Is this level of expectation from work normal?
November 11, 2018 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I work at a smallish (~50 people) manufacturing facility in a professional level job. (In the South in the US.) I’ve been here for almost 10 years and this was my first job out of college so I don’t really have much to compare it to. I’m trying to figure out if the work expectations are normal or unusual. Due to them, plus a few other factors, I’m looking for another job, and I am concerned about jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

- I am considered an “expert” at the company in a few topics, and especially lately, I’ve been getting phone calls in the middle of the night to help with those topics. The frequency varies. I do know that there are other people that probably get multiple phone calls most nights in their own topics.
- I and a few other people have been requested to come in to work with very short notice to take care of something at night/weekend (while working a 9-5 schedule).
- Some people will work for 10-12 hours at the office, and then probably most of evening at home.
- There is an expectation of always keeping up with emails, and I’ve turned into a person that’s always checking their phone even when I’m home.
The company has grown and I’ve also grown within the company, so I don’t know how much of this has always been this way and I’m just noticing as I’ve risen in job titles.
Could you please let me know whether these are normal expectations and what red flags to look for when interviewing. I am fine with a quick check at emails when I’m not at work, but I would like to have my nights/weekends be mine other than emergency situations.
Thanks for any insights!
posted by ReadNTravel to Work & Money (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It isn't normal for companies that say they value work/life balance. I have never been expected to be "on" or perpetually available like that. That tells me the company culture doesn't allow for personal boundaries. Perhaps it is more normal in certain industries.
posted by crunchy potato at 5:35 PM on November 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

The biggest red flag is phone calls in the middle of the night. There are jobs where being on call for >24hrs is part of the job description, but the "on call" duty is for a defined period of time, like 1 specific day a week or something.

And it's usually for something pretty important, too. Sometimes in the tech world, an employee will go "on call" to deal with outages that can cost the company millions of dollars. Or doctors go on call because they might be needed to save someone's life.

What's the worst thing that would happen if you didn't pick up the phone? If somebody might die or it might cost somebody a million dollars, maybe this is reasonable, although really the "on call" duty should be scheduled in advance and shared by many people. If the consequences are not severe, it strikes me as shockingly abusive and unreasonable.

The rest seems like it's just on the extra-bad end of bad work culture. I don't know about your specific industry but the vast majority of jobs are not like that.
posted by vogon_poet at 5:38 PM on November 11, 2018 [25 favorites]

I'm the safety manager for a 300-person company. I have a company cell phone, and give that number out freely because if a serious accident or fire happens on 2nd or 3rd shift, I want to know about it immediately, not when I come in the next morning. I've been there since May, and have been called after-hours exactly twice - once when my boss had a question he needed an immediate answer to, and once when there was a serious accident that involved sending someone to the emergency room.

I also use the phone to keep up with emails.

The thing is, both of those are my choice.

This does not sound normal to me, especially not the phone calls.
posted by Fig at 5:44 PM on November 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Also in some companies, "exempt" status matters. People who are exempt are usually salaried, and "exempt" means exempt from being paid overtime. Being exempt means that your manager can change our job description/job duties to something general like "other duties as required" and then require that you take midnight, emergency calls about things you are expert in.

I agree otherwise with crunchy potato's and vogon_poet's remarks on "on"/"on call", and agree also with vogon_poet's remark about how "on call" is usually a shared duty. For 8 years I had a systems engineering (a senior title) where we had an on call rotation - 3 engineers switched, each week, on call duties, during which we did as much flex time awards and so on as possible, as well as focused very much on reducing conditions that would trigger on call pages and midnight calls.

I think in general, smart companies and managers realize that having employees who didn't agree to it on call can burn them out, so they come up with ways to reduce burnout, assuming they want to keep these smart, experienced, senior employees. If your manager/company is not showing signs of being willing to work with you and instead seems to be ignoring concern about that, definitely do look for a better situation.

And if they give you an exit interview, definitely do bring up why.
posted by kalessin at 5:45 PM on November 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

How many raises have you had in ten years? This is not normal regardless; time to move on.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 5:46 PM on November 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Honestly this is one of those where the important thing to know is how much money you make. If you are making well up into you regions income distribution (some adjustment for age assuming some known comp path as well) then this is pretty normal. Maybe excepting the weekend emergencies depending on how often they occur.
posted by JPD at 5:47 PM on November 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

but the "on call" duty is for a defined period of time, like 1 specific day a week or something.

My sister works in a place where someone needs to be "on call" for safety/security reasons. On call is a very specific thing where she works, there is a schedule of who is on (and who is off) and you GET PAID if, when on call, anything at all happens. Have to take a phone call? That's two hours paid time, minimum, right there. Have to go in to the office? Four hours, minimum. I don't know if the stuff you are getting called on is safety/security/critical stuff or if it's just "Mary from the late shift has a question about a thing a machine is doing" but it seems like this is a part of the job that could be clarified, like a lot.

If it were me, I'd start slowly pushing back on this in terms of boundaries. Just start turning your ringer off at night (and have an option for emergencies maybe) and let people get used to the new normal. Same with emails. I've definitely been in places where there was the assumption that people would always be reading emails, but sometimes it was important for someone higher up in the company *(maybe you are in that role) to push back on that a little. You can always "white lie" it somewhat "Hey being effectively on call over the weekends is affecting my marriage so I am going to have my phone off and not check emails after Friday at 6 pm" and see what the response is. A healthy workplace would deal with this or at least see it as a wake-up call to do things differently. An unhealthy workplace will badger and pressure you to keep being more attached to the job than you are to your relationship.

But it's worth knowing you'll have to do some of this too. I've also worked in places where *I* felt like I needed to be on top of email (for customers' sake, for example) but that was not my workplace's feeling. They'd be happy just not getting back to people for a few days. I felt weird about it. And that was my issue not theirs. So worth spending a little time thinking that aspect through, but yeah what you are describing does not sound normal.
posted by jessamyn at 5:47 PM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Those things are "normal" in companies that allow them to be normal, and they're definitely red flags. As someone else touched on already - unless you're getting paid big bucks, then you shouldn't be fielding phone calls in the middle of the night. (If your title starts with "Chief Executive" something or "President" or "General Manager" then yeah, and if you're in the high six figures or seven figures, sure.)

Firstly, if my manager calls me in the middle of the night, she'll get my voice mail. Not specifically her - my phone is on do not disturb between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. and unless you're one of about four people, you can wait until I'm awake.* (Honestly, if you call me for an unscheduled chat at 11 a.m. you'll get voicemail too - I'm really bad about taking my phone off do not disturb...)

If your job actually requires that level of interruptability then it should be with some clear rules of engagement about who can call, how they reach you, and when & why you are to be called.

This is normal at your company because it's small enough that culture has thrived and, I'm guessing, those who saw it for the problem it is have left.

I work for a large software company and it's not abnormal for people to check email or work outside 9-5 hours, but then again - it's not unusual to say "hey, taking my car to the shop but call me if you need anything" during those hours. It's give and take on salaried work. I'll pull long weeks occasionally but then I don't feel guilty about bugging out early on a Friday, for example. But if it's all take, then hell no.

During interviews definitely ask what sort of off hours commitments are expected and avoid the jobs that require middle-of-the-night calls unless there's very good compensation, and you're the type of person who can get back to sleep.

*When I was in my early 20s I worked 2nd & 3rd shifts a lot, and my parents would insist on calling me at 9:30 or so "because we know you're home." I finally started turning off the ringer, and my mother complained "but what if somebody's dead or in the hospital?" My response was, "I'm not a doctor so there's damn little I can do to help. If they're dead, they'll still be dead when I wake up and I'll probably be glad for the sleep."
posted by jzb at 6:02 PM on November 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

I worked for two years at a business that wanted all my time. They strongly valued in-office time of at least 8am-7pm (despite listing their hours as 8-5 or 9-6), then on-call all night every night. It was very stressful and in many ways a poor use of my time. I was paid all right but not beaucoup bucks.

I am now in a completely different industry, and there is an expectation that you are at least occasionally checking emails in the evenings and over the weekend and responding, but there's much more autonomy in general and less in-office time and there's not the same type of on call nature to this work which is much less stressful for me.

I think if the type of work culture regarding connectedness, on call, in-office time, etc. is important to you (and it's important to me), you should ask clear questions about it when the time comes in the interview. Nothing that makes you look like you have a chip on your shoulder about it, but something along the lines of, "How would you describe the office culture regarding working or checking email in the evenings and on weekends? Is there an expectation of that in general or specifically regarding this role?" Although to be honest, I don't know that the first place would've been completely honest about its demands, so networking/googling to see if you can get intel is also an option you might want to pursue.
posted by vegartanipla at 6:05 PM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

How many raises have you had in ten years?

I was curious about this too. First job and long time at a job is a recipe for being severely underpaid.

Keep that in mind when negotiating pay at a new position. Don't let anyone base it off if what you make now, and if you can do so, don't even tell them that number.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:20 PM on November 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

I worked on Wall Street. I got paid enough where this was the norm. There were times I would make clear that I was not available. Then I would not answer.

I think there are two really important factors to consider. One, is how easily are you replaced. Most people are easily replaceable. They may think they are critical, but pretty much everyone is replaceable. How easily is critical. Two, how easily can you find a job that meets your needs. It is easy to generalize and say this is not normal, but you work in a specific job, not a general one. I do not know your specific role or expertise. It could be that if you are looking for a similar job, you will find similar conditions.

I would first work with my boss to define your role, your obligations and your compensation. If you are not satisfied with that, then look for another job.
posted by AugustWest at 8:03 PM on November 11, 2018

Some answers/comments
This is a 24/7 manufacturing facility, although my specific job is technically M-F 9-5. The result of not answering the phone calls (other than someone else getting the phone call) could be manufacturing either not able to continue or not being able to ship to customers. Many of the phone calls have been either due to someone making a mistake or deciding that it was easier to call me than try to think things through for themselves.
The requests to come in are often due to poor planning or possibly due to thinking it was normal. There are a couple of other people that have also been called in for this same reason and they are also unhappy with it. When I brought up problem to the person in charge of that section, they didn’t seem to think it was a major problem (“It needs to be done…”, plus they’re one of the worst in having their own work/life balance). I am working to make that specific situation hopefully not happen again. I know that reading emails is expected since those requests to come in have been handled over email. (including a late evening email requesting that someone come in 3 hours later.) Other urgent decisions are also requested through email.
I think I’ve had about 4 raises, although generally not large, even with a change in title. I do think I am underpaid since I know someone with a similar job to me and at one point they earned slightly below me and now earn significantly more. I was just at a point that I was comfortable and didn’t want change. Since I’ve been here for so long, I also feel a sense of loyalty. But I realized that they’re not really giving that same loyalty to me with all of this.
posted by ReadNTravel at 8:05 PM on November 11, 2018

You're being taken advantage of, full stop. Find another job that doesn't consume your free time like this.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:07 PM on November 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

I've had jobs like this but they paid at least $200K/year. (And, in retrospect, that was probably not enough.) If you are not getting paid along those lines, this is not reasonable.
posted by praemunire at 8:35 PM on November 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

But I realized that they’re not really giving that same loyalty to me with all of this.


Leave. You will have a 10-year job on your resume and if you finished your undergrad in your twenties, then you're still young enough to be extremely marketable (unfortunately, ageism is a thing). This means you can negotiate not only salary but also the terms of your work schedule. It will be better elsewhere. Oftentimes, people only get paid what they're worth at the start of a new job when they have negotiation power. Pay raises don't always compensate for the extra work or increase in living costs.
posted by acidnova at 8:41 PM on November 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

So.... what you're saying is that you're working 168 hours a week. And you want to know if you should be working 168 hours a week. And if it's normal to be working 168 hours a week.

Stop working 168 hours a week.

Go work somewhere that lets you work less than 50 hours a week.

And make them give you more money than you're earning now, because you're obviously dedicated and conscientious.

But seriously, be dedicated and conscientious for fewer than 50 hours a week.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 9:06 PM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is a 24/7 manufacturing facility, [ . . .] The result of not answering the phone calls (other than someone else getting the phone call) could be manufacturing either not able to continue or not being able to ship to customers. Many of the phone calls have been either due to someone making a mistake or deciding that it was easier to call me than try to think things through for themselves.

WHOA WHOA WHOA. THERE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE PEOPLE HIRED TO BE THERE ON SITE 24/7 WHOSE JOB IT IS TO FIGURE THESE THINGS OUT. Seriously. I mean, sorry about yelling, but that's a BIG red flag right there - possibly dangerous, possibly even illegal. Every shift of a manufacturing plant is supposed to have a shift supervisor or shift manager or somebody there every hour the place is in operation to take charge of exactly these kind of problems. Apparently your company has refused to hire actual supervisors/managers so things have just defaulted to "I dunno, call ReadNTravel . . . ."

This is not normal. Companies are supposed to have processes and procedures and personnel in place to deal with these sorts of problems. The fact that your company doesn't is actually really worrisome. You're not just "on call", you're de facto working a second job because your company hasn't bothered to hire anyone to actually do the job the correct way.

[Source: I have a good friend who has spent her entire career in engineering & management in various manufacturing facilities and while she occasionally has to email in off hours because clients/suppliers are in different time zones, she gets calls in the middle of the night or called to come in last minute only in actual emergencies; like, "THINGS ARE ON FIRE!!" or "Three entire lines are shut down because broken stuff, we can't get parts til Monday, someone smart has to come in to figure out a workaround and/or someone higher up the ladder has to sign off on altering the production schedule." And even the second one tends to be more "Thing she has to deal with on Monday" rather than "I'm calling you at 3 am Saturday."]
posted by soundguy99 at 9:35 PM on November 11, 2018 [27 favorites]

Depends on salary and if the expectations of the position are clearly outlined.
posted by tgrundke at 3:57 AM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I do M-F 9-5 but am "on call" 24/7 because I have equity in the company.

You're an expert, but apparently not unique - there should be an expert with your domain knowledge assigned to each of the shifts. If they can't resolve their problem during their shift, it's on them.
posted by porpoise at 10:42 AM on November 12, 2018

The result of not answering the phone calls (other than someone else getting the phone call) could be manufacturing either not able to continue or not being able to ship to customers. Many of the phone calls have been either due to someone making a mistake or deciding that it was easier to call me than try to think things through for themselves.

Sounds like having someone answer these calls who has your knowledge is pretty valuable to the company.


They don't pay for this, so your time is being valued at $0. That's how much they're willing to pay for your on call time.

The frequency of these calls will increase because you are doing free work, and there is nothing more appealing to companies than free work. (In the short term. In the long term, they are driving away people like you who have the nerve to try to limit their work hours.)

Going forward, consider applying for jobs in your field. This will give you a sense of your value in the marketplace. You already have a job, so you're not applying from a position of weakness.

Sit down with your supervisor. If this is an expectation of your job, then ask what the terms and pay are for it. Get a hold of your employment contract and see if this is already in there. Sit down, informally with the others who are getting these calls. It may be time to go to senior management and get a policy written for these calls.
posted by thenormshow at 11:00 AM on November 12, 2018

I want to know about it immediately, not when I come in the next morning.

Same as Fig. It's an expectation as you rise in the levels that "working hours" is not a thing when it matters. Someone who resents that probably isn't the right person for the job, frankly. Someone who refuses to answer the phone "after hours" is going to be asked to find a job they like better.

With *that* said, I also only get calls rarely and only check email if I want to. That's because I have developed my people into capable stand-ins when I'm not there and I only have a small list of "call me immediately if" items. I have a good relationship with my back-shift contacts. Most things they can handle. If my span of control starts getting out of hand I either delegate more or talk to my boss about a more reasonable division of responsibilities. You can continue answering the phone, while also working to reduce the need for that. Take charge of your own destiny - being personally necessary 24/7 is a sign of not-great management, and some of that is on your part.
posted by ctmf at 11:35 AM on November 12, 2018

And sometimes, (more or less rarely, as I get better at this,) despite my best effort, a project is struggling and shit's hitting the fan, and I just need to give them more personal love for a while. I know that's temporary, until I get them back on track. I consider that my deficiency of management to fix and it's just part of the job.

I don't know if this is helping any, except to say, your place isn't the only place that will sometimes expect things out of you when you're not "on the clock", but you can get good at making that a rare event.
posted by ctmf at 11:55 AM on November 12, 2018

Thank you for the responses. It was good to see that it doesn't have to be this way.

I am looking for another job, but in the meantime, I will see what I can do in terms of resources and training to minimize this sort of un-balance both for me and other employees. Unfortunately, this expectation seems to come from the top, so I don't see the work culture changing too much.
posted by ReadNTravel at 2:44 PM on November 12, 2018

As an update, I found a new job, and will be starting it soon!
posted by ReadNTravel at 8:08 AM on January 26 [7 favorites]

Yay! And congrats.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:45 PM on January 26

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