As a programmer in the U.S. for 30 years now I have spent some of that time working more than 40 hours in a week, which is not all that common in this industry, and when I was salaried I rarely if ever got more pay.
No more, I now find the whole idea nauseating.
I am not talking about running your own business, or working at a startup or other business entity where working more hours might get you a big payout. I ran two small software companies from the mid 80’s to 90’s and we did work a lot of hours; but all of us shared in whatever we made and in the second company worked under contract so the more we worked the more we got. But that’s not the point of this post.
If I worked at some big technology company and agreed to some salary, my expectation is that I am being paid to do my best for a standard work week, which is generally considered (at least in the U.S.) to be 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. If they told me I have to work 70 hours a week, or some manager expected the team to show up 7 days a week, I would refuse today. Why?
When we agree to work for money, the assumption is that the primary reason we work is in exchange for that which we need to pay bills, buy stuff, etc. The employer’s expectation is that they will receive value for the the money paid. The problem, especially in the US and in Asia, is that the employer’s concept for value is often very different than the employee’s. Many companies expect that a salary is a fixed amount but that the work to be done for them to receive value is variable. The employer assumes they can increase the value they are receiving from the employee by expecting, assuming or demanding more work to be done; in this way they can essentially reduce the cost of the labor by simply getting more hours out of each salary.
What does this mean for the employee? If you agree to this you are essentially agreeing to work for less. You could even calculate it as working for free. What benefit do you as the employee gain for this free work? At most large employers you get — nothing. Maybe if you are a manager you might get a promotion but as a programmer there are generally few ways to advance without becoming a manager. If you bust your butt for 80 hours a week writing code for months at a time the reward is generally the same as if you worked hard 40 hours a week.
In some industries like AAA gaming studios crunch time can be a hellish experience trying to ship a big game. Then you read a lot of stories where people worked enormous hours only to be laid off soon after the ship date. Sure, now you can rest, but at what cost and with what benefit?
Now imagine yourself as a contractor (which I am at the moment). If you are asked to work more than the agreed upon time the company is billed and the contractor paid. Maybe nothing extra but it’s not less than normal. Now you are actually getting value for your work. The odd thing about this is that companies are of course paying way more for your time than what you are getting so sometimes they won’t allow a contractor to work overtime. Why should they if they can simply demand an employee to do it for nothing? Or even have the employee volunteer.
American workers generally get an average of 10 days paid vacation a year, sometimes with a few extra sick days; but a full time American worker averages taking only 5-7 days a year. In most parts of the world, and especially in Europe the government mandates 20-30 days per year, and in most cases people take most of their time. In many countries working overtime is unusual and unpaid overtime is rare or may even be illegal. People value having a life outside of work and the thought of slaving away for their employer for nothing is unimaginably stupid to them. Yet we in the US (and in many parts of Asia as well) often think nothing of it.
I once had a friend who’s boss expected her to have her Blackberry on and respond to any request 24x7 as soon as possible. After a year of this one day she refused and quit. Her boss was livid that she wouldn’t do it anymore. Yet in all that time she got no additional pay of any kind. Why do we do this?