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I work for a small company, where we recently had a change of managers. The new manager has no experience managing developers, and the old manager has moved into a development role to fill in gaps left by senior developers leaving the company and being unable to find replacements.

I was recently pulled aside, because I tend to only be in the office for 6-7 hours, or go out to run errands in the middle of the day, when my work doesn't require collaboration with other developers and I'm not behind schedule. I was asked to be present in the office for 8 hours, for no reason other than that my absence may make other employees think that they can step out for a while or work shorter days, as well.

I believe he also pulled aside another senior developer and told them the same thing, which bothers me, because this developer is less understanding and I don't think the company can continue if he were to leave.

The reality is that any of our senior developers can walk out the door and have a new job with as much as 30-40% higher pay within a week. Most of us are only staying here for the casual environment, and being able to mix personal time into our work days.

How can I let this manager know that he isn't in a position to have any expectations of us, beyond that we produce quality software according to schedule? I'm having trouble figuring out how I can convey this without coming off as a douche, or being threatening.

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I'd just like to point out that you're going to come off as threatening when you are in essence - making a threat. –  Telastyn Jan 16 at 2:48
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You are correct; it is threatening, but I want to convey it in a less hostile manner. The manager needs to realize that his job is to enable the developers to work efficiently, and he isn't in a position that holds any power over them. The alternative is having him removed before he can cause any harm, which I don't think is the best approach. –  guest11783 Jan 16 at 3:06
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If you did work 8 hours a day, would you run out of things to do? –  thursdaysgeek Jan 16 at 19:14
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What does "to schedule" mean, in your workplace? It affects the answer because if moving you from a 6 hour day to an 8 hour day allows your employer to be more competitive on deadlines, then they have a clear rational motive beyond "not understanding developers" to want you to work an 8 hour day. Would it help if the manager gave you 30% more work with the same deadlines as before, thus achieving the goal of keeping you in the office but in a way that you're still "just" being asked to complete on schedule, not being asked to fill a seat as an example to others? –  Steve Jessop Jan 19 at 1:49
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Having good developers is a privilege? Nooo. You work for them, they pay you to do so. Start with that as a basis and work from there. Things will become clearer for you. Everybody, to include you, can always be replaced. These days, you can do so very quickly. There's a bunch of people in Redmond Washington, available. New people in a company bring fresh ideas and a new suite of experience and capability. Someone must have at one time treated you like a rare treasure, because that's apparently what motivates you. Understand that it was a just that, a method of motivating you, not a blessing. –  System 360 Jul 25 at 15:06

19 Answers 19

Your manager's job is to manage you. You want to tell your manager that you will leave if he tries. This is going to be an adversarial discussion no matter what. If you want to get the point across without giving him an ultimatum, first you need to understand his reasoning, and then you need to gently explain yours. Whatever he says, respect his authority as manager and end the conversation on good terms.

Understand his Reasoning

"Try to honestly see things from the other person's point of view."

- Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

You suggest that this new manager is only talking about the eight hour day because he has never worked with developers before. Are you sure? The old manager could have been removed because he didn't enforce the rules. Maybe upper management noticed people were constantly out of the office and asked the new manager to improve on that. Maybe he is worried about being short-staffed because other developers are leaving.

Each one of these are a very different problem from his perspective, and require different finesse to work around on your side. Rather than going in and laying down an ultimatum, the first thing you should do is to ask him what his reasoning is. For instance:

Hey boss, I wanted to follow-up on that conversation we had about working hours. Since joining the company we've tended to have flexible working hours and encouraged to have a healthy work-life balance so long as the job gets done on time. Since we're going to be working together, I want to try to understand your goals for managing me that way. Would you mind explaining the change?

The point is to say, "This feels kind of sudden, so as a mature adult I want to understand it" rather than to go on the offensive. This gives him a chance to think about it, explain, and maybe even shock you by having a good answer.

Gently Explain your Opinion

"Don't criticize, condemn or complain."

- Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

You may disagree with his reasoning. You may think it's stupid and will make everyone quit. And it may. But telling him that directly won't do anything but make him upset. You need to gently explain your position, for instance:

Part of the reason I've been so loyal to this job and this company is the flexibility it allows me. I understand you want me to be here 8 hours a day because <reason x>, is there any way to find a way to satisfy what you need, and still allow me some flexibility when I have things I need to take care of during work hours?

By looking for a way to compromise, and asking him to lead you to the answer, he will be far more willing to give you some leeway rather than if you just demand it regardless of what he wants.

Respect his Authority

At the end of the day he is the manager and in charge of making these decisions regardless of whether or not you agree with them. Respect that.

If he compromises and lets you have a bit of flexibility, say, "Thank you very much, I look forward to working with you."

If he doesn't compromise at all and tells you to work 8 hours a day and take vacation time if you have errands, say, "Thank you very much, I look forward to working with you."

Issuing an ultimatum will not change his mind. If you really can't live with his decision, start interviewing elsewhere, and issue your letter of resignation. Threatening to quit won't make your work life any more pleasant (it will just make matters worse), so better to quit on good terms. By negotiating with your feet you will get much better results than butting heads with your manager.

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Very much this. I'd also add that often the "You follow the rules" is because another person on the team who isn't performing will use you as an excuse. –  Simon O'Doherty Jan 16 at 9:03
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"The old manager could have been removed because he didn't enforce the rules." - no, OP stated that "the old manager has moved into a development role to fill in gaps left by senior developers leaving the company and being unable to find replacements" –  user11153 Jan 16 at 11:39
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How to Win Friends assumes that you've already decided on the strategy. But another valid strategy is to consider the employment as a contract out of mutual interest, not friendship. Understand that the company is looking after its own interest, and your part of the mutual interest is your responsibility. –  MSalters Jan 16 at 11:40
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@MSalters, How to Win Friends and Influence People is the name of the book. The latter part is what he's trying to do. If you aren't trying to influence the manager, what is the purpose in the first place? –  jmac Jan 16 at 12:05
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@use11153 - "the old manager has moved into a development role to fill in gaps left by senior developers leaving the company and being unable to find replacements" -- Only as far as the OP knows. They may not be privy to all the details of their former manager's career. –  RobM Jan 16 at 12:30

The reality is that any of our senior developers can walk out the door and have a new job with as much as 30-40% higher pay within a week. Most of us are only staying here for the casual environment, and being able to mix personal time into our work days.

How can I let this manager know that he isn't in a position to have any expectations of us, beyond that we produce quality software according to schedule? I'm having trouble figuring out how I can convey this without coming off as a douche, or being threatening.

I literally had a conversation about this subject with my boss yesterday. My team has been working about 50+ hours a week with paid overtime but I (as the lone developer on a team of non-devs) after Christmas decided I don't want to do this continually. I am effectively taking a 30% pay cut by dropping those hours.

But I am in a very similar situation, where I am fully aware my skill set would let me make more money elsewhere and it would be easy to find a job should I choose.

Here is what I did:

  1. Do not usurp your bosses authority. Your boss is your boss, manager, and ultimately responsible for your continued success. Make sure this is clear during the conversation. You want your boss/manager to understand you still respect your bosses authority or else any conversation like this is going to come across as threatening.
  2. Find ways to make it "win win." Your entire perspective needs to change from "how do I get what I want?" to "how do both my manager and myself get what I want." This is important. It's not you vs the manager (this appears to be your mindset). Your goal isn't to "win" this discussion, it's to find mutually agreeable common ground.
  3. Your manager is not the enemy. Again, do not approach this looking to "fight" or "win." This is important if you want this conversation to go well.

That being said, we've covered an attitude you have to have in order to make a conversation like this successful. You now need to have a "win win" reason and justification.

Here is what I did in my approach:

  • I was honest. I do not think working 50 hours makes me more productive on the whole than working 40. If I am working less I have incentive to maximize my productivity, etc. This is beneficial to my boss because ultimately his responsibility is to get the most value out of me as possible. If this is 60/hr weeks because I'm lazy or 40 because I'm willing to be hyper focused then this is beneficial. Specifically:
    • I don't get as much done when I'm burned out
    • I lose morale significantly when I'm "counting hours" vs "getting stuff done"
    • I enjoy being productive and as a result want to optimize my working schedule
    • I make extra work easily by not being rested (bugs, non-optimal/good code, etc) which counters the balance
    • I'm not at work primarily for money
  • Found ways to communicate the mutual benefit of working less and more quality work. You absolutely have to do this. You can't make an ultimatum. Your manager has to understand there is mutual benefit.

You may want to discuss some of the company culture and how the flexible schedule lets you get your work done more easily because you are relaxed and that the team dynamic really is good at this.

Be aware too your new boss may be new to the culture your team has. That's going to be difficult for him/her to adjust to. Be mindful of this and recognize they don't have the experience of your team culture you do.


Just an aside, your post does somewhat read like "I really like being able to not work hard and have a cakewalk job because my boss knows if he expects hard work I'll quit." If you have this attitude I guess the entire above post doesn't really apply...

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Developers simply can't work 50 hours effectively for more than a month or so. Lucent measured it; average productivity becomes negative after 40 hours. These are measured figures from real developer teams. –  MSalters Jan 16 at 16:46
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@MSalters yeah but good luck convincing more traditional management of that with a "I can't work 50 hours effectively!" - I 100% agree (hence the reason I had the conversation in the first place) but it's not something everyone willingly agrees with, unfortunately. This problem gets worse when you have manager with limited or no experience with development, too... if you add a link to that study I will add it to my answer as it would fit great! –  enderland Jan 16 at 17:21
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@Offler: The game industry is known both for the hours worked and high bug rates. I don't believe this to be a coincidence. –  MSalters Jan 17 at 9:51
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What it comes down to is that some people might be able to work more effectively for longer. But for the vast majority of us knowledge workers, working long hours indefinitely kills productivity, rest, and morale. This is not good long term for either party (which is what my answer is about discussing with your manager). –  enderland Jan 17 at 14:40
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@Offler: If your only life commitment is work that you love, then 50 hours per week is no problem. If you also have a two hour commute, a wife, a few kids, are coaching a little league team, and need to replace the roof before the rain comes or you'll all be drenched, it doesn't matter how much you love your job; 50+ hours will kill your life. (In addition to, long term, killing your productivity.) –  Jon Watte Jan 18 at 18:11

Your manager is your manager. Unless the company specifically doesn't allow your role to be set to fixed hours, or doesn't allow your manager to set fixed hours, or you have a contract controlling this, then your manager has the authority to do so.

If you don't like it, you can tell your manager, but remember that this authority is often reserved to managers, not to employees.

You might take the approach that this is a new policy and you, being used to the old policy, are going to need some time to adjust your non-work schedule to meet this new requirement, though that acquiesces and your question seems to want to fight.

You could try and explain in terms of things that your manager cares about, such as, 'Boss, I know you prefer having regular hours, but when I'm able to use flex time, I end up doing extra work in the evenings, after I get home. If we stick to regular hours, this benefits to the company will go out the window and we'll need to re-estimate our deliverables.'

You could try telling him/her that flex hours were advertised as a benefit when you took the job, and that this is an important benefit to you. You'd like to understand his/her process for re-obtaining that benefit.

You could professionally tell your boss that removing the flex time benefit causes an equivalent reduction in your compensation, and that you feel that you are due increased compensation in some other form if they choose not to provide you with this particular compensation. Be careful with this, though, as it can be taken as very confrontational if not handled very carefully.

If you really don't like it, you can try talking to HR, if you have an HR department, or you can always find a new job.

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Why the fear of confrontation? He's the one who has started the change process. And that's despite the fact that his BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement) stinks, since the employer is such a scrooge. If other jobs pay 40% more, and he's already down a few people, he's just opened the door to you asking 25% more. Negotiations are always a bit confrontational, but commercial people are used to that and don't shy away from such confrontation. –  MSalters Jan 16 at 11:35
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@MSalters, I am a commercial guy. Being confrontational is a wonderful way to end up with no agreement at all. You have no deal if you aren't willing to sit at the table, and to sit at the table you have to understand the other person's side and show you are willing to negotiate. I am used to having customers be confrontational, but I'd be a poor salesman if I used that as an excuse to do it myself. –  jmac Jan 16 at 12:48
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@jmac: I fully agree that you should negotiate. That usually gets better results. But you must understand your bargaining position in order to negotiate, and that means being confrontational when the other side starts by making excessive orders. If you're a car salesman and a customer walks in wanting to buy the hot new model, you'll of course negotiate. But it will be confrontational if the customer insists on a steep discount. You must be able to accept the possibility that you won't sell that car. Deals aren't everything. –  MSalters Jan 16 at 13:19
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@MSalters, the manager is asking the asker to abide by the rules of his contract. There is nothing 'excessive' about that. Being confrontational shouldn't be your first choice, not after the manager asks, "Hey, could you work 8 hours like your contract says?" If you get confrontational and say, "I can do better elsewhere, so if you're going to make me be here, pay me for it" then you should be prepared to walk out if the manager says no. Once you tell the manager what he needs to do, you will find out who really holds the leverage beyond the nuclear option of quitting on the spot. –  jmac Jan 16 at 14:03
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@jmac: The question mentions that the only reason is "impression on others", i.e. not because the contract says so. That sounds like an authority problem the boss has with those other developers. No big surprise, they also can leave (same negotiation position). The boss appears to avoid dealing with them by dealing with OP instead. Why? Looking for the weakest amongst the developers? Trying them to divide them? The company has the weaker hand and appears to be bluffing. It's only fair to tell the boss he's better off folding a weak hand. –  MSalters Jan 16 at 16:33

Most of us are only staying here for the casual environment, and being able to mix personal time into our work days.

Start off by telling him that, prefacing it with "Hey boss, I have a hard truth to share. I believe that...". You'll be doing him a favor -- insight like that is critical for your manager to do their job effectively. If he's cut out for his new role, he'll be genuinely grateful that you brought it up with him.

Having said that, I see a few red flags:

  1. New manager has no experience managing developers
  2. Attendance is the laziest (and least useful) metric for a manager to focus on
  3. Reason why devs work at your company (essentially because they don't have to work a full day)
  4. Wording of #3 (why you're "staying here", as opposed to why you "like working" here)
  5. Implications of #4, combined with the fact that it's a small company

If you don't mind me being candid, you probably owe it to yourself to find a new job. It may not always be easy for you, or for us software developers in general. We're fortunate to be working in a hot field; don't squander the opportunity just so you can work part-time hours while getting full-time pay. Trust me, it won't be worth it in the long run (unless you're doing more than running errands during your off-time).

But that's just my opinion (based on working 10+ years in tech), feel free to take it or leave it.

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This is one of the only answers that does the manager a favor –  itcouldevenbeaboat Jan 16 at 14:49
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From the "easy 30%-40% payrise", it sounds like he gets a part-time salary anyway. And is happy with that. Why exactly should he work more hours elsewhere for more money? Your boss may not be aware of that motivation, but it is a consistent and reasonable position. Same for me, actually: I can probably retire at 55. I worked part-time until this year because I rather had a day off each week (from that job) than retire at 55. –  MSalters Jan 16 at 16:43

I've recently quit my job after securing a position in another company and I'd like to share my opinion about this situation.

If the management doesn't know about current market prices for your position just let them know very discreetly and privately, being as frank as possible. Tell them how important it is to keep the system alive and how much it depends on the current developers, give them a layout of how critical each developer is and how much training and knowledge it takes to refill that position. Then give them time to adjust (a week tops) as they will need to double check this information.

At this point, they should call you and your colleagues with new payment options or better work conditions. If they don't that probably means they don't mind that they have failed to assess the developer market (which just means they are irresponsible), they are broke, or they don't care that the system runs and have an exit strategy.

Edit:

I would like to add that as long as you don't hate this company, try to stay until your wishes are fulfilled. Management may try to keep you satisfied with a position change that will not cost them anything, or a token change in priviledges or wages. Be persistent to overcome this managerial step, refuse the offers if they do not satisfy you, give them as many chances as possible. It's only business. Don't just throw away everything you've done in there.

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I think it's naive to think you'll be notified in a week about getting higher raises. You'll be lucky if HR has read the document within a week. I would consider a followup in a month, and an exit strategy that has you with an offer at another company within 3 months. Hell, the wrong two people being on vacation at the same time might cause you to jump ship when you could have had a significantly higher offer from a company that simply didn't realize you were undervalued! Please don't leave your job because they didn't give you a raise within a week, or encourage others to do so... –  corsiKa Jan 16 at 19:48
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Just make sure you have a good exit strategy and are prepared to be out of a job, since once you tell your boss that you've been looking at other jobs (even if just as a "salary comparison"), he may think that it's better to get rid of you now rather than wait for you to get an offer that you can't refuse and leave in the middle of a project. –  Johnny Jan 16 at 20:47
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@corsiKa See the question. I quote: I work for a small company. I also quote: I was recently pulled aside. There is no shortage of response from the management here as you might lead people to believe. –  pwned Jan 17 at 8:33
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It would never work that way, the market is just that and more often than not the company will suggest that if you could do better somewhere else you should –  Mike Beeler Jan 20 at 0:19

I feel and have voiced on other occasions that developers should be measured by their work quality and output and not by the time they put into working. I think this is an old way of dealing with desk-based positions that has creeped it's way into development.

I would call a meeting with this new manager and ask if he feels your work quality and/or volume could be improved. If this is the case then you may well need to put in the extra time. If this is not the case then I'd ask why he would want you to sit at your desk for an extra hour if he is getting what he needs from you in the time you are already putting in and what he expects from this extra hour.

If you have 8 man-hours of work to do and finish it in 7, why should people who can only finish it in 9 have reason to want to leave work early because you do? You (like many developers) need a relaxed environment to work in and forcing you to stay when you are ahead of schedule is not relaxing. Tell him you accept a lower than average pay in your current position because you like the freedom you have in this role, that it makes your work environment enjoyable and putting unnecessary restrictions on you is taking away the very reason you enjoy this company.

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I kind of disagree with you on this. By working 1 more hour, he will actually produce more (supposing he still keeps the same efficiency), so the volume will be improved, so he could have predicted maybe 2 less days for a contract. In addition, if you hire someone to work 8h a day for a specific salary, then it means that you are expecting him to work around 8h a day. If he is better than others developers, then he will create more and get a better rise or promotion. I don't think he should work less than what was specified to adapt to the others. The others are probably less paid (hopefully). –  dyesdyes Jan 16 at 14:48
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Missing the point, he's owner and main beneficiary of his overtime. If the boss wants to pay me for being present, we can agree 8 hours. But my boss wants things done, so he should pay me for that. And for SW developers, being present and getting work done are quite unrelated. –  MSalters Jan 16 at 16:36
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@dyesdyes It's been a while and I'll have to find the study, but there was a developer output study that found that total productivity dropped after a certain number of hours, and it was in the 42 hour range. That is week after week, you'll get more total output working 42 hours than working 43 hours. I'll have to try to find it. –  corsiKa Jan 16 at 19:50
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@MSalters As a developer who has woken up in the middle of the night and solved problems that baffled me all day, I have to completely agree. However, I do know linear developers: their output seems to be a linear multiplier of their "butt-in-chair-hours". They aren't rock-stars in the sense that they'll whip out an entire application module in a day, but they are the most dependable developers I know. –  corsiKa Jan 16 at 19:53
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I wasn't hired to perform a specific amount of work, or a certain number of task units a day. I was hired to be here, working as best and efficiently as I can, for 8 hours a day. If I finish something in 7 hours, I try to find some other way to be productive for the remaining time. –  Superstringcheese Jan 17 at 18:23

I find it helpful to think of my relationship with my employer as a business relationship. I am providing a service and receiving benefits. They are providing benefits and receiving a service. If, at any point, I believe the relationship is unbalanced I can either seek to adjust the relationship, or find a new position with a better fitting relationship.

This means that I'm responsible for deciding what path to take. If I like my current employer, and they decide to force me into a set schedule, I'll let them know that there needs to be something provided on their side of the relationship to make up for it. If I can't accept the new requirements, I let them know that it's unacceptable. It's then up to them to decide if the business relationship is worth forcing the issue, or adjusting their business to match my requirements.

If we can't resolve the conflict, we end the relationship. It's not because either party is bad, it's just that things have changed on one side or the other enough that we are no longer a good fit for each other.

In your case, management has changed, and they're giving you a new schedule. They've provided reasons - whether those reasons are valid or not doesn't matter from your perspective. You've so far been able to keep working with them because they provided flexibility, but now they've taken that away and haven't replaced it with something else that would make keeping this relationship alive worth it for you.

You can negotiate with them, and/or look for an employer that will fit your needs better.

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@Pete855217: I don't know if the 30-40% figure is accurate, but if we assume a more-or-less uniform distribution of salaries within a particular range, then it's reasonable to further assume that somewhere close to 50% of positions in any field have a total compensation that is below the average for that industry or role. 30% isn't that ridiculous either, if you do the math; it could mean you're earning just 23% below average (probably within one standard deviation), or 15% below average if you were able to get a job paying 10% above average. These are modest figures. –  Aaronaught Jan 19 at 19:50

No-one is indispensable. An uncomfortable truth but something you might consider when looking at whether you like the new regime or not.

The new manager may not be experienced in the ways of developers but if he is a good manager then he will learn. If he learns then all will benefit.

Is he doing 1-1 chats to see how you are doing? This is a common practice in software development environments and is a sign of (at least the attempt) to follow good governance.

'Having a little chat' can be a sign of questionable performance management practices being brought in, you can't make a judgement without evidence. Maybe speak to your colleague about what was/wasn't said.

As for your previous manager's job shift back to development, what did he say about the matter?

On balance the best approach is to be non-confrontational, gather your information, then make a decision. Ultimately you need to be in a comfortable working environment where the company appreciates you and you feel like you are doing the right thing.

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"No-one is indispensable." - while this is true, ask yourself what is the price to replace someone –  BЈовић Jan 16 at 15:24
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The previous developers certainly were not indispensible. They just moved a manager into their role. How many managers have they left to move into developer roles? And will those managers be more productive in 8 hours than a real developer in 7? –  MSalters Jan 16 at 16:50
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I don't know about you but most of the developers I know turn down 5-10 job invitations every couple weeks. If you are a good developer you are not indispensable, but getting a great job is trivial. It is much much much harder for a company to replace you than it is for you to get a job. –  Robotsushi Jan 17 at 0:09
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There is this thing called "bus factor". When the bus factor reaches 1, "No-one is indispensable" is no longer valid - unless shutting down the whole company is a valid and desirable outcome. All we know about the OP's company's bus factor, is that it has recently been lowered. (Developers leaving who needed to be replaced by the previous manager.) –  MaHuJa Jan 17 at 13:49
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@BЈовић That is a great point; unfortunately not many places take into account the cost of replacement. –  Chris Abrams Jan 19 at 0:44

Get him a copy of Tom DeMarco's Peopleware and put a marker in it to the page on Spanish theory management (STM). STM refers to the concept of mining people as a resource the way the Spanish tried to get rich by mining South America for gold rather than allowing them autonomy to innovate (the British innovated instead during the same era and it was a lot more successful) and DeMarco is pretty damning of it in his book.

Maybe leave the book lying around somewhere the bosses vision, so that he picks it up (accidentally) and has a read through it and understand the difference between a "knowledge worker" and a "seat filler". I've had "Spanish theory" bosses and as a developer it's the last thing you want, unless maybe the money is good enough for you to tolerate it.

If he reads it all should be well and good. If he doesn't then maybe just leave a browser page open with contractor rates visible on it so that he might initiate a conversation with you from a less autocratic stance.

This guy is new in and probably feeling insecure - so be his friend, bring him into what you do by explaining and involve him in the estimation and share the drama with him. You will close the communication gap and everyone can get back to being productive.

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Might be good to expand your answer by some of the points you would want the new manager to take away from the book. Makes your answer more comprehensive and valuable. And it's a tough competition here already ;-) –  CMW Jan 16 at 14:31
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Peopleware is a fantastic book. I've always said that, as a developer, I want to work for someone who has read this book. (As a lead or manager, I want to work with/hire people who have read The Pragmatic Programmer). That said, leaving the book to be found probably won't work. It probably won't be read serendipitously. I did, however, lend a former boss my copy of the book, but that was because it came out of friendly shop talk, and this was a boss I had a good relationship with. Hmm, come to think of it, I never got that book back. :) –  Jimothy Jan 16 at 17:34

I'm still a student, but I faced a similar problem at a previous internship.

My route was to avoid threatening (as far as possible) and simply go with "These are my job requirements, that involve me developing x and y on schedule z. To the best of my knowledge, I am actually significantly ahead of all my deadlines. I'm not really sure why it's a problem for me to run errands during my day if I fulfill all my requirements and don't inconvenience anybody."

The answer I got was essentially "grumble grumble ... need to work x hours ... grumble grumble ... can't have people slacking off" at which point I asked how I was slacking off. The conversation ended there, with no further complaints from their end.

If your manager is "just" a manager (meaning no previous developer experience) there is a decent chance he's still working on the old "put in the required hours" idea. It's worth gently pointing out that you are fulfilling all requirements.

In terms of the other developer you mentioned, pointing out how important that person's work is can make the manager more sensitive to them. Unfortunately, I don't think there's a "nice" way to tell him he's being an idiot...

On the other hand, this doesn't sound like the most marvellous of jobs, so perhaps it's worth looking around anyway?

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Your "Rockstar Programmer" mentality has caused you to fail to recognize what is important to your supervisor. He may feel (right or wrong) that keeping several lesser developers happy is more important than keeping you, so be careful.

Start the conversation with your understanding of the job requirements when you accepted the job. Make a note that no one has previously complained about your 7 hr work day, but make sure you are very sure no one in fact has complained. Another area to focus on is the fact you get your work done. Concentration is key, so getting errands out of the way can be a great way to clear your mind for work. This could backfire and your boss will just give you more to do.

The reality is that any of our senior developers can walk out the door and have a new job with as much as 30-40% higher pay within a week. Most of us are only staying here for the casual environment, and being able to mix personal time into our work days.

The mere fact that you have continued to stay indicates you value the casual environment over more pay, so how do you see this as leverage? Instead of 8 hours a day, these jobs could put you into 10-12. The extra pay you indicated doesn't add up.

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One's productivity may decline after n number of hours, and yet still remain above 0%. Assuming that yours begins to reduce after six consecutive hours, your boss will still get more out of 2 hours at 50% than he will out of 0 hours at 100%.

We're all less productive at the end of a workday. The way mature people deal with this is by organizing the day to put items that work well with depleted productivity. I might do the lion's share of my development in the morning and save required training material for the end of the day. Or I might organize my inbox. Or if I have something that requires more routine, plain-jane stuff, I'll do that.

One problem with your question is that you think that your boss is treating this like a business transaction and you aren't--that he's paying for 8 hours and he wants 8 hours, and you just want it to be about the productivity. In truth, you're treating it like a transaction just as much as he is. You're just using a different currency. You're paying your boss with quality software--we'll take your word about the quality, for the sake of argument--and you want a flexible, 6-7 hour day. Neither of you are more or less noble than the other in this scenario. You only disagree about the price.

The main problem with your question, however, is that you take your job for granted, and you seem to do it because you overvalue your own abilities. Work is work, and at the end of the day, we do it because somebody needs a job done and we need money to make ends meet. That work is work means that it often involves slogging through the last few hours of the day at reduced productivity. Valuable workers are those that (as I mentioned earlier) find ways to balance the decline in productivity with easier--though still necessary--tasks that are better-suited to reduced productivity.

Having truly good developers is a privilege, you're right. But where you're wrong is in labeling yourself one on the basis of your skills and output alone. When you elevate your desires to a level of arrogance and consider yourself above reproach, you have negatively offset any ability that you may possess.

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The fatal flaw in your first paragraph is that you don't get 8 hours at 100%, then 2 hours at 50%, you get 10 hours at 50%. –  enderland Jan 17 at 22:01

OP, this is a good question.

Eight hours in a day is an arbitrary number. It may be stated explicitly in your contract (which, I'm sure, your employer will conveniently forget about when he would like you to work more than that much,) but this is still arbitrary. Eight is just a number. It could be seven, it could be nine.

Take, as an example, the recommendation, commonly held, that you should drink eight glasses of water a day. As it turns out, this is based on the recommended water consumption for a 35 year old man weighing 250 pounds. The eight glasses of water is based on certain assumptions which may or may not be true in your case.

I feel there are two questions here - is it reasonable to work a flexible amount of hours, or otherwise ask for other special provisions that might not be considered standard, and is it reasonable to expect your manager to understand and cooperate this.

The answer to these questions is yes and no, respectively.

Do I Have To Work Eight Hours?

No, of course not. As stated above, this is just an arbitrary number. It is based on assumptions about how long a person can be productive, and how much time a person needs for their personal life, that may not necessarily be true for you.

You are probably the only person who knows for sure how many hours you should work. Personally, I am not very productive after six or more hours of working. When someone tells me I should be productive for eight, I ask them where did you get that number from, and what assumptions are you making?

CEO's and other execs are notorious for leaving at three, or otherwise setting their own hours. This is not because they are lazy - most CEO's are very hard working. However, since they have no one to answer to, they manage their day based on their needs, versus a roughshod benchmark, meant to apply to everyone.

Is it reasonable to assume there is a way to convince my boss to see things this way?

It is certainly not a reasonable assumption to make. Your boss is a human being, and it is therefore completely impossible to ever know, for sure, how he will react to something or how to get him to behave in a certain way.

Typically, the reason a boss will operate under a quota-based system of hours, is because they are confused and scared. Constantly existing in a state of uncertainty about their job security (because they are not very good managers, those that assume all employees require the same thing) they try to exercise as much control as possible over the situation.

People that are confused and scared are not reasonable. If you offer a person running for their lives from a stampede of cattle $500, he will probably run right by you. This is because such a state of mind makes us very resistant to outside input.

What Should I Do?

In my opinion, you should not do something that you think doesn't make sense, even if your boss tells you to.

It's important to independently evaluate everything that you are asked to do, and make sure it makes sense, before you do it.

I say this because to do so builds critical thinking, and independence. When you do something you think doesn't make sense, just to appease a manager, you build co-dependence and complacency.

At the end of the day, if you spend years of your life acting in a complacent manner, you will become complacent. And it's your life, so it's up to you.

If your boss is not reasonable, you should quit. Right away. As they say, "the person who lost their job for a dumb reason, always finds a better one fast."

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I have to disagree with "no of course not" - if your manager says you do, the answer is "yes, of course you do". –  corsiKa Jan 16 at 19:55
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"The person who lost their job for a dumb reason, always finds a better one fast." I'm pretty sure no one says this but you. –  Blazemonger Jan 16 at 21:50
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This doesn't answer the question at all but seems to be commentary of your thoughts on the topic. –  enderland Jan 17 at 22:02

Don't confront. Explain your point of view in management language - how it improves productivity, rather than selfish personal benefits.

The 8 hour work-day is based on assembly lines and heuristic tasks. As a software engineer, you require plenty of short bursts of focus and rest in between. It's entirely possible to work 8 hours a day and accomplish nothing.

After some experience and a lot of research (about a year of tracking everything I do), I find that the optimal amount of work for a software developer is maximum 200-300 minutes a day. This is minutes. It does not come down to 3-5 hours a day. This is more often 4-5 hours, depending on the level of discipline.

You can find your own optimum based on your personal research, but those are my personal findings.

After this, I write a report based on what all of those minutes are spent on. For example, 200 hours spent fixing camera bug, 50 minutes spent on cache, 75 minutes spent on refactoring and commenting.

Offer to do the same thing for your manager. Employees will be happy to work 200 minutes/day. Managers are happy, because it gives them a sense of control if everyone writes a report on everything. Managers just hate it when you spend three hours programming say... a blinking icon and demand to know why it took so long.

The side effect is that it's also a tactful way of explaining that meetings are a waste of time. It will also be helpful in predicting the time required to accomplish some tasks... so if developer A does a UI thingy in 200 minutes and developer B does it in 350, management knows that the range of time required to do the same thing in the future is between 200-350 minutes. And if it exceeds that time, they can tell what's going wrong.

Excess time is best used relaxing, because relaxation helps you be more productive in the future and improves morale of the company. You'd admitted yourself that the high morale of the company means a stronger retention rate and less money spent on pay. Make this benefit of morale clear to him.

If he's just stubbornly insisting you work 8 hours despite it being more productive for working less hours, then he's not a good manager; he simply wants control and power. It's fine if he's simply inexperienced and doesn't know how things work. All of us learned on the job. But if he's stubbornly refusing not to learn, quit or get him replaced. Refusing to listen to the people he's managing will bring down the whole team and the whole company.

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Specifically to the point of educating your manager: I'm not a Christian and you don't have to be either in order to take something away from the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Unless your workplace recognizes a union or other collective bargaining framework, it has an independent agreement with each employee. Employees can be made to see this without causing resentment, and that's a normal thing for their manager to deal with. It's not inherently your job to follow the working pattern of the majority.

If the employer has recently become completely inflexible as a matter of policy then you have a real problem -- they don't want employees who work like you any more. Then your attempt to educate your manager may result in your manager educating you, which is also fine. This may go beyond your new manager to the point where the problem is intractable.

Specifically to the point of getting your hours back: a number of situations could apply based on your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement). If you are going to get the time back, probably an important thing is for you and your new manager both to be up front with other employees that you are not sneaking off, and sneaking off is not tolerated: you have permission to leave for a reason that perhaps is none of their business or perhaps can be shared. You might also offer to be as discreet as possible if you do this while some of your colleagues are very busy. Promise you won't loudly announce at 4pm that you've implemented today's story, checked in the code, and you'll see them in the bar whenever their inferior brains get them done for the day ;-)

Anyway, possible situations:

  • You have legal standing to continue your existing practices, and your new manager in effect is asking for extra work for no pay. BATNA: you refuse the request.

Then your manager is asking for a pretty large favour (an hour or more a day is a lot even if you only do it when you're on schedule). You need to communicate this and make sure he understands there's nothing in it for you at present. You can, if necessary, go over his head if he fails to acknowledge your rights, but the friendly way to approach it is to persuade him, without making a threat, not to make you do so. You need to work hard now not to set up a confrontation that means refusing later will humiliate the new manager. So make sure you both explore and agree the real situation before anyone says anything they can't back up.

  • You don't have legal standing, but if you're going to have to be in your seat for 8 hours a day then you'd prefer to do it for a different employer paying 30% more. BATNA: you leave.

Then you are negotiating what services you will provide to your employer at what rate. This is sometimes incredibly easy and sometimes incredibly difficult, it all depends how quickly one of you is ready to either fold or call (what they hope is) the other's bluff. Explain that flexible working is extremely valuable to you, that you've appreciated it to date, that you do not believe you've been taking your employer for a ride. Perhaps some formal conditions could be laid down as to what your agreement is, and in the name of fairness those same conditions could be extended to other employees where appropriate. If you want to signal that you're not bluffing, then an offer in hand from another employer is about as strong a signal as you can get or should need. From what you say in the question would be easy to obtain. Yes, that's a threat, but once you have opened a formal negotiation on honest terms a threat is not unfriendly, it's just business.

A long shot, but assume you're currently on schedule almost all the time and hence working 5 days at 6.5 hours a day (32.5 hours a week). This doesn't suit your employer for reasons of consistent working hours among employees. Assuming you're mentally capable of working longer days, perhaps you could both agree to 8 hours a day 4 days a week, with either no change in salary or a token change. Your colleagues can be left free to assume you're paid 80% pro rata if they choose so that they're not too envious: even if payscales are public I assume your salary is confidential. Get your errands done on your day off instead of during your working day. Agree that when deadlines bite you will work a 5 day week for TOIL.

  • You don't have legal standing, and you prefer this employer for reasons other than flexible working hours. BATNA: you accept the request.

Then you're asking your manager for quite a big favour, and there's currently nothing in it for him as far as he knows. You need to approach this by making a rock-solid case that your flexible working is in your employer's interest. Your previous manager might be useful, if the new manager respects him at all, because he can explain why he tolerated what you did before (that is to say, why it is valuable to the business to let you do it, in terms of making you happier and more productive). If you fail to make your case and end up working the hours and finishing your projects early, instead of leaving early and finishing your projects on time, then maybe your new manager does know a little bit about managing developers after all. Sometimes you get managed; mentally prepare yourself now not to hold a grudge.

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I was in exactly the same position about ten years ago. Very difficult to negotiate this - there are very few managers of this sort, especially if they are new on the job, that will appreciate "friendly" recommendations from their underlings about how to manage things when they've just come in and intend to "do things their way". If you are not careful, you may find yourself out of a job.

In my case, there was someone "higher up in the food chain" that did understand something about managing developers, and I turned directly to them. They told me I could safely ignore the new manager. If you have that option, perhaps try it.

Still, be very careful - make sure you know the territory well.

Otherwise, IMO, if you don't want to look for a new job, your best bet is to play the new guy's game for a while - kiss up and be good: In six months or a year, if you do good work, you'll have established credibility with the new guy. Then things will loosen up and you'll be able to gradually move back to your old mode of working.

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Over a lot of years, I've found that creative people work best on as loose a leash as possible. Every once in a while, somebody abuses this, and you have to deal with that on an individual basis. Usually that means enabling them to move on. Be sure you're not in that category.

Perhaps your current supervisor was put in place to "tighten up" a culture that's gotten out of hand. If that's so, don't fight him, work with him. Help him to be a success and he'll work with you. Consider that he might have been put in place to enable some egregious offenders to move on.

If your flex time, which is one of the best and cheapest benefits an employer can offer, has become a problem, work out a compromise. Work with your supervisor and develop a schedule you can both live with; schedule your time to go run, make sure the schedule shows that you'll be in your chair as much as he needs you to be.

Once upon a time (30 years ago), I too ran in the middle of the day. When I was running, I didn't think about footsteps , I'd think about whatever problem currently had me puzzled. Some of my best "ah-ha" moments came while I was running along the levee. The change of scenery and the fresh air can work wonders. I have only three full time, salaried developers, but I pay for a corporate gym membership in the best place in town, just to get them out of their chairs.

Above all, do whatever you need to, to avoid making it confrontational. That's a situation that's never a win for anyone.

Go to work tomorrow determined to be part of the solution. You sound like a strong contributor, working in what could be a good situation. Work to keep both.

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Having read through the answers, I haven't seen a managers perspective.

Let's say I have 5 developers. They are meeting deadlines, no major issues, etc. However the total time at work per week for the group is around 160 hours. In that situation I'm firing one of them.

Why? Simply put I have more capacity than I have work and that excess capacity is expensive. It makes far more financial sense to have just the 4, even if I pay them a bit more.

FYI - my background is 20+ years in development, 15 of those managing others. Plus another 8 owning a company.

The manager is right. If you are frequently not in the office and only working around 6 hours a day then the other workers (especially non-developers) will likely feel resentment of the fact. Especially if they have to wait to talk to you because you are out "running errands" pretty often. The other workers know you are an expensive resource, and some will likely already harbor some level of resentment. By not being at the office during normal business hours you are rubbing it in their face.

For a company, having developers is not a privilege; I have no idea where you got that from. It sounds like you have a nice cushy job, so it's up to you whether you want to blow it.

I don't think the company can continue if he were to leave.

You should put that out of your mind, as it's not just wrong but sets a bad tone. Companies have certainly survived entire departments walking out. Sure, it puts a dent on things but there is always someone willing to step in where you left off. I've personally been involved in several variations of that situation: I've had a group walk out on me, I've fired an entire department and I've been part of a large group that walked out because some stupid demands weren't met. In all cases the company survived and ended up better for it.

How can I let this manager know that he isn't in a position to have any expectations of us, beyond that we produce quality software according to schedule?

If, as a manager, I thought you felt this way I'd show you the door immediately. That attitude is toxic and shows a complete disregard for authority and your coworkers. You are already in a very comfy position being well paid compared to others and having an apparently easy job. At a minimum he should expect you to act like you want to work there.

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@gnasher729: Actually I did. The company is offering a relatively easy job for lower pay. It's up to those developers to decide to be at work during normal business hours. As a manager, I wouldn't tolerate the issues caused by having a relatively high paid group (even if it's below industry norms) work "part time". Quite frankly, the movement of his manager to a developer role (no matter how it was presented) seems to indicate that upper management didn't like what was going on and felt this was the best way to fix it. –  Chris Lively Jul 25 at 16:43
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-1, I'm glad I don't have to work under you, management is not about respecting your authority, it is about mutal respect. Also, salaried jobs are not supposed to measure hours, they are in spirit about accomplishing tasks/goals. –  daaxix Jul 25 at 16:45
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No it doesn't, because you are being completely inaccurate with the cutting 1 dev allegory. You can't just cut someone and then expect the other 4 devs to remain at the current output. For technical and creative professions the number of hours worked does not have a linear relationship with productivity. What will actually happen is lower productivity, not equal productivity. Now, if you do have a true slacker, then your point is valid, but the OP's question assumes that his productivity is adequate, putting in more hours may not actually increase his productivity. –  daaxix Jul 25 at 16:56

The friendliest thing you can say is the blunt, honest, tactless thing. "Well Bob, the only reason I'm still here is because I like the fact that I don't really have to work a full work week. It's worth the 30-40% paycut to me."

Now imagine being somebody's new manager yourself and hearing that for the first time. Because that really is what you're saying here. You don't like it there but you're putting up with it because it's okay to not take your job that seriously.

How badly, as a manager, do you really want to keep that guy?

I've been there, but it's really not something to take a power-position on. What you really want is change. Either a new job or some improvements at the current one. You'll have a more receptive manager if you take the job seriously when he asks you to and you'll be in a more relaxed position to try and negotiate once you put some feelers out and become confident you could in fact pick up new work relatively quickly.

But really, why, if you're good enough to find a new gig so easily, are you putting up with whatever this situation is? I'd personally much rather have an 8 hour day of mediocrity in programming than a 6-7 hour day of frustration. It sounds like its past due time for more devs than just yourself to find a new place to work. It doesn't hurt to try and change things before you go though. At the very least it might help the developers they have to hire to replace you.

The problem isn't that he doesn't know what it takes to keep you. It's that you're still there and he's not going to understand why any better than I do in any respect beyond general career inertia where finding a new job is painful enough that you'd rather put up with the crummy one you have.

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