I don't want to burn the midnight oil.
April 28, 2016 4:30 PM   Subscribe

How can I find a job that has a regular schedule and is limited to 40 hours per week max?

This question is a bit complicated because I might need to shift careers or what I do, and I am also planning to change cities within a couple months.

When I've worked full-time salaried positions at agencies, the schedule was unpredictable and long hours (evenings, weekends). However, most people that I know in NYC also work long , unpredictable hours and/or are on call, so I'm not certain if it is applies to a particular job/company, this city, or the current economy.

These subquestions below are all trying to answer the same question "how to I make sure that this is only 40 hours a week/without being on call", and I'm not sure which angle to try to do this. Again, this is confounded by the fact that I might need to shift the type of employer and plan to change cities:

What kind of questions can I ask before hiring or when I ask questions about jobs at a company (without scaring people away into thinking that I'm lazy or won't be a great employee, or whatever)?

Should I limit myself to temp jobs? I've never temped before, but my thoughts are that they would pay me by hour?

Or should I limit myself to contract jobs and also limit it by hour and say in advance that I can only work from X to X each day during the week? (I am contacted by recruiters frequently).

Because I plan to relocate, are there companies in Minneapolis/St. Paul MN or Portland, Oregon that are known to have reasonable limited hours and the employees are gone by 5?

Any suggestions for other types of jobs that would offer this flexibility? (Relevant background and interests in case I need qualifications there are jobs/companies that I don't know about that would provide a mutual "fit:): BA in biology (for all the biology stuff I'd prefer to say that it leans toward the medical side, not the ecology side), graduate degree in neuroscience; tons of writing experience (i.e. journal articles in neuroscience, oncology, or infectious diseases); I like doing diving deep into information and figuring things out; I do like biology and I've done various jobs related to the field for my entire life- but at the end of the day, if I can chuck it all for a job with limited fixed hours that doesn't require me to carry a cell phone at my hip, I'll do that.
posted by wonder twin powers activate form of a sock puppet to Work & Money (31 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I do business analytics stuff for tech companies, and I've worked at intense startup-y places with really long hours, and as I've gotten older and had a family, places with more reasonable schedules (like right now). I have had the luxury of having an in-demand skill set (and being good at what I do) in an in-demand field during a really good job market, and therefore the ability to be picky in choosing where I work.

That said: in every early round/phone interview I ask about work-life balance and about company culture. I've rejected some second-round interviews because of the answers to these questions. In later round interviews, I've been extremely direct with the hiring managers, saying something like "At this point in my life, work-life balance is very important to me. I'll come to the office and work hard when I'm there, but I need to go home at the end of the day and not check my emails. Is that something that would be a good fit here?" And I've mostly gotten honest answers to that. Unless the people hiring you are criminally bad at it, they're not going to tell you that's how it works if it doesn't and then hire you based on a lie if they know you're going to be a bad fit. (At only very terrible at hiring, they might lie to you, but then they probably won't offer you the job because you won't fit in. Which is fine).

I'm sure it's somewhat industry-specific, but I've found that the smaller/newer the company, IN GENERAL, the more likely the hours are longer, while at large, established companies (and companies with an older workforce), the hours are more 9-5. YMMV, of course, but that might help you with where to look.
posted by brainmouse at 4:42 PM on April 28, 2016 [17 favorites]

Don't make yourself available. Your employee handbook should spell out the work hours for your company. Arrive at start time, leave at go home time. Don't put your work email on your phone or personal computer. Don't answer work calls after 5. If you get called to task on the hours you're working, look bewildered and say "sorry, I was following my work hours as they're outlined in the handbook, was that incorrect?" If you get called out on not answering an after hours email, say "I'm uncomfortable with having client data (or whatever) on my personal cell phone so can't check it from home" or "I was with my family and didn't have time to sit at my computer until very late."

Rule one is that YOU are the first, best gatekeeper to respecting your work hours. Right from the beginning, keep your personal time completely work free. If people don't expect you to be available, they won't rely on you to be available. But if you start out all gung ho checking in at all hours, then any attempt at creating a work-life balance for yourself later is going to look like you're slacking off.
posted by phunniemee at 4:45 PM on April 28, 2016 [14 favorites]

Look for positions with the government, either local or federal. You're usually not ALLOWED to work more than 40 hours a week, or 8 hours a day.
posted by jabes at 4:49 PM on April 28, 2016 [25 favorites]

What others said about enforcing work-life balance: part of this means setting and respecting boundaries. Don't work outside of work or management will come to expect it.

That said, I can't speak personally of their corporate culture but I know of people who work for Medtronic (Minneapolis-St Paul) who stick to 40 hour weeks and have lives outside of work.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:52 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Find a job where no one cares about "passion" or your devotion to the mission or any bullshit like that. Where the work culture is "come in, do work, leave." A genuinely boring job that you are good at and can do, as opposed to a "fun" or "meaningful" job everyone wants. I work in NYC, make pretty okay money and work 35-45 hrs a week and the only time I check email outside of work is when I'm late in the morning. I prepare and file corporate documents all day.
posted by griphus at 4:59 PM on April 28, 2016 [18 favorites]

My husband works in IT which is infamous for over-working employees and constant on-call time. He's had jobs that were 70 hours per week with regular getting-woken-up-at-3am-by-his-phone stuff. He needed to get out of that.

What I suggest is:

"How many hours is typical for this job per week?"
"What is the work-life balance for this job?"
"Are there any times during the year where there is extra long hours?" (My job which claimed to be 40 hours didn't tell me about an annual event which left a lot of people working extra.)
"Is there any on-call for this position?"
(if so) "How is that managed?"

Now my husband works about 45 hours a week, it's flexible, he's secondary on call every 6 weeks and primary the week after (so primary on-call every 7 weeks or something.) On call is standard for his field but every 6/7 weeks is a great deal!
posted by Crystalinne at 5:01 PM on April 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

You might also consider looking into non-profits, to the extent there are any that need your skills. I personally don't know any non-profit bio companies, but there must be some. They usually have a much better work-life balance but also much lower pay, if that works for you.

I wouldn't temp. I think you'd be bored to tears.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 5:15 PM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just started as an assistant in an office. About 3/4 of the office gets up and goes right out the door at 5 and most of us can safely ignore work until we step back in the next day. The pay isn't amazing, but it's about what office assistants make, so it will be okay for a bit. My temp positions were both like this and not like this. Look for offices and companies with a very prompt type of routine. Insurance, tax preparers, lawyers, doctors, etc might be able to offer you something regular that you leave at the door. Reception or clerk positions. Intake workers.

edit: This is in NYC
posted by Fire at 5:17 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Government job or the post office.
posted by AugustWest at 5:23 PM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

They usually have a much better work-life balance but also much lower pay, if that works for you.

In my experience, non-profits were worse than corporate places about work/life because while the corporate places could at least try charm you with $$$ for a job with a shitty work/life balance, the non-profits just try to convince you unpaid overtime is part of the Grand Vision and all sorts of such nonsense.
posted by griphus at 5:30 PM on April 28, 2016 [22 favorites]

I work in a clerical, unionized position at a hospital. I go in 5 minutes before start time to get report and leave at finish time on the dot. In between shifts work doesn't even cross my mind. Union rules are awesome.
posted by unlapsing at 5:37 PM on April 28, 2016 [10 favorites]

You say you've worked long hours at agencies, which I take to mean ad agencies - correct?

Have you considered working for an in-house agency/creative department? The work is the same (though less glamorous), the clients are less demanding, and the hours and pay are good. That would be the first place I'd start looking.

Target is headquartered in Minneapolis.
posted by chestnut-haired-sunfish at 6:24 PM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Look for positions with the government, either local or federal.

Or state. Lots of state government jobs in St. Paul. I have one, I'm in a union, and 99 percent of my working days I stroll out of the office at five alongside my bosses.
posted by clavicle at 6:24 PM on April 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Banking, doctor's office, dentist's office. Academia?
posted by lunastellasol at 6:58 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Academia is the exact opposite of "limited to 40 hours a week max." But other government jobs are a good place to look.
posted by wintersweet at 7:32 PM on April 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

Yep, older companies work more-traditional hours. I code in NYC for a massive old-growth media company, and we work 35 hours a week – 10-6 with an hour for lunch. Personal and sick days are liberal, and some of my teammates work from home one day a week.
posted by nicwolff at 7:38 PM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

You might also consider looking into non-profits

I would steer well clear of non-profits. I'm trying to solve the exact same problem you are because nonprofit work is about to wreck me. Most of these places need to get two to three positions worth of work out of each single employee. It's only sustainable if you don't want a life of your own.
posted by EatTheWeak at 9:17 PM on April 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

Technical writing? I work in biotech, have worked in biologics and pharmaceutical manufacturing. We are always in need of technical writers. Their schedules are way more predictable than mine.
posted by kamikazegopher at 12:48 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nth government. Records management. I think lunastellasol might have meant university staff rather than being a prof, so any office or service that closes at a reasonable hour would be a good bet. Schools in general (staff, not teaching - though high school science teacher?) and really anything that closes by 5... My husband is a social worker in a high school and is effectively done when school gets out.

(Govt jobs can vary too - my boss works on business papers and has to attend Council meetings, which makes for periodic late nights; citizenship ceremonies are another one; lots of odd hours when we had elections, etc. I however work 8-4 without fail. My friend is an environmental scientist for the State and works regular hours too.)

Bakeries - early start, early finish.

This might partly be tied to pay. I'm sure I make less than you, but I have literally never had this problem.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:03 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Minneapolis/St Paul! Work for the University. They are absolutely great.
posted by odinsdream at 4:42 AM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have worked in government, private business, and non-profit industries. The only place I've ever gotten out on time, 95% of days, is where a union is present.
posted by scrittore at 6:24 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

On the flip side of some people's non-profit experiences, my job is currently at a non-profit and I enjoy a very healthy work-life balance. I come in at 8:30, get an hour for lunch, and leave at 4:30 and am under no obligation to do any work whatsoever after 4:30. I occasionally have a weekend event (three times per year), for which I get paid. I'm an hourly employee, so I clock in and out (via an online program) but if I'm expected to be at a work lunch or something, I'm on the clock. We get lots of holidays (it's a Catholic organization so we get a lot of Saint's days along with federal holidays) and I have a generous vacation allowance that I am expected to use; my boss just asked me yesterday why I haven't requested vacation for the summer yet.

Now, I don't get paid much, but my benefits are great and I really do get to leave work at work 99.9% of the time.
posted by cooker girl at 6:42 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I work with Odinsdream and might qualify that statement, many parts of the University of Minnesota are great, but some are not. Our center strives to be the best place at the U to work.
posted by advicepig at 7:47 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

As some others have said, every non-profit I've ever worked for (four or five at this point) averaged 50-80 hr work weeks and expected evening, weekend, and vacation email monitoring. That said, every organization is different. I'd ask for informational interviews with employees in departments you're interested in working in to find out.
posted by smirkette at 7:53 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Simple rule: The larger the organization and the less glamorous the work, the more likely the work/life balance will be OK. This holds at for-profits and non-profits, and for a variety of different sorts of occupations.

Unions help, too, of course - but they usually operate at larger organizations, anyhow.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:57 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

As others have said, government can be a good fit, depending on your actual duties, of course.

In my over 30 years with the Federal government, working for three different agencies, I have rarely been required to work overtime, although it is sometimes available as an option. Many offices even let you pick your own tour of duty, as long as it falls within core hours of 6am to 6pm. (My current schedule is 6am to 2:30pm with a 30 minute lunch.)

Many Federal offices are also encouraging and accommodating tele-work, allowing you to work some hours from home.

Getting hired into a Federal job can be an inscrutable process, but one thing I've always recommended to those interested is to apply for and take any job you can, even it it's not what you ultimately want to do, because many jobs are only available to current Federal employees.

The pay is decent, but not fantastic. The benefits are pretty good (although not the golden goose some people think). It's generally steady and stable but unglamorous.
posted by The Deej at 8:01 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm at the University of MN & the standard hours for most of the people I work with* are 7:45-4:30; all the offices in my area are dark and locked at 4:31 pm. The only people I know who work unusual hours are the ones involved with student support (because they have occasional special events in the evening or weekends), our event coordinator (who puts in extra time during State Fair and Green Expo), and people like the head of IT or Communications. If you're an hourly employee, it's hard (at least in my college) to get approval for any overtime.

* These include IT staff, administrative assistants, student advisors, etc. but not faculty/TA/researchers.
posted by belladonna at 8:03 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in software which is a whole other thing but maybe this will help: In some cases it's possible to stake out reasonable hours even in an environment that's not the norm. I used to work 80 hour weeks but I now do around 40, although I do some thinky stuff after hours and on weekends. Things that helped me:

* I moved from a startup to a more established company.
* I stated clearly in interviews that work-life balance was important and that I have to pick my kids up by 5:30.
* I get in early most of the time. Whatever the norm is, show up at least 15-30 minutes earlier. Not only is that the best time to get stuff done, but then if you leave at 5 people know you were there early :-)
* I avoid screwing around at work. 90 minute lunches? Nope. Facebook or doing random junk on my phone? Nope. Metafilter? Uh ... sometimes obviously. But in general I resist the things companies do to try to blur work and private life. Everything is focused around Getting S*** Done. So people at work think I'm Mr. Serious but I get to go home and play drums or do whatever I want.
* Read a couple of time management books. These will let you get way more done in less time. Obviously this implies you should find a job where they measure output and not attendance.
* If you do work outside normal hours, make sure it's to do the stuff you've been wanting to do. In my case it's making some cool Scrum presentation or drawing out some process on a notepad. Big picture stuff. But don't stay late just to do more grunt/tactical work. It's the big picture stuff that people remember (and that gets you promoted!).

Good luck!
posted by freecellwizard at 10:58 AM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

When I worked for an insurance company, most of the year, it was 40 hours and that was it. For three months a year, they asked people to work overtime. No overtime ever occurred on a Sunday.

They loved hiring people who had some kind of medical background. It helps enormously if someone is already knowledgeable about that piece.

That specific insurance company has offices in New York, though they moved the claims department out of New York. You can memail me if you want the name of the company.
posted by Michele in California at 11:10 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Work at a bank!
posted by oceanjesse at 8:41 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you to every person who answered this question. Collectively, between all the answers from very diverse types of jobs and experiences helped me arrive at an understanding and strategy.

I'm relieved that I asked the question because I was going to leave my field, and I've built tons of experience - but based on the advice of brainmouse, Crystalinne, and freecellwizard, I'm going to ask tough questions during the interview and before being hired. Also, based on the advice throughout this thread, I will add "Is there a union?" because apparently that means conditions are tolerable to great.

I'm also going to stick with my current field (and based on an answer here, Medtronic does have a job vacancy that is a good fit and is listed on their employment page) and concurrently apply for technical writing positions. I will also be open minded about university jobs (I was ambivalent because I left academia and that might cause academics and potential bosses to look at me sideways, but I can always throw in an application if a job looks like a good fit.)

I'll have "second-tier" type jobs that I will apply for if the others (above) don't work out. This will be gov jobs (city, state, federal) - just because it can take forever to get hired; non-profits, but only AFTER info interviews and tough questions during the interview; and health insurance companies (thanks for this tip, I didn't think of it.)

I was going to just go for "hourly" but I will rethink that strategy since more than one person in the thread pointed out that it probably will go along with a significantly lower salary.

I do appreciate the comments about training the employer, but trust me, for my field, they hand out phones and computers on day 1 (so I can't use that excuse) of employment, and fire people on the spot (anywhere from day 1 to when they push back).

If anyone has other thoughts or suggestions, please drop them in the thread or send me an email - I'll be monitoring and thinking about this for months. But this ask meta was definitely useful and helpful for me.
posted by wonder twin powers activate form of a sock puppet at 6:31 PM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

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