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Why I Don't Do Unpaid Overtime and Neither Should You (thecodist.com)
407 points by qw on Feb 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 254 comments

The U.S. has a strong free enterprise foundation and its laws reflect this. Freedom of contract remains the rule even though it is much criticized in some circles and has been hedged considerably over the years. In employment, the old rule was that you could pretty much fire anyone at will for any reason and, if you did, you incurred no legal consequence. This is pure freedom of contract. In time, this unrestricted freedom came to be deemed repugnant where it bumped into important social policies - for example, that employers not discriminate on the basis of race. Hence, protective laws were passed and these circumscribed the old unrestricted freedom to have pure at-will employment relationships that gave an employer an open ticket to fire people for any reason whatever, even a repugnant one. That said, however, when you get down to the day-to-day employment relationships that most of us encounter, the at-will rules still prevail and, with limited exceptions, it really does remain the case that most people can be fired for any reason at any time and almost always without legal consequence. This may be seen as good or bad but it is the way of life under U.S. law with its strong bent toward free enterprise and freedom of contract.

The same pertains to overtime rules for employees. The U.S. does have a body of protective laws that require employers to pay overtime for excess hours worked, either by the day or by the week. But the historic relationship between employer and employee had a strong bias toward freedom of contract - that is, if an employer and an employee agreed to a certain working relationship, that was their prerogative and the government had no say in the matter. Again, this older form of unrestricted freedom led to consequences deemed repugnant as a matter of social policy (e.g., sweatshops). Thus, laws were enacted to abridge the older unrestricted freedom of contract (wage and hour laws, in the example considered here). But, as in the case of at-will rules, these laws did not disturb the large measure of freedom of contract that formerly prevailed except for the specific situations where a policy judgment was made that the workers were most vulnerable and in need of protection. Thus, U.S. overtime rules apply without question to low-skilled jobs and to low-paying jobs and to jobs where the employees have little or no independence or control over how they perform their duties. But these protective rules can and do peacefully co-exist with an equally important set of rules providing that high-skilled employees, skilled professionals, employees with substantial administrative responsibilities with managerial functions, and like positions are expressly exempted from the overtime rules. The idea is that, in a free economy, as a matter of policy, it is better for parties to retain freedom in defining the work requirements of a position than for the government to dictate protective rules where the parties are not deemed in need of protection. In other words, the employer-employee relationships for such exempt categories are deemed to be healthier if the parties are free to negotiate salary/bonuses or other compensation that is not tied to rigid rules about overtime. The laws let the parties have much more flexibility in deciding how to frame their relationships, and this basically reflects the old-style freedom of contract that has always characterized the U.S. economy. Protections were adopted as deemed necessary but they are limited as a matter of public policy. This can be seen as good or bad but it is the law in the U.S.

What does this mean in practice? It means, for example, that a computer professional can be paid a salary of $100K/yr and be asked to work like a slave, all without overtime compensation. But that same professional, if paid $30K/yr, is required to be paid overtime for excess hours worked, even if that person is on salary. One case is treated as appropriate for free choice by the parties without overriding restrictions; the other is not. And the difference, in this case, turns on the amount of salary paid - the highly-paid worker is treated as being able to protect his own interests while the relatively low-paid worker is not.

Europe clearly has taken a different approach and this too can be seen as good or bad depending on one's perspective. In general, in Europe, the idea of open-ended freedom of contract is suppressed in favor of more sweeping protective laws favoring employees. Whether this leads to a robust economy or chokes enterprise is open to debate but it clearly differs from the U.S. approach.

In this piece, the author criticizes the U.S. employment pattern as, in effect, requiring exempt computer professionals to work for free when they are required to work excessive hours tied to a fixed salary. In making this point, the author admits that his European biases are showing. The "U.S. view," if I can call it that, is not that the worker is being made to work for free but rather that the worker has not agreed to be paid by any hourly measure but rather for an overall performance to be rendered, no matter how many hours it takes. This might be regarded as "slavery," but (taking, for example, the exemption for executives) does anyone really believe that top executives have as their focus the exact number of hours worked as opposed to broader goals related to their job performance. The same can be said of professionals, as many computer professionals look primarily to the task and not to the hourly measure as the mark of their jobs. In my field, lawyers too see the hours worked as entirely secondary to their jobs. For every such executive and professional who would be deemed "helped" by overtime laws that might be extended to apply to their jobs, there would undoubtedly be many who would recoil at the limitations of suddenly not being able to do their jobs without regard to the scope of hours worked. I don't believe that most such employees see their work as "slavery" when they have to work excessive hours. I think they see it as career development. And, in any case, the U.S. law gives such employees freedom to become "slaves" if they so choose for their own reason. It is the old freedom of contract and highly skilled, highly compensated workers in the U.S. retain that freedom to choose, as do their employers.

Work-life balance is very important as well, a point the author emphasizes. He seems to have made that choice later in life (as did I) and I commend him for it. But, while I can exhort others too to strive for such balance, I will not begrudge them the choice to work exceedingly hard (especially as they are first developing in their careers) to achieve other "unbalanced" goals. People do accomplish insanely great things by working insanely hard. If they choose to do this in their work as employees, that is their privilege and, as long as they are highly-skilled and highly compensated, I say more power to them if they do it without the benefit of protective labor laws.

> is not that the worker is being made to work for free but rather that the worker has not agreed to be paid by any hourly measure but rather for an overall performance to be rendered, no matter how many hours it takes.

While it's nice to think of being paid for the completing tasks rather than hours worked, it is less common for people to work fewer than 40 (or some standard number) hours than more. In fact, if an employee was completing his tasks and working only 25 hours a week, many employers will increase the workload, since they aren't making efficient use of the employee.

The reality is that employers like to frame overtime in terms of paying for services rendered but when things swing the other way, employers like to think of things in terms of maximizing utility.

"In general, in Europe, the idea of open-ended freedom of contract is suppressed in favor of more sweeping protective laws favoring employees."

The idea of open-ended freedom of contract only appeals to the employer. There are rarely real incentives for the employee to add contract clauses. I'm living proof that it does occasionally happen but, having been through it, I'd hesitate to say it's at all common.

In the majority, open contracts equal screwed employees due to the fact that the employers have contract lawyers and the employees don't.

>> due to the fact that the employers have contract lawyers and the employees don't.

I think this is the core point in this issue. The employer-employee relationship is an inherently asymetric one (in the vast majority of cases). Anything labeled as freedom of contract or any such thing is only there to favor employers to execute their will without being held accountable for the consequences to the employee/candidate.

The only freedom the employee really has is the freedom to suck up the abuse or leave empty-handed.

>The same can be said of professionals, as many computer professionals look primarily to the task and not to the hourly measure as the mark of their jobs. In my field, lawyers too see the hours worked as entirely secondary to their jobs.

This is true, and there is no problem with occasionally having to do a bit of crunch time to meet a deadline, or even doing the odd extra half-hour reasonably frequently.

OTOH, There is a problem if an employer routinely assigns work that cannot reasonably be achieved within normal working hours; or requires your presence on an 0600 international conference call, but still expects you to work the full 11 hours until your normal going home time; or waits until you've worked a 7.45 hour day before giving you a 4 hour task with a deadline of 0930 tomorrow. All of these are dirty tricks played by managers to get more work done than they are prepared to pay for.

>And, in any case, the U.S. law gives such employees freedom to become "slaves" if they so choose for their own reason.

Do you have the freedom to choose not to become a slave? Of course, you could change career to an hourly-rate one, or try to get a highly sought-after position with a benevolent or wise employer who takes care not burn out their employees; but the former doesn't sound like freedom at all, and the latter still leaves the majority of normal people vulnerable to exploitation.

You might respond by saying that it is no employer's interest to exploit their employees in such a way, after all, a burnt-out employee is useless, and an experienced employee is valuable. However, that is only true if an employer has to live with the consequences of burning out their employees. No one wants to burn out their rockstars, or the stalwart workhorses that will continue bringing good value for decades to come; but who cares about those middle-of-the-road employees in their mid-twenties who are just going to go and work for someone else in a few years anyway? You might as well milk them until they no longer produce, then chuck them out when they become ineffective.

The more likely response is that a qualified employee will simply quit an abusive job and sell their skills to a more reasonable employer. This is certainly the case in US software development.

> or try to get a highly sought-after position with a benevolent or wise employer who takes care not burn out their employees; but the former doesn't sound like freedom at all, and the latter still leaves the majority of normal people vulnerable to exploitation.

If there were many jobs available for qualified software developers in the US, which there are not.

Really? Maybe it depends on the specialty, because every single company I know that works with Drupal has more work than they can handle and is hiring developers.

It depends quite heavily what sort of software. Web development is booming. Systems software is busting.

This mentality is a little bit crazymaking (but it may just be that I'm crazy). It's always bad for someone out there. The market is not great for SPARC assembly programmers, or for Turbo Pascal programmers, or for Motif UX specialists.

I don't believe the market actually is bad for people with a modern systems programming skillset (not least because we have trouble hiring those people), but I don't doubt that there are systems jobs that used to be common that no longer are.

Nobody has a license not to adapt. If you're stuck in a crappy job working overtime solely because you're stuck maintaining AIX database applications, it's hard to blame the structure of the job market on that. Get thee to Github.

Several things:

One, I wasn't referring specifically to myself.

Two, I wasn't referring to someone who never learns new things. What company do you work for? We may have spoken before on this subject...

Three, not everyone is in Silicon Valley.

I believe this to be the opposite of true.

The more likely response is that a qualified employee will simply quit an abusive job and sell their skills to a more reasonable employer. This is certainly the case in US software development.

And the attitude displayed in this argument, is part of the problem, IMHO. Because it translates to only "rock-star" (as denoted by the "qualified") programmers/employees getting to benefit from such an environment. It's as if, if some person isn't a top-notch in his field, it's ok to suffer that kind of abuse from his employer.

Yet, companies don't run only with "qualified" guys that can easily shop around for new jobs, they also use lots of run-of-the-mill programmers, sometimes even purposefully ("we get a few greats to design the program architecture, and dozens of monkeys to code the parts"). They also should not have to work for unpaid overtime.

(I'm not talking as a sprint to finish before some deadline once in a while, I'm talking as a regular occurrence).

None of the points you're arguing with follow from my comment.


You specifically said in your comment that: "a qualified employee will simply quit an abusive job and sell their skills to a more reasonable employer".

This is exactly what I addressed.

No, it clearly isn't. You used a series of terms that I didn't that changed the meaning of what I said, then argued against that instead of what I actually said.

Well, what you said is "qualified guys can quit and shop around".

You might not have meant that "thus average guys are ok to suffer unpaid overtime", but I didn't argue against what you "actually said" or "meant to say", I argued about what the above stance implies.

And, yes, for a lot of people, it implies "and screw the average guy".

Here you've used the word "imply" to suggest that any words you choose to put in my mouth must also have been in my head. But, of course, no.

There are two problems with your wall of text.

Firstly your comparison to lawyering is disingenuous, lawyering has the partnership model, you take a load of young naive idiots, you dangle this partnership jackpot in front of their noses and then you work them to the bone doing dull and even pointless work that you bill your clients many $$$s an hour for while the partners take the bulk of that money home. Lots drop out, some make partner, the cycle repeats. It's a 'jackpot' industry.

Programming is not that way, there's a massive demand for programmers, there's not a massive demand for young lawyers.

The second problem is your belief that working long hours = working 'exceedingly hard'.

There's a massive body of evidence that working past 35-40 hours per week that you're actually less productive in the medium to long term past about a month, it's bad for your health and the whole scenario feeds on itself in a horrible vicious cycle as employees who decide to 'opt out' of it get punished with no promotions and lower raises, perhaps even fired.

You see posts like yours trotted out when anyone puts their hand up and says 'hey, why are we working these long hours?'. Worse still in the UK, where a lot of companies also have this ridiculous culture, we have contracts in place specifying the amount of hours to be worked but they are just ignored. The employer is wilfully and knowingly breaking the contract and often lying to prospective employees in the interviews. But what can you do, you took the job and you can't have too many jobs in the last 2 years as people will begin to wonder.

But we have to protect startups and free enterprise right. Because all managers and CEOs know exactly what they're doing and have been taught that creating a culture of long hours rapidly creates pointless busy work zombies where everyone's losing.

And that's where you're argument falls flat on its face. Turns out we're not actually training any managers they just wing it and one of the intuitive fallacies everyone subscribes to is that more hours at the desk means more hours of production that somehow putting more hours means you're working 'exceedingly hard' instead of the truth which is 'exceedingly inefficiently'.

Perhaps it is time for government to step in as the free market's quite obviously failing at it as they refuse to listen to the scientists and worse are totally ignorant about studies done 100 years ago.

You're not arguing with Grellas so much as cherry picking sentences out of his comment and howling at them in isolation. If we extract the signal from your comment --- that partner-track law careers are problematic, that working unreasonably hard is a bad idea for employer and employee alike --- from the emotion, we find a series of arguments that Grellas himself likely agrees with.

In some cases I can guess that he agrees with your underlying argument because he's written comments to that effect in the past (for instance, you can use the search bar at the bottom of the page to find out some of what he thinks of partner-track law). In others, unfortunately, I can guess that he agrees because the very comment you're replying to says that he does.

I think I speak for a lot of people on HN when I ask that you not berate one of the more uniquely valuable contributors to HN for writing "walls of text". He writes differently than you and I; longer, yes, but also much more carefully and considerately. I have never, ever seen him address someone else on HN the way you just did him.

"You're not arguing with Grellas so much as cherry picking sentences out of his comment and howling at them in isolation."

That's certaintly a creative way to put it. But that is what everyone does when they make comments. They respond to things they don't agree with. The use of "cherry picking" in your context seems to indicate taking unfair pot shots. The use of "howling in isolation" brings up an image of a lonely dog in the dead of night. Why is that necessary exactly?

"I think I speak for a lot of people on HN when I ask that you not berate one of the more uniquely valuable contributors to HN for writing "walls of text"."

Then why do you need to say this? If there are people that think that they will downvote, right?

By the way this is not to say I agree with his language. I think it's great that grellas takes the time to write a "wall of text".

If you focus on individual points, then the discussion will degrade. Take the time to synthesize what the overall message from the post is, then respond to that. The danger of responding to individual points, instead of the message, is you start arguing about the trees, not the forest. It's the difference between an honest discussion and a game of "Gotcha!" I admit it's a difficult balance.

I will sometimes pull out individual sentences from a person's post, but only if I feel that sentence is representative of their overall point, or it is a mistaken premise that when corrected, the rest of the post is moot.

Because historically HN favors extended discussion of entire points. Not doing what "everyone does" is the name of the game. In particular, the rebuttal was not on argumentative parity with Grellas' well-tempered text, mere downvotes don't explain that. So, I agree with Thomas here.

You are reading it rather more harshly than it was meant and ironically your comment has probably exacerbated that. While I wish the discourse here could be my primary focus, I can't spend hours researching each commentator, I say what I honestly feel.

It is a wall of text, it's hard to really pick out what he is arguing.

It is the top comment at the moment and I felt it hadn't been effectively challenged and this is an area that I actually feel strongly about. I fundamentally disagree with the conclusion of his comment, which admittedly may just be mine. In my reading this is what I perceived:

Historical employer/employee relationship + Freedom of contract = unshackled startups encouraging hard work (with an overarching definition of a 'professional' and hard work = lots of hours)

There's an overall theme to his comment which is 'it's a factor of the historical way of the relationship between the law and the employer and the employee'. I don't fundamentally disagree with that. But only if we were talking about accountants or lawyers or retail employees or engineers or architects, etc.

I am cherry picking out the arguments as to why this theory should apply. Why is this a particularly compelling argument for the field of modern startups or programming, neither of which have to be shackled by convention as they're not established industries.

Perhaps he does agree with the general gist of my comment, ignoring any unintentional insult, but the comment and the underlying assumptions about what is career development and hard work certainly didn't. I am attempting to demonstrate that there is no link between many 'professional' industries as they operate on different models. I fundamentally disagree with several statements in there like I think they see it as career development and I will not begrudge them the choice to work exceedingly hard (especially as they are first developing in their careers) to achieve other "unbalanced" goals.

There is no choice if that is the culture of the company or even, as it seems in this case, the country.

Grellas writes thoughtful, balanced posts that come out of more years of experience than the median HN user has been alive, in a domain where most of us know little and are in serious need of a trusted guide.

What he wrote above is a high-quality legal and historical and cultural explanation of why programmers don't get paid overtime in the US, something I've often wondered about.

p.s. I'm sure it's true you didn't mean to be rude, but "A gentleman is one who never gives offense unintentionally." By the way, anybody know who said that?

You guys are taking this too far. I've not been around here that long, but I've seen much ruder posts go by without this level of chastising. It seems like the only reason this moral pile-on occurred was because he dared to challenge one of the celebrated community regulars.

I feel you guys trying to belittle someone into humbling himself before your 'special community member' has clogged up this comment section and completely detracted from the entire discussion. On top of that his argument isn't half bad, which can be justly noted by it being one of the top reply comments.

I don't need Matt to apologize or genuflect to George Grellas. But we get maybe one 'grellas comment every other week when we're lucky, and you can be sure that when someone tries to chase those comments away for being overlong, I'm going to call it out (if nobody else does).

It's not a waste of time or thread space to point out the value that Grellas brings to the site. I'm not doing it because Grellas is "special"; I'm doing it because his comments are extremely valuable. I've never met the guy.

The world will little note nor long remember what was said about Matt Manser on this thread (in fact, neither will I), but at least the thread now says "long 'grellas comments are a good thing". :)

Fair enough about clogging. I edited my comment to tone it down.

Hm. Was it Newton? No wait! Gandhi! Nah, couldn't be. Dante? No... maybe it was something they used to say at Burroughs. Oh wait no, I know! Eleanor Roosevelt!


Aside: I have roughly the same feeling for someone who's glazed over all Grellas' posts as I do for someone who's never watched more than a single episode of The Wire: envy. You missed out, Matt Manser! Go read his backlog. It's great stuff. Also 'anigbrowl, 'tzs, and 'dctoedt.

Heh. What can I say? I like attributions.

>>In my reading this is what I perceived: Historical employer/employee relationship + Freedom of contract = unshackled startups encouraging hard work<<

Then you should read more closely. (Sorry, I say what I honestly feel.)

I think the comment you extract in the second to last sentence of your post is much closer to what OP is arguing. "It's not for me, but who am I to tell you that you can't reach for that brass ring?" If you read it in that light, from the perspective that free choice is a good thing, the argument doesn't "fall flat on its face".

>>There is no choice if that is the culture of the company or even, as it seems in this case, the country.<<

This would be true, except such countries don't exist. There is always a choice, even in places with notoriously bad working conditions (China, India, Vietnam, etc.) This culture may exist in some companies, but luckily, in more free market systems, most industries aren't controlled by one or two companies. To wit, even in the legal field in the U.S., there are many positions available that only require 40 hour workweeks.

Become a manager or CEO, and you will sing a different tune quite quickly. At that point you will realize that people want to get tons of money for flagrantly doing nothing, and some of them actually resent their peers who bust their humps so that the company can survive. At every company there are a few who do real work, and many who simply serve time.

Government is driving the US economy into a ditch and has also bankrupted the EU. Apple, by contrast, posts record numbers year over year. I think it's clear who should be dictating best practices to whom.

I've been a manager.

One day you'll realise that you're the failure, not the staff. Either you let the wrong people in your team, you fucked up their motivation or you're a bad manager.

There are bad managers, but there are also many bad employees. Peter Principle notwithstanding, within organizations that must post a profit to survive, those who found companies or rise to leadership roles are generally smarter, harder working, and more disciplined. Your original post does not contend with this.

No they're not. I vehemently oppose any arrogant and childish position that those who found or rise to leadership are special intellectually.

Brains aren't needed to found a company, only balls and drive. I've met plenty of stupid CEOs and managers of successful companies, IQ wise.

I'm sorry, but you need to grow up. People not choosing to found their own company does not make them stupid. Intelligence does not signal competence, more often as you go upwards it's social intelligence that's needed to become competent, not raw smarts.

I believe Grellas' main point is that, outside of a few areas society has deemed vulnerable and thus in need of protection, that the US gives skilled employees the ability to choose and negotiate with freedom.

If, for isntance, someone (even someone holding a JD) does not like the partnership model, they do not have to agree to it. They can seek other employers more conducive to the way they want to work or start their own firm or go into another industry.

It seems to me that you completely missed the point of grellas's post.

The second problem is your belief that working long hours = working 'exceedingly hard'.

That's not really what he said, but even if that's true, nothing in your post refutes that. Someone who is working long hours, is working hard. They may not be working smart, but they are working hard.

Now, the rest of your post addresses why working overtime may not be beneficial to your goals. This does not fundamentally contradict grellas's point that the US model is based around the theory that skilled professionals should have the choice and that they have the knowledge and power to exercise that choice. In the US, if you don't want to work 100 hours a week -- or don't think it's productive -- you can quit. There may be some problems with this view but I don't see any convincing arguments against it in your post.

Lastly, I would like to echo tptaceck's comment that grellas is always informative, helpful, and exceedingly polite. Your disrespect was completely uncalled for.

Sitting at a desk for 10 hours is actually incredibly easy, the only hard part is looking busy the whole time.

I see -- your definition of working hard includes an effort quantifier? I can see that, although I did not interpret the phrase that way. I took "working hard" to be some determiner of resources expended. Time is certainly a resource -- whether or not it is highly valued by the employee is a different matter.

Didn't read all of what you wrote, just one question: if there is freedom of contract, why wouldn't an employee be free to negotiate a contract that can't be cancelled on short notice?

He would be free to do that. But if the market is sufficiently in his favour that the employer would agree to this (rather than just picking the next CV in the pile), he'd won't need this protection: If fired, he can walk across the street and pick up a new job. Thus, he has a much stronger motivation to negotiate for other benefits such as salary, holidays, remote working etc.

You can certainly do this, but you'd have to expect less in other compensation. It seems like most people don't think they will be fired, so they'd rather take more pay without a minimum employment term.

Didn't read all of what you wrote, just one question: if there is freedom of contract, why wouldn't an employee be free to negotiate a contract that can't be cancelled on short notice?

Because the power is on the side of the guy giving the job, not on the guy having to pay mortgage and feed a family with two kids.

Sought after, rock-start, "I'll shop around", programmers are by definition few and far between. And even if somehow everybody managed to be one, their value and "shop-around"-ability would fall too (because there would be many to pick from).

The law must also protect regular joe employees.

What if the guy giving the job has a mortgage and a family, too? I think what you say is a sweeping generalization.

What if the guy giving the job has a mortgage and a family, too? I think what you say is a sweeping generalization.

Yes, but generalization is good. It's seeing what happens in MOST cases.

For one, if you can't sustain a competent business WITHOUT exploiting unpaid overtime, then you don't get to have one. Many failing businesses would be highly profitable if we allowed slave labor but we don't allow that either.

If it provides a competitive advantage to exploit unpaid overtime, regulate it to death so it's not an option anymore. And if it happens elsewhere, import-tax-it or embargo it to death, as you would child and slave labour.

Second, most companies have tens to thousands of employees. So the "guy giving the job" is not a guy, but a private or public owned entity. Far ahead of the negotiating power of the employee. And the guy deciding the "unpaid overtime", is more often than not the one with golden parachute and salary in the upper six or seven figures. So spare the melodrama for them.

You won't find many modern countries were concern over the guy "giving the job" trumps concern over the millions who have to accept a job.

"What does this mean in practice? It means, for example, that a computer professional can be paid a salary of $100K/yr and be asked to work like a slave, all without overtime compensation. But that same professional, if paid $30K/yr, is required to be paid overtime for excess hours worked, even if that person is on salary. One case is treated as appropriate for free choice by the parties without overriding restrictions; the other is not. And the difference, in this case, turns on the amount of salary paid - the highly-paid worker is treated as being able to protect his own interests while the relatively low-paid worker is not."

According to this (and my memory) salary vs. hourly relates to the type of job and duties, and, yes the amount paid. But the numbers you give don't jive with the info from the DOL which is below and indicates that as long as a computer professional is paid over $455 per week ($23,660 annually) they are an exempt employee with respect to overtime.


"Job titles do not determine exempt status. In order for this exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and compensation must meet all the requirements of the Department’s regulations. The specific requirements for the computer employee exemption are summarized below.

Computer Employee Exemption

To qualify for the computer employee exemption, the following tests must be met:

     The employee must be compensated either on a salary or fee basis at a rate not less than $455 per week or, if compensated on an hourly basis, at a rate not less than $27.63 an hour;
     The employee must be employed as a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer or other similarly skilled worker in the computer field performing the duties described below;
     The employee’s primary duty must consist of:
         1. The application of systems analysis techniques and procedures, including consulting with users, to determine hardware, software or system functional specifications;
         2. The design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing or modification of computer systems or programs, including prototypes, based on and related to user or system design specifications;
         3. The design, documentation, testing, creation or modification of computer programs related to machine operating systems; or
         4. A combination of the aforementioned duties, the performance of which requires the same level of skills.


I will defer to your knowledge on this since you are an attorney so please explain what appears above to contradict what you are saying.

Actually, you are correct concerning federal law. I practice in California where state law requires that a computer professional make a much higher salary (or comparable hourly rate) in order to be exempt. My statement is correct for the context in which I practice, therefore, but I communicated it poorly to leave an incorrect impression about the federal law. Your point is a good one and thanks for pointing this out.

Yea, came here to say this.

<-- Currently making around 30k/yr with exempt status. Though my position doesn't usually demand OT, near release (Software QA) I've had to put in anywhere from 5-10 hours unpaid OT those weeks.

I'm not happy about it. But there isn't much I can do right now, I'm fairly confident I'd be let go if I point blank refused to do any OT. I'm unfortunately in a very expendable position at my company.

You don't have to refuse to do overtime. Just take a comparable amount of time off.

One of the things about salary vs. hourly is (at least the way I used to treat it as an employer) is that a salary employee could take off in the morning for a doctors appointment and they still received the same pay. Or for actually anything. Not so with hourly. Although a passive aggressive way to equalize the situation, it might make more sense than drawing a line in the sand. You could also try to re-negotiate your "salary" to take into account the extra work.

I wouldn't mind doing OT if my company treated it like that.

Unfortunately, if I'm not at work anytime between 8AM-5PM, it's going to go down as either sick or vacation/holiday. No free time around here.

But I understand this isn't the norm, I know my company is in the extreme bad side of this debate.

> In my field, lawyers too see the hours worked as entirely secondary to their jobs.

Aren't lawyers typically paid by the hour?

Legal companies bill by the hour, lower-on-the-totempole lawyers (that don't have a company of their own or that have made partner) are typically salaried employees.

"I don't believe that most such employees see their work as "slavery" when they have to work excessive hours. I think they see it as career development"

That made me laugh.

"Top executives" typically have compensation packages that, to some degree, directly tie their compensation to the overall company performance. Thus, the harder they work, the more likely it is that the company will perform to or above expectations, and thus the more likely it is that their stock or option package compensate them for the "excessive hours". These "top executives" are also incentivised, by their compensation structure, to obtain as much value as possible out of fixed-cost resources.

But, as an average employee, without generous option packages, you start to rationalise the 8th week of working 80 hours as "career development", because the alternative is to confront the fact that you are helpless and beholden and powerless to refuse to work the extra hours without risking your health insurance, or your job.

I work very hard, including overtime. I'm salaried and I don't have profit sharing or equity--because I work for a nonprofit. However, my excellent performance at my job has resulted in promotions that have more than doubled my salary since I was hired. So to me it seems that my hard work did result in career development.

Private health insurance is really not that hard to buy. Just save up, buy it, and quit if you have better options. If you don't, if this is the best out there for someone with your talents, why exactly are you complaining? You chose to work "80 hours", and you can choose to work less.

99% of the world would give their eyeteeth to do what we do, in which the gravest professional hazard is spilling our lattes on our Macbook Pros.

You're not helpless and beholden. There's just simply always a smaller fish.

If I turn down the job that requires 60 hours a week, they will likely find someone who is willing to do that. It's partly from a week job market, partly because people are so bad at understanding their own financial situations, and partly because the availability of financial leveraging systems like financing and credit.

And, of course, a company that's willing to take on an employee who's willing to work 20 unpaid hours a week probably also has a lower level of quality demand on a per-employee basis. What's particularly infuriating about this is that they could probably pay a more qualified candidate more money and get better work, and yield the results of two poor candidates. Essentially, companies are stepping over dollars to pick up dimes, and execs are laughing all the way to the bank. How pointless.

> You're not helpless and beholden.

For many people, especially those with families (not to mention those with family members with medical issues) the healthcare issue really does leave them beholden. It also stifles entrepreneurship.

Then instead of regulating wage and hours shouldn't we focus on providing affordable healthcare (including coverage for preexisting conditions). If healthcare is the barrier to fluidity on the supply side then this is where we should focus our efforts.

If you aren't starting a company because you can't get private health insurance, you are probably not resourceful enough to be a successful entrepreneur. It is just not that hard.

It's a crapshoot. Dirt cheap for some, out of reach for others. Some people have been blackballed by the entire industry for the sin of developing a serious condition—the underwriter finds an excuse to weasel out of the coverage you thought you had, and then you can't get it ever again at any price. Group plans are a lot more likely to be available and to uphold their end of the deal.

Would they keep their job if they refused to work more than 40 hours? Is there a 40 hour a week job out there that pays and furthers their career comperably? If not, I don't know what to call it other than career development.

"Is there a 40 hour a week job out there that pays and furthers their career comparably?"

The defense industry in the US is like this. It is illegal for a company to have employees work more that 40 hours a week without overtime pay. The rationale is:

If Company A has a company culture of all employees working 60 hours a week and Company B has a corporate culture of working 40 hours a week, Company A could charge the government less for the same amount of work and thus would win more contracts. The government recognized this would create an customer incentive for companies to "encourage" their employees to work longer hours. So the government made a law that Defense contractor employees must be paid overtime for any hours more than 40 per week. And in my experience, no manager will pay overtime so most non-manager level people really don't work any more than that.

This is not true at all. I work in the defense industry and their is certainly not any law requiring my company to pay me for overtime. I think what you are referring to is the fact that any hours worked on contracts must be billed to the government. Say a company receives 1000 hours to do a job and an employee works on the project 80 hours per week. At that rate, the government will only pay for 12.5 weeks of work(1000/80), not 25 weeks.

This prevents the problem you mention, but it still isn't good for the employee. It does create an incentive for the company to encourage their employees to work more. If they charge for 80 hours in one week, but only pay the employee for 40 the company just made a bunch of extra profit at the employee's expense.

The Federal Acquisitions Regulations 37.115 Uncompensated overtime.

37.115-2 General policy.

(a) Use of uncompensated overtime is not encouraged.

(b) When professional or technical services are acquired on the basis of the number of hours to be provided, rather than on the task to be performed, the solicitation shall require offerors to identify uncompensated overtime hours and the uncompensated overtime rate for direct charge Fair Labor Standards Act—exempt personnel included in their proposals and subcontractor proposals. This includes uncompensated overtime hours that are in indirect cost pools for personnel whose regular hours are normally charged direct.

(c) Contracting officers must ensure that the use of uncompensated overtime in contracts to acquire services on the basis of the number of hours provided will not degrade the level of technical expertise required to fulfill the Government’s requirements (see 15.305 for competitive negotiations and 15.404-1(d) for cost realism analysis). When acquiring these services, contracting officers must conduct a risk assessment and evaluate, for award on that basis, any proposals received that reflect factors such as—

(1) Unrealistically low labor rates or other costs that may result in quality or service shortfalls; and

(2) Unbalanced distribution of uncompensated overtime among skill levels and its use in key technical positions.


Fair enough it isn't legally required. However it is formally discouraged by the government. Also, my particular employer explicitly discourages unpaid overtime and thus it doesn't happen often.

Can you cite a source on that? As a software engineer for a major defense contractor who works closely with other major contractors, I can say with some degree of certainty that being paid overtime is certainly not the norm, and 60 hour weeks aren't terribly uncommon during crunch periods. We have to report our hours accurately, but they've always been pretty clear that we're exempt employees and so they're under no obligation to pay us overtime. (They sometimes will, at a manager's discretion, though rarely is it 1:1 for hours worked)

Turns out it isn't legally obligated but it is explicitly discouraged by the government in the Federal Acquisition Regulations https://www.acquisition.gov/far/current/html/Subpart%2037_1....

Mind to edit your orignal comment to reflect this? Thank you.

When I worked at Boeing, the engineering union had negotiated that employees were to be paid overtime. I don't know if this only applied in Seattle (Washington is a union state, unlike most others where Boeing has employees) or not.

The problem I see with many of these lines of thought are that they grossly over simplify the effects of situation and environmental factors. Even if there exists a comparable job with better hours, its existence doesn't always make it a viable alternative. Is being stuck in a mortgage or with a sick spouse license for an employer to demand you work 70 hours a week?

Look at it from a mechanically rational perspective. Your protagonist has a mortgage and a family and we're on a tech message board so let's stipulate that this is a technology worker making the average wage for, say, a programmer in Grand Rapids, MI. That's $73,000 (before benefits), or $35/hour for 40 hour weeks.

You ask, "is being stuck in a mortgage with a sick spouse license for an employer to demand 70 hours a week?". Well, at 70 hours a week, our protagonist is effectively being paid $19.78 per hour. That's almost $2 higher than the average income of employees in Grand Rapids, MI.

What you're effectively asking is, should it be lawful for employers to pay people less based on their situation?

On the one hand, there are plenty of circumstances where it clearly isn't lawful to do that. For instance, you can't pay people less because they're of Indian origin, or because they practice Judaism, or because they're female.

On the other hand, the circumstances of individual employees play into compensation decisions all the time in every job. You are effectively being paid less because of circumstances mostly out of your control any time you take a job outside of San Francisco or New York; the premium earned by technology workers in San Francisco exceeds cost-of-living adjustments significantly.

So where do you draw the line? Is the line "you can't be paid less because of illnesses in your immediate family?" I'd agree with that rule, but how often does it really come into play?

For what it's worth, speaking on behalf of an employer: we don't like 70 hour weeks. We work hard to keep them from happening and, for the most part, people get out the door here in time for dinner (it's hard to say, because some people stroll in the door just in time for lunch). Making people work overtime here, paid or not, is a bad idea because it makes it hard to retain talent. I'd like to think that if there was an economic rationale for overtaxing our team, we still wouldn't do that because it's immoral... but my morals haven't been tested on this issue, because it would be irrational of us to coerce people into working overtime.

I'd imagine the only time you'd see an economic rationale for systematically overworking your team would be in a moon shot / burn the ships scenario, neither of which seems necessary for a service company.

Perhaps if the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was a buyout in the tens of millions you'd be tempted as a part owner. Even then the front-line employees being whipped would be unlikely to get a significant piece of that pie, no?

Long hours are the key to profitability, as Philip Greenspun put it:

"From a business point of view, long hours by programmers are a key to profitability. A programmer probably needs to spend 25 hours per week...Thus a programmer who works 55 hours per week is twice as productive as one who works 40 hours per week.... A product is going to get out the door much faster if it is built by 4 people working 70-hour weeks (180 productive programmer-hours per week, after subtracting for 25 hours of coordination and structure comprehension time) than if by 12 people working 40-hour weeks (the same net of 180 hours per week)."

"If you see one of your best people walking out the door at 6:00 pm, try to think why you haven't challenged that person with an interesting project. If you see one of your average programmers walking out the door at 6:00 pm, recognize that this person is not developing into a good programmer."

Greenspun wrote that about a software consulting business, too. Think about what else has to be going wrong with a consultancy for it to make sense for people to work 70 hour weeks. Hint: serious clients pay in 40-hour person/week increments.

Anyways, it's undeniable that there's a pervasive culture of 60-80 hour work weeks in tech companies. I think it's bullshit; I think it's bad for the employers, who get substandard burnout work and become a revolving door that spins even faster for more talented team members; I think it's bad for employees for obvious reasons.

But I also think (a) a slice of cheese shouldn't cost $200 and have an end-user licensing agreement attached, and (b) we don't need to outlaw that practice.

When you read articles about unfair labor practices at tech companies, I'd like you to keep in mind that software developers are the. worst. at reasoning about the valuation of their own work. Software developers think Stack Overflow is worth maybe a weekend's worth of programmer time because it's just a big message board. The world probably does look a lot more unjust when you look at it through a prism of discounting your own value by 50%-150%.

I was going to write up some big rebuttal but I realize now we are arguing from very similar positions.

1.) Developers don't understand what they are worth 2.) The culture of 50+ h/week working is pervasive

I think the point where we disagree is about the optimal behavior from the companies POV. Based on the exclusivity of existing condition eligible health care and collaboration by major tech firms to illegally collude to prevent competition for work, I don't conclude that it is a system which will fix itself. However, the only viable solutions I can imagine would be unpalatable to too many programmers to be enacted.

We are in violent agreement about the impact of health care on the labor market. I think the ideal system for startups would be nationwide single-payer.

Having said all that (and established some of my statist liberal bona fides), I do not think abuses of at-will employment or overtime exemption demand legislative fixes; in particular, I think that it's far more likely that it would harm startups (and the employment market in general, for employees and employers) to regulate overtime for salaried employees or, worse, termination requirements for employees.

> "If you see one of your best people walking out the door at 6:00 pm, try to think why you haven't challenged that person with an interesting project. If you see one of your average programmers walking out the door at 6:00 pm, recognize that this person is not developing into a good programmer."

Wow! What a horribly shitty attitude. If your "average programmer" isn't spending their every waking moment at work they're not a good programmer?!? Employers with attitudes like that deserve a serious atomic kick in the balls.

He got one. Read the story of Ars Digita sometime...

> Thus a programmer who works 55 hours per week is twice as productive as one who works 40 hours per week

There is plenty of studies done on this that shows that you can get an increase in productivity by working more hours for a short time, but that if you go over ~35h/week for a longer period of time, the productivity drops and some overtime might actually result in negative productivity.

If it takes you 25 hours for "coordination time" you have serious structural issues in your business that need to be addressed. It should really be more like 0-5 hours.

That only works for a short time. People do not produce good work for extended long weeks.

My business strives for a mix of long and light weeks to compensate.

When I worked for a big company, I had a very simple rule:

If I make a promise to my team that I can reasonably keep, I owe it to them to do so.

I'd generally aim to under-promise and over-deliver, while feeling like I'm making a comprable (or bigger!) contribution in comparison to my peers. After some practice at this, I got reasonably good at estimating work. I'd work 20 to 50 hours per week depending on how accurately I estimate, usually aiming for (an achieving) about 35 hours of work. Only once or twice did I ever feel like I really put in any serious "overtime" and I blame that on estimation inexperience.

I made it a point to explain this philosophy (sans actual target hours) to every manager I've ever had. I always fed them the "Work/Life Balance" party line and reminded them that if I wanted my work to be my life, I'd join a startup (I have since founded one). They all seemed to appreciate my being forthcoming.

Once or twice I got a panicked email. The team was going to miss a deadline unless I stepped up to help out! Each time I replied that I had expressed my concerns about scope and timeline during the planning meetings. I'd remind the panicked person that we could simply cut the feature (always an option for a previously shipped product) and would offer my help and time in doing so. No one ever took me up on it.

It's too bad you couldn't openly tell your team how you were scheduling your time. It sounds like you developed a very good, consistent process. In my mind, that's exactly what a large company should be going for because it can scale.

I did tell them! See where I wrote:

> I made it a point to explain this philosophy (sans actual target hours) to every manager I've ever had.

I simply didn't tell my manager exactly how many hours I targeted because it was less than the customary 40h/wk.

I don't know much about US employment law, and what I do know, I don't like. But what I do know is this:

No employer has ever, ever given me free money, and I have never expected it. There for, I have never ever given an employer free time, and never ever will.

To do different is insane. It lowers one's worth since the deal is an exchange of money for time. It makes the employer think your free time is theirs to exploit and frankly damn wrong.

Like I say, the day employers give out free money is the time I give out free time.

It's at-will employment, if you don't like it, you can leave at any point. Basically if you don't like being exploited, quit and get it over with. As people pointed out though, it's a different story once health care is part of the equation.

Yes, and people really should quit. If they did, then employers might just get the message. As a former employer (Im now 39 and retired), I never ever expected people to work for free. Never. That is literally slave labour to me.

The health care thing, as it exists in the US, is a nasty whip by which people are beaten. It is one very good reason why the US could do with a national health care system for all. As it stands, I do understand why people are too scared to take risks. Health should never be a reason for exploitation.

Sadly, what you are saying is that its fine for business to exploit human beings. I say no. I have enough self respect and confidence to walk. I will not be abused by these people.

Having read that previous article about that woman who went to work in one of those huge warehouses, my view has hardened. Essentially, in the USA you have Indian business practice now. Why? Because everything is driven down by price. Ironically, the people who have to work in those places are the very people who need those prices, and so we see condition and prices decline.

Seriously, aren't things supposed to get better with time? Or os that only for the few at the top?

This Uber capitalism thing will end in tears. IMHO, capitalism is a tool to be used, not a way of life. As is socialism. Society needs to embrace both, and use both where appropriate.

But hey, I live in the UK. Things are a bit better here. For now...

Yes, and people really should quit. If they did, then employers might just get the message.

In some industries, maybe. I've worked in several "old school" design agencies (doing a bit of interactive work), and many designers and production folks are absolutely worked to the bone (frequent all-nighters, weekends, etc). Sure, some of them quit, but there's always somebody else to take their place. And working long hours is all "career development" until you're out of the trenches every day.

Some industries just function this way (gaming, as others have pointed out), and people entering those industries seem happy to accept it.

I imagine quitting would just be a minor annoyance until they find someone who does exactly what you used to do. Not many are in the position where they would actually be considered valuable and perhaps beginning to approach irreplaceable.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with you in ideology, but many people are in ugly situations.

>>Im now 39 and retired

How did you manage to retire so early. How did you manage to do it?

We are on Hacker News, and he said he was an employer. He most likely founded a company, did a good job building it up, and then sold it for tens or hundreds of millions. He took his millions, invested it well, and is now retired. It is a fairly straight forward if difficult to execute path.

That's so weird. As if there was some kind of conspiracy between health care providers and employers. I mean you probably take it for granted that health care is tied to a job, but that really isn't the case at all. Where I live (Germany) it is organized in a completely different way. If you lose your job, social insurance will keep paying your health insurance.

It's ironic because "your way" actually seems to be taking freedom away from you, yet the US seems to consider a model like the German one to be the ultimate slavery (socialism).

Yeah, the thing is the USA is the flip side of the USSR. One was the definition of socialism, the other capitalism. Here in Europe we consider both systems as tools to use, rather than rules for running a state.

Part of me wonders if the US obsession with uber capitalism is some sort of historic anti Europe thing, or a way that they remain different and separate. Its US identity. Having booted the Europeans and gained independence, the last thing they want to do is embrace European ideals.

I don't really understand the logic, because it seems to me that as long as they pay taxes in the US, they are just as "socialist" as, say, Germany with their health insurance. What is the difference if you build roads for the common good or buy health insurance for the common good.

Also I don't understand how capitalism makes health care tied to employment. In theory shouldn't there be health insurers who are willing to ensure you just as long as you pay your rates? What do they care if you are employed or not - except perhaps for some statistics like "employed people are less/more healthy on average", which could be factored into the rates.

In theory shouldn't there be health insurers who are willing to ensure you just as long as you pay your rates?

There are, in actual fact, insurance companies in the US that will do this. Some make it a business to cater to self-employed folks who don't have company insurance.

It's been a while since I thought about this, but (IIRC) the 'private companies pay for insurance' deal got started in World War II, as a perk. Companies could not compete for scarce labor (salary freeze) so they offered basic health insurance to attract workers. From there it just grew.

So why do so many of us accept it, when there are free-market alternatives? I think it's the convenience.

Take my dental plan at work. For about $10 a month I'm covered for all routine stuff at the dentist. Extraordinary work will cost me a bit off the top, but not _that_ much, for the care I'm getting.

Which is pretty much the plan I'd get if I eschewed the work plan and bought one on my own.

The convenience is that work has a team of guys who deal with the insurance companies, getting deals, selecting plans, negotiating rates, basically dealing with a lot of hassle so I don't have to.

Now, I could get a better rate on my own, and I probably _should_ if I were really worried about being laid-off but .. it's just easier this way. A trade-off.

For a lot of us, this is okay: the plans our employers offer are pretty good. For some people, who have sucky employers and rotten plans ... it's sub-optimal.

Having been a contractor previously, I can tell you that the main reason I moved over to being a full time developer for a company (complete with 1.5 hour commute) was that no private plan would cover both myself and my wife, mostly due to various medical reasons associated with my wife that I won't get into here. Suffice it to say that the only way we could get her covered without a ridiculous deductible and per-month cost was for me to get a full time job. She works as the director of a local teen drop-in center and as an HR secretary as a sheet-metal plant, and of course, since those are part time jobs, neither offers any benefits whatsoever. We were previously paying over $500 a month to cover myself and her on two private plans.

There are a lot of holes in the US healthcare system when you're doing something that's not what the majority is doing. I'd say this creates an argument for single-payer healthcare, but that's a debate for another thread. (Plus, I'm a little biased as a Canadian immigrant.)

This comes recommended to me from an email thread a few weeks ago on this topic ...


Not a customer, but the fellow who sent it along is.

Not every system will catch every person. I didn't have a problem obtaining coverage for my family a dozen years ago, but a) it was a dozen years ago and b) perhaps our pre-exisitings were not so bad.

I think it's the convenience.

I think its because employers for large companies get the only reasonable health care rates in the country. If you work for a large employer and you have a way as an individual to get comparative coverage for the same cost ignoring any pre-existing conditions, I'd love to hear it.

If you work for a large employer and you have a way as an individual to get comparative coverage for the same cost ignoring any pre-existing conditions,

Twelve or thirteen years ago I looked into this hard - had a family, had a kid and a wife with a pre-existing condition or two.

It was available and comparable in costs. The biz failed before it left the ground, so I didn't need to go that route.

A few weeks ago this link came into my mailbox, from a mailing list.


Recommended by the originator, who is a customer.

I also see that USAA offers health insurance. I'm a member, I should look into that.

Hm, let me guess: does it work because the employer pools all of his employees, and the insurance can account for that? Like one employee gets seriously ill, but 10 stay healthy, so the costs average out? I think private insurance here in Germany just forms arbitrary pools of people, but the don't just insure anybody. If you have some risk indicators, they won't insure you. Maybe the employers in the US simply have a good bargaining chip, they can say "if you insure our one risky employee, you'll also get to insure our other ten non-risky employees".

That is exactly what happens. There are so many tiers of issues its hard to dissect.

1. Big corporations get much better rates by pooling all their employees together and then negotiating for coverage. 2. The insurance companies pool all their subscribers and use that as leverage to negotiate better rates with the hospitals.

As an individual, you don't get the diversification effect of #1, so you end up paying a premium rate. If you are an individual the system is basically setup to vet you biasing toward no coverage.

Its hard to keep up with the state of the laws in my own country. (US) There are talks of market exchanges to basically give individuals back bargaining power, but I've heard that the insurance industry has managed to hobbel them pretty badly. I'm not sure where we are headed on this issue.

As an individual, you don't get the diversification effect of #1, so you end up paying a premium rate.


USAA quoted me $350.81 per month (same plan provider!) for two adults, two children, one adult 'healthy as a horse', one adult with preexisting conditions.

Just one pass, without shopping around.

That sounds pretty steep - it is - but it's only twice what you could expect to pay for car insurance.

I'll bet if I shop around I could find a deal. Wonder what would happen if more of us did so?

it doesn't seem steep to me, but where you live and your ages are two factors you didn't mention (deductible amount is another factor).

I live in fly-over country, in a drive-past town. Cost of living here is pretty low, all things considered. So I've gotten used to stuff being far less than it cost when I lived in the city.

I wonder if I could negotiate a salary increase from my employer in return for opting out of the plan.

USAA is an exceptionally good company.

I love USAA to pieces.

For years my time in the Marines was good only for memories (good and bad), cynicism, and a career in IT.

Which isn't bad. But then they let me in the club and my insurance cost dropped like a rock.

Plus they're super easy to deal with. Had some hail damage and where my neighbors were fighting _their_ insurance provider months later USAA couldn't get me the money fast enough.

"Overnight .. is that soon enough? We can borrow an F-18 and air drop in about 90 minutes it if that would be more convenient."

Well not that good. But pretty close.

Anything analogous, at least qualitatively, to USAA for folks with no military connections, in California?

Insurance rates are based on the risk pool you fall into. When companies are purchasing plans for health insurance, the company as a whole is placed into a risk pool. Since you are dealing with a large group of people, in general the risk pool is lower for the company, then if each person was evaluated individually. Hence a company can achieve lower rates then an individual. And generally the bigger the company, the lower the rates. An individual purchasing would have to pay significantly higher rates for comparable coverage that they would if they were in a large company.

White America developed out of freehold farming, whereas Europe developed out of a feudal peasant-farming class that was later enclosed off its land and forced into wage-labor.

Now, moves similar to enclosure were pulled in the US, but the culture developed around "self-reliance" and what you might call Yeoman Capitalism. These people hold a strong, bizarrely strong, idea that any time you like you can quit your job and go homestead some open land, so you're Free.

Minority populations tend to be significantly more left-wing for a reason. We were usually discriminated against in the public or private sphere, or even just allowed into the country as exploited labor (Asians, blacks). We have no thoughts of homesteading the Midwest meaning Freedom; we think worker ownership or unionization means Freedom.

Thanks for this insightful post. As an outsider, I wondered how the US associated itself so strongly with "freedom".

They've tried to change the health insurance problem. I'm not sure how much Obamacare will do in that regard, as a practical matter, but we'll eventually find out one way or another, assuming it's not repealed or struck down first.

"if you don't like being exploited, quit and get it over with."

Does anybody like being exploited?

It's at-will employment, if you don't like it, you can leave at any point. Basically if you don't like being exploited, quit and get it over with.

No, it's not at-will employment. At will employment would be, "I want to work at Google", and snap you're working at Google.

Real life employment is more like: how is the general economy? how is your specific field's economy? If you quit this job, can you last for a while while seeking a new one? Are local firms hiring or do you have to leave your town to find a job? Are your skills still relevant? Do you have a family to feed? Do you have mortgage payments? Are you 1 in 100 kind of programmer, where companies compete to hire you, or 1 in 20, where you can shop around a little? Maybe you are one of 19 in 20, ie average, and you don't get much say. Do you even have had an education, or couldn't afford one? Are you/any member of your family sick, do you absolutely need health coverage?

Nevertheless, "at will" is the common term for what he describes.

> No employer has ever, ever given me free money, and I have never expected it

some firms offer a bonus. i guess that counts as free money way in the way that overtime counts as free time.

> the deal is an exchange of money for time

if that really was the deal, then you'd be paid hourly. i think most programmers exchanging results for money.

> some firms offer a bonus. i guess that counts as free money way in the way that overtime counts as free time.

I've always disliked this way of thinking. A bonus is a reward for the good work (already) done, NOT incentive/payment to add additional work.

Why not both? I'm not advocating overtime, but if overtime is needed in a certain period then what's wrong with the company gives out bonus?

In my experience of working for companies that justify overtime with discretionary bonuses, the bonus is always less than what I'd expect to earn if I was paid overtime.

What if the company was going to give you a bonus anyway (it's part of your employment contact), then asks you to work overtime. Will they pay a bigger bonus?

If not, then you are working unpaid overtime.

So, I agree with the point made in another comment about this not being so much about overtime, but about crap jobs.


> the deal is an exchange of money for time

It's not really, no. It's an exchange of work for time. If you're doing an exchange of time, you'll be punching in and out, and the boss worrying about your "butt in seat" productivity metric is reasonable.

It doesn't necessarily follow that you should work 80-hour weeks for months on end, but the case where some extra hours in a crunch is warranted makes more sense. Of course, a good employer would seek to offset that, either with money, time off in lieu or otherwise, but that ties back to the crap jobs again.

There's an asymmetry here:

I want to see the exchange as money for time, because my work is not valuable to me (I don't get to keep the product!), but my time is. I want an upper bound on how much of the resource that's valuable to me that the company is entitled to in exchange for their money.

The employer wants to see the exchange as money for work, because they couldn't care less how the work gets done. They want a lower bound on the amount of the resource that's valuable to them that they get for their money.

And a difference of opinion:

I want to see the exchange as work for time, because I work much more effectively than many other people. An hourly-rate job is simply not attractive to me, because the hourly-rate will not effectively capture my value.

As explained by grellas above, overtime in the US is typically applied to replaceable workers who's hourly value is a more or less quantifiable resource. If I'm flipping burgers, painting a house, or banging out simple webapps based on someone else's design then it's fairly easy to quantify the value of my time.

However, if I'm working in an industry where force multipliers abound, for example software engineering, or any sufficiently advanced executive/management position, I would much rather capture the value of what I produce -- there simply cannot be a good fit with shoehorning me into an hourly value rate. It simply isn't an accurate way to represent my value.

This is best exemplified by jobs which supply equity stakes. If you give me a chunk of your company I'm no longer working for free, when I work overtime.

> I want to see the exchange as work for time, because I work much more effectively than many other people. An hourly-rate job is simply not attractive to me, because the hourly-rate will not effectively capture my value.

Why not? If you provide better value per hour than others, you should also get higher hourly rate. If you just work more hours without more compensation, then you're just cheap.

> No employer has ever, ever given me free money, and I have never expected it. There for, I have never ever given an employer free time, and never ever will.

This is a top-notch comment to me, Alan! Printed and pinned to my wall!

> It's not really, no. It's an exchange of work for time.

I agree with Alan. When it comes to basics, you do exchange your time for whatever it is employer wants you to do. Other worlds: you wouldnt be able to do any job for an employee if you wouldnt be asked by him, wouldnt have tools, wouldnt represent the company, etc. Of course quality of work is important, so does work etiquette and preferably stable family status. But again, this all boils down to an exchange: time for money.

> If you're doing an exchange of time, you'll be punching in and out

I'm sure "productivity metrics" did not exist before first employee started working. Its was a byproduct of how to deal with lazy workers, just like seat belts are answers to the fact that people had car accidents.

He will not punch in out because then he is fired, regardless how much time or knowledge he has to "share".

It is money for time. I'm renting my skills by the hour. If my skills are poor for the job is another issue. And a lot of managers can't distinguish real work from long hours work.

Excessive overtime is the way you make a highly skilled professional useless in the long term. No time to rest, no time for recreation, no time to play and experiment with new things, no time to study more stuff. In a fast paced industry this is death in a couple of years.

It's exchange of money for time spent according to the boss' wishes.

Employment contracts tend to be "$x units of money for $y hours per week, doing $job".

Your "work for time" proposal ignores money, so that can't be right ;-) "money for work" is "that website for $3000".

So to clarify, I'll propose "money for time spent on work". And in that case, punching out after working the agreed hours per week is okay. Idling in the office is not okay (exceptions apply if you just aren't given enough work units, which is the superior's duty).

If the exchange is work-for-money, why can't an employee finish an easy week's work in 25 hours and go home?

I agree with the author. We work to make a living, not live to work.

However, he thinks that in Europe there are more human conditions. Well, this is rapidly changing towards the american system. E.g. the bail out for Greece was offered with the exchange of passing new employment rules. Some of them are enabling employers to demand for more work time without extra compensation, or to fire much more easily without specific reasons. Another nice change, not yet implemented but soon to be, the employee will not get the full monthly salary if he had any sick days.

Furthermore, the public pension funds and health care is being demolished. Soon the only option will be to get in a insurance plan offered by your company (big companies have already started to offer such plans). So except if you're one of the very few top talented people, soon you'll be very depended on your job and will be forced to accept to work more working hours without any additional benefit.

Romania has already moved that way, and Italy will follow soon. And the rest of Europe after that.

This mentality that you must sacrifice your life for the benefit of your company, it is just absurd. If the law was enforcing less working hours and bigger compensations for overtime, there wouldn't be any competitiveness excuse. And the developed world should enforce the same work rules to the developing countries.

It's absurd, especially if you think about how much the unemployment rates have risen and how much the technology today automates tasks so no humans are needed, and the production of material goods is so high that most products are never sold and end in the recycle bin. It screams about lowering the working hours and the retirement limits instead of raising them.

I have begun to wonder why we don't have a regulatory authority, something along the lines of a national central bank but for working hours, dedicated to regulating the work-week. When unemployment and overemployment are low, work hours are kept stable. When there is a chronic over-demand in the economy, the work-week is lengthened. When there is a chronic over-supply in the economy, the work-week is shortened.

First World economies right now have an oversupply problem. Marx predicted the crises of capitalism due to overproduction and under-demand. We don't need a complete socialist revolution to deal with this issue (though I'm somewhat in favor of one), we just need to fine-tune the working week to productivity levels.

Here's my problem with people who put in 80 hours a week: they don't write good code. At my first job - way back in the last millenium - we were creating a carrier class network device. I was hired to run the mail servers but ended up building an embedded linux that ran the PowerPC on our hardware - we also had a Strong ARM that ran a gig ethernet but that was under another guy. So, how did I go from mail server to an integral piece of the product? I took over for the guy who put a lot of time into not solving a problem. Before you can even get linux running on your hardware, you need a boot loader to initialize your hardware and get it into a state where linux will run. Our "hard worker" volunteered to write a boot loader and spent 60+ hours a week for the next 6 months writing it. But it never worked.

Management decided to let me take a crack at the boot loader. Now, I was in my early 20's. I had bars to drink at, a girlfriend to get some lovin' from, and parties to go to. I didn't want to spend 60 hours a week at my desk. So, I did what any lazy hacker would do: I found an open source project that was close to what we needed. The project I started from was PPCBoot and it was started by Wolfgang Denk for the purpose of booting hardware running a Power PC processor. I spent 2 weeks telling everyone else in the company that I needed their help on X, Y or Z; getting them to write some code; and burning the new version of PPCBoot onto the flash chip. After 2 40 hour weeks, something amazing happened: it worked. It configured the hardware and handed control to linux which booted up.

Anyway, that's my reason not to spend more than 40 hours at work in a week. All of the people who I've seen put in all those hours aren't really working. They're just playing with a neat project because they've always wanted to write a boot loader. The purpose of you job isn't to write code, it's to ship a product. If you keep that in the front of your mind at all times and focus your efforts on shipping product, you can "work" 40 hours a week and code a pet project on your own time.

Honestly that anecdote just proves that you were a better engineer than the 60 hour boot loader guy. It doesn't say anything about hours other than that some people will work hard even if they aren't making progress. You aren't claiming that he'd have done better by spending only 2/3 the time, just that a solution (that he couldn't find) existed that fit.

Honestly I find myself amused at the extent of the argument here. Most people I've known in the tech world who work long hours generally do so because ... they like it. It's a way to define your life. It's a way to feel good about yourself. I'm sure there are programmers trapped in death march dungeons somewhere for exploitative wages, but they are the exception, not the rule.

I think the point is more that having some sort of time constraint perhaps helps force you to come up with more realistic solutions.

For example the number of startups with VC investment who seem to have spent 50%+ of their time creating a new NoSQL DB or something.

I agree with you on this one. Working long overtime doesn't just make you unhappy, it isn't productive either (although I certainly have to grant that it's necessary sometimes). The biggest problem is that it tends to become self-sustaining. You're overworked, so you code something poorly. Then, next time you work with that code, you have to work harder because it's so poorly written.

I wondered about this at a place I recently interviewed where the team said that I'd better be ready to put in 60h/week. I said that I don't think I get more done working 60 instead of 40h, and certainly not better work. They disagreed that it was a problem.

Please stop comparing overworking or non-optimal work conditions as slave labor. Slavery means you can not, either because of the law or threat of violence, leave the service of your master.

I've had bad jobs in my day. One I left (I was a "partner" @ startup) and it was a financially bad decision, yet it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Here is the difference between slavery & a crappy job; a person can choose to leave the crappy job even if it means living hand-to-mouth a slave can't.

I generally agree with what this author is saying. The best way to start thinking about your job is as though you are a contractor and your employer is your client. Remove the boss/employee template from your mind and start using the client/contractor template.

I work 3 days a week for quite a large social game / mobile web company here in Tokyo. They are asking me every 3 months to become a "Seishain" - full time employee - but I will continue to take the no-benifits, paid by the hour option. The pay's not great but I'm learning a lot. And I can go home on the dot at 6.. However, everyone who is not part time is here before I arrive, and stays after I leave. . . .

I think that holds true for nearly any company in Japan though. The main reason people want to become "Seishain" is because you have much more job security. It is very hard to fire a full-time employee in Japan. And if it is a large company, there is the pension you get... a large sum of money when you retire, from the company. It is not uncommon to get an extra 10M - 20M yen when you retire.

Part-timers don't get any of those... but they get some more freedom in their lives (unless they choose to go against the grain, which most Japanese don't).

Yeah.. I've been there (at an admittedly insane company), and "enjoyed" the benefits of cheaper health care, pension.. at the cost of sleeping under the desk a few nights a week, coming in at 6 or 7 just to read every single mail which circulated not to get caught out having missed some minor little thing by my senpai..

Now I balance this with really laid back face-to-face english teaching. It's actually quite nice. Half the week staring at a glowing box, half the week talking casually with people who are motivated to learn. edit: I'm quite broke though!

Like the old saying goes:

"I work for money. If you want loyalty, get a dog."

I have worked at game development companies for nearly 20 years. Initially I worked a lot of overtime for free,but after a couple of years I started to feel the effects on my life. After that I mostly just did not do OT unless it was paid. One year on a badly run project I doubled my salary through OT pay, and though my life outside work was not good I was able to put a significant amount of money aside. The following year hourly OT pay was gone, but the expectations were not. I made it clear I would only do OT on rare occasions, such as my work falling behind and a colleague being dependent on it at the weekend, when he would be working and I would be having a life. Even this caused resentment and I had to do the walk of shame at 5pm every day, and I was laid off as soon as the game shipped. The sense of personal failure was very hard on me at the time, but 12 years down the line, I've had a successful career in games, while being upfront at the hiring stage about my attitude to OT. I have worked a handful of weekend days and never later than 8pm in the week. I didn't miss my son growing up, and I read him a bedtime story every night. I don't think this is possible for every programmer and every company, but you can make it work.

If you lose your job you may have to pay a lot more (COBRA) for a limited time

No, you'll pay the same as you were paying. Its just that before, you thought you were being paid $100,000 when in fact you were being paid $120,000, and out of that came your health insurance and the other (more-than-) half of your social security and income taxes.

You pay 10% more on COBRA than your employer was paying on your behalf. But the gist of what your saying still stands.

Plus, COBRA payments are (generally) not tax-deductible, so add another 30-40% more.

A self-employed person can deduct health expenses against gross income. You are correct in that COBRA cannot be deducted in this way. But it can still be taken as an itemized deduction. I'm not a tax accountant, but my tax accountant is. Another gotcha: if you're taking the 60% markdown on COBRA from Obama, then no, you're not allowed to write it off at all, but I wouldn't be complaining about that.

Only the portion which is greater than 7.5% of your gross income can be deducted on Schedule A.

If you have a HDHP with an HSA you can pay COBRA from the HSA tax free.

I'd suggest that just using the ~$100,000 salary range as an example has shown that you're not really understanding of the "average" employee.

I work at Twitter, where i regularly work longs hours (my standard work day is something like 10 - 19:30) and am frequently on call. I even spend time at the weekends thinking and hacking on specific problems.

I feel that the author's post doesn't apply in my case, because:

- Some of the problems i work on are amazing. They're interesting and fun, and i enjoy them outside the normal "work hours".

- Twitter has an "unlimited"—be respectful to your team—holiday policy. I've probably taken about 6-7 weeks off in my one and a quarter years here.

- Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served for free. While you might not count that as 'being paid overtime', the costs of food can add up.

- This behaviour is not required. I know people who do 9-5 and that's it. They get their work done within deadlines, and there's no issue with that.

So, am i to assume that Twitter is a huge exception? I'm not so sure. I think that while Twitter is a special environment, there are many companies that offer similar benefits.

Maybe the real statement shouldn't be "don't do unpaid overtime", but:

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle." - Steve Jobs

Right, if it is something you actually want to be doing then that is one thing. But, I bet you are not married and have kids or if you do, they may not be as happy with you as you might think. It's just reality.

As for the Steve Jobs thing, yes I get that. But it's one thing to be Steve Jobs and have this legacy that they make documentaries about and it's another to have just been a cog, even if it's a popular company like Twitter, your whole life and not have any kind of family or life outside of your job. Perhaps everlasting glory is worth everything else but I doubt it's true for everyday programmers at Apple.

I feel like you've got a little over-dramatic here.

Firstly, i'm not married nor do i have children. Secondly, these things will come, in time.

I find it discouraging that you feel that one can't take pride or enjoy work while being "a cog". This isn't about 'everlasting glory'; it's about enjoyment, it's about fun, it's about being proud about what you've created and owning it, it's about respect from your peers, it's about being a part of something.

As you said, "if it is something you actually want to be doing then that is one thing". It is. It is exactly what i want to be doing.

why don't you work for free then ? It should give you same sense of fulfillment and company will benefit even more. :-)

I think most people don't mind when there's some kind of flexibility or give-and-take. But there are also jobs that will just plain suck you dry and never give you anything for all the effort you pour into them.

I agree, but I'm not sure that the article's absolutist view is best.

I used that quote to mean that if you're not happy, then you should change that.

They don't need everyone to work overtime as long as there are people like you that do.

I don't know anyone that actually does 9 to 5... The standard in the midwest is 8 to 5, 1 hour lunch break.

So you're really only putting in an extra 30 minutes per day... Minus the dinner you eat...

I'm going to go out on a limb and say you're probably not the target audience the poster had in mind.

> Twitter has an "unlimited"—be respectful to your team—holiday policy. I've probably taken about 6-7 weeks off in my one and a quarter years here.

Curious as to how these things work in the states. I take it that you pay for the time off from your salary? (E.g. you don't get any for the period) Do you have any time off that is paid by your employer?

It is all paid time off. A lot of tech companies in the US have this policy. I know software developers that have taken two months off (paid) after a big product launch. It is part of the compensation and perks.

Ironically, this policy is illegal in most European countries.

These are actually a benefit the the employer. Issuing official paid time off amounts to additional compensation to the employee. If you have 3 weeks of paid vacation available, that shows up on the company's books as a liability that has to be accounted for on their balance sheet. So, you are in effect being paid your salary + however many days off you get. I'm not sure how it works with an open door policy, but I suspect they'd be able to assume a smaller liability based on the actual number of days people take off rather than some amount that they're owed.

I'm positive it's paid time off. Heroku and GitHub have identical policies.

It is entirely paid time off.

Does your 10 - 19:30 (9.5 hour) day also include time for lunch and dinner that twitter generously provides?


So, the reality is, you aren't working long hours. Neither am I. You are, in effect, working 8 hours a day, with an hour for lunch and a half hour for dinner. That you might choose to work while having lunch and dinner is up to you, but I also doubt you are working 100% of the time, either. This isn't to say you don't work hard, but just to say you aren't really working long hours.

> I regularly work longs hours (my standard work day is something like 10 - 19:30)

I live in Japan and what is this?

10AM - 7:30PM

I mean that in Japan, working 8.5 hours (if you subtract 1 hour for lunch) isn't considered working "long hours" at all.

Though I suppose it's not considered long hours in US too, perhaps the commenter above doesn't have a lot of experience or has been lucky till now.

Do you at least get paid for overtime when you're on call?

Many industries are forbidden, by law, from unpaid overtime. The law specifically exempts the software industry from this requirement. Like so many other things about the culture here, this issue seems to come down to the US being afraid of its own shadow. We're the greatest country on Earth... we say so all the time. But to change the law and forbid unpaid overtime for the software industry, something that will make people's lives better here in the greatest country on Earth, is to risk losing all these programmers jobs overseas. A terrifying prospect. So we do nothing out of fear.

The whole "greatest country on Earth" thing needs to be dropped. We live in a global society and the age of the Internet, people need to move past the patriotic party line they're fed by their govt to somehow make them feel better about themselves.

According to the GAO, approximately 25 percent of the work force is overtime-exempt. Though computer-related jobs are called out specifically in the law, programmers would also likely be exempted from overtime as "professionals", in any case. I don't think that the overtime exemption for programmers has anything to do with fear of losing jobs overseas, in that most programmers make SUBSTANTIALLY more than the minimum wage. If employers were forced to pay overtime, then they would just reduce base salaries accordingly.

The software industry is not uniformly exempt from overtime.

Programmers here are discussing if they choose to work unpaid extra hours or not. You don't make a country great by forbidding extra work regardless of the employee desires. You make a country great by allowing employers and employees to decide amongst themselves case by case. If labor wants to forbid this for other vocations good for them. I would like to keep my right to work more hours on salary or not.

Nobody is forbidding overtime work - they are exempting tech employees from receiving pay for the overtime they work. Much of this legislation was passed in the US through the lobbying of big tech corporations (Microsoft) to increase profit margins. I personally would like to revoke my right to work overtime for free.

They are not prohibiting tech employees from receiving overtime, nor are they prohibiting companies from paying tech employees overtime.

The law simply does not require companies to pay overtime to tech employees (along with other, more traditional professionals such as doctors, accountants, and lawyers).

You're correct in that tech companies can pay overtime but in real terms this legislation results in no tech companies that actually pay overtime (but Im sure there is some rare exception). I'm sure there is a bandwagon of free-market folks who would be quick to point out why this is good for tech workers but from a practical point of view it has lead to an industry that treats long hours for the same pay as the norm.

Towards the end, he gets to the main point - the US health system is not set up for people who aren't wage slaves for a big company. The idea that a company should pay your pension is also kind of dumb.

Bingo. What to do about it though? Would meaningful reform of the current system be possible? Where could one start?

The Australian system is quite functional and, unlike the USA, we still have a functioning economy. Granted it mainly comes from digging up bits of the country and selling it cheap to China, but it's not all bad news. The USA could do with a lot more socialism than it's currently got.

Australia was successful before the mining boom started. The policy reforms of the 80s and 90s are the basis of our long-term success.

Well, we were OK in the 90s. The mining boom, and the fact that overseas lenders are only just starting to question our ability to take in more debt has what has kept us out of recession, for now.

Medium term, we might be in for a beating, like the US. Long term, we need more innovation. Name Australian innovation. Easy, right? Now name one innovative Australian company.

The boom was abruptly interrupted here, as it was everywhere else, in 2008 when the GFC kicked off. My old man works for Rio, who dumped tens of thousands of contractors almost immediately, freezing tens of billions of dollars of projects.

What really saved our bacon was a) labour market flexibility (ie many companies renegotiated hours instead of being forced to sack people) and b) that the Reserve Bank had lots of room to manoeuvre. The Commonwealth could also borrow deeply because it had no long term debt.

None of these conditions was accidental. They were, as I said, consequences of decades of sensible reform by both major parties.

> Easy, right? Now name one innovative Australian company.

There are thousands. They're just not necessarily talked about by the HN set. Off the top of my head there's Cochlear, the half dozen companies spun off from NICTA, Kaggle, Computershare which was the first of its kind and so on.

Why pension is deferred pay and companys get a tax break on their contributions as well as you.

What about the part where programmers work overtime, but not because they are demanded to?

I consistently see programmers, even in my own team, who happily stay 60-70 hours per week because the idea/concept they are working on means something significant to them.

I find this phenomenon to be the exception of what your post has mentioned. Although the post was mostly accurate, I encounter this exception on a daily basis.

While those 60-70 hrs./week aren't at 100% efficiency, the idea that a programmer will stay the extra time to produce high quality work while maintaining their own personal life says a lot about their view of their job and career. To some, it's just that - a job. However, others see it as an art (just as any profession, I suppose) and strive to increase their skills - they understand that invested time equals increased knowledge and a more refined skill set.

If your job is such a great learning experience, or the mission so captivating that you want to work 70 hours a week on it, you should be allowed to do that. In my experience few positions will be so exciting that you'll want to do that though. One can only get so much thrill out of writing CRUD apis for years.

This really depends on the work you do, obviously. Just like no amount of off-by-one errors will make you a great coder (no, mistakes aren't always the great learning opportunity), 80 hours of writing DAOs in Java won't either. Remember it's 10000 hours of deliberate practice, not practice, so somebody working 40h in a better job may learn more.

This. I've worked like a dog on some projects simply because I was having fun. I try to instead channel that passion into side projects now, but occasionally get a bit carried away on my salaried job.

If you are constantly needing to work 70-80 hours a week that generally implies an issue with planning and/or engineering practices.

Well, I have an American way of looking at things. Why is 40 hours the magical number? Why is it that you're working for free after that point? He was correct in the first place that it's devaluing your hourly worth (assuming time is fungible). But guess what, if you can't get the job done that the employer wants to pay you the given salary for in the 40 hours you expected to satisfy him with, and the employer would let you go if you told him that this wasn't what you signed up for, you are devalued. The employer hired you for a certain amount of work and was willing to pay a certain amount of money for it. If you made an agreement about the work to be accomplished, and did not make an agreement about hours, and you end up working 80 hours a week, you are being paid overtime. Your base salary is just much lower because you're not worth very much to that particular employer at the base salary.

Now, if the employer would not fire you if you put your foot down, it's a matter of knowing your true worth. And I definitely agree it's worth doing this if you end up in this sort of situation. Either you part ways from a job that isn't worth it to you, or you get the conditions that are worth it to you. Negotiations have some leeway, you don't really know what the other person is willing to give up.

This is a rant that's a bit all over the place.

The author points out a lot of exceptions (eg working at a startup or somewhere where you might get something out of it). If you take out all those exceptions, you basically end up with the crap jobs.

The real problems with a crap job isn't the unpaid overtimes... it's that it's a crap jobs.

The fact is though, you get as much out of pretty much anything in life as you put in. If you want to working 9-5 5 days a week, you can probably find a job that'll let you do that if you try, which is fine, but I probably wouldn't expect anything but stagnating in it.

I too have been a contractor. Never again. It's the ultimate in transactional work [1]. When I did do it though, I always negotiated an hourly rate. Employers love a daily rate because what is a day exactly? An hour is unambiguous.

Health insurance in the US is a problem. This is known. The lack of vacation here is (IMHO) a problem too.

I now have a great job and I have it because I put in effort (both at work and outside). YMMV.

[1]: http://cdixon.org/2009/10/23/twelve-months-notice/

In the real world, there aren't only great jobs and crap jobs. Most jobs are just jobs. Period. You put in work, you get paid. It's not horrible, it's not always great fun either, but it's neither awesome nor crap.

This is what most people do for a living. If you call that "stagnating" or "crap", you missed out half the point of the post: that the majority of people don't live to work, they work to live. They don't expect to get any fulfillment out of their job, they get it out of their life outside of work.

The idea that you cannot expect to get much out of life if you only put in 40 hours a week is bullshit that reduces the majority of the population to drones who's happiness is irrelevant.

If you live your work life, say from when you're 25 to 65, working from 9 to 5 on something that you don't really care about but you do just to pay the bills, aren't those 75,000 hours of your life you flushed down the toilet?

That's almost half of your adult life, if you exclude sleep, that you throw away just so you can "enjoy" the other 8 hours a day you have. I personally have failed miserably to be happy with my life if my 8 hours of work a day sucked or were mediocre, I want all of my waking hours to have meaning. Not everybody has that luxury, but I feel it's something we should all strive for.

Tell that to the people cleaning after you in the office. The people picking up your trash or the millions of other jobs that pay the bill.

Now if we are only talking in the domain of information workers. There is still CRUD to be developed or the 1 millionth website designed or other boring business logic to be developed.

I got this questions many times if you win the lottery would you still be doing your job. Hell no and I love my job. But there are other things I enjoy even more...

Why do I have to compare my situation to that of a latin-american middle-aged lady that ran away from the crippling poverty of her country to pursue her version of the American dream? How does that put in perspective 300 grand I dumped into six years of education at two top 5 US institutions and years of experience at industry giants?

If I had unlimited money, I would still work in technology and with technology, I simply love learning and hacking too much. I would not be writing mindless Java CRUD though, unless perhaps if those were my customers and I somehow felt that someone's life somewhere will so greatly benefit from it that I HAVE to do it for their sake.

What a stereotyping. I think in America a lot of people have 2 jobs or maybe 3 jobs. They must be loving their job. America is the greatest and best country if have to dump 300 grand in education.

Luckily I can study at a university in Belgium that's one of the top 100 universities in the world for a fraction of that amount.

Actually If I had unlimited money I would do the same thing as what Bill Gates is doing now. It benefits people too and you don't have to do the work :D

If you live your work life, say from when you're 25 to 65, working from 9 to 5 on something that you don't really care about but you do just to pay the bills, aren't those 75,000 hours of your life you flushed down the toilet?

For most people, the alternative is to live in crippling poverty and/or starve. That 75,000 hours is the cost of survival. Do you think that the vast majority of people on earth are just ignorant of the fact that there are good jobs out there? Well thanks for alerting us! No one will ever clean a toilet again, now that you've shown us the light.

Sorry but I have to disagree. Thats a great philosophy for employer's to pitch and I suppose one that I might pitch to employees if I were employing them but is also in my experience a fallacy. Especially after working for a number of years and "rising through the ranks" jobs become "just" jobs - a decent way to receive a steady income and hopefully a way to enjoy and challenge yourself to a certain degree.

I'd argue that the jobs that expect work outside of 9-5 / 5 days per week have some of the worst 'returns' of any. I avoid them like the plague in that it usually signals something wrong with the company. My current job is strictly 9-5 and is one of the most rewarding and interesting jobs I've ever had.

I love my job, but I've been putting in 14 hour days nonstop for months now and I'm starting to get burned out. According to you, my job must be a crap job (or I'm a bad coder), otherwise I'd be loving all the overtime, right?

Those crap jobs are jobs that most people have to pay their bills. No everybody can live on Ramen noodles and the probability of success for a startup is fairly low. Honestly, anything that is not a startup is a crap job? Then once your startup actually gets off the ground, all your non-vested employees are basically working a crap job, right?

Most of us here are either involved in or want to be involved in a startup but that's not how it is for every programmer out there and we should remind ourselves of that.

I agree that if your own health and that of your family didn't depend on your employer liking you, true at-will employment would be a lot more realistic. Right now many people are afraid of rocking the boat too much or to stand up for themselves because in case they get fired they might go bankrupt in case of an accident (I think realistically it might not be as dramatic, I think COBRA retroactively applies to whatever issues you might have encountered in between real health care plans).

If your manager doesn't care about work-life balance and is perfectly happy with making you work 60+ hour weeks without any sort of compensation, be it in money or time-off, your best bet is to start looking for a different position, possibly at a different company. That way you at least do not lose health insurance.

In any case, yes, being afraid to lose your job because you don't know how to pay for a basic need such as being healthy is absurd in the First World.

What if you have a chronic illness that will never allow you to be "healthy" regardless of what lifestyle choices you make? Additionally COBRA allows you to pay the full unsubsidized cost of your insurance, not your normal subsidized premiums. As far as employer culture, that is something you really do not understand fully until you've been on the job for awhile. You could very well end up in a worse position than the one you left. You can't just say "I don't like it here, so I am going to go over there for awhile, if it doesn't work out then I'll come back'. No. It's a risk & the risk is your livelihood & possibly your health. All are reasons people don't just bail when the job starts going downhill.

I'd really like you to better define what you consider a "crap job".

What makes a crap job a crap job? I'd argue expectations beyond the scope of the work contract, and forced acceptance of unbecoming contracts due to lack of better options.

It really sounds, to me, like you're saying "unpaid overtime isn't the problem. Being treated badly is." So, yeah. Probably reading this wrong.

I used to work at a company that routinely worked people well over 40 hours/week. I left because I felt I was losing the best years of my life doing tedious projects, however I know a lot of people who stayed and who still work there. Its not like people don't know the situation. No one looks at routine 60 hour weeks and says 'yeah, this is about right'.

Everyone has their own reasons for staying, or for leaving. One big reason is the 120k yearly salary they make (in SF). But NONE of these people are slaves. Anyone who uses the term slaves loses all credibility. Feel free to call them sheeple all you want, but they're not slaves.

People need to learn from their own mistakes. You can't teach people lessons on a grand scale. Everyone needs to find their own career paths.

The biggest problem with employment is not that we need more regulation (no no no we dont), its that we have a culture where we view jobs as privileges rather than simply: me exchanging my time for your money. (as others have pointed out, health care issues are a big factor here)

A better term than "slave" is probably "golden handcuffs". You are trapped by what you are given, whether that's healthcare, salary, vesting, etc.

"For men fright at relinquishing their material goods, but shackle their time to others willingly."

This is a paraphrased quote from a weird version of the Stoic Philosophy of Seneca; I'm sure the correct quote is out there, but hopefully you get the point:

Your time is your most valuable asset. Dole it out like your employers (or clients, etc.) dole out their money: carefully.

I know people who'll complain about taxes, drive further to get to a cheaper gas station, order goods in bulk to save money, etc. all to save some cash. Rarely do these people have this diligence with the allotment of their time.

Be careful and cautious with how you use your time. View it as something being spent, and if higher dollars means less free hours then don't do it.

This philosophy, in my (albeit small amount of) experience, helps you avoid a lot of the issues OP brings up.

Be careful, people. Paper money can blow away in the wind but then be recouped fairly easily. The few seconds you spent reading this comment, for example? Permanently gone. Be wary of how you spend your time...

You should be paid to do a fixed amount of work (generate a certain amount of value for your employer), not work a fixed number of hours. If you can get that work done in 10 hours a week, everybody wins. If you need to work 70 hours a week to do that work, well, maybe you're not a good fit for the job.

How do you consider the factor "good work"? You can finish a job quickly, but it'll bite you (or a coworker) in the ass later, or you can do the job well, but take you longer.

As a programmer, I can't thing of a worse way of management than the former. You'd have to start defining criteria for "good work", and then spend tons of time reviewing. Nightmare.

^I'm inclined to agree with you. There's definitely NOT an economy of scale when it comes to developer productivity. Sure, my company has some guys making $60K a year, but they certainly get a lot less than half or a third as much as the senior-level folks. I've got a lot more to say on this, perhaps a blog entry is in order.

I haven't heard of a company that lets you idle even if you produce an average employee's week output in a day.

The 'fixed amount of work' only works one way. You need 70 h to do it? Stay long hours. You did it in 20 hours? Well great, we'll just pile more work on you.

For a big company at least, I feel that this is an ideal world solution rather than a real world one. The amount of hours tasks take are going to be really hard to estimate, meaning that your work hours will on part depend on the luck of tasks allocated. Also you will have plenty of people out to game this by setting low expectations of what can be achieved in the week and making those in less hours.

The problem with that is measuring the amount of value you generate. For some jobs that's easy, like sales - and those jobs typically do pay based on the value generated (ie. commission), at least in part. But for software development and other knowledge worker jobs it's just about impossible.

When I get paid to work I really care that the work I do is worth the money I am paid. That is, if I'm paid for 40 hours, I feel its important to give my employer 40 hours of good solid work. From time to time, I don't mind going above and beyond, things happen and sometimes it takes a significant effort to correct them, a bit of overtime is fine. But I strongly feel that any of those companies that pay people for 40 hours of work, but generally expect them to work 60 or 80 hours most weeks are abusing the relationship on their side. What they are looking for is a seriously large discount in labor costs. Unless there is some 'other' form of compensation that balances it out, then it is clearly abusive (and quickly leads to burnout, so they aren't even getting value for the hours worked).


I'm not a big fan of unionized work but it is worth mentioning that when developers agree to work in poor conditions like this it changes the social norm and negatively impacts the economics surrounding software development.

If 2 developers are working 60 hours a week they are essentially putting a third developer out of work. (I understand that studies show you can't be as productive over a certain number of hours but the principle remains the same) Unless there is a large pool of unemployed developers in the market this need for developer number 3 will in turn drive the cost for a developer up as the market will be more competitive. This is simply supply and demand at work.

The weakness in your argument is that developers are not fungible commodities in practice. You can't just hire a third developer in many cases so no one is being put out of work. For many companies (like mine) there are far more open positions than we can find qualified developers to fill them.

The reality in the market is that there is a shortage of developers, or at least developers with the talent and skill required. This is not an argument for working 60 hours per week, just that you can't solve that problem by hiring more developers. There are not enough good developers as it is.

I understand what your saying but if the need for developers truly outweighed the market the cost would continue to rise until an equilibrium is approached. In many areas as the cost goes up balance is found with outsourcing.

which is not all that common in this industry

In context, it sounds like he means "which is not uncommon in this industry."

I have noticed that the example you set when you start somewhere new is what is expected of you for the rest of your time at that company. To clarify, if you start a new job and work for free an extra 40 hours a week then you will forever be expected to do that.

I made the mistake of doing that to 'prove' myself and I ended up working very long hours at a place which I wasn't particularly fond of. The person sitting close to me worked exactly 8-5 from day one. Everybody knew he wouldn't be at work after 5 and they never expected it.

Sometimes the overtime is implicit in the rate. If you joint a sweatshop that pays 100K, you know going in that it's not $50/hour for 2000 hours, it's more like $40/hour for 2500 or $33.33 for 3000. It's not unpaid, it's built into the expectation.

The real question is, "How much do you want to work?" If you are a talented hacker, you can answer that however you want. If you are 21 and looking for someone to teach you a trade while paying a good wage in a tough job market, it is a more difficult choice.

All I want to know is: why do I have to work as many (unpaid) hours as necessary to get the job done, but I have to count the hours I take off?

This seems to be a cultural problem with the US. I agree with everything the author has said, but let me play devil's advocate: What is stopping a employee -- in a free market with specialized skills -- from adding a provision in his/her employment agreement for payment for hours worked >40 hrs/wk.

If the employer values you they will either tell you not to work more than the 40, or tell you when you can -- shifting the power to you.

There is no rule -- or should there be, about negotiating such terms.

Switching back, I think this should arrive more from our culture as it takes an assertive individual to do this as of now. I am a little hesitant to make such terms gov't mandated -- but I would like to hear arguments for it.

Whilst I agree with the general principle of not working yourself to death (nobody ever says on their death bed, 'I wish I'd spent more time in the office'), I think the author of this piece is missing something crucial.

I regularly work more than 40 hours a week, not because I have to, but because I want to learn. One day I'd like to go freelance or perhaps start up a business, but I need to skill up first. I'm lucky that I have a job in my chosen sector of mobile web development, something which pays me to learn about the technologies I am passionate about. I am seizing the opportunity to learn as much as possible so I can be in a position to just work when I want to in later life.

IMO the author is looking at this from an experienced point of view. Juniors and those starting out often have no choice but to work a little longer to get where they want to be in 20 years time. There's nothing wrong with that, surely?

Generally IMHO not paying overtime usually masks inefficiencies in your business. If someone is having to work 70-80 hour weeks to get the job done then something is messed up somewhere in your process.

Paying overtime is an easy way to spot these area as its immediately visible to any half brained manager.

The title is misleading.

[IANAL] In the United States, for a person in a salaried position, work week hours beyond 40 are not legally classified as overtime.

For salaried positions, the length of the workweek and compensation for additional hours are always subject to negotiation (for hourly positions compensation for overtime is also negotiable but cannot be less than the statutory minimums).

In my opinion, the author's analysis of economics entailed by salaried positions is rather naive. Hourly rate of pay is often less important than the monthly or weekly or yearly rate, i.e. cashflow is often the more important consideration. For example, if one's household maintenance is $10,000 per month, then monthly income, rather than hourly rate, is likely to be a more critical issue in regards to compensation.

Wow, that's a pretty disjoint rant. It boils down to this:

"I'd rather have a work and life balance that I can enjoy."

Which has nothing to do really with working overtime and everything to do about how you approach work and life. I think one could boil down the philosophy into 'if you're working too much and your balance is out of whack, then quit.' And it is quite reasonable. In the Bay Area families can be especially hard hit by people who over commit.

That being said, in spite of the Author's disdain for economics, the interrelationship between who is available to work, pay, and whether or not they are willing to stay, does 'fix' the problem magically.

There is no contract stipulation in my contract that says I might need to do overtime. The only mention of overtime is the fact that it is unpaid.

So I've never done it. I get in at 8:30am and leave at 5pm every day.

There doesn't have to be; if you're told to get X done before leaving the office, and 5pm rolls around with X undone, you can be fired. That's the nature of at-will employment.

That's really true And you are right about over hours. Why should I work more hours and receive money only for 40 hours a week? But sometimes(I mean my case) if you like your work and project and it is intereting to you to do this job, why not to work a little more for example, because sometimes you should finish task today - for your own purpose - not to forget smth. tomorrow. But I said that only for 1-or max 2 hours a day and only sometimes, and you can use this hours if you want for example leave work in friday earlier.

In Europe your health is not tied to your employment in any way.

This statement is just wrong. In Estonia, health insurance is subscription based, paid as a tax from your salary.

So you lose your health insurance when you lose your job? How is health insurance for unemployed people handled in Estonia?

i'm never a fan of these blanket statements such as "i won't work unpaid overtime". Some jobs are 35 hours, and some jobs are 70 hours. Some jobs pay 40k, and some jobs pay 200k. Who said that 40hr week is the holy and undisputed threshold everyone should abide by? Look at construction workers, some of them work from sun up to sun down, 6-7 days a week (i sure did when i was younger) and there is no such hour standard. Sure they are often paid on how much work gets done, but at the end of the month, many won't make more than someone with a good salary working in an office writing code. I am not trivializing writing code. that's what i do, and i often work 60-70hr weeks, and sometimes it's a stressful time. But i do get paid accordingly (not in overtime, but i consider my salary to be great), and i do get a lot more done than average person would in 40hrs. I guess if your employer tells you it will be 40hrs and it turns out to be 70, thats a problem. but in my experience most of the time you know exactly what you're getting into when accepting a job (besides occasional crunch times couple times a year).

If you hate your job and have no interest in the success of your company, good advice. If you love your job, there's nothing wrong doing it a bit more. I sometimes see myself work 12 hours a day just because I can't get my mind of a coding problem. And I sincerely hope the company I work for become successful.

Coming from a student, for those who might really enjoy the project they are working on and have a comfortable enough lifestyle to not worry about money, working more is its own reward. I am only paid for a maximum of 20 hours a week though I work more than that since I enjoy working.

Well explain to the your children that they can't get more food because daddy likes the work more over getting paid.

A bit harsh but understand that not all people live in the same context. Single, student, ...

I said for those who don't have to worry about money, from a student. But thanks for restating that.

This doesn't work when one works in a multi-national company. My colleagues in other locations will eat my lunch because they are less concerned about work/life balance and a lot more hungry.

That's when you work smarter, not harder.

I've found that the biggest benefit of working reasonable hours is that it gives you time & energy to self-reflect and look at your process as a whole. Most work processes have inefficiencies that can be eliminated if you look at the process as a whole. If you do that, you can easily accomplish more in 6 hours than your colleagues in other locations can in 12. That in turn gives you more time to invest in other process improvements and tools, which in turn let you accomplish still more, and so on.

My US colleagues are constantly doing overtime and working weekends but this seems like a cultural thing (which they'd like to impose on us) rather a specific fear for their jobs (though that definitely exists). And the jobs keep flowing to us in Ireland regardless (i.e., US vacancies are generally filled in Ireland). In my experience, those extra hours haven't amounted to any great advantages for them but, then again, they are paid about 3x as much as we are.

This is stupid. Why? Because you are getting legal advice from someone who isn't a lawyer. The spirit of his post is fine, but the reality, for a lot of people, is very different.


In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act, which defines all of this (and a lot more) has a ton of exemptions. Here's the exemptions for "Information Technology Professionals":


Notice that we are exempt from "Hours of Work", "Daily Rest Periods" and "Overtime" to name a few. This means that, aside from your employment contract, there are no laws that protect your right to refuse unpaid (or paid) overtime.

It's good thing you're not a lawyer because nothing he said violated the law or a contract. :) Unless I missed it, the only thing he discussed relating to laws was how other countries dealt with this sort of thing. Refusing to work unpaid hours is just fine, perhaps you will be fired, but it is definitely you're right but no boogeyman is going to come and lock you up for banging out mindless Java code to meet some unrealistic deadline.

First, he suggests that no one should work overtime, which isn't practical for people who can't afford to get fired. Second, he suggest that there's no benefit to working over time, while many would see keeping your job as a benefit.

I'm not sure if he realizes that refusal to work overtime can, in itself, be a reason to get fired, or if that consequence simply doesn't matter to him. Either way, saying that they shouldn't matter to any one else is incorrect.

Also, the entire health care angle is weird. Both Canada and UK have public health care, but both work a lot of overtime:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/4149835.stm http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Unpaid+overtime+grow...

It's only impractical in a poor job market. I take it you write code?

As a fellow Canadian, I have only one suggestion: get the fuck out of Canada. The market for programmers is piss poor, the selection of jobs anemic and mostly drudge-work monkeying. There are other geographies that offer much more interesting work, double-to-triple Canadian salaries, and a strong enough employment scene that nobody can hold much over your head, least of all fears of being on the street.

You sound like you're being bullied. Your employer is holding your basic survival over your head to get you to commit to unreasonable demands. I'd highly suggest turning this around.

I was in Canada for most of my life. I'm in Asia now. I agree, getting the heck out of Canada is a good idea.

None of this is about me. I just think the article really comes off quite sheltered..."I can do what I want and who cares if I get fired, so should you!"

> "I just think the article really comes off quite sheltered..."I can do what I want and who cares if I get fired, so should you!"

I don't see that sentiment in the post.

There are two takeaways for me from the post:

1 - You have more chips to play with than you know, particularly in this industry. We're not fighting over factory line work here, we're people with a highly coveted skill set that is (at least for now) at incredibly high demand world-wide. Abusive employers would like for you to believe that you have no choice but to submit, but in reality people in our line of work have an almost comically absurd number of options right now. If you are programming and dealing with this, you probably don't actually have to, and your fears of getting fired and unable to find other work are likely unfounded.

"You're going to get fired if you don't submit to my unreasonable demands, and you're lucky to have a job at all!" is usually a scam. Triply, quadruply true for our field.

2 - If you do find yourself in a position where your freedom to say "fuck you" to an abusive employer is compromised (no other jobs in the area, collapsing industry, etc), you need to get yourself away from that kill-zone as quickly as humanly possible. If you need to retrain your skillset, do so. This is a problem that will never correct itself, and you can get out. If you have high expenses that limit your savings rate, and thus your unemployment runway, do something about it. Your employment mobility is the negotiation leverage in this line of work, and you should never do anything to compromise this (like, say, take out an unwisely large mortgage).

First, he suggests that no one should work overtime, which isn't practical for people who can't afford to get fired. Second, he suggest that there's no benefit to working over time, while many would see keeping your job as a benefit.

Even if the employee receives proper benefits from those extra working hours (in Argentina, extra hours should be paid double what a regular hour costs), how is his point invalid? He's arguing that your life is worth much more than that. Near the end, he mentions people in China who have no option to refuse working extra hours, and yet that's wrong. It's wrong because those people SHOULD have an option to say no to being f over each day by their employers. Their lives are worth much more than those iPhones.

Of course, if you need to put food on your family's table and there's no other job on sight.. well, you'll do it no matter what. But it's not what we should strive for.

On the China point, while wages are lower, there are five factors related to total cost not often discussed.

Average 'fringe' in China, defined as social insurance paid to government, state pension, etc, averages 40% of salary for most employers like factories and BPOs. Total cost of employment per employee in China is more expensive than most of Asia.

Overtime of more than 36 hours per month for each employee is illegal in China, and the court always sides with the employee even on the scrappiest amount of evidence.

China makes up for this with awesome infrastructure reducing logistics costs a lot. Wage costs are only around 15% of total cost of production for a factory like Foxconn.

Some factories do not provide great conditions, but these are mainly small factories with no gloves when handling pollutants, etc. When I mention small factories, I mean a warehouse with wooden tables, anything with plant and scale is monitored closely. Monitored by the public with mobile phone cameras as much as by officials. There is a strong public backlash movement on the Chinese language internet and it is effective.

On glass vs. plastic... China can be incredibly agile especially when dealing with partners that are privately owned properly licensed companies which lack global levels of bureaucracy. Today, in my global multinational, I was requested for 3 directors' 'approvals' for the acquisition of 3 new IP phone sets, while another request which goes through another route which, for 50 desktop units and 100 screens, did not require any 'approval'. Do not discount baggage slowing things down.

Regardless of what is legal or not, you do have the right to seek another employer (if not, then you really are some sort of slave) and your employer is also free to either accept your employment terms or find somebody else.

So if you're valuable to the company enough that seeking a replacement costs a lot more, then the employer will probably accept that overtime is not an option and if not then you've got options to consider.

Employees should really learn to use capitalism to their advantage.

If there are no cost of overtime, I think the company lack a feedback on how well planning, estimation and execution do.

With no feedback there are less reason to change the company for the better.

If you don't like unpaid overtime, move to Massachusetts! Programmers aren't overtime-exempt here.

"Work hard and go home!" - Amen, amen, amen!

The culture of overwork in America in general (not just in IT) seems simply pathological, and I just don't understand it.

The crazy overtime that people in the medical profession are expected to put in is probably one of the most egregious examples, because lives could literally be lost as a consequence of errors made due to lack of sleep and overwork.

Lawyers are typically worked to death at law firms.

Wall St is famous for making people slave away virtually non-stop -- making work your life and having no life outside of work is quite common. Of course, big bonuses are promised -- and delivered to senior people -- but more junior people often aren't so lucky.

Even teachers, who many people think "have it so easy", actually spend a huge amount of time outside of school hours grading papers and making lesson plans. Their "long vacations" are also typically filled with work-related activities.

And don't even get me started on how low-wage employees and undocumented workers are typically treated.

It seems no matter where I look, people are working their assess off in America -- and suffering the consequences: burnout, a shitty life/work balance through which their families, friends, and their non-work lives suffer.

And for what? It's not like many of the companies these people work for couldn't afford to hire more people to reduce the workload to sane levels.

I'm really amazed at how highly skilled employees at prestigious law firms and Wall St firms are made to work like mad. Those firms could easily afford to hire more junior people to pick up some of the lower-level work -- but they don't.

As a result, a lot of these firms are like revolving doors, with people dropping like flies. The carrots of money are dangled in front of their faces, but otherwise the firms don't really seem to care about their employees -- and will often drop them without a second thought (even if business suffers as a result, which it often does).

And it's just so incredibly dangerous and downright unethical to make doctors and nurses work a crazy amount of overtime with little or no sleep.

Why is it so difficult for these companies to offer their employees a healthy life/work balance? Why is a big paycheck is supposed to solve everything? Why don't more companies offer their employees a healthy amount of time to sleep at night instead of just more cash?

Business will improve as productivity improves as a result (and business should know this well by now, as there have been tons of studies to show it). Employees and their families will be healthier and happier. Healthy and happy employees are clearly better employees, especially compared to the super-stressed near-burnout heart attack candidates that so many of these firms seem to prefer to cultivate.

Improving the life/work balance seems like a huge win-win situation for both employers and employees, and a no-brainer. What am I missing?

you get a bad deal when you negotiate without leverage.

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