I was working at a company that was extremely strict about ensuring that their employees were working between 8am and 5pm during the week, and I had taken a Friday and a Monday off to enjoy some much needed relaxation away from work. I returned on Tuesday morning to discover that there were multiple customer emergencies that had to be taken care of, and would require working extra hours to be able to coordinate addressing the issue with outside consultants with minimal impact to the customer’s business. It took a couple of days to resolve that issue, and the rest of the week to get all the customer issues back in order. In all, over that Tuesday and Wednesday, I logged over 30 hours, and assuming a standard 40 hour work week, I worked almost 50 hours in those 4 working days that week.
Looking at this true story, you might think that a one-time occurrence of this sort of work isn’t that big of a deal. You may even assume that working 50-60 hours per week on an ongoing basis is to be expected. However, there have been multiple studies that show that when employees work more than 40 hours per week on an extended basis, their performance suffers. In addition, the overwhelming majority of the hours worked that week were billable hours, directly paid for by the customer that was receiving the service, meaning the business reaped extra revenue above and beyond what having a regular full time employee work their normal week would bring in.
However, this was not just a one time occurrence, or something that happened very rarely throughout my time at the company. Instead, by the time I left the company, I was averaging 50 hour work weeks and at least once a month, sometimes even more often, would work a normal 50 hour work week only to have to work overnight on a Friday or Saturday night at a billable rate for the company of 3x my normal billable rate (because somehow it cost the company more to have us provide services after hours), yet never saw any difference in what I was paid for working those hours since I was a salaried employee at that point.
As Jason Fried puts it, businesses should expect their employees to work 40 hours per week as the standard. This particular company had been in business for more than 10 years at this point, and wasn’t something that was a second job to get something going, it was the main and only occupation for its employees. The number of hours of work expected of their employees is a sure sign that either the business model was failed, they charged too little for their products and services, or the leadership of the company was lacking.