoring your part in those tradeoffs is a net negative for the people in them and for society as a whole.

                1. OP here*

                  1) I really appreciated the commiseration from people who understood the emotions I was feeling instead of just judging me for it and telling me I was a tool of my own oppression, and acknowledging the teamwork/school project dynamic of it; and
                  2) I really didn’t think think “just drop your own balls too” was advice that would work in my situation. I really liked Parakeet’s suggestion of a union card drive.

                2. AthenaC*

                  Oh I see what you’re saying. My brief responsorial thoughts:

                  1) re: teamwork. OP wrote in to say “my team members aren’t doing their part of the teamwork, which means I have to do a lot more than my share and it sucks.” Many commenters are saying “Good for your team members for leaving you with the bag!” or “Why don’t you purposely not do your part either and leave the person above you with an even BIGGER mess?” Against that noise, a reasonable person might conclude that either: a) most commenters here really DON’T know what it means to work as a team; or b) they DO understand what it means and are just really crappy teammates. Your comment about honoring your part being a net negative – not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s the rationalization of a selfish AH who feels justified in directly harming teammates by not doing their share (not saying you are an AH but that justification is used by AH’s who do this in real life). “Yikes” indeed.

                  2) Many hands make light work. There’s a difference between: a) accepting a certain amount of work / hours / money and structuring your life around that; and b) having even more work / hours dropped on you by people who are happy to accept the money but won’t do their part of the work /hours. It’s perfectly fair to be resentful when not everyone is pulling together. What’s REALLY unsustainable is more and more of the work being done by fewer and fewer people. If everyone does their part then it’s a reasonable workload for everyone.

                  3) “It makes sense to offer potential ways to push back” – but what a lot of commenters don’t get is that those are worse than ineffective to the people actually writing in. So those of us in those industries explain this over and over again, and the rest of the commenters just act as if they know better than we do.

                  I could keep going, but as I said earlier, I’m in busy season so I really need to get back to it. Nice chatting with you!

    2. Czhorat*

      It’s only the norm so long as people accept it. What the OP is describing is, as they said, unsustainable.

      “Near constant availability” from each employee is not acceptable. Expecting availability on sick days and vacation days is not reasonable.

      A team needs to be able to function without burning people out. Have I had cases where there’s an abrupt deadline we need to meet and everyone stays late in the office, orders a pizza, and doesn’t leave their desks until it’s done? Yes. But that needs to be the exception; if it’s the regular state of business then the team is understaffed and being set up for overwork, resentment, and burnout.

      1. Diane Lockhart*

        That’s just not the case in biglaw, and “not accepting it” means being out of a job. There’s very very little room to push back.

        1. HA2*

          So then how are those junior employees not out of a job yet?

          Then OP wouldn’t have anything to be resentful about. They’re not working overtime, so they get fired in like a month… …and OP continues to get paid BigLaw salary for dealing with all that overtime. That’s everything working as expected, right?

          OP appears to be pointing out that those people are “not accepting it” AND still keeping their jobs. Which means there IS room to push back for them.

          1. Bella*

            It’s the way the seniority works. The juniors don’t have any contact with clients most lately so aren’t going to get blamed if it all goes south. And traditionally you can coast for a year or two before getting managed out. The calculus is different for senior people. (As the old saying goes, making partner at a law firm is like a pie eating contest where the prize is more pie.)

            1. Diane Lockhart*

              Exactly. And if you’re a 6th year associate running a deal, and you say the reason you couldn’t close is someone who’s been there three months didn’t reply to an email, your chances of advancement begin to evaporate. Plus you’re more expensive, so easier to let go for “performance reasons”

          2. LawLady*

            Some of them are losing their jobs, as we speak. Several BigLaw firms have had substantial layoffs this year, and the folks affected are the ones who set their boundaries.

            1. AthenaC*

              Exactly. I’m a CPA so I’m seeing something very similar. We do “manage out” the low performers but it does take a bit to do so, because at the end of the day what we would RATHER happen is the low performers step up. So we give them opportunities to do so, which takes time. While we’re doing that, the managers are basically doing all their work.

              None of this solves the larger issue that we need a pipeline of people to keep doing the work and it’s been pretty tough to get people.

        2. Ismonie*

          I know people who pushed back. Either directly or indirectly. The ones who did the best work made partner. Were they also disproportionately likely to be white males? Also yes.

    3. vegan velociraptor*

      honestly, I feel like that sort of unilateral decision is totally fine when the exchange being offered is unreasonable and unhealthy.

    4. mreasy*

      If the tradeoff is a life-changing amount of money such that a person could chose this life for 5-10 years, then move on to something less exhausting, that’s one thing (e.g. lawyers or CPAs who do their time then go into private practice). But by no means is this type of culture restricted to those types of industries or those types of salaries. If the expectation that “you will be expected to work 80+ hours/week but we will pay you a TON of money” is set up front, that’s one thing – and may still not be sustainable or a good idea! – but pushing back against unreasonable expectations can and must still be done. If these younger workers aren’t being put on PIPs or fired or punished for not taking on this additional work, it must mean that it’s not actually part of their job description, right? Why isn’t that happening, if it’s a stated and mutually understood condition?

    5. working mom*

      AthenaC – thanks for bringing this up. I think a lot of comments are choosing to overlook this element in order to support employees working a healthier work life balance. I think the key aspect being overlooked is that these employees are not actually advocating for a healthier work life balance company-wide. They are focused on themselves and seemingly leaving their workaholic colleagues to manage the gaps or bring it up to management. That is inherently going to breed resentment and that resentment is natural. Often these types of roles are industry-wide. One company is not going to change their practices / pay as they will not get the same caliber employees (think NYC Big Law having all 1Ls get the same starting salary). These types of jobs have expectations and when they are not met someone needs to explain why they are not met. It is often not the new hires but people in the middle with years of experience who did not push back on the hours. So as I see it – these new hires might be “aspirational” but they are also – placing extra work on their colleagues, potentially causing extra stress due to deadlines, and potentially requiring colleagues to spend non-existent time to either advocate for a better work/life balance or explain missed deadlines. All while collecting a premium pay. So while I can appreciate the serious need to recalibrate the work/life balance of many industries – I also personally would not do any solids for coworkers who treated me like this.

      Source – Husband was NYC Big Law for years, I survived a fine art auction house and currently work at a blue chip gallery

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I think the key aspect being overlooked is that these employees are not actually advocating for a healthier work life balance company-wide. They are focused on themselves and seemingly leaving their workaholic colleagues to manage the gaps or bring it up to management.

        They are junior employees. They don’t have the capital to advocate for a healthier work-life balance company wide! Even the LW says such a thing would go nowhere. It’s not their fault that the LW is choosing to jump in and do the work.

        So as I see it – these new hires might be “aspirational” but they are also – placing extra work on their colleagues, potentially causing extra stress due to deadlines, and potentially requiring colleagues to spend non-existent time to either advocate for a better work/life balance or explain missed deadlines.

        They aren’t doing any of that. The LW could simply let the balls drop (and could even throw the junior workers under the bus!). Doing so would force management to either set the expectations with the new employees or re-calibrate their expectations in general. Instead, the LW is choosing to pick up the pieces.

        1. Diane Lockhart*

          Letting the balls drop is not an option if this is biglaw. Does anyone want to be the reason a 14 billion dollar merger didn’t go through? Management is not going to recalibrate, they will find other people happy to work 80 hours a week for 300k a year.

          And if they throw the juniors under the bus, no juniors will want to work for them.

            1. Diane Lockhart*

              Oh, I completely agree there. I’m just saying the LW has very little recourse on their end.

          1. Qwerty*

            Lots of other industries where letting balls drop have major consequences too. Losing your job; the entire team getting laid off; compliance/legal consequences; the company going under…

            Those sound extreme, but I’ve run into all of those situations at tech companies. What I’ve found is that when the team works together, the overall effect on individuals is lower. Also that its really hard to train a junior or new hire to be more effective when they aren’t around and brag about putting in less time. Juniors and new hires are a time suck while they get trained up, so it isn’t like these are powerhouse team members who are very productive 9-5.

            1. AthenaC*

              And that’s the key, too – every hour the junior person is working is an hour of training / learning. So the sooner they put their hours in and do the work, the sooner they are more useful to the team, have more control over their projects, have more flexibility in their schedules (because they can work independently), etc.

              Lots of hours =/= busywork with no value, especially for a junior person.

          2. Zarniwoop*

            “Does anyone want to be the reason a 14 billion dollar merger didn’t go through?”
            Better than being radiologist who missed a tumor or a programmer whose bug caused a couple of airliners to crash. It’s only money. Other, rich people’s money.

          3. AthenaC*

            Exactly. There is no “letting balls drop.” It’s the stated responsibility of the senior people to not let those balls drop, and they get paid for that. It’s the stated responsibility of the junior people to do the work they are assigned to support the project. Sure – sometimes stuff happens and the senior people need to work a miracle to get it all done, but when senior people are regularly working miracles because the junior people don’t do their work – that’s a problem.

            SEC deadlines don’t go anywhere because someone decided not to do their work.

            HUD deadlines don’t go anywhere because someone decided not to do their work.

            I could go on.

      2. Katrine Fonsmark*

        But how would a junior “advocate for a healthier work life balance company-wide”? They have no standing to do that. What they CAN do is look out for number one, and I applaud them. Even though they presumably make good money, it can’t be anywhere near what their managers make – let the managers deal with their own work-life balance if it upsets them, they’re the ones in positions to actually create change.

    6. HA2*

      ” And when you unilaterally decide that you’re not going to hold up your end of it, you make it more difficult for your team members because that work doesn’t just disappear because you decided not to do it. ”

      See, I still disagree that it’s that person making it more difficult for the team members. It’s still management.

      If that person is not pulling their weight – however that’s defined, either by availability or by work output – managers also have the ability to talk to that person, state the expectations, including putting them on a PIP or firing them if they’re not producing sufficient output. It’s STILL not on the other workers to just “accept that they have to work double overtime because somebody else is working normal hours”.

        1. Bella*

          Whoops not too soon. There’s probably not “management” in the way you’re thinking. There are probably senior equity partners, more junior partners who may or may not have equity in the firm, and a whole other set of tiers below that. There are the lawyers who have the relationship with the particular client and if they see someone messing it up, heads will role. But the junior associate is not going to be the one who gets blamed. The mid-levels will. If the juniors consistently aren’t meeting their billable hours targets absolutely that won’t work for them long term. But in the short term there’s not usually one person overseeing all their work who can hold their feet to the fire then put them on a PIP (unheard of IME) or fire them.

          1. HA2*

            That makes sense, but I’d say you’ve just restated the problem – bad management, because of the structure of the companies in this industry.

            Makes sense to me that in that culture, some junior people would be like “Well, this won’t work out in the long-term, but I’m only planning on being here for a year or two, so that’s no big deal.” The mid-level people also have a choice – they too can leave at any time. At-will employment and all that. And if they’ve been in that environment long enough to be “mid-level”, then they know how it works, should be no surprise, and they probably have some money saved up too.

          2. New Jack Karyn*

            All of this ignores the fact that BigLaw companies can hire more lawyers, to overcome these staffing issues. I have very little sympathy for companies who make serious bank complaining about how these young folks want to go home, have a couple of sick days, go on a real vacation, etc. If there’s too much work, hire more people.

    7. LawLady*

      I agree with this. I did five years in BigLaw, and I worked crazy hours but didn’t find it abusive. I could have chosen a non BigLaw job. But I went in knowing that the job is nuts, and paid off $215k in debt, put away $150k for retirement, and got a down payment. I think I was compensated reasonably for what I did.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I was working insane hours for a few years for $75K a year with no promotion and barely any raises. Insane hours doesn’t always translate to lots of $$$.

        1. LawLady*

          Right and that’s unacceptable. But AthenaC’s comment, which I agree with, is that sometimes employers are paying $$$ for constant availability, and that’s reasonable in a way that paying $ for constant availability is not.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            Right. It’s a trade-off. But that is for certain industries, like BigLaw, and sometimes it IS worth the trade-off.

            But insane hours for insane money is more the exception than the norm, IMHO. My first job out of college, I was once at the office for over 24 hours straight working on a government contract proposal and I was making maybe…$36K a year? There are a a LOT of unreasonable bosses and sadly we work in a country with very little worker protection.

    8. Feral FatCat*

      The real issue here is that salaries in these “always available” industries are set at *just enough* to get people to work that hard but not so much that the people at the top lose profit. It’s not that a company couldn’t pay people the 250k to work 10 fewer hours a week (or 20, or whatever), it’s that if they did that, the partners would have less profit. So no matter how you look at it, it’s the people at the top who are the problem. (I’ll concede that accounting is one area where, sure, you’ll have a super busy season but it’s usually in exchange for a lot less stress during the rest of the year — not 80-100 hrs a week 52 weeks a year.)

      As an aside, collective action pushing back against unreasonable norms IS working at a team.

    9. automaticdoor*

      THANK YOU, AthenaC. I’m married to a CPA in Big 4 accounting who’s a director — so he’s on the hook for all of the slack his associates and senior associates, etc. don’t pick up. I’m hoping there’s an industry overhaul as these senior managers and directors eventually make partner — most of the senior managers and directors are millennials with their own young families who WANT to be more flexible too but are always left holding the bag when their associates skip out on stuff. And yes, a lot of the “slacker” ones get managed out! But that doesn’t help in the short term when it’s his (and my) weekend getting messed up.

      Also, I used to make all the same arguments that the other commenters here are making since I work more like 40 hours a week and am still well-compensated. But the truth is, my husband has two options at this firm: either take this crap and make partner or leave. There isn’t any kind of come-to-Jesus talk with his own bosses that’s going to fix it until the shift in priorities trickles upward. I think it’s possible–the industry has already come so far in the last 15-20 years on that front! And I’ve told him many times that he needs to remember the crap he went through as an associate/on up when he makes partner and he needs to be part of the solution. From all accounts, he’s a very humane and understanding boss right now, so I think he and his same-level colleagues might continue the culture shift as they work their way up.

      1. AthenaC*

        Thank you! You and my husband would have a lot to talk about. When we first got married he had a very “blue collar” mentality and couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that I worked ANY overtime at all. What finally got him to settle down was:

        1) Talking to other spouses of CPA’s
        2) Taking a look around and seeing that my income alone supports a reasonably comfortable lifestyle in a lower-upper class / upper-middle class neighborhood with great schools. None of the other families here are single-income families (except the doctor down the street, and the Fortune 500 CFO across the street)

        Of course what most everyone seems to ignore is that if we all just don’t do the work, sure it’s the manager / director / partner’s butt on the line, but the client who trusted us is REALLY screwed. SEC / HUD / Single audit / Bank / State deadlines don’t go anywhere because someone decided they wouldn’t do the work. Our clients are human beings, too! I don’t think most of the commenters (or the junior employees) are really thinking about the impact of having to look the client in the eye and say, “I’m sorry that we’re not going to make your deadline,” having to take the blame, and not being able to explain to the client that the reason is because none of the junior team members got their work done to keep the project on pace.

  28. KHB*

    As I get older, I’m feeling more and more like most “high-pressure industries” create that pressure artificially in order to feel self-important. Unless you’re in a line of work where lives literally hang in the balance, what you do is almost certainly not so important that it’s worth sacrificing your health for it. And if you’re stressing yourself out over work tasks, you are sacrificing your health.

    Look at something like Hell’s Kitchen. (I know it’s TV and not real life, but let’s pretend for the sake of example.) They’re making fancy food for people to enjoy on a fun night out. There’s absolutely no reason they need to be screaming and shouting and calling each other idiots and failures and donkeys and what have you. The only thing that kind of behavior creates is a sense that the people who are behaving that way are doing something Very, Very Important.

    I work for a magazine that people read for fun. We’ve been understaffed for a while now. In the past, we used to respond to these situations by running ourselves ragged trying to do 7 people’s worth of work with a team of 5, and growing ever more resentful of the circumstances that “forced” us to do this. But there’s actually another way: We can all just agree to do a little bit less, and make the magazine a little bit thinner for a while, until we have our full team together and back up to speed again.

    I don’t know if any of this is helpful for OP’s situation, but this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I think of it as basically a Black Friday situation: The only reason Black Friday is insane is because retailers keep doing all the things to make it insane. They could just . . . stop. They could have normal sales for longer periods, for example, so they didn’t cause riots and have people leaving Thanksgiving dinners to camp out on their sidewalks.

      But they don’t, because . . . why, exactly? Mostly, I suspect, because corporate doesn’t have to deal with the working conditions in the actual stores.

    2. WestsideStory*

      I laughed out loud when I read your response- you are so correct! I have also worked in what would be called Entertainment Media, which lets face it tends to have a 24/7 trend cycle that needs to be addressed to stay competitive. Still, I often had to remind my hyperventilating Juniors that we weren’t “trying to cure cancer* here.” It is easy to get caught up.
      *sometime later I worked with a STEM media company where medical content about cancer was a big segment. This was also a company where 3-4 week vacations and ample paid leave was also the norm!

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      When I worked in BigLaw, the issue was primarily the external deadlines over which we had no control. Your case could be dormant for months, and then the judge rules on something with no notice and, BAM, game on. Or a ruling doesn’t go your way and suddenly you’re looking at million discovery documents rather than 10,000.

      There are definitely manufactured emergencies, but there are a lot that are simply based into the fact that most of your deadlines come from without rather than from within. And god help you if you’re in a rocket docket jurisdiction with a matter that includes large or complex discovery.

    4. Snoozing not schmoozing*

      Oh, yes, yes, yes! I’ve said for years that if you’re not literally saving lives or putting out an actual real fire, it’s not the emergency you think it is. But I was lucky, one of my first jobs was in a hospital. Any other place after that, that got all panicky if something was slightly wrong and the top people yelled EMERGENCY, I’d just roll my eyes until they hurt. It’s such BS, just to make them feel what they do is important.

  29. Little pig*

    I work in management consulting, which has similar expectations re: constant availability. For scale, 60-hr weeks are considered average, and the company will only start to intervene if you cross 70 hrs, usually for multiple weeks in a row. Obviously it would be ideal for our employers to change the expectation, but we all knew what we signed up for, and we get paid very very well for our work.

    My advice: It is extremely important to have explicit conversations around team norms. What is the expectation for availability in the evening? When do you expect to be fully offline (for your kids’ bedtimes, or a sports practice, etc)? What types of ’emergencies’ necessitate interrupting your personal time? Who will be responsible for covering what topics and relationships while you’re on vacation? You HAVE to discuss these things to avoid the situation you’re describing, both so newer employees understand what is expected, and so that their extra work doesn’t fall on you. Note that the conversation is not just about when you should be ONLINE, but also about when you will be OFFLINE. You do need to have boundaries as well

    BTW: I’d rather not get lectured about how inhumane my company is. I knew what I was getting into when I took this job, and I am compensated extremely well and have excellent exit opportunities when I want them

    1. mreasy*

      This is a great example of the type of industry in which these expectations make sense. You are getting your bag & know you can get out into a less intense situation when you are ready. Unfortunately as other commenters have mentioned, so many industries without adequate compensation/exit opportunity have this pressure anyway.

    2. HA2*

      Yeah, I think a lot of the resentment might be addressed if these team norms are EXPLICIT and also enforced with policy. If it’s in the written policies that a typical work week is 60 hours, with 80-hour weeks expected on average X weeks per year based on client demands, then people can be told this, and this can be enforced with writeups, PIPs, or firing if people don’t do it.

      But what causes problems is if this is unwritten and unenforced. “Everyone” “kind of feels” that you’re supposed to work “a lot”, but how much “a lot” is isn’t defined, people seem to get away with working less if someone else picks up the slack, the people picking up the slack feel like they “have to” but then they don’t get rewarded for it in annual reviews or compensation because nobody knows they went above and beyond because “a lot” is expected and nobody knows that your “a lot” was more than someone else’s “a lot”… yeah, that’s going to cause problems.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Explicitly naming norms is how we’ve chosen to deal with outside-the-norm availability and OT expectations. It’s named in the interview, covered in orientation, and is part of the assessment criteria. We try very, very hard not to bother people while they are OOO, though that’s impossible for some client-facing principals, and have a standard, published protocol for planning for absences and covering known work (key word being *known*).

      I also agree with the BTW. I know my both my current and former industries are nuts, and my work/life balance is poor. But it also allows my spouse to have a lower-stress job, to cover therapies and medical treatment for my high-needs child, and has an end-date. Other people don’t have to do it, but I know the trade-offs, and we’ve made it work.

  30. Just Another Zebra*

    OP, I think you need to say to yourself that what these new employees are doing isn’t bad, or inconsiderate, or “out-of-touch”, or even “it’s a Gen Z thing”.

    What they are doing is healthy. We are humans, not robots. We need breaks and vacations and an appropriate amount of sleep. What they’re doing seems totally unreasonable, because you’re shouldering the weight of unreasonable expectations. I think you need to start small – pick 1 night a week that phone and email go unanswered. Just one night! When you leave for the day at 6pm (or whenever) you’re home for the evening. Full stop. No work until 8am the next day. Do that again the next week. And the next. Add in a second night – no phone, no email, just dinner and Netflix and going to bed at a reasonable hour. When the work-life balance shift in your favor, I bet things will seem more clear then.

  31. Good Enough For Government Work*

    “On the other hand, doing this independently on an individual level (instead of starting a broader conversation about work-life balance at the firm, which admittedly would go nowhere) sort of screws over other members of the team…”

    Expecting young, new to the workforce people to start these kinds of conversations is completely unreasonable. The only thing it would do is get them sacked; most reasonable people, even young ones, know this. So they’re doing the only thing they can do: taking an individual stand and setting sensible, healthy boundaries for themselves.

    The new employees aren’t screwing you over: your company is.

  32. Manns*

    Unless your clients are bleeding out patients in the operating room, i’m sure your company will not collapse if they stop grinding their employees into the ground with non stop client service and availability.

    I’m curious to know what kind of work this is to where the environment has turned into being available 24/7

    1. What She Said*

      Also, is much like the oxygen mask on a plane. Take care of yourself first then help others. You put on your oxygen mask last well, you may not like the outcome here.

    2. Justin*

      It’s probably big law or management consulting or something like that. They’re paid a ton so that they stay available. Doesn’t make it okay, but that’s how those fields run.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      +100 Even if I were a patient in the OR, I’m really not sure how I’d feel about being operated on by someone who’s so tired and is running on so little sleep that they can barely keep their eyes open. Or someone who had to come in sick and is having a hard time standing straight. Or someone who hasn’t had a day off in years. I’d be worried for my health in this situation, to be honest.

  33. Bella*

    Sooooooo this sounds like BigLaw or something similar. So I’ll answer as if that’s the case. In which case the junior employees may well be making $200k per year right out of law school. The flip side is they’re then being billed out to clients at obscene rates like $600 per hour.
    Clients who are paying those rates for someone with no experience and up to four figures per hours for the star partners absolutely demand constant availability. It’s the trade off for the insane amount of money – nobody can provide that much actual value in an hour.

    The firm then depends on having a large number of junior employees billing high hours so that the whole pyramid scheme structure stays sustainable.

    To be clear, I think this is beyond messed up and unhealthy and toxic for basically everyone. The flip side is that I’ve been a partner at a law firm that didn’t do that and it’s EXTREMELY hard to get the economics to pencil out, so I get the issue. The whole system needs revamping. And the LW is basically right that you can’t revamp it on an individual level. The junior associates can do the minimum and collect a huge paycheck for a couple of years until they’re managed out which is an individually smart thing to do. The LW can start looking at exit options in house or in government and that’s probably what they should do to have a happier and more balanced life. But all the stuff that’s mentioned here about just hiring more people for coverage or everyone asserts boundaries and the clients have to deal with it isn’t really workable in the system as it exists. Young lawyers take these jobs that suck for the high amount of money in the hopes of paying off student loans as quickly as possible. That’s only possible because clients pay high fees which they only pay because they think they own their lawyers.

    Oh, and the billable hour model means there’s actually a disincentive to work efficiently; the firm gets paid less for lawyers who do their work faster.

    The whole system is a nightmare but Cravath or Latham isn’t about to change overnight.0 You have to get out or be more ruthless with your junior associates (you can tell what I advocate and it’s obviously the first).

    1. Bella*

      (Also whenever this comes up, the suggestion is to hire twice as many associates and pay them half as much. The thing is very few new lawyers want to work doing mergers for pharmaceutical companies for $100k a year when they could get an actually interesting job serving the public for that much so it’s a hard sell. On some level a lot of this starts with egregious student loan burdens.)

      1. Hibiscus*

        This is like the letter to Alison from the guy who worked for a company in finance and deals and was pissed that people were working the bare amount of time for them and then leaving for better jobs with slightly better work life balance and money. (Can’t find it at the moment, was published in last 2 years). The comment section told him THE SAME THING–your industry and firm are ridiculous and if they won’t change, this is what they get.

      2. Other Alice*

        It still doesn’t follow that LW should be angry at their junior coworkers. It’s the system that’s broken.

        1. Bella*

          That’s basic human psychology though. The OP took the job and worked themselves to the bone and now are still working themselves to the bone as is expected. If you’re doing that even more because the juniors aren’t, you’re going to feel resentful because the norms have been shattered. That’s why I say get out – it’s not going to get better.

          1. Observer*

            If you are a competent, decent and reasonably smart adult, though, you should understand that that instinctive reaction is nonsensical.

            “I destroyed myself so you should, too” *is* very common. But it’s a terrible model for many reasons. And if that’s were the OP is going, then, yes, they should get out. Because they are developing a really unhealthy worldview that is going to affect them outside of work, too. Even if the crazy schedule has not already affected their health and relationships.

          2. Giant Kitty*

            Yes, I’m going to feel resentment at the upper management that made me suffer, not the people who noped out on being abused.

        2. Glomarization, Esq.*

          The junior associates came in knowing what the deal was, and then they essentially reneged on that deal, leaving the mid-levels holding the bag. For the reasons explained by Bella above, there are options for people coming out of law school. The bargain in BigLaw is what it is. If they didn’t like that bargain, they should have left it and taken a different one in an area of law with a different model, not pushed their work onto the other lawyers in the firm.

          1. Observer*

            If they reneged (which I don’t buy) that’s management’s problem. But the OP has no place to resent people who are simply trying to set some reasonable boundaries, rather than the people who benefit from an exploitative system.

      3. ThatGirl*

        I don’t know if you picked “mergers for pharmaceutical companies” on purpose but…

        Law school debt, daily regret
        Is that what you dreamed of as a kid?
        Or did you hope one day
        That you’d find a way to spend four years
        Working on a pharmaceutical company’s
        Merger with another pharmaceutical company?

        (From “Don’t be a Lawyer”, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

    2. Diane Lockhart*

      100% to all of this. I spent 8 years at a V10 firm, and I was someone who set relatively good boundaries. Every day I saw brilliant young lawyers hyperventilating that they’d be fired if they went on a hike that weekend, in case a partner emailed and they weren’t available.

      Coverage in biglaw is not like coverage in other industries. You cant tell someone to step into your deal at the 11th hour, you cant have someone else take your depo or write your summary judgment brief. The worker is way less fungible, which is why OP has to pick up what their juniors aren’t handling.

      1. LawLady*

        Yeah a lot of these responses are clearly just not understanding what BigLaw deal work is like. You can’t have one person scheduled 9-5 and another person scheduled 5-3. Unless you were able to somehow have people share a consciousness? You need just a few lawyers who are fully handling the deal.

        1. Danish*

          It’s not that we don’t understand that BigLaw etc is like that. We think it should NOT be like that. There are very few true emergencies in life and for some reason BigLaw seems to think everything they handle is one of them, going by some of the comments defending it. You’re free to work it if you like, but insisting that people who don’t want to destroy themselves but still DO WANT to be lawyers are somehow letting down the rest of you is just…mind boggling. How else will things change? The current cohort sure didn’t manage it by quietly going along with expectations!

          1. LawLady*

            But I’m not asserting that you can’t be a lawyer without working like this. I AM asserting that you can’t do BigLaw work (and get BigLaw pay) without working like this.

            The reason that clients are willing to pay $300,000 legal bills is that the deals happen fast and smooth. That’s what they’re paying for. It’s absolutely possible to do midlaw or small law, and set more reasonable boundaries (and price points). But signing up for the $230k entry level lawyer job means a truly bonkers level of client service and availability.

            That was worth it to me, for the five years I did it. Not everyone needs to make that choice.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              BigLaw can change the culture if it wants to. It’s choosing not to, because the partners make more money that way. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

    3. Florida Woman*

      As a former BigLaw associate and partner, I concur with everything Bella said. In that part of the legal industry, constant availability is expected from both associates and more senior people. If the junior people aren’t willing to meet those expectations, then they should be working in a different segment of the legal industry. There are a lot of jobs in the industry that don’t require that level of availability! And maybe it’s time for the LW to decide if they want to stay where they are or find something with better balance. It’s up to the individual workers to make choices about what sort of workplace best fits their own goals and lifestyle.

      This applies even if the industry is not law. There are less stressful ways to be a CPA than working for the Big Four, and plenty of analyst jobs that are not on Wall Street. I think the LW can be forgiven for being disappointed and a bit annoyed that their junior colleagues accepted jobs in what is known to be a high-pressure, long-hours workplace but are not willing to meet those expectations.

  34. mreasy*

    We are so lucky to have folks entering the workplace who haven’t bought the myths of our economic system so thoroughly as the children of Boomers (like me) – that companies are doing us a favor to hire & pay us, that working hard doesn’t necessarily mean you will be successful, and, most of all, that companies will reward high performers with anything other than more work. Social media has its downsides (major ones!) but being exposed to the daily realities of the workplace, in terms of worker exploitation along with everyday racism/sexism/etc., while watching billionaires get richer exponentially while nobody else does has driven the scales from the eyes of these young workers early. I can only hope that they continue to drive the change to a realistic work-life balance in more workplaces as time goes on and they advance.

    1. baffled*

      Gen X child of boomers here. Thank goodness my parents were hippies and did not raise me to be a work horse. I know a lot of my fellow Xers are delighted to see this change in workplace norms. We were called slackers when we tried back in the day.

      1. mreasy*

        Same! “Xiennial” here. Boomer parents who were former hippies who wouldn’t let me join Girl Scouts cuz they thought the uniforms were “kinda fascist” (my dad’s time in Vietnam probably had influence on this view). But even so, the culture of “hard work is king” / “if you aren’t succeeding you’re lazy” is VERY hard to get out of my head!

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My parents totally raised me to live to work. They had a great marriage and were both very involved with me, but I can’t remember a single weekday that my dad was home from work before 9PM. Or a single weekend when he didn’t go into work. Or a single vacation that he didn’t have to cut short because he was needed at work. He developed a better work-life balance by the end of his career, but even so, he had six months of accrued vacation when he retired. They thought it was a normal way to live and brought me up to do the same. For a while, I tried. Not anymore.

      They also (they lived in Eastern Europe for the entirety of their careers) were reading books and magazine articles on how people lived and worked in the US, and were fully convinced that this way of working all hours, with constant availability, was how people in the US built fortunes and became billionaires. We now know it’s… not exactly the case. Rather it’s a way to either have a heart attack at 50, or get stuck in your role forever because you’re indispensable. So, armed with this knowledge, we can do better.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Yeah, I watched my parents immolate their lives of the altar of work. They’re over retirement age, still working full time, have no idea what they would do with themselves once they do retire, have literally no friends, their marriage is basically a 45 year grudge match at this point, one of their two children is dead, I barely speak to them, they both have chronic health issues and heart problems from stress, and they’re estranged from their families.

    3. Fishsticks*

      A lot of us Gen Xers and Millenials watched our parents work their asses off, be loyal to their employers, have latchkey kids at home because work needed them instead… and then watched our parents get laid off by the thousands with no severance or very little, or be ‘forced to retire’ so they got less in their retirement package, watched their employers dupe them into 401Ks instead of pensions so their retirement depended on the stock market and when 2008 hit we watched ourselves and our parents lose jobs, houses, entire retirement savings…

      So when we had kids, we didn’t raise them with the same mythology our parents bought into. I’m proud to see my niece’s generation (my kids are Gen Alpha, so too young so far) giving the middle finger to the corporate lie our parents and aunts and uncles were wrecked by.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        “watched their employers dupe them into 401Ks instead of pensions so their retirement depended on the stock market and when 2008 hit we watched ourselves and our parents lose jobs, houses, entire retirement savings”

        Oh thank you for mentioning this! I once said something on this blog, years ago, about how having a 401K be our primary source of retirement funds feels kind of gamble-y. Not unlike handing 6% of our paycheck to a third-party company and having them take that money to Vegas and, if they win, I get to keep my retirement savings for now. If they lose, sucks to be me, better luck next time. I was told that I didn’t understand how finance worked, and to educate myself. I tried educating myself and it still felt like a bit of a con. Relieved to know this wasn’t all in my head after all.

        1. Fishsticks*

          It really wasn’t. People just don’t want to admit the way 401Ks can more or less disappear if we have a full-on crash. One of my strongest memories during the Great Recession was of my mother-in-law, a deeply financially savvy woman, calling my husband in tears because of the massive blow her 401K had taken and how it had kneecapped their plan for retirement.

          “Oh, well, it’s your fault for not being an expert on how 401Ks work” – okay, no, that is not it, folks. Our parents were pushed into 401Ks with no real education on how they could work and no real knowledge of how big the risk really was.

      2. Green Tea*

        I’ve also seen family members count on retirement pensions, only for the company to go out of business and liquidate the pension plan, screwing over all of their workers.
        I prefer my employer matching my 401K 9% to the uncertainty of a pension personally (although I know I am very lucky and most companies don’t match at all, or a smaller amount). In both cases, a company going out of business or a stock market crash around retirement age is unlikely, but at least the stock market crash doesn’t leave you with nothing at all.

        I’m 30 years away from retirement and have it set to an aggressive strategy, which means I’ve lost a good bit of money in the past year, but have 30 years for the market to recover. When I’m about 10 years away from retirement, I plan to switch to a much more conservative portfolio, so my fund will make less in good years, but also be less vulnerable to dips in bad years. It’s all within my control, unlike a pension.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          At the risk of making myself easily identifiable, I once worked at a place that matched 9%. It was glorious. Then one day we got a new CEO and first thing they did was cut the 401K match (twice, in fact – two years in a row). 9% is as rare as a pension plan these days. By all means, enjoy it while it lasts. I did.

          1. Green Tea*

            Yeah, it is definitely one of the main reasons I’ve stayed in one spot for the past 8 years; I know it is pretty hard to beat!

            I can see why people without matches or with low matches would be saltier than me about 401ks vs. pensions, I just feel like the lack of match is a bigger issue than the 401K having the option of a stock portfolio. I like controlling and owning my 401k, and I like knowing that money will go to my designated beneficiary if I die before I use it.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            My current company has the best match I’ve come across so far–they put in 4% no matter what you do and then match up to 6%. So I put in 6% and they put in 10%.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Same. I can put my 401K money in anything I want with our plan, too, which is nice – zero- and low-fee funds for any risk tolerance, CDs, government bonds, etc. My company no longer matches at all, but they have a very nice profit-sharing component that nets me more on an annual basis than matching ever did.

          My spouse has a government pension, and we joke that we can be a real-life comparison of 401K v. public sector pension if/when we retire.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Ironically, in addition to my 401K, I have a small pension coming up for me in retirement too, from six years of working at a place that still has a pension fund. Something like $400/month. I am going to have a real-life comparison in my own home. They periodically offer to take out a lump sum, but I’m taking my chances, partly because I’m curious to see how it plays out.

            My first three workplaces either didn’t have a 401K, or had it set up so that you had to stay there for a number of years to become eligible. I finally got one in 2000 when I started working for a Fortune 500, so mine is smaller than those of my age peers, since I was about ten years behind them on starting one. It took a big hit in 2008. Both times I changed jobs, I rolled my 401Ks into an IRA, so I now have two funds with two different companies. Hope some of that money is still there when I retire in 15 or so years. I have only ever heard of one company in my area that had profit-sharing, applied to it a few times, didn’t get in, heard bad things about working there, probably won’t apply again. So 401K matching it is.

  35. Clefairy*

    Alison is absolutely correct, but I worked at a company like this for several years, much of that time working 12-16 hour days (plus an hour commute each way) and when I tried to establish some boundaries and work less (but still 8-10 hour days), my manager ended up screaming at me in front of a bunch of other people because I wasn’t there providing the oversite to keep my team on track (I was the GM for a retail operation). The only real answer was leaving- once you’ve established your norm, anything less often won’t get accepted by the people who got used to your norm, and will instead be seen as you slacking.

  36. Dust Bunny*

    An industry demands a lot of its employees because people are still allowing it to squeeze blood out of them. There are very, very, few disciplines where this is actually that critical, and those few need to staff appropriately to keep from eating their practitioners alive.

    The problem here is your company and probably the industry culture, and your younger coworkers are doing everyone a favor long-term if they put the brakes on this.

  37. I should really pick a name*

    You yourself recognize that the way things currently work is not healthy or sustainable.

    If the long term employees aren’t going to change this, its up to the new ones. If they wait until they get buy-in from everyone else, the change is never going to happen.

    They might suffer consequences for this, or they might get the company to re-evaluate how it does things. I’m hoping for the latter.

  38. Cait*

    Your “Gen Z” coworkers got it right and you should follow their lead. They understand that saying, “No, I’m not working on Sunday/during my vacation/on my sick day/etc.” and establishing reasonable boundaries will create more work for you. But that’s not their problem to manage. It’s your responsibility to say, “Sorry, I can’t pick up Ronald’s work because he’s on vacation. I have too much of my own work to do and I can’t miss my deadlines.” Then the next person needs to say the same thing until the company either a) misses enough deadlines or b) hires enough people. But the only way for this to work is for everyone to follow the example of all the employees with healthy boundaries.

    1. AABBCC123*

      What if everyone gets fired, and is out of income before that happens though? No income is not a good place to be in either

  39. What She Said*

    I am one of the quiet ones sticking to my boundaries. I got there when I realized I couldn’t worry more about my work then the company did. If they were that worried they’d hire more people. When we were down people I did assist but never exceeded my regular hours and sometimes my own projects fell through. If they can’t feel the hurt a staff shortage causes then why bother hiring. If you keep pulling the weight of others they will assume well she has it why bother hiring more. You are doing a disservice to yourself here. But you need to get to that point on your own time. When you are ready, just quietly start sticking to your boundaries. Small steps work. It doesn’t have to a massive change at once. Trust me, it’s worth it to create boundaries.

    1. rayray*

      I agree with you! I had a workplace that had it’s share of martyrs who worked super long hours, though it wasn’t everyone. I’d sometimes work extra long days if my workload was especially busy or if I simply wanted some OT pay. I started to realize though that the workload just wasn’t sustainable, it was not evenly distributed and was not managed well. I started to care less and less. The one moment I remember clearly where I decided I would never work overtime again was when I had a vacation. Before my vacation, I discussed my workload with 2 different managers and with a few different coworkers. I made a plan and even wrote out some helpful notes so that my work would be covered when I was gone. When I returned to work, only the absolute bare minimum of absolutely essential tasks were completed, and these were tasks I shared with another person anyway. I had huge piles of documents and files to go through, that could have easily been done if anyone had so much as bothered to pick through the few that would come in each day. That’s when I knew that most of the urgency and panic in that office was 100% fabricated and it just didn’t matter. I didn’t love the job, but that was the moment I totally checked out mentally and started just doing the bare minimum required. There were other factors too, such as lack of appreciation from management, lack of COL raises, etc. but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.

  40. baffled*

    I have a few coworkers who thrive on martyr points. They will work round the clock (even when told not to) and find ways to make sure everyone knows it. Thank goodness there has been a lot of turnover during the pandemic, and newer/younger folks are not impressed by that nonsense.

    1. Onward*

      I’ve worked with a few of those too. They’re kind of like the flip-side of OP’s situation where they make it feel like everyone has to be answering emails at 10pm. They’re the ones who exacerbate that culture of “everyone needs to be available at all times.”

  41. a thought*

    I worked at an organization where I ended up feeling (like maybe the LW feels) personally responsible for the deadlines getting met. As we were losing staff (turnover and attrition) I did more and more to try to get those deadlines met — even though a lot of what needed to be done was outside my role and outside my expertise. It was hugely draining.

    Honestly I was too emotionally invested to let the deadlines drop – I had been working on these things for years. I decided instead to change jobs rather than do the harder (to me) internal work of remaking boundaries at my current workplace. It was a fresh start so I could do things with new boundaries (and I found a different culture). Highly recommend. It was a great move for me.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      This letter reminds me a bit of the linked “our highly-paid, overworked junior staff keep leaving just as we get them fully trained” letter, though this LW does not seem to be so emotionally invested (yet) as that one. LW, I highly recommend you read that letter and search the comments for “vaca*” (those are the original poster’s comments) to see where the “company is right, new employees are wrong” mindset leads. Maybe a thought’s suggestion of changing jobs so you have a fresh start is also the right move for you?

      1. Hibiscus*

        Exactly the letter that came to mind! I wish we’d hear back from that LW–he seemed to be contemplating leaving himself during the discussion.

  42. Sparkles McFadden*

    I worked in a job like this for almost my entire career. I was expected to work when I was sick and to cut vacations short, or call in for “just one meeting.” When I became a manager, I made sure my staff did not have to do this. I got push back from up above and yes, we had to push back some (unreasonable) deadlines, but guess what? We still got everything done and we were all much happier. Yes, there were complaints from some peers, and my grandboss complained about us “not being invested in the work” but when I asked her to judge on work results and not perception, she had nothing concrete. All she had was “That’s just how it is here.”

    The truth is that places with unreasonable demands rely on everyone shaming each other into working themselves like this. Part of it is so they don’t have to hire the right number of people, but I think a lot of it is just performative nonsense. Somehow, people think you’re not serious about work unless you’re suffering. I’d go outside for a half hour lunch and get asked to explain myself, and I’d cite labor law. This mentality is exactly why we have to have employment laws (and unions). Most people feel they cannot push back against unreasonable demands, and they hold their coworkers, not management, responsible.

    1. irene adler*

      Good post!
      And most importantly, while adhering to boundaries, the company didn’t tank -not even once.

      As QC in a small company, I watched as one of the long-time manufacturing techs would shush the other techs whenever their boss walked by. This would be followed by her admonishments, “No talking! Never talk when the boss is around!”

      This became the rule-for years. Even after this tech left, folks would admonish each other to refrain from talking while the boss was around. No one ever asked why nor did the boss ever instruct techs to not speak. Eventually manufacturing techs realized that there was no basis for this rule.

      It’s really a sad thing to expect employees to endure unacceptable work conditions and justify it by saying that they are paid to endure such things. NO!

      1. Momma Bear*

        I don’t remember if it was on Brain Games or another show but they had an experiment where people started doing a behavior in a waiting room and over time even though none of the original people were sitting there, people were still doing it. Sometimes we humans just do things out of tradition, even if we don’t know why or how it started.

  43. AnonInCanada*

    Agree wholeheartedly. Your resentment is to the wrong people. Your new hires understand the importance of work-life balance, and being able to unshackle oneself from the chains of what is the norm. Your company, specifically the higher-ups, are the ones to blame for setting unrealistic expectations. I remember in my younger years working like this: juggling so many balls, working ridiculous hours, having a “weekend” of less than 24 hours to catch up on my home life and its requirements, eating unhealthy due to the lack of time or energy to make decent food etc. puts a huge toll on anyone. And this is something that needs to be pushed back on. If your company’s clients have this high an expectation of 24/7 service, your company needs to provide the staff necessary to provide it. Otherwise, these clients better have lower expectations. Because the norm is unsustainable.

  44. Lacey*

    You can push back on this. It may or may not have consequences.

    I find that generally, it’s not that you’ll actually be called out for it or punished for it, but you won’t get rewarded or promoted either.

    At a previous job they gave awards to 2 different people for coming into work when they should have been going to the hospital. No one saw the problem until I explicitly called it out.

    There was also an award specifically for the person who did the best job of fixing other people’s mistakes at the expense of their own work.

    I did not win any awards.

  45. Parenthesis Guy*

    “I am part of a team in a high-pressure industry at a company known for demanding a lot but paying very well in exchange for availability, etc”

    People that go into these fields do so knowing that you’re going to work 70 or 80 hour weeks in return for high pay. If you don’t want to work those hours, then go into a different field. Ideally, they’d hire more junior level people at lower pay rates so this isn’t an issue for them, but back to reality.

    You need these junior level employees to do their job, so you can do higher-level work. That means when they don’t do their job, you need to talk to your manager. Their job isn’t putting in a forty hour week. It’s getting everything done that they need to get done.

    As for yourself, you should try and create boundaries for yourself. But that’s easier said than done in your field. I mean, there’s a reason why a lot of the junior level employees leave after two years.

    1. Florida Woman*

      Second this. LW, you can be kind to your junior people, you can be a good mentor and colleague, but you can’t change the fact that you need them to perform the job they were hired for. Having explicit conversations about job expectations probably needs to happen. You say the company expectations are “known” but it may be helpful to be more clear about what “available” means in practice. And for people who can’t or don’t want to meet those expectations, it’s better for them to find out early.

      For you, the only real question is whether you want to continue working at the pace you’re at. Realistically, it will always be the case that your hours will be long and truly personal time will be limited in the job you’re in. What your colleagues are doing is irrelevant here – some may be working more, some may be working less than you. What matters is whether you find your work sustainable given your own preferences and goals. Be clear-eyed about your priorities and don’t worry what choices colleagues are making.

    2. Observer*

      You need these junior level employees to do their job, so you can do higher-level work.

      I don’t care what the pay scale is. 70-80 hours per week *ongoing* is a stupid, ridiculous and inhumane work schedule. Exacerbating that by not actually allowing people to take vacation or even sick time (unless they can’t even keep their eyes open) is beyond the pale. Refusing to buy in to that kind of insanity is NOT “not doing their job.”

      1. Or*

        Ironically, if the junior associates would occasionally stay late or could be trusted to stay in communication when needed, more people would probably be able to unplug on their vacations.

        1. Sal*

          You know, I’d place pretty good money that the juniors do occasionally stay late and are mostly (or more often than not) in communication when needed—but the biglaw-cultural expectation is that they either always or almost always stay late and are always in communication when needed. Anything less than that is indeed seen as slacking by a junior biglaw associate. That may make a difference in your estimation of their reasonableness…

  46. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    It’s not a Gen Z thing, it’s a “want to live long enough to enjoy retirement” thing.

    I had a job that was a lot less demanding than OP’s (there was an on-call rotation, sick days and vacation days were sacred…) and when an older coworker didn’t come in one Monday and everyone else was just casually like “Oh, she’s in the hospital with heart issues after a bad on-call week” like it was something completely normal, that was when I knew it was time to get out and to never get into a situation like that again. (She’s now very much alive, and enjoying retirement, so no worries!)

    We were also under the impression that the company was paying us extra to compensate for our chaotic work schedules. Then there was a mass exodus (of which I was a part) and we found out that the company was going to hire our replacements at 30% higher base pay than ours had been. It was before Glassdoor, LI etc and we didn’t have a way to ask around and find out the big picture on industry salaries, and our employer made a point to announce it every year that our salaries were, once again, “at or above the market reference point”. But they weren’t.

  47. Boundaries Abound*

    This is so relatable to me. About 2-3 years ago I took a look around my office and realized that the vast majority of my younger coworkers were not willing to put in the extra time that I was. And that there were generally no consequences from them doing this. More senior staff and I were constantly scrambling and putting in extra time and effort to get things done and we weren’t seeing anything for it. Our raises weren’t better, there were no rewards or recognition, and if anything our workloads were higher because we were getting it done.

    One day I woke up and just decided I couldn’t do it anymore and that I would start putting up what I felt were reasonable boundaries. No I’m not doing that last minute travel. Sorry I can’t stay an hour late to attend that meeting today because you decided it worked better for your schedule. Yes I am going to take all my PTO and no I won’t be taking calls during it barring an actual emergency.

    Do you know what happened? Mostly nothing. I learned pretty quickly that if you provide value to your team and you basically say “Hey, I’m only going to do what you’re paying me for” people may grumble but they’ll mostly leave you alone. Now is this the kind of thing that could have consequences later? Sure! Maybe I won’t be considered for promotions, but ya know what? I don’t want them! I’m much happier with my boundaries than more prestige but also more responsibility.

    I highly recommend pushing back in small ways first. It’s hard to go cold turkey on these things without making waves, but it’s pretty easy to say “yeah I’m setting a hard stop at 5 today” or “I’m not going to be able to get that done before I leave for vacation so it needs to wait or I need to know who will be covering this”

  48. Spearmint*

    A common claim of businesses industries like this is that they pay a lot to make up for the constant availability. But why not simply have more employees and pay them less? Instead of one person making $150k straight out of college, why not hire two fresh grads at $75k?

    1. baseballfan*

      Because you won’t get any candidates for the job. I can only imagine the hilarity that would ensue among college seniors if my firm offered half the going rate, even if they promised a 40 hour week.

      The market rate is what it is. People who accept the market rate are also accepting the OT.

      1. Spearmint*

        It’s not obvious to me you wouldn’t get candidates. Government jobs hire just fine despite paying below market rate because the work-life balance is so good.

        1. Bella*

          Government jobs come with good benefits, long-term stability, and interesting work.

          The reason this is happening is because generally it takes two years to get pushed out for not meeting expectations so living frugally and paying off your six figure debt while figuring you’ll have a nice resume line and a soft landing when the firm says you don’t have a future there is worth it. It would not be worth it for half the price.

          Again the whole system is broken but I think the overhaul needs to be more comprehensive than this.

      2. mreasy*

        Meanwhile, I made under $20K in my first job in my industry at age 23… less than when I’d been working retail out of college. Finance, law, etc., are by no means representative of expectations for other industries. And frankly? They SHOULD be hiring 2 people at half the salary, as a norm.

    2. Parenthesis Guy*

      Because the guy making $150k is much smarter than the guys making $75k. Which means he can learn things that the guys making $75k can’t. It doesn’t matter how much time you give those guys making $75k, they’ll never be able to do it. Top talent doesn’t just grow on trees.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        If it’s the industry I think it is, it’s not that the higher paid person is actually smarter but that they’re more credentialed and primed for that sort of work. I’ve worked with some very well-credentialed, well-paid dumbasses in my time in BigLaw.

    3. Wren*

      Because if this is one of the industries I think it is (Big Law especially, maybe not in other industries) people are coming out of school with 200k+ in student loans. A lot of people (not all, obviously, thank you to the public defenders/people who go into public service) are kind of unwilling to go work somewhere that pays that little with that amount of student loans on their back.

  49. Charlie*

    I’m sorry, OP, that sounds really frustrating! We have sort of a similar thing at my office on a much smaller scale–we’re a fundraising team, and thus part of the work of our office inherently involves evening/weekend events. Different sub-teams are responsible for planning and executing different events, but we’ll need more bodies there for the actual day of. Lately, it’s been really hard finding colleagues willing to step up and help with our events, which does in fact directly mean more work for me that I can’t just not do (nametags have to be prepped the night before, and if no one’s willing to help me from 5-6 PM then I have to stay till 8 doing them all myself), or causes a lot of stress at the actual event (if not enough people step up to work at a registration table, then I have to be dealing with that as well as escorting VIP guests to their table).
    I obviously respect my colleagues’ right to say they’re not available for any given night, but when absolutely no one puts their hand up after multiple asks, it’s very discouraging.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Can you talk to your supervisor about this problem and redistribute some tasks, or the timing of them? I’ve had to push back hard on a particular work task and enforce deadlines that preserve my sanity (and make vendors less unhappy). The problem with expecting people to volunteer is that they often won’t. Sounds like some things need to be directly assigned.

      1. Charlie*

        My supervisor is the one asking people to help out! But he doesn’t have authority over most of our office and can’t assign them tasks. We’ve moved stuff around to the extent we can (sending out materials to be created by external vendors that we used to do in-house, etc), but there’s a limit to what we can do when it’s things like “I need someone to stand at a registration table from 5-7 PM.”

        1. Momma Bear*

          Understood. Sounds like that’s a conversation he needs to take to his boss and his peer managers. If this is a core company function, something needs to give, maybe even some of the events themselves.

    2. SJ (they/them)*

      I’m really curious why the framing here is about stepping up to help / putting your hand up to volunteer when it sounds like it is (or should be?) a requirement of the job to contribute to a certain number of events outside your team per year.

      I wonder if reframing those commitments as required vs optional would help? Asking people to volunteer as if it’s optional, but then being frustrated when people don’t, doesn’t seem sustainable (as you’re seeing, it sounds like).

      The conversation of “we need to distribute these X events over our Y team members, how shall we do that?” seems potentially more fitting over “we have X events, can anyone help?”

      Obviously this is assuming it was understood in hiring these folks that they would be showing up both for their own events and for other teams’ events, and I’m assuming this is all set up for flex time or comp time or what have you etcetc.

      Just some thoughts, wish you luck!

        1. JessB*

          Yeah, if people aren’t volunteering their own time to do work, I can’t really blame them!

          If you want someone to work, pay them to work.

  50. MigraineMonth*

    The emperor isn’t wearing clothes. There’s no reason to be mad at the person who points that out.

  51. baseballfan*

    Big 4 accounting manager here. I can completely relate to this. It’s not unlike Biglaw or other client service professions where people are very well paid and expected to work hours commensurate with that. Some people stay and get promoted and get raises and bonuses. Some people decide life is too short and they go elsewhere to work for less money and less hours. Both of these are valid life choices depending on one’s goals and needs.

    Even within a firm or company, different teams may take a different approach to this. I feel like my team is good about respecting people’s planned (or even unplanned, in the case of sickness) time off. I have the habit of checking in even while on vacation, but I have been making real efforts to keep that to a minimum, not only because it’s better for me and my mental health, but because I want to set the right example for my staff.

    In this business, unfortunately there is really no telling your client, who’s paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the work, that you can’t meet their timeline. If someone is unavailable, someone else has to pick up the slack. Hopefully, in the end it evens out. But it’s unrealistic to expect clients to simply change their expectations. I’m not saying it’s right; I’m just saying this is the reality.

    There are plenty of days where I wonder if I should take it down a notch. I’m over 50 and starting to think about retirement, and I’m fairly well compensated, so at the moment it’s a matter of working hard for a good paycheck and stashing away as much as feasible of it, so I can plan for retirement in the not-too-far future. Once I get off this train, there’s no getting back on, so when I leave, it will be for good.

  52. Liv*

    There’s definitely a broad generational shift. I’m a young millennial (technically Gen Z depending on which date range you use as your cut off) and I manage a team. One of my direct reports is 30 years older than me, and the entire last year has been spent me trying to help him learn to set better boundaries – say no to unreasonable work loads (I don’t set his work by and large); take lunch breaks; don’t work out of hours etc. It’s been a real challenge because it’s just so ingrained in him that no boundaries = good worker. But it was having a serious negative impact on his personal well being – which was in turn making negative behaviours surface at work because he was so stressed.

  53. Office Lobster DJ*

    There is a risk to OP in setting boundaries, as Alison addresses, but I also think in some places there would be a risk to the OP’s career in continuing on like this. Don’t become good ol’ reliable OP, who always mops up the company’s messes and bails us out last minute, unless you are happy to stay exactly where you are…potentially watching the these newer folks advance beyond you.

    And if even if OP’s extra work is being appropriately recognized and does lead to a promotion — would the new role be just as miserable and unsustainable?

  54. Momma Bear*

    I’d start with setting an out of office message and taking a true sick day if you are sick. If the work of others falls to you, can you just not prioritize it? It may all feel “urgent” but how urgent is it, really? Sure, they pay a lot of money for a quick turnaround but does that always have to be you? Maybe the discussion to be had is better redistribution of tasks. What would happen if you got hit by a bus?

    Looking back, I regret the days I didn’t take off/time I didn’t use for my own personal life more than taking the time I needed. There just came a point where my own health was more important than chasing a raise that wasn’t going to change my life.

    You can be resentful or you can be inspired. It’s not their fault the culture fed you the line that you can’t rest. See what you can do to make it better for yourself.

  55. LilPinkSock*

    As an elder millennial who was written up once for not being able to answer my phone while helping a seriously ill parent in the hospital, and once again for not answering middle-of-the-night emails from a board member whom I did not know while on PTO on the other side of the planet…the attitude of “be constantly available or pay the consequences” is absolute garbage. Blame the company culture and expectations set by TPTB, not the young adult who may have seen parents, siblings, and friends dramatically burn out because of this nonsense.

  56. NeedRain47*

    I’m solidly gen X and I never subscribed to the idea of working extra *all the time*. Occasional weekend project or extra long day, sure. But my job pays me for 40 hours. I’m allowed to work more, but I’m not allowed to work less. I can leave to go to a drs appt or whatever, but I can’t just stop working if I’ve already worked 40 hours that week, so it doesn’t even out. I don’t work for free and there will always be more, it seems pretty clearly not worth killing myself over it.

  57. Warrant Officer Georgiana Breakspear-Goldfinch*

    LW, read the letter our highly-paid, overworked junior staff keep leaving just as we get them fully trained and the comments, and how the LW’s thinking is inflexible and fearful. That’s the path you’re headed down. Take a breath, prioritize your health and sanity, and the health and sanity of your coworkers over your employer’s inhumane expectations, and start setting appropriate boundaries with your management.

    1. Avril Ludgateaux*

      Uuugghhhh I remember that thread and how infernally frustrating it was to be a part of. OP was in there (as “Vaca”) refusing to understand that they can’t penalize people into sticking with them – it will just make people avoid them in favor of the competitors they are already jumping ship to. And then there was another commenter I kept running into (“US expat” something something) who was very defensive about their job in IB, saying all the same things as the OP but even more inflexible.

      Almost 2000 comments on that thread! Is that the most animated conversation this blog has ever seen? It clearly struck a nerve with the commentariat. I wonder if people in IB, BigLaw, even the admins in charge of medical residency programs will ever, ever step back and realize they don’t have to perpetuate the mistakes and dysfunctions of their forefathers. But, let’s be real, there’s a lot of vested interests and megalomania involved, and people making these decisions are the ones that benefit from the status quo remaining firmly in place.

      1. Danish*

        Everytime someone in BigLaw etc comments to say “I CAN’T just [not do it]” I think, you can tho. You literally can. Will there be consequences? Maybe. Will you have to get another job? Maybe. But those things are all survivable. Working yourself to an early grave is, by definition, not survivable. And none of us who are not in favor of insane working conditions are just never going to agree that you “can’t” because of, checks smudged writing on hand “that’s just the expectation”.

        The only way things will change is if you change them.

        1. Sal*

          This I 100% agree with. (With the caveat that all my lawyer job searches have been miserable and sucked, so, you know…plan for that.)

          1. Avril Ludgateaux*

            That’s probably more to do with the fact there is an oversaturation of JDs compared to the number of available law jobs. Something like 20% of law school graduates will never been employed in the field, IIRC.

            … An oversaturation that could literally be instantly solved – MORE than solved! – if the firms demanding 80-100 hr weeks hired twice the junior attorneys.

        2. biglaw worker*

          i just want to say, it’s very possible that just “not doing something” in biglaw could lead to a malpractice suit, a bar complaint, or just allegations of misconduct which can be damning as it’s a small industry, even in a big city like nyc. when people are fired for misconduct on this particular job, it literally makes headlines. so yes, “not doing something” could be a career ender. i work in biglaw and i am also staunchly anti-biglaw (they are a poison, i’m working on leaving) but i am being realistic with the expectations and responsibilities of this type of role because i see it every day.

          1. biglaw worker*

            and when i saw headlines i am specifically referring to legal publications a la abovethelaw, law dot com etc. – but like, lawyers read those.

          2. Avril Ludgateaux*

            I’m not entirely sure what you’re referring to. Like, getting your client their documents in two weeks instead of one because Joan is on vacation is hardly “malpractice,” unless you are charging them for twice the billable hours.

            Would you mind sharing an example of what would actually constitute malpractice, misconduct, or a Bar violation, that relates to the topic at hand (i.e. establishing health work-life balance boundaries)?

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              The majority of malpractice claims arise from missing court deadlines. It’s not about getting the CLIENT a document in a week, it’s the external deadlines issued by courts/agencies or complying with a large corporate transaction schedule. And the court does not personally care if you are on vacation or sick or whatever – court order even witnesses to appear even though they were scheduled to be on vacation, courts demand substantial briefing that requires more work than realistically fits into “business hours” on short notice, and courts will rule on long-pending motions requiring immediate action while people are OOO. A few years ago, one of my colleagues had to coordinate with all parties to file a joint motion to move a hearing date because it was rescheduled over one of the attorney’s weddings, and the next available date the judge had was four month later.

              A lawyer is required to know and abide by court/agency deadlines. If you do not file or do something on schedule, your client may lose by default or miss out on an opportunity to file something highly beneficial to their case. No one cars if you had enough time to work on it – missing a filing deadline is malpractice.

              If you’re working on a deal and don’t provide documents/information on schedule, you may lose negotiating power that disadvantages your client or give the other party an opportunity to pull out. That’s malpractice.

              If the court issues a discovery order and your client can’t wrangle the emails out of their system until you only have a week to review a million of them, you and your colleagues have to work an insane number of hours to get them reviewed and produced by when the court told you to do it or risk discovery sanctions or adverse instruction (which could also result in malpractice claims). Inadvertent disclosures of privileged information also hang out in this arena.

              This is to say nothing of the business and reputational loss of not being responsive to your client or if, as biglaw worker notes, you end up on the front page of a legal publication for being incompetent, failing your client, or not understanding what the client expects for their BigLaw fees. Law is also a relationship business, and the people who work on your matter are often not fungible.

        3. Avril Ludgateaux*

          The only way things will change is if you change them.


          But, in typical millennial fashion, I’m just uncomfortable enough to complain, yet scared enough of losing the unstable, tenuous comfort I have, to rock the boat. I find myself championing and depending on the weaponized nihilism, hopelessness for the future, and overall DGAF attitude of the younger generation to be the change I am too anxious to be.

  58. Call Me Wheels*

    It seems tough on the junior employees who presuambly don’t have as much capital or influence as someone higher up to expect them to be the ones openly trying to talk to the company and others, especially when LW admits it wouldn’t do much. I hope LW is able to have a better balance soon :)

  59. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP, I used to have a very similar attitude to you. I worked very long hours, picked up issues out of hours, frequently didn’t book leave at all, and I really resented my colleagues who absolutely refused to do more than their 37.5 hours/week contract.

    Why did I have to do the work that they got out of just because they decided that they wanted to spend some time with their family? Why didn’t they see how hard I was working? Was it because they were younger than me and didn’t understand work? (I’m Gen X)

    As you may have gathered, I was a perpetually unhappy person during those years and I burnt out rather spectacularly.

    If you compare yourself to others and see them doing something you really wish you could do – then it’s human but very defeating to decide that they are somehow in the wrong or taking the piss. It also doesn’t lead to any solution – and let me share my experience here, I tried to lecture the others and it really didn’t go well at all.

    You cannot change other people. You can accept their differences.

    1. Parenthesis Guy*

      The OP claims to work in a field that requires long hours and most importantly pays well for long hours. You can’t set strong boundaries about work-life balance when they’re paying you 300% of market rate to work whenever.

      You worked in a field where people have contracts to work for 37.5 hrs a week and they’re paying you to work 37.5 hrs a week. In that case, you should absolutely set strong boundaries.

      For you, arguing that these people should work longer wasn’t going to work because they did what they were supposed to do. They were in the right. For the OPs case, they’re in the wrong.

      It’s all about having reasonable expectations.

  60. Wren*

    On one hand, yes it’s great to have stronger boundaries, and I think the younger members of the workforce have the right of it. It’s messed up to be worked to the ground and if you can manage to enforce some, I think you should!

    But this sounds like an industry like Big Law or Big Four accounting, where this kind of culture is baked in and part of what you sign up for with that massive paycheck. It’s the nature of the beast, and that culture will not change quickly or easily.

    Additionally, I think it’s kind of shitty for some of these people to simply unilaterally decide to stop without considering what it does to the rest of the people on their teams, and I don’t blame the OP for being resentful. If I had people on my team who were simply like “no I will not do this” without like, at least talking to me about it, I would be wildly resentful that now I’m being worked to the bone taking on their stuff. It’s one thing to know that a wider conversation won’t change things systemically; it’s another thing to throw your coworkers under the bus.

    There isn’t really a good answer here; it’s two directly conflicting needs, in (I’m assuming) an industry that requires buy-in from everyone to make the basic work…work. OP, you’re not crazy for being resentful, and if you can take some cues from the younger gen, do. But you’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    1. SJ (they/them)*

      This is so interesting to me from outside one of these firms because if it’s true that the salary is paid with the expectation of overtime/availability etc, then shouldn’t these new recruits be getting fired or something? The part I’m not seeing is why the new recruits having boundaries requires their coworkers at the same level to cover for them indefinitely.

      Like it seems to me it must be either one way or the other, either the agreement is huge salary for constant availability, in which case it’s a performance issue and they’ll get fired… or else that’s not really the agreement after all? That’s the piece I’m missing I think – is the enforcement of these hours supposed to come horizontally from the other team members? Is there nowhere up the chain to push the problem?

      1. baseballfan*

        I can’t speak for everyone, but at my firm, someone consistently refusing OT would absolutely be fired. (We don’t expect constant availability, but we expect – and accept – a base level of overtime which includes some weekends. To simply refuse would not be sustainable).

      2. Bella*

        Generally speaking they can be for something egregious but what’s more likely to happen is that they’ll be managed out after a couple of years when they’re consistently not meeting hours targets. They don’t have “managers” usually – they have partners and groups they work with, and it can take time to sort out who’s slacking vs. who’s finding work in other places. Plus it looks bad to students at top law schools if their older friends all got fired after a year and that matters in recruiting. The whole model is MEANT to have about 1/3 of the associates leave each year (hence the pyramid structure) but the assumption is you will get work out of them while they’re there. It’s possible this kind of shift will lead it to change.

    2. baseballfan*

      Some great points here. It’s true that in some industries, the culture absolutely expects overtime and some sacrifices. And that won’t change overnight (or maybe ever). But the way to handle it is to have the conversation. Use your words. Talk about your needs and goals. Don’t just refuse to accommodate requests when your peers are not similarly refusing.

      My firm is recognizing that the market for good talent is tight and some people want a satisfying job with work-life balance more than they want more money. To that end, they are offering some options like schedule reduction (most common is 80% hours for 80% pay). For many people, that enables them to have the challenging work they want while dialing back on the hours.

      1. Wren*

        Exactly! I genuinely think the work culture of the United States is fucked up, but you cannot solve the culture issue of something like this by individually choosing not to participate and not caring about the rest of the people you work with. You have to talk to them, let them know what’s happening and what you want. I’ve found that people might be actually willing to work with you, even in a limited capacity, if you use your words.

        1. Danish*

          As LW themselves point out, the conversations would be pointless in their current office climate. How long should the Junior Employees destroy their physical and mental health waiting for this proposed American Work Culture shift that will definitely probably maybe happen if just the right people would have a conversation?

          1. Wren*

            With all due respect, the junior employees aren’t stupid. This type of culture is well known and everyone involved is very upfront about it well before they walk into that firm. These aren’t kids getting blindsided by work norms; these are adults who know what they signed up for and are choosing instead to give more work to other people. These types of jobs are designed to function as a team, where everyone there is working insane hours together; throwing that out of balance makes everyone else even more miserable.

            Also, I think it’s very clear that by talking, I mean…talking to your peers, being explicit about boundaries and, specifically, being able to come to compromises. You know, normal things about working with people. Management/senior partners may not listen, but the people who are in the trenches with you will. It’s called working as a team.

    3. Avril Ludgateaux*

      But this sounds like an industry like Big Law or Big Four accounting, where this kind of culture is baked in and part of what you sign up for with that massive paycheck. It’s the nature of the beast, and that culture will not change quickly or easily.

      And yet, it seems like the younger generation is changing it by focusing on their needs, individually, even if they are not organizing collectively. Industry change happens as industry labor asserts itself, by whatever method. That’s the vast oversimplification, but it is historically what works.

      1. Wren*

        But it’s pretty clear they AREN’T changing it–instead management is simply putting all of the work on other people who resent the junior staff. If you want to change a culture you have to like. Talk to your fellow workers. At least give them a heads up. They’re not doing that.

  61. Immortal for a limited time*

    Alison said, “… if you have a track record of doing good work and have built up some capital, you might be surprised by how much room you have to push back and set better boundaries.” That is 100% true in my workplace. I’ve been in the workforce for 40 years (going back to high school) and I still had to learn this lesson at my current job last fall. My industry is quite different from the LW’s, and my role has changed over the past few years, largely because I’ve been looped into increasingly complex projects. Over time I had built a reputation as someone who has good ideas, does good work and gets along with everyone. So naturally, I worried that pushing back would diminish my value in my manager’s eyes (ED / CEO of our org). Not true. When I finally said, I can’t do it all, the burden is killing me, and I’m becoming resentful, they sprang into action, agreeing to create a new position in our next budget cycle and helping me identify duties I could turn over to a potential new hire. Being a good manager, they even thanked me for speaking up and wished I had done it sooner. The expectation that I should be able to do everything in a 40-hour work week had existed only in my head.

  62. Yakky*

    My partner is a medical resident. His hours are long and brutal. Sometimes he has to work nights for two week straight with no real weekend, and sometimes he has to stay at work late to make sure a procedure is finished. But when he is on vacation, he’s on vacation. I’ve never once seen him check email while we’re traveling. Occasionally I will see him fill out some paperwork or respond to a message outside of regular hours, but he spends the vast majority of his free time pursuing hobbies or sleeping in. And that’s with a job where you have to deal with life-or-death situations. If your job has worse work-life balance than medical residency…that’s an unsustainable situation.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      At my old job that had the worst work-life balance of any I’ve ever had, we once had a request come in from a high-stakes customer for an emergency code change right after the person who knew that code left on his honeymoon. Our manager gathered all of us and the first thing out of his mouth was “Under no circumstances are we going to contact X on his honeymoon” and then we went on to scramble to fill in for X to the best of our ability. I never had, or knew anyone personally, who had, a job that made no allowance whatsoever for its employees being, well, human. Agree that it would be unsustainable.

      1. Delta Delta*

        At a Toxic Job I had Big Boss discovered he did not know when a particular settlement check was due to be delivered. The attorney who worked on the matter had left for his wedding and honeymoon. Big Boss got all fired up and planned to call the attorney to find out when the check would be delivered. Someone had to physically peel the phone out of his hands because they realized the attorney was – and I am not making this up – in the middle of his wedding ceremony (on a weekday afternoon in a park on the anniversary of when and where they met). Mind you, the client wasn’t inquiring about it, it was just Big Boss being a jerk because he didn’t know a piece of information. (that attorney quit shortly thereafter for an entirely different reason that had a lot to do with the boss being a huge jerk)

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Lmao I can see that ceremony! “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” RRRING!!! “WHERE’S MY CLIENT’S CHECK, FERGUS?”

    2. allathian*

      Yes, this. And even so, I think that the hours medical residents are expected to work are inhumane. I simply cannot believe that someone who’s been on call for 24 hours would be able to do as good a job as someone who’s well-rested.

  63. Panda*

    “shouting Viva La Revolución”

    I had visions of everyone running out of their pods carrying flags and shouting this through the aisles. I love it!

  64. JustMe*

    Part of me wonders if OP works at a law firm. In instances like that, the grueling work loads really are ingrained in the culture (and, depending on the firm, sometimes it really IS important to have someone on call) and can be the norm at many similar firms. If it’s an extremely competitive law firm, recent grads fight tooth and nail to be hired, which means that they don’t push back on the insane work hours. (Typically I have heard, “You pay your dues by working insane hours and then get work/life balance when you leave Big Law and move in-house.”)

    I think it could be very possible that OP’s work/life balance really is the standard in her workplace and industry, and if that’s the case, it may not be possible to assert boundaries in the same way that you could at a typical 9-5 job. I might recommend that OP talk to a mentor/more senior member of her team about this, because they may be able to give advice on how to manage the workload within the context of their specific industry.

  65. urguncle*

    OP, there are a few questions I have for you that I also think you should ask for yourself and see what you believe:
    1) Does your business necessitate this kind of quick action? Does answering emails off hours or working sick make an actual difference to someone’s quality of life? I’m not saying “my customers are happier when I do it.” I’m asking if you work in an industry like organ donation matching or 911 dispatch or air traffic control.
    2) What would happen if you also set these boundaries, considering you work the hours agreed upon with your employer, but you also took sick days when you’re not feeling well and answered emails when you’re supposed to?
    3) Could your extra work mean that the company is understaffing? Do they maybe need to have an on-call rotation for some jobs? What shortcomings are you making up for that perhaps need to be exposed?

  66. Balance Is Key*

    Respectfully OP, hasn’t your company ever heard of providing coverage? When people are out, you cover for them. When you’re out, they cover for you. You spread out your vacation times (which everyone takes, equally!) so they don’t overlap too much, and you cover in emergencies because we’re human and life happens. I literally cannot fathom working somewhere that doesn’t have this system in place. But I hope it’s something you can all work toward.

  67. April May June*

    I assume if it was viable you’d have already mentioned it, but — if coverage is a problem, why not have scheduled shifts? eg, Tracy works days, Wednesday to Sunday, and Leslie works nights those days; Fergus works days Friday to Tuesday, and James works nights those days. That way everybody has a guaranteed rest time and also the company has the coverage they need.

  68. Cellyn*

    I needed this today because I am this new hire! My industry is actually not nearly as urgent or deadline driven as described in the letter, but my team regularly works on days off, checks in on vacation, and often send emails in the middle of the night. I’m a Gen X and have spent years developing comfort around setting better boundaries, and I’m not willing to give them up for this job. Thank you, Alison, for the validation!

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Validation is one thing, but make sure you know your workplace. There could be consequences for maintaining your boundaries.
      I’m not saying not to maintain them, understand that they might not just say “that’s fine”.

  69. Raezen*

    Why not use this as a way to start the conversation? Now, there’s a real situation causing you to have the conversation, rather than just your preference. ‘I notice that the newer employees are setting better boundaries around work-life balance. I know we all need to do that and that in the long run, that’s going to allow us to hire and retain the best people, but right now, it means more work is falling on some people disporportionately. How can we ensure adequate coverage for when people are disconnected going forward?’

  70. Generic Name*

    I suggest a small experiment. Do no work that first day of your vacation. Have an out of office reply stating that you are on vacation and provide contact info of someone they can reach if it’s a true emergency. See if anyone says anything. I would bet that no one will say anything and it won’t be a problem. If there is a huge problem, you can quietly go back to 24/7 availability.

  71. Corporate Goth*

    I was in a role like this until recently, and for several years had a boundary-violating Boss From Hades (BFH). She’d repeatedly text in the middle of the night or while I was on vacation, and even told everyone I was working from home with Covid when our organizational security rules explicitly didn’t allow for that. BFH even showed up at my house several times, including when she knew I was out of town.

    The thing that helped keep me going until I found a new job was to find ways to enforce the boundaries.

    1) Make sure you set up do not disturb hours. You’re not useful if you haven’t slept enough, and you can couch this in terms of improving efficiency.

    2) Completely disconnect on vacations. It’s a shame you won’t have reliable wifi when you’re out of office. Your organization doesn’t need to know you’re not camping in the boonies with terrible/no reception. I even invested in a Faraday bag to block comms on the work phone from the BFH.

    3) As you and the team are able, designate a rotation of who to call when someone’s not available and what constitutes an emergency. Then determine what emergency support (middle of the night, not the usual person, etc) may look like compared to normal and what the follow up will be. Establishing clearer processes may help, especially if you can test it and prove it works better.

    Hoping for an update on this one, and definitely wondering about the industry.

  72. Feeling the squeeze*

    I feel for OP. Investment banking, top tier consulting, and big law have a middle manager squeeze issue. The senior executives and partners believe that they have to push work-life balance initiatives to attract the best junior employees (for example GS creating protected Saturdays for IB analysts) but the partners aren’t pushing very hard back on the clients resulting in the same short deadlines. This creates a weird situation where the most junior workers can push back for work-life balance and the middle managers are forced to cover for them to avoid being fired. The partners and the client will expect the work to get done – and since it won’t be the junior analysts (since the firm is supporting their work-life balance) it falls on the Associates/VPs to do.

    My experience has been that if the VPs try to
    Proetect their work life balance by either pushing the work down or refusing to do the work then they get fired. If they push down, the analysts provide negative upward feedback and the VPs get dinged or even pushed out. If the VPs push back and say they can’t do it, the partner stops giving them work the VP gets managed out/fired.

    I feel for OP. The firm is likely providing support to the juniors not offered to her and she has invested so much as a junior (when the rules were different) that it feels unfair….

    1. Felicity Lemon*

      Totally, and here’s the thing about that situation – if enough of the mid-level people leave (or get pushed out), and the junior staff are still getting the perks, then who is left to do the work? The senior execs aren’t going to take it on — and even though they’re more liable to be in a position to help re-set client/company expectations, it’s easier and more lucrative not to do so — so the burden just keeps getting redistributed among the remaining mid-level staff (and then just compounds the burnout problem).
      And then this type of thing leads to people (mostly the higher-level folks) saying ‘nobody wants to work anymore’…. when it’s not necessarily the players, it’s the game that’s messed up.

  73. New Mom*

    I’m going to save this post. I’m about to return from maternity leave and this poster’s situation really closely mirrors my situation (except the high pay part) and I’m genuinely worried that my coworkers will feel like this OP. I’ll need to shut off at 5pm and no more late night working and weekend work. I have two very young children now and I literally can’t.
    I’m concerned my coworkers will blame and resent ME instead of our employer who chooses to keep us understaffed. Right before I went on leave I presented to the big bosses, with backup from hired consultants, that we need more people but a coworker has informed me that no hires have been made in my absence. I’m scared!

  74. Fluttervale*

    Idk what industry OP is in, but I recently was promoted to a role where my direct supervisor expected a certain amount of time in the building. I had negotiated a shorter shift (reasons not relevant) and was not buying into needing to be at work that long. It is a managerial role.

    It’s been six months of me just holding the line and now my boss and peers can see that it is not actually necessary to be in the building that much, and the culture has really shifted.

    I didn’t have to argue or explain, just do good work in the time I’m in the building.

  75. Purple Cat*

    “the world is changing and the priorities of the people we want to hire are different now”

    Saving this for the conversation I’m likely to have with my CEO because he’s big mad that people are working at home on a snow day – even though he works remotely 2 days/wk.

  76. nnn*

    I wrote this as a reply but wanted to say it on its own too. I see a lot of assumptions that this is Big Law or another field where this is standard. But the LW said this is the culture at their company, not industry-wide.

    Also I would think if the deal was “work horrible hours in exchange for amazing riches,” they would have mentioned that. There are a lot of companies where that’s not the deal and it’s not an industry-wide expectation.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      They did mention that high pay was in exchange for availability.
      Whether that was ever explicitly stated to the new hires is an unknown.

      I am part of a team in a high-pressure industry at a company known for demanding a lot but paying very well in exchange for availability

  77. Former Retail Lifer*

    OP, I’m in my mid-40s and have spent most of my career working extra hours because it’s what everyone did. And you know what it got me? Nothing, unless we’re counting stress and gray hairs. I admire the younger generation’s expectations of work/life balance, especially when there is no direct correlation in my industry from extra hours to raises and promotions. They have it right. I’ve been with my company for eight years and in my current role for four, and now I have the capital to push back against unrealistic or unfair expectations. I’ve been doing it and suffering no consequences. I have Gen Z to thank for that. I honestly never thought this was an option.

    1. H.Regalis*

      Agreed. My boss is a bit older than I am and destroyed their health working crazy hours. Their good health is never coming back. Ever. It’s gone.

      When I was younger, everything was all “be a team player/do whatever the bosses tell you and never question anything” and if you didn’t then you were LAZY and a SLACKER and a TROUBLEMAKER, and those were the worst things ever. I put up with some awful stuff and got jack shit in return.

      Thanks in part to this blog, I push back on bullshit things now at work, and if sometimes I have to put up with crap, I’m going into it with open eyes and an eye on the door. My younger coworker is how I am now in terms of their views on labor rights, almost twenty years before I got there, and I am so, so glad for them.

  78. RB*

    I get the impression that the kind of work they do will make it hard to enact any sort of changes, so I’d be curious what the newer employees are doing differently that allows them to set those boundaries. So, if everything is high priority, and each person on a team has their own distinct role, it’s not easy to pass that task on to someone else when they’re sick or take vacation. It would just come to a halt if no one else on the team can execute that task, which might bring the project as a whole to a halt. Maybe they need more cross-training?

  79. merida*

    This is so interesting. I’m really glad this letter was published. I can see this from both sides – previously, I think I was more like the OP, I was the one who picked up everyone else’s slack so they could take days off, but I was told I couldn’t. Part of it was being actively told by my bosses that I was the person who couldn’t take time off and had to work extra hours to back up my team, part of it was me allowing them to take advantage of me. I was miserable and burned out. Finally got a different job.

    Unsurprisingly, now I’m a scrupulous work-life balance advocate! I can tell that one of my colleagues now is irritated that I won’t give in to the unspoken pressure to work extra hours. I have great sympathy for my overwhelmed colleague, but at the same time I have to resist commiserating too much because I don’t want to enable this type of unhealthy work ethic. In this case, the only person expecting her to work at all hours of the day and night (sometimes 80 hours/week!) is her. She’s constantly complaining/bragging about how many hours she worked the day before and I’m trying to find the balance between saying kind comments and just “grey rocking” so she’ll lose the satisfaction of my reaction. I hope for her sake that someday she realizes that bragging about setting her alarm for 2 am to work on her inbox just isn’t healthy (at least not if you’re staying up until 10 pm to work).

  80. Hiring Mgr*

    About 15 years ago I was in a job where I worked from home one day not feeling great but still did a few calls. A couple of days later I had pneumonia and had to go to the ER

    The story got mixed up along the way and somehow got back to the company that I was working from the hospital, doing calls, meetings from my hospital bed. (none of that was true, i was only in the ER for like 30 minutes and then went home

    Anyway I was treated like a hero and in an all company meeting the CEO put up a fake photo of me on a phone and laptop in a hospital bed and everyone clapped and cheered (no i’m not kidding). Hopefully we’ve come at least a little bit toward sanity since then!

  81. ijustworkhere*

    Do not let this pit you against your fellow employees. That is actually a management strategy. Divide and conquer. They rely on it.

    Instead, all of you should band together and support each other as a group to address this issue of being expected to be available 24/7.

  82. Luna*

    The way the letter reads sounds like you are just presuming that that’s how things are done. You say ‘My sense is’ that it’s the norm to still do work on sick days or on your first day of scheduled vacation. Nothing indicates that it’s really that way or that it even reaches ‘an unsaid rule’ type of expectation. It’s what you do, and you could be the only one that does it…!

    From my understanding, and I am saying this as someone not in the US, but has been raised by a paralegal, that it’s actually illegal to ‘work’ on your vacation day. Perhaps it’s different in the US. And on a sick day, I wouldn’t expect anyone to answer any emails, unless the sick day is due to… say, Corona, so you are isolating, or similar. Because I presume that if you are too sick to come into work (and can’t do WFH), then you shouldn’t be doing work things, even answering emails because… well, maybe your brain is all muddled from the sickness. Or you are being affected by whatever medicine you might be taking. Sick days are there to take a break from work and let your body (and mind) rest.

    Now, as for their work leading to be picked up by you and other coworkers… well, if it’s because of a sick day of theirs, can’t help that. People tend to not plan to get sick, it just happens, and you deal with the chips the way they’ve fallen.
    If it’s a planned vacation, I would expect the impetus to be on MANAGEMENT. They know when these employees are gonna be off for vacation, they have more oversight on what needs to be done when and should ensure that someone can take over when the vacation starts or at least that someone that knows what’s going on with the employee’s work, so they can help out.

    Try to stop your resentment, put your foot down upon yourself when it comes to answering emails on vacation, and see if that helps, perhaps.

  83. LawLady*

    Allison, I strongly disagree with your response here, at least insofar as BigLaw/IBanking/management consulting/executive level positions are concerned. I don’t think it’s inherently unreasonable to expect near-constant availability, if the expectations are clear upfront and the job pays commensurately.

    I did 5 years of BigLaw. Absolutely worked my ass off. I got paid life changing money (paid off $200k+ in debt, put away $150k+ in retirement, and saved a down payment for my house). I learned an absolute ton, and was able to parlay that into an in house gig (which is common—one great thing about BigLaw is that there are good exit opportunities). I think people should be allowed to choose this kind of job, and that it’s not abusive or unreasonable that the job exists.

  84. Esprit de l'escalier*

    I’d love to know what the new hires are being told when they interview and at the job offer stage. Does management tell them “We expect you to live and breathe this job, with 24/7 availability (for lots of money)?” or do they express “good work-life balance” platitudes about the employer’s expectations and work norms?

    1. Sloanicota*

      Is there an opportunity for the hiring manager to say, “for $250K a year we will demand 24/7 availability, no nights, no weekends, no sick leave or vacation. Or, for $150K a year you will be out the door by 5PM on the dot every day” ?

    2. Sal*

      If this is BigLaw (it sounds very much like BigLaw), my understanding is that you’re seeing firms try to compete with each other in recruiting by making noises about “work-life balance” as they feel it necessary (e.g., I doubt the most prestigious and sought after firm makes many gestures in that direction)—but against a cultural backdrop of expected constant availability, which they likely expect the recruits to know about. (See also, “our firm does lots of pro bono”.) Usually the rubber meets the road somewhere in the mix of the firm’s billable hours requirement, the non-billable expectations, and the individual employee’s situation—which is just enough opacity that everyone can lie to themselves (and each other, a lil) and end up in this mess.

  85. atalanta0jess*

    Asking them to join in the dysfunction is not the solution to the dysfunction. Asking them to stop having boundaries is not the solution to your lack of boundaries. That’s it, that’s the bottom line. So you get to choose how YOU behave.

    Maybe start experimenting with this in small ways. See what happens.

  86. Moonlight*

    I used to work somewhere and I had a colleague who clearly resented that I arrived at 8 and left at 4 unless I needed to stay to complete something (during a busy period I might need to work an extra 30 minutes in office or at home for a week or so). I utterly refused to work late for tasks that could be completed the next day. Meanwhile, this colleague worked late a lot (kind of their fault – they were inefficient with time management). It got to the point where this person repeatedly told me I’d never make it in the field if I didn’t work late. I oscillated between (a) citing examples of how that just wasn’t true across the board (b) ignoring the comments or (c) flatly saying that I’d leave the field if that were true and unavoidable.

    I wonder if you work in an industry where there’s weird expectations? Having worked in finance and tech, I’ve noticed that some orgs have wildly toxic expectations around working a lot and being available at ridiculous times (re: while you’re out sick or on vacation). I get that there might be times where it makes sense to be available (like if you know there’s some crisis that you might need to email about a few times and, most importantly, that’s a thing you can/ are willing to do) but generally… eesh. Point is, I can totally empathize with your resentment but I also think Allison’s advice is right and it’s good for you too if this changes.

  87. OP here*

    OP here! I am SO blown away at the discussion in the comments – thank you all for chiming in, especially those with ideas about practical things I can try doing! Yes, I am a BigLaw midlevel, in NYC, and totally appreciate that many of you know what I’m feeling. And yes, I have Stockholm syndrome, I know – as acknowledged in the original message. And I did need the reminder that the structures are the real problem.

    It’s clearly industry dependent, and many in similar industries seem to understand. I literally cannot just refuse to do the work, or to stop at a certain point regularly at any given day, or to remove my work email from my phone. We have no set hours, with the understanding that on light days, we aren’t required to work 8 hours if there’s not actually work to do (I went through a week where I probably only worked 10 hours, and had no fears for my job security), but if there’s work to be done and you’ve already hit 8 or even 10 hours, you’re expected to “flex” when it’s necessary. When I was earlier in my career, I tried to say something wasn’t quite right because another person didn’t do their part, and I was appropriately reminded that passing the buck is not how this job works. It’s not an “us vs. them” mindset with management, etc. (with compensation sure, but that’s a different issue). We all manage/work with other people. A junior can’t just blame a paralegal for example, when something doesn’t get done.

    I KNOW this isn’t sustainable. I told my teams and our HR that my health and my life is suffering, and I will be starting Flex Time soon in the hopes that this helps. If it doesn’t, I know I’ll look for another job at some point. However, I’m here now.

    I also KNOW that I *shouldn’t* resent the juniors who drop things in my lap. Maybe I shouldn’t even have specified that they were junior to me, honestly I have the same feelings about a certain senior person as well that I’m on a team with, it just doesn’t happen as much with people above me. I don’t literally always have to be the person who picks up the ball, it’s just that sometimes I am the one who can pick it up the most easily (i.e., because I’m the one who assigned them the tasks and explained the tasks to them).

    Junior associates usually stick around less than 3 years, many leave after 1 or 2. I don’t know if it’s the culture of my firm, but they just generally wait for underperformers to leave on their own accord because explicitly firing people is probably something they’re worried about from a PR/legal risk standpoint.

    However, I am a mom to two kids under three, and I have a spouse who also works full time. We have no help really other than daycare, and our salaries don’t go far enough in NYC to get an after hours nanny. So literally every time someone drops the ball, and I have to pick it up at short notice, it takes me away from my kids and my marriage and everything else I need to do in my life such as shower, sleep, get groceries, go to doctors appointments, etc. I was just trying to be honest about the emotional impact that these day-to-day unexpected ball drops have on me. I don’t know the reason every time the juniors end up being available, nor do I expect them to give me any reason at all, but they all know that I regularly work past midnight and it’s not like I or anyone else has a ton of spare capacity on a day-to-day basis.

    Anyway, I will absolutely try to do better with setting boundaries, starting with sick days and vacation. I do think there, I am just trying too hard to please in most of these situations. (FWIW, when I work on sick days and vacation days, I don’t actually take the PTO in our timesheet system, so I get that time “back.”)

    1. automaticdoor*

      OP, my comment is in moderation, but I’m the wife of a big 4 accountant and I feel like he could have written this post and basically your follow-up too (except he’s the dad and we have one kid who is just turning 1). Massive hugs to you and anyone else figuring out how to deal with these sick systems.

      1. OP here*

        Sigh yes, my spouse is really suffering too. When I have to work late unexpectedly so often, obviously then he ends up solo parenting and also exhausting. He definitely is also really upset about the situation.

        1. automaticdoor*

          YEP, I feel for both of you.

          My husband’s had some success with the little kinds of pushback Alison talks about in the linked post — also, things like “oh, man, we didn’t have cell service in xyz remote vacation place, so sorry I couldn’t check my email!!” or “the wifi wasn’t working on my plane!” are some good band-aid-type fixes for protecting early parts of vacation time.

          Side note: It SUCKS because he’s seen as “such a good dad” for logging off to do dinner/bedtime and then coming back online but some of his female colleagues are “too family-focused” for doing the same thing. (Remote culture has been such a huge plus for everyone on that though — one actually CAN log off and come back as opposed to being stuck in the office until 11 pm, so it makes my parenting load lighter too.)

          Ultimately, it all boils down to incremental steps and communication between the parties from what I’ve observed. Even saying “look I’m going to be offline from 5-8 [or whatever] but will be back after that” is generally acceptable for him to say even during the peak of busy season — and honestly, he’s also okay with picking up some of the balls his associates dropped as long as he has a little warning. It’s the unexpected 3 am nights that kill him, not as much the ones he knew were coming.

          Also, your point about income is so true on our front too. We’re in an HCOL area too and both of us come from lower-income families. Neither of us want to stress about money the way our parents have. That’s a huge part of why he’s stayed in big 4 his whole career. It’s just that ultimately his/our time is starting to be worth more than they can pay — the firm’s been throwing money at people to get them to work even more hours, but all the money they have can’t buy back his time with our baby.

    2. Sal*

      I’m also a lawyer and think it’s messed up that your work doesn’t allow you to accurately diagnose problems and instead calls it “passing the buck.” That’s pernicious IMO. Good (i.e., market-efficient) employers/businesses need to know where and why problems arise and it’s crappy to emotionally pressure people to paper over that by suggesting that saying “paralegal A, who is not me, didn’t do X and as a result Y consequence” is somehow a character deficit and a “failure to take responsibility.”

      That said, I can’t regularly work past midnight and wouldn’t be able to just because my immediate supervisor regularly is. (I have pulled the occasional all-nighter even as a 30-something mom in my public interest job, so it’s not completely foreign. But regularly? No.) So as you consider how to handle the here-and-now, it is probably worth remembering that a more fair distribution that actually alleviates your pain may not exist if it would, e.g., require all the juniors to go past midnight 2-4 nights a week. Some things may just functionally be beyond reach, given your current status and their apparent ability to say no (for right now).

    3. OP here*

      To clarify, I don’t resent colleague’s taking sick days or vacation. I just used that as an example for my own behavior to explain that I personally feel really guilty when I drop things on other people’s laps, clearly to an extreme. Just like on a normal workday, if something took longer than expected, I’d either ask for an extension and give them a heads up and make a plan for getting it done, or if truly urgent, put in a 12 or 14 hour workday to get it done so as to not hold up the entire team. This shouldn’t be an every day thing, but honestly it’s not uncommon in this job for it to happen maybe once a week.

      My angst is is other people just not finishing things during usual workweeks because it would require them to work after dinner or on weekends, e.g., if things take longer than expected, if there was an urgent request, etc.

      1. Sal*

        I think your options are: try to guilt the juniors into working after dinner/on weekends by tracing the consequences of their not doing so (“we still had a deadline Tuesday so then I had to cram everything in on Monday which meant the stuff I was going to do on Monday afternoon for Wednesday’s filing deadline in a different case meant I pulled an all-nighter Tuesday—that sucked, was that a one-off?”), deal, and/or deal until you can’t and find a new job/lifestyle. I want to be clear that I kind of love the juniors guarding their evening and weekends, while acknowledging that the costs are being externalized (not just by them but by all the actors in the system: courts, management, senior partners, etc) onto you, personally, and I don’t see a great way for you to find a new place to dump those costs except for back on the juniors as described above. But because I love them for guarding their time and pulling one over on management, and if I were in their shoes and already doing this at no apparent cost to myself, I would feel bad for you but stay the course. The only ones who give in to the guilting are going to be the ones most susceptible to it—and you and I both know that that is likely to describe your female associates. So I don’t know if ethically I would feel comfortable opting for Option A.

        I’m really sorry! Biglaw sucks!

      2. Zarniwoop*

        Is there any way to hire more people so they don’t have to work late except for genuine emergencies? (If it happens more than once every couple of months it’s not an emergency, it understaffing.)

    4. beanie gee*

      I know from (consulting) experience you’re in a rock and a hard place! Wanting the boundaries that others are showing, but not being able to do much to change the culture at a company. What I took from your letter, Alison’s response, and your comment here was to start looking for incremental ways to set better boundaries. It feels impossible to change at company level, but there are smaller ways we can start pushing back. Thank you for your letter and how it’s helping me think about my own work!

      1. OP here*

        Hard to say. I do relish the financial freedom it gives me. I grew up low-income and didn’t make much in the jobs I had before law school and it’s been freeing as an adult to not constantly have to penny pinch. Watching my parents worry about mortgage payments and car payments and college tuition and all that stuff was scarring. If I could find a job with 2/3 of the hours/stress and 2/3 of the pay, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but in-house exit opportunities are not great right now, especially for litigators. I don’t know if I could take more than a 50% pay cut and give my kids the life I want to.

        1. Mxse*

          But do you like the life you’re giving (or not giving) them now, with your attention taken away so often?

          1. Starscourge Savvy*

            I came here to ask something similar. OP, I can 100% understand the fear that comes with money trouble. Been there. I also watched my dad (and still do, he has yet to retire) work himself to the bone in miserable situations he didn’t want to be in, and miss out on things with his kids and his wife that he shouldn’t have had to. That had the real impact on me, more than the money situations ever did or have since.

            One of the scariest things I think about is *work* of all things taking my dad away from me too soon. This sounds dramatic, I know, but I’ve been hospitalized due to stress and burnout from work before. It happens.

          2. OP here*

            I mean, my kids have a good life right now. They go to a great daycare nearby. We have museum memberships and they get their own rooms and we are able to take trips to see our out-of-state families. We are steadily saving for their future schooling, so they never have to be constrained in what school they want to go to or what they study based on costs. I didn’t have that stuff growing up and my own parents now are amazed at the enrichment we’re able to provide now. Sure I had plenty of parent time when I was a kid, but not all of it was quality bc so much of it was punctuated by open discussions about money.

            I know this isn’t ideal. I’d obviously like to “have it all,” instead of doing burning the candle at both ends and feeling like a failure both as a parent and an employee. It would be great if we didn’t have money concerns from living in NYC, and it would also be great if the workforce didn’t penalize parents of young kids who took a break for a few years while young kids particularly need a lot of care and aren’t in school yet.

            1. SJ (they/them)*

              I am just sending you and your family all the love in the world right now, OP. I am certain there could be a middle ground somewhere here for you, between where you are coming from and where you are now. There are so many different ways to have a life, to provide for children, to be a family. Big big hugs to you all.

            2. Florida Woman*

              OP: From someone who successfully escaped Biglaw, hugs to you and your family. I have advice for the short term and the long term.

              Short term: At this point in your career you probably have a firm handle on what’s truly urgent and what’s a manufactured crisis. Use that to give yourself permission to leave at a normal time, go home and see your family, and come back tomorrow to deal with the not-truly-urgent stuff. And trust that your team will figure out a way to manage things in your absence if you are on vacation. As another commenter said, try thinking about this is a growth opportunity for your colleagues – you’re giving them a chance to spread their own wings instead of always relying on you.

              Longer term, look at ways to get out. Personally, I don’t feel that Biglaw is compatible with a functional marriage (esp. if your spouse works) or having a young family. But there are a lot of other jobs out there! Consider getting out of NYC for lower cost of living. You can live really well on what you could make in-house in a market like Orlando or Charlotte or Dallas. And don’t undersell your skills. Many Biglaw friends have used their litigation experience to land corporate counsel jobs in a variety of fields that have significant litigation exposure, such as consumer products, hospitals, and higher education, but they are not actually representing the company in court. Your expertise is risk management — which most companies want more of. Plus your Biglaw experience, with its long hours and responsibility for managing staff and junior attorneys, should translate well in terms of job functions and years of experience sought. Hang in there, and good luck!

    5. Orange You Glad*

      I know you mentioned that juniors generally only stay for a year or 2 and underperformers eventually show themselves out but is there anyone on your junior team that stands out as possibly staying long-term or who generally goes above a beyond in their work? You could focus on these types of folks to transition work to when you plan to be on vacation and frame it as an opportunity for them to step up and stand out.

    6. HA2*

      I think the most interesting comment thread to me was the one naming it the “mid-level squeeze”. High enough placed that you get blamed if things go wrong, low enough that you don’t really have any management tools available to you to mitigate any of this besides “hope really hard that the juniors do what they can to help you”. Ingrained enough in the culture and the career that you don’t feel like you can “just leave after a year or two” like the juniors can, but not high enough that you can buck the system and make it work for you.

      Really feels like the mid-level people are in the same boat as the juniors. Thrown into a big system that grinds you up, expects as much of you as you’re willing to give and then some, with no real recourse other than “find a way to deal with it as it is (or leave)”

    7. Former BigLaw Associate*

      As a former BigLaw associate (and someone who is in-house right now — and hires BigLaw firms as outside counsel!) I have so much sympathy for you. Your letter sounded so much like BigLaw when I read it and reminds me of a lot of what I hear my friends saying who are still in BigLaw. BigLaw is set up a certain way, it’s not something you can change as a mid-level, it’s just something you have to deal with the results of.

      I think (and this is my bias as someone who “did my time” in BigLaw for 5 years and then left to go in-house) that you should definitely look into those in-house options. It is harder for litigators but it’s not unlikely, and a 50% pay cut (which is what I took — though I didn’t have a family to think about) can still mean a meaningful salary when you consider the starting point of that 50%. If you haven’t already, I would check out GoInhouse and sign up for job alerts just to see what the options are! When I was at a BigLaw firm, there was a senior associate in litigation who started helping out on M&A deals in small pieces (presumably to build up some corporate background to improve her chances of going in-house), something the firm supported her in. But that’s just coming from someone who knew that the BigLaw lifestyle wasn’t for me long-term.

      If you decide to stay, and want to set boundaries, I would look to see if there are other more senior folks at your firm who have successfully set boundaries that you can emulate. There are certainly people who set their boundaries and make partner; it all depends on your practice area, your practice group culture, and the specific people you are working with.

    8. NotAnotherManager!*

      I thought what you were describing smelled an awful lot like BigLaw. I did it for years (as a non-attorney – all the hours, none of the respect, really good money), and people who don’t do BigLaw or Big 4 or finance are never going to get it. I laugh every time I see the “well, just don’t respond” or “add more people or an on-call rotation” or “hire two people at half-pay” – just not how BigLaw works. Hard to tell sometimes if it’s Stockholm Syndrome or just the way things have to be – likely somewhere in between.

      I also feel you on the golden handcuffs – my spouse grew up poor, I grew up pay-check-to-paycheck working class. The financial freedom we have now is life-changing for us. And many people are not going to understand that there is very little middle ground in legal jobs – either you do the well-paid hell of BigLaw or you make less than half that and likely still aren’t working only 40 hours in government, in-house corporate (also feeling the economic squeeze) or save-the-world law. If there was a 2/3 time for 2/3 pay option, we’d ALL jump at that brass ring.

      I don’t know if there’s anyone at your firm who’s responsible for assisting with this sort of thing. My former firm had a way to discuss your concerns with someone who could help coach the juniors on what is expected of them without it becoming a big deal that got escalated to partners. If you’re a woman with children, I can understand why you might not want to go to your partners – I’m guessing a whole lot of upper-middle class white guys with stay at home wives who handle all of this for them? The classism of BigLaw blew me away.

      No real answers, but much sympathy and a virtual hug.

      1. OP here*

        Thank you thank you! Literally don’t know whether most of the upper middle class white guys I work for even have kids ! They never talk about them!

  88. NJAnonymous*

    First thing I did in this comment section is ctrl+f consulting/consultants.

    This is very much ‘the thing’ here. Happily, I’m starting to see this change as expectations and visible leadership examples shift. Because management consulting is so multi-faceted, I’m not surprised to see people defend it in the comments. Yes, it would help if people coming into MC are given a straight forward answer, and some are, but if we’re being honest there is no reason to have 24 hour availability. I can think of 1 or 2 times in my professional consulting life (10+ years post-industry) where something was actually urgent and couldn’t wait until morning. I recognize this is 100% dependent on the type of MC where folks work, but at least in my space that happens less and less – for EXACTLY the reason Allison calls out. We simply cannot retain top talent for more than a few years before they take the money and run. We need to adjust the working norms to keep people long term.

  89. EOB=5pm*

    It’s taken me a lot of misery, tears, and therapy to come to the conclusion that in my line of work (client-facing agency with multiple competing priority deadlines and specialized, terminal-degree staff doing detailed intellectual work), no one will ever tell me it’s okay to set my WL boundaries. Firm financial success seems to be dependent on tight margins, which means understaffing labor pool. Enforcing boundaries is extremely difficult, in large part because of a desire to be a good teammate and avoid being the reason someone else is working 3 hours past EOB. What’s best for me and what’s best for my employer (or colleagues, sadly) might often be different things, which is a very uncomfortable concept to manifest for a type A, people-pleaser. My long term solution is to find a better work environment.

  90. Snoozing not schmoozing*

    I had a job in my 20s that required long hours, 6 or 7 days a week. I had no life outside of work. None. In subsequent jobs, I worked 35 hours per week, MAYBE 40 in a pinch, and in places with generous vacation policies. I’m a Boomer, so don’t attribute this to generational differences. I’m happy your smart new coworkers didn’t have to learn this the hard way, like I did. Maybe they had parents who had to put work before family and were never home, and decided they’d never do that to themselves or their families.

  91. Orange_pumpkin*

    I used to work in a similar environment (possibly the same industry based on the description) and the only thing that worked for me was leaving. In a culture with no boundaries, even just enforcing small ones (eg I don’t answer emails past midnight) many times a day feels like a full time job in itself. It’s impressive so many of OPs coworkers have taken this on. In the end, leadership was shocked when I left since I was a top performer, but it was just so apparent it wasn’t worth it.

  92. tbs*

    It’s interesting that you say “nearly all our deadlines are considered extremely urgent,” but later note “…when managers don’t adjust deadlines simply because team members are out of office.” I understand managers aren’t adjusting deadlines, but are these deadlines really that urgent if there is a possibility of adjusting them? The latter quote implies they aren’t. Maybe if you think a bit more about the actual urgency levels (vs what managers claim), it’ll help you set better boundaries. If a deadline doesn’t seem truly urgent and you’re ask to cover, a simple white lie – “sorry I have an obligation tonight and can’t work on that” – might be a good way to test putting up boundaries.

  93. Starscourge Savvy*

    Many people have already outlined wonderfully everything else I had to say, so I’ll just share this thought.

    As someone who works in the corporate world, my life changed drastically for the better when I was finally able to embrace this: You can’t worry about your work more than the Company does.

  94. Looper*

    One thing to keep in mind when it comes to concerns of “judgment” for asserting your own boundaries: oftentimes, the calls are coming from inside the house. Do YOU expect a perfect hand-off before someone takes vacation? Would you expect a coworker to work on their vacation if that perfect hand-off didn’t happen? Do you expect your coworkers to work when they are sick? Because a lot of people would find this outrageous! Address your own inner judge and see if getting that jerk to quiet down doesn’t make it a lot easier to say “no”, to value your own time, and to reign in your expectations of others’ commitment to a business neither of you own. It’s one thing to have a different relationship to work, but the level of self-sacrifice you’re describing is not generational, it’s unhealthy.

  95. Snoozing not schmoozing*

    Oh, yes, yes, yes! I’ve said for years that if you’re not literally saving lives or putting out an actual real fire, it’s not the emergency you think it is. But I was lucky, one of my first jobs was in a hospital. Any other place after that, that got all panicky if something was slightly wrong and the top people yelled EMERGENCY, I’d just roll my eyes until they hurt. It’s such BS, just to make them feel what they do is important.

    1. Merrie*

      I do work in a hospital now, and it’s an interesting adjustment that most of my work actually does not feel as urgent as what it did when I worked in retail. There I had people breathing down my neck, phones ringing off the hook, and everyone getting upset if they didn’t get what they wanted the exact second they wanted it. I don’t get nearly as much of that now. Having stuff that’s a literal dead emergency puts the other stuff in its proper place priority-wise. If patient A is actively trying to die on us and we’re trying to get all the pressors into them asap, and patient B has a headache and doesn’t want to take Tylenol tablets so the nurse wants us to send liquid, well, patient B can wait a few minutes. Whereas in retail I’d have patient B (and C, and D, and E) at my counter bugging me to get their order done this second.

  96. April*

    Wow, I sympathize with this.

    It’s hard when you actually want the work to get done. In my case, it was work that actually helped people. I wanted to help people, that was why I was here, and so my co-workers would just leave the stuff undone (for literally months, in some cases) because I’d do it for them. If I got sick or went on vacation, it would be waiting for me when I got back. I complained and told them I wanted help, either by them doing some of the work or a new hire, but they wouldn’t do it – they told me I didn’t have a problem with the amount of work I was doing and didn’t need help. It wasn’t a problem for them, so it wasn’t a problem at all.

    I transferred to another team. The work’s not getting done. They’ve been hiring for a replacement for my old job but can’t find one. Clients are complaining to them about stuff not getting done in the promised timeframe. But they can’t do much to me any more. It’s not a problem for me.

  97. Erin*

    It’s fascinating seeing someone articulate this so openly; it’s essentially “other crabs are climbing out of the bucket and I’m scared to follow them. Should I listen to my urge to pull them back down?”

    Except it’s not, OP’s not asking for permission to drag their colleagues down. OP’s feeling and articulating the resentment that *can* turn into the “crabs pulling each other down” phenomenon, and seeking a better path through it.

  98. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    OP, have you not seen the cartoon where the big fat banker with a cigar cuts a cake into ten pieces, takes nine, gives the remaining one to the worker then tells her to watch out for the immigrant who wants to steal her portion?
    Your boss is the banker, and the new hires are the immigrants.
    Start making sure of a decent work-life balance for yourself, you’ll regret it later if you don’t. Nobody ever regrets not spending enough time at the office on their deathbed.

  99. Onward*

    People above are talking a lot about BigLaw and how their inflated salaries justify working insane hours. Listen, even if you’re making $250K, if you’re working 80 hours a week with no time off even to be sick, it only amounts to $60/hr. Plus, there are a LOT of talented new lawyers who come out of law school and pass the bar and don’t get offered jobs. They go into something else. Mostly this is due to firms not wanting to hire more people but… wouldn’t it make their employees so much happier to be able to cut their hours and (yes, possibly their pay) in order to have more help? Why not have two attorneys making $125K working 40 hours each? It would literally help everyone.

    That said, I’m going to get a lot of arguments that “it just wouldn’t work for… reasons!” (I suspect that some of these “reasons” are that the people committing to this structure will lose their martyr status of being busier and more important than people around them. I definitely know a lot of BigLaw people who pull the “oh you work 40 hours a week? That’s SO CUTE” BS). It doesn’t matter if it’s better. Remote work also had evidence that it was better for everyone, and 4 day work weeks are showing the same promise. Both are dismissed by companies regardless of evidence because “the way it has always been done” always seems to trump better, more efficient, more humane options.

  100. DumpingItOnCoworkersIsntTheAnswer*

    It’s great in theory to say the company is in the wrong; most people agree. The problem is the company isn’t going to change and it’s causing a major problem for everyone else. And even the best environments expect unreasonable things sometimes. If people want to work they have to do stuff they don’t like. I’ve never worked at a company that had enough staff to do the work at hand, not as an employee or consultant or contractor, and I’ve worked at a lot of companies. If the newer employees don’t like the environment at this company they should leave. The right answer is not to make life more difficult for their coworkers who didn’t make the rules.

  101. Lily Potter*

    I have been where OP is. They are EXHAUSTED. They’re just trying to see their way clear to the weekend. They don’t have the bandwidth to even think about changing “the system”. They wrote in asking what they can do now to bring some sanity to their lives. They should not be expected to change the system so that the new kids can have work life balance. The new kids took the (presumably well paid) jobs and need to pull their weight.

    There are two options here:

    * Short term – let management know that your co-workers are not putting in their time. Have concrete examples. Perhaps this will help some

    *Long term – job hunt, or career change if these kind of hours are the norm for your industry

    If I had to guess, this organization has gone partially or fully remote, OP was hired pre-pandemic, and the new hires brought on (obviously) post-pandemic. The new hires may have no clue that they’re not performing up to company standards, since no one physically sees them leaving the office at five o’clock when the norm is to work much later.

  102. Meow*

    I’m conflicted about this. I’m generally a very pro-work-and-life balance person, as well as pro-not using work to define self worth etc. But in terms of the reality we live in now, there are ethics to asserting boundaries in a way that doesn’t harm your coworkers and slough off extra work onto them. Yes, the root problem is the company leadership/managers, but you’re not actually changing anything at the individual level by just pushing your weight onto other employees.

  103. MCMonkeybean*

    Your new hires are doing the right thing, and you should follow suit.

    When we started WFH three years ago I was very worried about the lines getting blurry so I put a big emphasis on establishing strong boundaries. My team is full of people with very little work/life boundaries but from what I see it seems to be mostly their own doing. I am one of only two people I think who have refused to put the MS Teams app on my phone. I’ve told my boss if for some reason something really urgent came up she can text me and ask if I’m available to log on, but in 3 years she’s never needed to do that.

    A group of people coming in around the same time and all pushing back on these expectations at once sounds like the best way for things to start changing in your company. Join them in pushing back.

  104. BurnedOutHealthcareWorker*

    I feel for you, OP. I’m in healthcare, so we aren’t expected to be always available but there’s too much work to be done compared with how many employees we have. Our newer hires have generally taken the approach that they aren’t going to work any harder than they need to, and they’re going to do their 40 hours and go home. On a personal level, I love that for them and wish we could all do that. On the other hand, if the work isn’t done then it’s detrimental to peoples’ health. It’s an impossible situation because those of us picking up the slack know we’re allowing these healthcare companies to continue to run on these skeleton crew models. But on an ethical note, how can we refuse to do the work when doing so causes actual harm to other human beings? Quitting and finding another healthcare system to work for won’t help, because they’re all like this. It’s hard not to build resentment when your coworkers know they’re causing you more work, even if ultimately it’s not their faults.

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