Do You Work Too Much?

August 13th, 2009 14 Comments

Photo by Daveybot on Flickr used under Creative Commons

Photo by Daveybot on Flickr used under Creative Commons

Interesting article in the WSJ about a couple recent lawsuits from hourly workers who were required to perform work-related tasks during off-hours.

The proliferation of broadband, laptops and smartphones have made it ridiculously easy for work to bleed into personal time, or at least time that’s not classically work-only.

Add to that the fact that many of us telecommute frequently, if not permanently, and the line between work and personal time has become hopelessly blurred, especially for salaried workers.

Many of us in tech who’ve had take-home gadgets for work for over a decade never really had a line and struggle to maintain a balance. As our organizations expand to include colleagues in other countries, we add another variable to the equation, i.e. how to account for time zone differences and other countries’ legal restrictions that limit the hours their citizens can work.Making a meeting with people on different continents who can’t work after-hours means you’re either getting up before the Sun or working really late. We here in the Pacific time zone get the worst of that.

But how can you compensate? Does your work allow you a flexible schedule that balances work outside traditional hours, or are you expected to get it done by any means necessary?

This problem is exponentially worse in hard times when you’re performing to keep your job, instead of for a raise or other compensatory benefits.

Most of the people I know in tech are pretty much always available to work if needed, and their families accept this grudgingly. The economic reality we all face dictates that work must come first, at least for now.

What about you? Do you think you work too much, or do you have a nice balance? Do you have friends who work traditional hours that don’t get why you work so much?

Share in the comments.


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14 Responses to “Do You Work Too Much?”

  1. Tim Harper Says:

    I wouldn't ever sue a company because they expected me to respond to calls or messages while offline. From my stand point, it seems immoral (but provided I don't understand the full context which these employers decided to sue). And, rather than improving your situation, you sell out your relationship with that company for a quick buck and a quick fix, without fixing your underlying problem: You don't value your time enough! If you did value your time enough, you would either negotiate with the company (with increased expectations on you and company depending on you, there lies a bartering chip which you could leverage to improve your own situation), or simply quit and do something else.

  2. Tim Harper Says:

    ^these employers decided^these employees decided to

  3. chet Says:

    Great point Tim, we have and make choices.

  4. chet Says:

    I work a lot probably in the range of 60 – 70 hours a week. By work I mean time in front of the computer doing work related stuff; learning new things, building applications for fun, etc.

    I try not to let it bleed into my family life, many of those hours spent are between 9 and 2 when everyone is asleep. I would love to work just 40 hours a week, but probably wouldn't know what to do with myself. I enjoy what I do so could never imagine retiring (fully) either.

  5. joel garry Says:

    It's an asymmetrical relationship between employers and employees. Given their choice, employers would beat the crap out of you. Nowadays salaried workers are abused more subtly. Sometimes. The term death march is common enough to be a book title.

    I remember being so happy to finally get an hourly DBA job. I didn't understand until I actually started doing it that that is yet another way to abuse people. And then Larry talks the gummint into limiting overtime for people making over $40/hr, to make California more “competitive.”

    One of the reasons I take the train is “Oh, gotta go, train won't wait!”

    I would probably work a lot more if I didn't have a family. Jeez, the schedule I had when I was a twenty-something programmer: Get up, work eight hours, go to school or moonlight job, spend night at girlfriends, get up, work eight hours, do homework or moonlight job, party with roomates, get up… and that was before cellphones and telecommuting. Fortunately, I burned out by the late '80s and realized limits are necessary, even if companies think you have a bad attitude. What Chet said elsewhere about the elite :-)

    Of course, in many ways we are the elite.

    Karōshi.

  6. Surachart Opun Says:

    I have spent time > 50 hours to work, spent free time to communicate about my work, and balance my work with learning… fun with community. that help me improve knowledge while working + community.

    I think If someone still enjoy with their work. They don't sure to answer this question.

    I think…

  7. Jake Says:

    From what I can tell, these were hourly workers, probably not union based on the lawsuit. So, I can see why they'd want to be paid for working. The one complaint says the company refused citing “standard business practices”, which could be out of context but sounds like free work.

    I agree with your points about salaried workers, although now doesn't feel like the best time to negotiate with companies.

  8. Jake Says:

    People in tech often have that same schedule, including the side projects. If you retired from work, you'd never retire from hacking, which is how I feel too.

  9. Jake Says:

    It's weird to hear the way some employers (automakers) used to take care of their people decades ago. People had loyalty to companies, and it seemed like the companies were loyal to them (maybe b/c unions preserved that semblance).

    It is a solid tip to use a hard stop (train, carpool, family commitment, etc.) to limit hours in the office. I probably worked less in my 20s, due to lack of broadband, among other things.

    Karōshi isn't exactly a problem we see much here in the US :) More likely that disgruntled ex-employees shoot up the place in retaliation.

  10. Jake Says:

    Yeah, sometimes perception is reality though. If you enjoy your work and work a lot, you don't feel like you work too much, but your friends and family may disagree :)

  11. jpiwowar Says:

    I totally fail at work-life balance. My current line is that I've opted for work-life averaging instead. :-)

    In my pre-Oracle-DBA days, I was once the primary product support contact for an application system (ad server software for a largish Internet property) with instances in Germany, Eastern/Western US, Japan, and S. Korea. When I started the job, the vendor was on release 17 of the current version of their product. When I left, the release number was over 50. We didn't roll out *every* release, but I didn't get much sleep that year.

    My wife and I once worked for the same company, in the same group. We lived 3 blocks from the office, which was an awesome commute, but the short walk home was often not sufficient to disengage. We'd leave more-or-less promptly at 5, get home, pop the Thinkpad lids open, and geek out on the couch for a few more hours. Maybe not healthy in retrospect, but it was an interesting intersection of work and family time. ;)

    My last FTE gig didn't so much bleed into my personal time as flood it. Lots of time in the office with a great bunch of people, lots of time in late-night maintenance windows. 60 hours weeks were common.

    For the most part, though, I've let it get that way, because I love all of the geeky stuff. I've been fortunate(?) to have jobs that interested me and consumed me to the the level they have, and employers that were generally more supportive than they were demanding. Not that I haven't had rough stretches; none of them have been perfect jobs.

    So yeah, I work too much. And I probably will again. I have family from more traditional work schedule background that don't get why the answer to “do you have work to do this evening/weekend?” is pretty much always yes. OTOH, when I took a 2-month leave of absence to go cycling, the reaction from some of my tech friends was, “what if they figure out how to live without you?” Same planet, different worlds.

  12. Jake Says:

    A lot geeks I know feel the same way. They love their work and do a lot of it. Plus, broadband and smartphones make it easy to fill time with work from just about anywhere.

    It is nice to have a job that will accommodate free time in commensurate amounts when you want.

    As other non-tech jobs begin to eat up personal time and blur the work/personal time line, we'll see more lawsuits and more complaints, but ideally, benefits will adjust to meet the needs of overworked people.

  13. guest4432 Says:

    I work (and have worked) for large consulting companies. I often end up working at home in the evenings and weekends. I made it my best practice to write down every hour. When people complain I say that they wanted results and they have got them. This costs money. Full stop. Same when I am in the office. When I'm there 12 hrs I write 12 hrs in my timesheet. Discussions always go like this: “You cannot write these hours.” Reply – “Then I will leave after 8 hours, because that's what you pay for.”
    Usually I win. Otherwise I go home early ;-)

  14. Jake Says:

    Ah yes, I remember consulting fondly, wrt to hours, much more controlled. Plus, I worked on several projects that allowed 4-day weeks, which was really great. Plenty of time for family and side projects.

    The travel always wore me down, though.

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