Many IT professionals feel overworked

Are you working too much? If so, what can you do about it?

Full-time professional workers are generally not eligible for overtime pay. The theory is that they’re paid to get a job done, not to work a certain number of hours per week. This attitude isn’t all bad: it can facilitate flexible work schedules, for example. And a number of IT professionals say they enjoy their jobs so much that they don’t even notice the extra hours.

However, some dedicated professionals believe companies are taking advantage of them by essentially requiring them to do more than one full-time job for one full-time salary.

“After working for a couple of large companies that expected their staff to work unpaid overtime while simultaneously giving their CEOs seven-figure bonuses – [and] which lost money and laid off employees – I’m now pretty militant about [overtime],” one IT professional said. “My stance now is that my compensation covers a standard 40-hour work week. If the company wants more of my time, they have to pay for it. Some folks have responded that, ‘You’re a professional: you’re supposed to work overtime as a matter of course.’ My response is ‘Yes, I’m a professional. That means I get paid for what I do.'”

What sort of response has this received?

“This has ruffled more than a few feathers, I’m sorry to say,” the It professional said. “I worry that we in the computer industry have made it possible for employers to overwork us (and thus keep head count and salaries down) by accepting 60-hour work weeks as a de facto standard. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I do know that I’ve decided not to play that game anymore. My time is far too precious.”

Citing a 60-hour work week as the “de facto standard” for the entire IT industry may not be entirely accurate, but it’s not too far off the mark. Senior managers who filled out a recent IDG News Service survey said they work an average of 52.2 hours per week; the average work week for middle managers was 48.6 hours, and for staff members, 45.9 hours.

But some respondents, particularly at high levels, did report work weeks like the one complained about above. Approximately 30 per cent of senior managers reported working 60 hours per week or more, as did about 15 per cent of middle managers, and five per cent of staff-level employees.

Even 50 hours per week is significantly more than a standard work week. More than 40 per cent of senior managers in the survey reported working between 50 and 60 hours per week, as did about one-third of middle managers, and one-quarter of staff members.

In addition to all these hours – for which the vast majority of respondents said they never get additional monetary compensation (although some of them said they get compensatory time off) – more than 60 per cent said they are on call after work. And, almost none of them reported getting any additional compensation for this.

So are IT professionals allowing companies to take advantage of them, or does this simply reflect an overall trend in companies?

The answer may be a bit of both. According to a 1997 study by the Families and Work Institute in New York, the average employee spends about 44 hours per week working. One-third of employees bring work home at least once a week, and the number of employees who would like to work fewer hours has increased by 17 per cent in the past 20 years.

Although many workers are feeling pressure to work longer hours, the trend seems even more pronounced in IT. Some of those who responded to the survey emphasized they choose to work the hours they do and that they have been rewarded for it in promotions and raises, if not in pay per hour. But other people worry about the psychological effects of these long hours on the workplace as a whole. If you work “only” 45 hours per week while your colleagues put in 55, will you be left behind?