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Within the space of a week I have been given several time-sensitive projects to work on by top management.

These projects are intricate and will be challenging. I am still the first point of contact for problem-solving, and the culture of the company is very much "the door is always open"/"the phone is never off the hook". I have also been given a trainee to work with.

I made an executive decision to leave the office in the middle of the afternoon to work from home for the remainder of the afternoon. I did not notify any of the management first, intending to do so once I got home.

As I arrived home I received a call on my mobile from a member of senior management who asked where I was, and then why: when I answered I explained that I had left to work from home with the best intentions: to ensure that these important time-critical projects could be completed.

The member of management was extremely critical of me having done so, calling me "childish" and "unprofessional". I have been summoned to arrive at work early tomorrow for 'a chat', meaning this sounds like a disciplinary matter.

If I am being completely honest, from prior experience I knew that if I had suggested that I be allowed to work from home for at least a couple of hours (bearing in mind that I usually arrive at the office shortly at about 7am and leave shortly after 6pm, my hours are 8am-5pm, and my commute to/from work is usually a total of 1.5 hours a day) the answer would have been a firm no and no explanation of the possible benefits would have been heard.

Since I am accountable for these projects being completed on time, short of continuing to work from home in the evening (I have exam finals coming up in a few weeks), it is not possible to complete these tasks in the normal office conditions as they are.

I have explained this but essentially the response has been "OK- I hear you... now get on with it."

Ultimately my questions are--

  • Exactly how wrong is what I did?
  • How should I have handled this situation?
  • If this becomes a disciplinary matter, what should my next step be?
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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Jan 28 at 19:50

11 Answers 11

Exactly how wrong is what I did?

You took off without asking for permission, knowing that if you had asked to go home you'd have been refused. Furthermore, you told absolutely no one about your decision, leaving anyone who needs your help hanging, and with no idea of when/if you might be back.

Your manager is 100% right to be upset that you simply disappeared.

How bad it is will depend on your role within the company, your seniority, the culture of the company, etc. But generally speaking it's pretty bad. Not sexual harassment bad, but still pretty bad. Not to mention that you've insulted management and shown that you don't care about their authority.

How should I have handled this situation?

You should have asked for permission.

Even if you feel they would have said "No", you still should have asked. And if you had to stay at the office then so be it. Work late to get the project done, come in super early, or simply explain that the deadline is unrealistic given the current work conditions.

But absolutely never throw it in management's face that you make your own rules.

If this becomes a disciplinary matter, what should my next step be?

How big a deal this will become depends (again) on your role within the company, your seniority, the culture of the company, etc.

But generally speaking there's two key things you need to do:

  1. APOLOGIZE - deeply. Promise to never, ever do this again. Ever.

  2. Nail this project

I can guarantee you that they're more upset about you not asking permission more than anything, because it was deeply disrespectful of their authority.

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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jan 30 at 12:37

I'm adding another answer, since I disagree with the current top voted answer. That advice is correct up to and including the point that you need to apologize.

You did knowingly go against implicit orders. The order to work from the office unless explicit permission is granted to work from home is entirely reasonable. Ignoring this is an insult to management. Your intentions were good, but the actions were the opposite of good teamwork.

After apologizing for breaking the rules, the next thing you need to do is sort out your workload.

You're under stress because you have too much work for too little time. Maybe it's your fault because you volunteered, maybe it's someone else's fault - that doesn't matter at all. It's very unlikely that you can finish all your current projects on time. Management needs to know this now, so they can plan ahead, so they can tell you which project(s) to deprioritize, and so they can adjust any dependent projects as necessary.

If they happen to tell you that you need to finish all of the projects on time, after hearing you say that you can't, they are thoroughly incompetent (and should never have been allowed anywhere near a management role), which is unlikely. Should they turn out to be thoroughly incompetent, stop all unpaid overtime at once, be grateful for the learning experience, and find a way to work with a competent manager, instead of working for an incompetent one.

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29  
The idea that you receive time sensitive projects at the same time as training a new hire is just completely insane. This is why hiring someone usually introduces productivity decrease of at least 1 month due to the ramp up time. If your management did not foresaw this when hiring, and did not allocate resources to train the new hire, and simultaneously gave you MORE work, then there are some pretty serious issues at hand. – Nelson Jan 27 at 6:47
18  
"they are thoroughly incompetent (and should never have been allowed anywhere near a management role), which is unlikely" You'd be surprised. – Mast Jan 27 at 10:45
2  
@Peter - the OP should have done that before bucking authority and angering his managers. I completely agree that he was/is in a losing situation as far as his workload is concerned, and that he needs better work conditions, but sorting out his workload is an issue completely unrelated to his leaving work without permission. – AndreiROM Jan 27 at 16:52
5  
@AndreiROM Yet you say he needs to nail this project, which is the part I strongly disagree with. He needs to nail as much as is reasonable, which means he absolutely must sort out his workload first. Otherwise the only thing he'll achieve is wasting his health, and risk failing the exam, while missing the deadline and pissing off the boss all the same. Also, his workload is directly related to him leaving work without permission, because according to him that was his sole motivation. – Peter Jan 27 at 18:02
1  
"they are thoroughly incompetent (and should never have been allowed anywhere near a management role), which is unlikely" - This has been the norm at just about every software company I've worked for... The situation the OP describes is something that I see on a daily basis – Taegost Jan 28 at 14:05

Exactly how wrong is what I did?

Pretty bad. You're expected to be in the office, and you know this. You're an employee, you don't get to arbitrarily decide where you work.

How should I have handled this situation?

You should have talked to your manager, and made it clear that you don't think you'll be able to complete your assigned tasks if you have to be in the office and dealing with other things. It's then up to your manager to decide what's more important: your assigned tasks, or the "door is always open" policy. If your manager decides that the "door is always open" policy is more important than your tasks, then they've made a decision and if you come to them a week later and say "I haven't managed to complete the tasks. I was interrupted by X, Y and Z because my door was always open", then that's a decision they made and they will (should, anyway) take responsibility for that.

If this becomes a disciplinary matter, what should my next step be?

Apologise and say it will never happen again.

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Thanks Philip, sound advice. I think they are managing the process poorly but I have weakened my position. Stuff not getting done is always the subordinates' fault, to quote: "Lack of time is never an excuse for not getting work done, work through the weekend if necessary." ... I sound so bitter. – Keith Jan 26 at 22:55
11  
@Keith That's really just bullying on the part of your manager - a hostile working environment. Nobody can force you to work overtime, and if they plan wrong, it's their fault when the inevitable happens. But that doesn't really matter - by the point you get to the point where people actually disagree about who is at fault, it's a pretty good sign that this isn't a good work environment to be in. – Luaan Jan 27 at 0:14
    
+1 on the "How should I have handled this situation?" part. By making the decision without involving management, it removes their ability to respond to it. Oddly enough, I had an Excel, database, and VBA project that fell into this exact situation, where I needed some uninterrupted time to finish it. Management was informed of the situation and their answer was to physically prevent people from interrupting me at work by sitting in the aisle and sending them away. – Booga Roo Jan 27 at 2:01
20  
While we generally frown upon "just quit" as a recommendation around here, "lack of time is never an excuse for not getting work done, work through the weekend if necessary" means it's time to start looking for a new job. That's appalling management. – Philip Kendall Jan 27 at 8:49
8  
@Keith: In the normal run of things, lack of time is the only excuse for not getting work done. Almost anyone can do almost anything given unlimited time. Your managers are horrible, so it's no surprise you're bitter. – Steve Jessop Jan 27 at 14:21

You have somebody working under you. Imagine if she disappeared on a day you really needed her to handle a bunch of lesser busy work that would distract you from what you needed to get done.

If you truly have too much on your plate, it's on you to tell people that the amount of short-notice rapid-turnaround work you've been handed is putting all of these critical deadlines at risk and could everybody please get together and sort out what the priorities are so you can focus on the truly time-sensitive tasks first.

It also sounds like you're at odds with the culture, however. I may be reading too much into it but I gather that you've been at odds with at least some managers for a while now based on this:

The culture of the company is very much "the door is always open"/"the phone is never off the hook", which can make completing the type of project that I have referred to extremely difficult.

...and this,

she works in a different office on a different floor (against my suggestion- I was of the mind that we should work in close proximity for the first few weeks to make the training more efficient and build rapport), which means that whilst training takes place one of us is away from our workstation while this happens.

...and definitely this:

The member of management was extremely critical of me having done so, calling me "childish" and "unprofessional". I have been summoned to arrive at work early tomorrow for 'a chat', meaning this sounds like a disciplinary matter.

Now before you think I'm entirely criticizing, no, you do need time to focus and some of these concerns you've shared do sound like managers with more interest in what serves their egos than what actually gets the work done.

But you did screw up. Politically speaking, the man called you childish. That's a bit extreme and I'm guessing that didn't come from a place of this being the first time you've been at odds with that particular manager. If I'm wrong, my condolences and I recommend getting the heck out of there as soon as you're able.

If the situation is salvageable, you'll figure it out, but if it's not, I recommend the following at your next job:

  • Cover your ass. People appreciate when you do this and there's no dishonor in it if it's done transparently. When somebody hands you stuff at the last second that needs to be done by the end of the week and you've already got 5 other things to handle, it's time to email all of your ridiculous bosses to explain the load you're under and that you can not in fact focus on all of this stuff with the same level of priority and meet anybody's expectations much less everybody's. Leave it to them to sort out what you really need to get done first.

  • Let go of the disagreements and don't forget that you're a technology/problem-solving person. You have internet don't you? There are plenty of ways to communicate with and train people who are on the other side of the planet, much less one floor up. Rapport is built just as easily on Skype or slack.

  • Prefer solving the problem to dwelling on injustice. It's something most full-blown programmers who've been at it for a while figure out. When you're often smarter than the people you work for, you can't afford to get indignant about it. They're where they are because they're less interested in solving puzzles than you are and you're often where you're at because you'd actually be horrible at getting anything done worrying about the inane crap the not-particularly-skilled office worker/manager typically needs to be good at handling. You get to do what you do. Just embrace the idea that the scope of the problem-solving projects that interest you now can actually be wider than just the stuff you wanted to be left alone to solve.

IMO, you really don't need somebody to tell you that you screwed up. I suspect you knew but wanted to have the scales balanced by hearing that your work situation isn't great. It doesn't sound like it is. But all you really proved by walking out because you didn't think anybody would say yes when you asked permission, is that you don't really love or care about this job. That's okay, but it's easier to find the one you might eventually with decent recommendations. So try to remember that even if you're frustrated with your circumstances that there are in fact people who need you for what you know and not all of them necessarily, are total assholes, and you never know which of those might end up somewhere you'd like to be.

Learn to value and be helpful to the people who make it possible to do the things you enjoy doing to the extent that you can and treat the parasite-types like problems to be worked around. They never go away. You have to learn to sidestep.

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Exactly how wrong is what I did?

Well, let's start answering that by answering this question: is what you did wrong? And the answer is yes, absolutely. How do we absolutely know? Hindsight.

Most of the responses here seem to be saying that your actions are extremely wrong. Yet as socrates's answer indicates, expectations can be different for different people. I can tell you a story about a person who called his manager a "spineless wimp" without negative consequence. (That wasn't a random insult, but was applicable to the situation.) I can tell you a story about a person who showed up late for work every day for weeks, only to be called to a personal meeting with his manager, to get promoted. So, the reality is, what is actually expected can vary based on culture (or even individuals).

I'm pointing these out as actual scenarios that fly in the face of some stereotypical expectations, because such expectations are not quite as universal as what some people like to think.

The difference between these successful stories and what you explain is that what you did was totally out of line... with what was expected. This conclusion is certainly correct, as it is proven by the response. In the successes being described, these actions were done with an understanding of culture and expectations. Your decision (to leave) obviously did not successfully have that understanding.

The member of management was extremely critical of me having done so, calling me "childish" and "unprofessional". [Discipline is expected.]

The unprofessional part may have been coming up with “excuses”; explanations that provide an “excuse”, which defends behavior that is not accepted.

People who disapprove of such excuses are often opposed to guilty parties shifting blame. So, saying that you have been given an impossible amount of tasks is not personally owning your own responsibility. The preferred way may be to mention the problems when a new task is being presented to you, not to violate company expectations in order to try to rectify the situation of not being able to handle work which you have already accepted (even if your only acceptance was at the time of hiring, when you indicated that you can do the job of taking care of certain expected responsibilities). Playing the role of the complaining weakling is not likely to bail you out of this situation.

The proper way of handling the situation is to state that you were following known guidelines. After all, what you did is totally acceptable for a person who is expected to accomplish a job, and who is not expected to be on-site. Clearly there were some additional guidelines which you crossed over. Perhaps you are expected to stay on site so that other management can clearly access your in-person presense, on their own whim. Perhaps you are expected to stay on site so that you are less likely to stir up jealousy from a trainee who is currently needing to remain at the office. (The supposed benefit would simply be a matter of leading by example.)

If this becomes a disciplinary matter, what should my next step be?

You need to determine what is required. The scheduled chat is likely to educate you on that. While you are still drawing a paycheck, make sure that you are meeting known expectations. When there is room to doubt, then rely on the strategy of communication. You did say “the door is always open”. Actually, that is an often-stated ideal... often, the word “always” is a slight exaggeration. You may not want to bring up a bunch of complaints while people are actively mad at you. Let the managers vent, so that they feel that they've managed to complain and that their complaints are heard. Then, use the “open door” policy to initiate another meeting, when they are hopefully calmed down, before you try to get some help/advice about any struggles you may have. In the future, if you find yourself in a less culture where communication may be less open or frequent, the recommended fall-back strategy may be to simply fall back to generally-safe defaults, such as being where people would guess that you would be.

Eventually, many supervisors can see you in a new light when they see your behavior being notably different than it was when problems occurred. So, endeavor to not make similar indescretions, and also strive to generate recent successes.

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What you're saying makes sense, except he says he knew that if he asked for permission it would have been denied. So apparently foresight would have been OK too. – Casey Jan 27 at 21:31

Yes long question
In summary:

You did not ask for permission first and the reason you did not ask for permission is you knew it would be denied.

You really need a slide rule to know what you did was wrong? Take the punishment and tell them you understand what you did was wrong. Don't even think about trying to justify your insubordination. They are probably not going to fire you but there will be some discipline.

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Exactly how wrong is what I did?

You chose not to ask for permission to do something you knew would have been denied (I knew that if I had suggested that I be allowed to work from home for at least a couple of hours the answer would have been a firm no.) Then went ahead and did it anyway.

In a few shops that would be called thinking outside the box. In most shops that would be very wrong.

How should I have handled this situation?

You should have quickly explained why when you asked for permission, then did what you were told.

If this becomes a disciplinary matter, what should my next step be?

Accept the discipline, and learn not to make the same mistake. Either that or find a different job that lets you do things even when you know you'll be told not to.

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2  
Can I have one of those last-paragraph jobs, other Joe? :) Though on second thought I bet companies like that aren't fun to work for for other reasons..... – Joe Jan 27 at 23:47

Exam finals? Are you an intern?

First of all, if you are a wage earner you have to be on the premises every hour, no question.

If you are salaried ("exempt"), then there are, as I see it, no standards beyond what the company sets as an explicit policy. For example, at my company employees are supposed to be in the office 10-4 minimum but can work from home given exigent circumstances in which case they are supposed to email anyone that depends on their work or who might need to meet with them.

Personally, the way I feel about the subject is I could care less where the person is if they get a lot done. You will find that most people are not like that. The average person is a control freak who psychologically equates control over your body as a stepping stone to getting you to do what they want.

In the environment you are in, it kind of sounds like you are working for a bunch of non-programming pricks probably in a financial industry. Did I guess wrong? If so, working 9-5 minimum comes with the white shirt territory. If your goal is to flourish in that world, your only option is to robotically show up and work your ass off in their presence every day. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you work, you will have no upside because you are not a banker/financial analyst or whatever the hell your bosses are. To someone who is not a programmer you are just a gump. So, how you deal with this is not an easy problem. What I did is get an advanced degree in computer science and go to work for software development companies that appreciate my talents.

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Thanks to everyone that offered feedback and advice.

For anyone still interested, the managers did not approach the meeting as a disciplinary matter. One of the managers was my line manager (I will refer to him as Manager 1 and the other as Manager 2) and privately I fully expect that he would have been making a case to treat it as a disciplinary matter but would have been convinced otherwise by other senior management.

It was he who referred to my actions as "childish" etc..

As recommended in several answers above, I apologised from the outset, acknowledging that, regardless of my standing in the company, it was utterly incorrect to arbitrarily decide that I could leave the premises to work elsewhere.

To clarify on a couple of points, where some answers have had to make assumptions due to lack of information:

  1. In working from home I was still contactable by mobile and email (I was logging on to our server remotely to perform the work).

  2. My standing in the company can possibly best be described as a middle-senior position, without the title (and, to some extent, the pay, but that is not a major grievance for me). I have expert and referent power but little authority. For example I assign work programmes/schedules across different operational departments, with jobs prioritised according to their commercial value to the business. This involves disappointing colleagues in sales who want their five small orders processed first because they were ordered first, irrespective of the fact that doing those jobs would delay jobs that are literally 50x higher in value. This is always a difficult conversation but I think it is a concept that they are gradually getting to grips with. I do not have the authority to challenge/discipline the relevant departments if they go off-programme, but they follow my programmes based on my referent power: they see management trusting me with high-value tasks and me delivering demonstrably positive results consistently. Therefore even if the schedule doesn't immediately appear to be 'fair' to individual customers, they still run with it (in the main).

In my view it is primarily down to (2) that I will have 'escaped' this becoming a disciplinary matter.

There have been some answers that have suggested what I did was OK and others suggesting that leaving the place of work would always be wrong. The bulk of the responses, which I fully agree with by the way, say that the rules and/or culture dictate what is acceptable: I absolutely failed here, that is clear.

Nonetheless, Manager 2 accepted culpability for assigning too many tasks in a short period of time. Manager 1 was aware of the additional tasks assigned by Manager 2, but did not accept any responsibility for allowing them to accumulate without considering the need for slack or additional resources.

When I made the point that I was being assigned multiple 'urgent' projects by two different senior managers and needed a consensus as to how to prioritise, Manager 1 rolled his eyes: Manager 2 stepped in to respond before I could ask what Manager 1 objected to about that point. I consider it to have been an absolutely reasonable statement. (NB - Manager 2 is senior to Manager 1 in the company hierarchy.)

Manager 2 suggested that we devise a simple program to re-establish suitable timescales and what resources are needed: positive, although this should have taken place at the outset. I WAS asked when the projects were assigned to me what I needed to get the projects done and I answered "space", specifically referencing it being unrealistic to be left on my own in the office as the only person taking spam calls, customer enquiries etc. and simultaneously expect good productivity.

You may ask whether my seniority in the company is really as great as I think it is, if those circumstances are commonplace and the answer is yes, it really is. However we have 5 admin/sales support staff in an office of a $0.8m annual turnover business and me frequently on my own in the office of a $5m annual t/o business. Both businesses operate on different phone lines and it will be another 6 months before they are consolidated onto one system.

I was asked whether I was considering leaving the company once I had finished my qualification. (Once the phone conversation earlier this week escalated, I made the mistake (yes, another one) of saying that that is what people close to me had strongly advised me to do.)

I responded to say that is something that I would need to think about over the weekend and that we should reconvene early next week to discuss it. I could have faux-confidently said "no!" but I don't want to burn my bridges with the place, and if I answered "no" only to hand my notice in in 2 or 3 months then it would not go down very well at all.

So I am going to review the situation today and go back to them with some constructive suggestions next week.

I have probably made it blindingly obvious to you that I feel that the root of the problem (the 'problem' being my relationship with the company at this time) is Manager 1: his expectations, management style and approach to providing support and resources (i.e. not doing so) but I will need to be careful how I address that issue.

Regards to all,

Keith

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What you did wrong is exactly as wrong as your company says it is, unless there's a provision in your employee handbook saying otherwise.

To be clear, your actions being wrong at all depend entirely upon the company you are working for and the culture there. No one would bat an eye if I did that where I work.

The answers to all your other questions also depend entirely on what your company says and what it says in your employee handbook, but, in general:

  • You should have handled this situation by not doing something that you knew would get you in trouble if somebody found out. You ask, and if they say no you discuss it with them to find a solution everybody can agree on. Focus on the real problem.

  • If it becomes a disciplinary matter, then respond according to the way discipline works at your company. There's no general solution or standard for this. Don't get angry, don't get indignant, and focus on what should be done in the future. If their stance is unacceptable, then tell them that and start looking for a new job.

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Exactly how wrong is what I did?

Pretty darn wrong. Let's go through them as a learning exercise.

First - you mention making an "executive decision", but that you knew that if you had asked you wouldn't have been given permission. That's not executive decision - that's "better to ask forgiveness than permission", which does not always fly in the business world. Making the wrong call is generally a lot more forgivable when you honestly don't know what the boss' priorities are and there's no time (for whatever reason) to find out. If you already know what the answer likely is, then you're just doing an end-run. And the flip side of making the call is that you have to answer for it. So when the meeting comes, don't duck the issue.

Second is that you don't appear to know your company's culture - the fact that they noticed you were gone and were already calling your cell before you got home means that they're the sort of place that wants to see their people at their desks. This isn't a criticism of the workplace or boss -I've been at a single company for fifteen years, and different bosses and departments have different ideas on what is acceptable. And what the corporate policy says doesn't necessarily reflect the facts on the ground. Sneaking out of work in a company that is going to almost immediately notice, question, and track you down is a career-limiting move.

Third is that you need to step up to your bosses about the workload - if a deadline is going to slip, you need to be honest with them, and find out where the company's priorities are. Depending on the boss, this can either be a "what order do you need these done" or a "if something has to give, which one can we live without?" Go to your immediate one-up, put down the facts, and let the bosses earn their paycheck. (This is going to be an uglier conversation post-SNAFU, to warn you). This is how you should have handled it - get your boss in, explain that something has to give, and you can throw out the work from home idea as a possible solution.

As for disciplinary action - the companies options depend a lot on their policy and the locale you're in (it literally could range from a "you done goofed son" lecture to termination in at-will states). The advice I'd give is that long-term, people will remember how you handled yourself over what you did. So be honest, don't duck or CYA, take the heat.

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