Why do you work overtime?

It “s 7PM, and you can hear from your cube that people are still typing. Why they do not go home? Are they forced to stay late? Are they getting paid for these long hours? Why?

First, let “s briefly touch upon the culture of small startups ndash; these people have some “idea “, and who knows may be their little company will become the next Youtube or Facebook. These shops are either self-funded or operate under the scrutiny of VC. So when you hear that a company XYZ received $10M in venture capital funding, this does not mean that anyone in this company became richer. This means that they earned the right to continue working on this idea/product envisioned by the founders of the company. People in startups work long hours, wear multiple hats, and hope that the N options they own (worth nothing today) will turn into a fortune some day. Welcome to California! This is the spirit there. People think options. If I “ll just stay for two years with this company, I might exercise some portion of my options. This is the Silicon Valley “s way of getting good software developers working long hours for sub-standard wages. Let “s leave this group of people alone and wish them good luck. I understand their motives.

Going to the East Coast. Unless you are in Boston, you don “t know much about startups and options, and just work for one of the larger enterprises. There are two major types of employment: you can work as an employee or a contractor .

Let “s take a simple case first ndash; contactors. They work for money. Period. If someone will tell you “I prefer working as a contractor because it gives me more freedom rdquo;, this is BS unless there are some special circumstances (i.e. you “ve enrolled in a PhD program or can work only a small number of hours per week). Since contractors work for money, they like working overtime and they are getting paid for these hours. Some employers try to save a little bit and insert a clause in the contractor agreement stating that a contractor works professional day at so-and-so hourly rate. Some smarty pants from HR came with this idea called “professional day rdquo;, which means that the regular 8-hour day may be occasionally stretched to ten hours . If you “ve signed the contract that pays $80 p/h and on Wednesday need to work for 11 hours, you are getting 8x$80 plus another $80 for the eleventh hour, which is considered overtime.

Contractors have very simple and healthy relations with their clients. You need me for six month? No problem – $80p/h. You need me for two weeks? No problem. $120p/h. Why it “s getting a lot more expensive? Because employers must pay for the convenience of having a skilled worker just when they need him on a very short notice and for a short assignment. You click on the button, and Joe is here. Seasoned employers understand that Joe-the-contractor will have some non-billable time after these two weeks and this higher rate should make up for the lost earnings. Besides, hiring a full time employee is like getting married, the wedding is expensive (you pay the recruiting agency hefty finder “s fees) and a divorce is getting even more expensive. Let “s leave this group alone. I understand their motives.

Moving to the most complex case ndash; full time employees working overtime. Let “s single out the managers ndash; these people are there to make careers, and they have to work long hours. These endless meetings steal their time and they have to stay late to get anything accomplished. Their incompetent higher-ups give them unrealistic deadlines, and, if they are incompetent themselves, they just pass the pressure to their software developers, business analysts and testers, which start staying late once in a while. This is fine as long as it “s happening once in a while. But all of a sudden, you find yourself working 10-12 hours every day without getting paid even for one extra hour. Why people do this?

I see ten reasons:

1. Your technical skills are not up to date and you are afraid to lose this job, especially if you have no discipline in spending. (Why did you purchase that car that you could not afford? Did you really need that apartment in Miami with zero down?)

2. You are promised B-O-N-U-S at the end of the year, and if you won “t be nice, you r B-O-N-U-S will become even smaller. October and November are the most important months for making bonus decisions, so you ‘d better behave. When you get this bonus, do a simple exercise: Add your salary and bonus and divide it by actual number of hours you “ve spent in your cube. You may be surprised!

3. You are a workaholic and just like to work.

4. You have family issues and would rather stay at work than go home.

5. Your company pays for your college, and you have to show your appreciation by working overtime.

6. You are a smart kid, and working overtime gives you a chance to better learn the business you are in and improve your technical skills. You are planning to move soon.

7. Your technical skills are very poor, and staying overtime is the only chance to get even simple assignments done.

8. You or someone in your family have a disease and you need to have good medical insurance and changing jobs is not an option.

9. You need to have daily meetings with your offshore team in India, and because of the time difference you have to start working at five in the morning. Leaving from work earlier than your boss is not an option, so you routinely put extra hours.

10. You are so lazy, that you ‘d rather work overtime doing boring job than pick up your big fat ass, get it to school and study to make yourself more marketable.

So what “s the bottom line: be good at what you are doing, and then you won “t need to say “Yes, Sir rdquo; every time when your manager decides that you are a second-class citizen and your main goal is to support his/her career promotion. If you are good at what you are doing, you are allowed to say “No rdquo; and keep the job. Pretty simple recipe, isn “t it? You “d better put these extra hours taking some extra classes in your local college or self-study. You do not need to change your profession. Do the same thing as other people do, just do it a little better. That “s all folks. The lesson is over.

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