Eight hours means eight hours
June 9, 2009 7:08 PM   Subscribe

What's a good way of finding out a job is really going to be eight hours a day and usually not more before you take the job?

I'm considering looking for a new job. One of the things I most want in a new job is an eight-hour workday.

I always ask "How long is the typical workday?" in interviews, and the answer I've gotten from every job I've taken has always been some form of "It's usually an eight-hour day, but as you know, once in a while we hit crunch times in this industry (software), and then we have to stay late. But that's just a few times a year." At one job I took, this turned out to be true. At two others, it wasn't, and everyone ended up working 10-hour days (at the least) fairly regularly. At some points in my career, devoting 12-hour days for some project felt heroic, but right now, I can't afford to give away extra time. (For what it's worth, I don't think the interviewers were being consciously misrepresentative.)

It could be that this is just one of those things you have to gamble on when you take a job. If anyone has any tips on reliably getting the real deal on a company's workday without grilling the interviewers and seeming undesirably preoccupied with this issue, I'd love to hear them.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ask to meet with your future coworkers without management present and get the low down on all kinds of issues straight from them.
posted by Science! at 7:12 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

drive by some night and see how many cars are still there at 7 PM or so.
posted by Kellydamnit at 7:38 PM on June 9, 2009 [14 favorites]

It depends on the industry, but I've landed a few jobs through temping agencies. This meant I got to test-drive the job (and they got to see if I was a good fit) for at least a few weeks before the hiring process began. You can't anticipate all of the crunch time that might come up throughout the year, but you can get a sense of how long the workday is before you sign on.
posted by juliplease at 7:39 PM on June 9, 2009

If you can't figure out a professional way to do this, then you can call someone in the office at 7pm (or whatever time would be clearly beyond an 8 hour workday) and see if they pick up. If someone answers, say "Sorry, wrong number." If you are afraid the person will know your voice, have a friend do it. You should probably use a pay phone (is there still such a thing) or at least a phone that can't be traced back to you since you should assume the phone has caller ID.

If the parking lot is visible or the windows are clearly lit at nighttime, driving by is always an option, too. (on preview, what Kellydamnit said).
posted by gatorae at 7:40 PM on June 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Easy: become a consultant, and get paid by the hour. Yes, occasionally you'll work more hours, but you'll get paid (straight time, not O/T) for them, which also incentivizes the client to not do that too often.
posted by orthogonality at 7:55 PM on June 9, 2009

Ask them about their project and planning structure and how that has typically worked for them. What have been their historic pain points? Where does deadline pressure come from e.g. fixed legal requirements imposed by government or logical market deadline (TurboTax for next fiscal has to be ready on a certain date) or internal powerplays or something else.
posted by mmascolino at 8:15 PM on June 9, 2009

If they offer you the job, then you should ask to talk to the other people in your position without management around. (As Science! suggests.)

The other thing you can do is what I did. When you get the job, you show up at 0900 on the dot, and leave at 1730 on the dot. Just do it. If they ask where you're going, you say, "Home. It's quittin' time." If they give you shit about not staying late, you say, "I'm sorry, I negotiated a salary with you based on your assurances that work days were eight hours long. If you'd like to renegotiate the workday, we can discuss renegotiating my salary."

One trick for making sure this sticks is either intentionally planning things for right after work, or just making shit up. 9 times out of 10, when I was asked to work outside working hours, I told them I had plans. Appear to have a busy social life, and it becomes harder for them to spring this kind of shit on you.

Now, I made an exception when my boss asked in advance for extra time and specified a reasonable duration for crunch time. For instance, "Could you stay late this week so we can get this done on time?" usually got my boss, "Yeah, I can do that. Every day except Thursday, and I can only stay one hour late on Friday." (See the above point about the appearance of a social life.) I also made sure that these requests were tied to actual deliverables and not just to an appearance of industriousness. If he couldn't give me a specific task that needed done so desperately, well, I have a very busy social life.

Please note that this only works if you're an above-average producer. I generated more useful code in my 8 hours a day than most of my coworkers did in their ten hour days. If my productivity had fallen below the average, I seriously doubt my boss would have put up with my shit.

Oh, and the CEO wanted to fire me the whole time. But, that shit started the moment he saw me: he didn't like my nosering.

Easy: become a consultant, and get paid by the hour. Yes, occasionally you'll work more hours, but you'll get paid (straight time, not O/T) for them, which also incentivizes the client to not do that too often.

This is a good option, but also carries with it the downside of lower job stability, no benefits, and (at least in some locales) a strictly temporary period of work. The two contractors at my last real job, after 18 months, were forced to join up as salaried employees, quit, or form a corporation to evade the laws.
posted by Netzapper at 8:36 PM on June 9, 2009

In your interview, was it just you and a manager/HR person, or were there a bunch of people there? Pick the lowest-level, coolest-looking person from the interview room and privately call or email that person. Ask about the work environment in general and ask specifically about hours. Make it so that if, in the worst case, the employee showed the email to your interviewers, it'd just look like you were doing benign research. Say things like "seems like a great fit so far, and I just wanted to hear what it's like in your experience" and "just to get an idea of my general schedule for the next few months, what are your usual hours?"

Some companies wouldn't like it if they found out you had done this. It's up to you to make that judgment. But I think most software companies, and certainly most of the ones you'd _want_ to work for, would be OK with and actually appreciate this kind of research.
posted by jbb7 at 9:41 PM on June 9, 2009

Assuming you're at the stage where you've received an offer, ask for a company tour. On this tour, make sure that you meet a good range of junior, middle and senior employees. Ask every single one of them if they have kids.

I've worked in a few companies, and I've found the with-child/childless ratio to be the most reliable predictor of how many hours beyond the 40/week that the company will try to squeeze out of you.
posted by randomstriker at 11:21 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Based on my observations in various workplaces (mostly as a freelancer), if you're good (and confident) you can simply leave on time almost every day. Yes, it can feel awkward and some unreasonable bosses won't tolerate it, but it's all about setting expectations right from the start.

The people slogging away for a couple of extra hours every day really don't get more respect and gratitude, if anything they seem to get taken for granted and put under more pressure.

So definitely try to get as much information up front, but also consider your own behaviour and approach to this issue.
posted by malevolent at 12:35 AM on June 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

It's a good question. I've had the same experience.

So far, the best suggestion I've heard here is to check the parking lot after hours. The rest are good but don't necessarily take into account the software business. I'd suggest asking some of the people you interview what time they start in the morning, and the rest of the peple what time they finish at night. This gives you a wide sample and will let you figure out your typical work day without necessarily asking anyone how long the workday is (to which they will always give the pat answer you noted in your question).
posted by chairface at 4:24 AM on June 10, 2009

These are all good suggestions, but I think the best way to get a true answer is to negotiate for overtime pay when you go over 40 hours a week. If they hem, haw and sputter, you've got a pretty good idea that they are expecting you to work more than 40.
posted by gjc at 4:27 AM on June 10, 2009

It's usually been pretty obvious at the interviews, for me. Ask what the "work environment" is like (especially if they have employees including managers interviewing you) and you can usually suss out how late you'll be there. From my experiences:

long days - "It can be a tough environment sometimes, but the work is really rewarding!"

normal days - my (then-future) boss told me flat out, "If you need to work more than eight hours a day, you're not doing something right."

In addition, I get the impression that smaller companies tend to push their employees a little bit harder because of the smaller talent pool and tighter budgets all around.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:52 AM on June 10, 2009

In addition to asking current employees, one strategy is to look on sites like LinkedIn and find recent past employees. There is a chance that they were let go for performance reasons and will give you a skewed view, but sometimes you can get very valuable information from the recent departees.
posted by genefinder at 5:51 AM on June 10, 2009

Driving by the place in the evening will tell you who's on site that late, but does your concern about the length of your workday include time you might spend working remotely? I'm not really sure how to suss this info out. I've obviously failed to ask the right questions about this myself, since I've had jobs where the job descriptions didn't explicit indicate I was on call 24/7 ended up being that way anyway.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:20 AM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

In my last position, the interviewer (who was also my boss-to-be) told me "occasionally, we have voluntary overtime" knowing full well he was not being honest.

this turned out true.. occasionally it was voluntary. however, for the other 6weeks out of every quarter, it was mandatory.

in 2007 i worked more 10 hour days than are in the high school year.

i dont miss that job.
posted by phritosan at 11:12 AM on June 10, 2009

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