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I have an unpleasant situation at my workplace and I am seeking advice because it’s my first salaried position and I am young, so I have little perspective.

I graduated last fall with a bachelor’s in Computer Science from a highly-respected university in the field, a 3.3 GPA, and two internships—one with a tiny company in the private sector, and another in the public sector. I also helped TA one of the most challenging upper-level CS courses for undergraduates. Not terrible.

I took a job with a very small software consulting company that works in the legal sector. I really enjoy learning more about the law and being involved in court cases, so I thought it would be a perfect fit. And in many ways, it has been. I genuinely enjoy the work and get a chance to improve not only my programming skills, but also my written and verbal communication skills.

However, the first project I was put on has been really trying. It started with two 48-hour weeks in a city on the opposite end of the country. It was supposed to be one week, but got extended. Even though this was super isolating and frankly hard on me mentally, I was happy to stick it out because I want to be an excellent employee and we were bringing in a bunch of money for the company, which has been having a dry spell.

After that, the project got extended some more. It was me, a supervisor, and another coworker at close to my level working on it at the time. The other coworker, A, put her foot down and said she would not be continuing with the project in any capacity.

Fortunately for my supervisor T and I, the project got moved to a city near where we actually live. We started working on it there. For me that is a 1.5 hour commute each way—much longer than the 0.5 hour commute I signed up for when I took the job in the first place.

A big part of the reason I was excited about this job was that it offers flex-time hours. I prioritize my health and family in my life, and this job seemed supportive of that. Now, however, it’s been 3 additional weeks of 9+ hour days PLUS commute time (3 hours total) to this city. My productivity is tanking and my life is in chaos outside of work.

The team had replaced A (after really pressuring her to stay and putting her through the ringer) with L for this project. L has had enough after just 3 weeks and is telling the company he will not be willing to take on additional work that this client is preparing for us.

I have been facing a LOT of consequences and stress because of the demands of this project and I am also planning to send an email saying the exact same thing. A has been working at the company for about two years. L has been here since last summer. I’ve only been here since January. I’m worried that since I’m so new, they may not treat me as kindly as A and L and straight-up fire me or financially punish me for rocking the boat.

The issue is that I have already sacrificed so much and gone what I believe is way above the call of duty, since the job advertised itself as flexible and accommodating and apparently projects like this are unheard of at this company. I’m also moving house this year from living with my parents to an apartment. Cost of living here is ABSURDLY high and I can barely afford it with my current salary (and probably I’m not being too financially savvy). If they cut my pay or don’t give me the baseline raise that they give everyone each year because I’m dropping off the project, I will be SCREWED. However, my family is moving far away and I am missing a LOT of time with them, as well as neglecting my health in a serious manner.

What should I do?

Edit: I suppose I might have been a bit hyperbolic about "neglecting my health". I am no longer taking the time to meal prep or exercise because I now have to choose between doing that and getting enough sleep and spending time with loved ones, and those two things will always win. I have also missed, postponed, or put off 5+ doctor's appointments...some of these I should have been on top of much longer ago, but my circumstances did not allow it then, either. I had just reached a place where I was going to be able to start scheduling and attending these appointments, and now this project has removed my ability to do so.

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    It sounds like you need to look for a new company to work for, especially if your health is being affected and you feel like you can't financially survive without a baseline raise that is given to all employees. – sf02 Apr 26 at 14:42
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    First advice to 'what should I do' when 'neglecting my health in a serious manner' is involved: Don't neglect your health - jobs come and go, despite what you may think at your age your health isn't quite as flexible. Look after yourself. – Lio Elbammalf Apr 26 at 14:42
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    @sf02 That's very unserious advice. He didn't even mention it before. Maybe the company finally understands that this project is not worth it. As OP says the other projects are not like that one. – Chris Apr 26 at 16:23
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Don't present it as quitting. Present it as hitting your limits.

You've been going above and beyond on this project for long enough that one coworker decided that they were no longer willing to do the work, quit, was replaced, and their replacement decided that they also were no longer willing to do the work. The amount of work you've had to do has been way out of scope for how the position was initially presented, you've stuck it out for months, and it's damaging to your health.

So say that. Don't say "I won't do it anymore. Move me or fire me." Say "I'm really sorry. I tried to keep up as long as I could, but I just can't anymore. I need to look out for my health." Express willingness to keep working on the project (as long as it's no longer the long hours or the ridiculous commute) or otherwise find compromises, but insist that you need some recovery time where the workload and commute load are in line with the position as initially described.

Punishing you for hitting reasonable human limits is a lot harder to justify than punishing you for disobedience. In the meantime, if they do punish you... quit. Just quit. Move somewhere that isn't so fiendishly expensive to live, and get a job with a company that isn't going to lie to you about the requirements of the job, abuse you, and then punish you when you stand up for yourself. Basically, this should be the company's last chance with you. Preferably, you can get a solid conclusion on whether or not they're worth your time before you hit move date.

  • Thanks for the answer. This is actually nearly exactly how I worded my draft email to HR. The truth is, I don't mind the work itself and I really DON'T want to get off the project. It's just this endless bleak grind and lack of any other life that's preventing me from continuing. Also, I love your profile picture. I used to have the exact same one as my phone wallpaper eons ago. – ribs2spare Apr 26 at 16:13
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    Interesting. How does your supervisor (T?) feel about this situation? I'm not sure going straight to HR is the way to go. Maybe you should verbally tell him just T this, before getting HR in the loop. It isn't as if he can act surprised about this after losing two people. The idea is to make him realize that he can't keep the status quo - if he loses you, how is he going to replace you? I'm sure others in the company know what's going on. The best way to get your problem solved is to make your problem his problem. – Joe Bradley Apr 29 at 1:48
  • T ALWAYS works at LEAST 45-hour weeks regardless of the situation. He's known for it. He missed his parents coming in from out of state when we went out of town for the first part of the contract. He isn't thrilled, but he's not going to change anything, and has responded to my concerns with basically sympathizing about how tough it is with no indication of taking action. There really isn't anyone to replace both L and I. There's only one person left at the company who can be switched onto this contract, so if L and I both bail, T (and the whole company) will be in a bad place. – ribs2spare Apr 30 at 18:45
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    @ribs2spare if the whole company is dependent on a contract that can only be filled by a small number of people and that outright requires unsustainable workloads from its members, then the company is horked anyway. I suspect that it's not as critically important as you've been led to believe. – Ben Barden Apr 30 at 19:12
  • @Ben Barden I'm in complete agreement. – ribs2spare May 1 at 14:24
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One of the reasons you're asking strangers on the Internet for advice is because we are not emotionally invested in your situation. All the answers and comments you will see have to be viewed with that lens; you will see answers and comments suggesting you take actions that even the authors themselves might not take if yours were their own situation.

With that level of detachment, ask yourself what advice you might give to a friend in your situation. You are obviously concerned that you are dependent on this job for income, which is a totally natural response. This concern is limiting what you think your options are, because I'm reading that no matter what you are wanting to stay employed with this company. I am not suggesting that you quit, but if you are convinced you will not quit no matter what your employer does, your hands are tied.

I would like to comment on some things from your question and ask if you think this is the right job for you, long term:

"It started with two 48-hour weeks in a city on the opposite end of the country. It was supposed to be one week, but got extended. Even though this was super isolating and frankly hard on me mentally [...]"

For me, a 48-hour work week while on travel is perfectly reasonable. Whether you are salaried or if you are paid overtime is a separate question. While I'm away from the office, if I'm not at work or eating I'm just sitting in the hotel anyway, so an extra 90 minutes of work each day isn't much. But that's just my opinion. Being away from your family/friends/support system is difficult for you. This might partly be because this is new for you and the stress of a new job doesn't help, and I'm guessing your family moving and you looking for your own apartment is adding to your stress.

Do you think this will continue to be the case, or will you adjust and be OK with being away from home? If you continue to work for this small consultancy, can you expect that more travel like this will be required?

"[...] I was happy to stick it out because I want to be an excellent employee and we were bringing in a bunch of money for the company, which has been having a dry spell."

Your desire to make your company successful is commendable. You recognize that they are making "a bunch of money" from your work, so if you can help them to recognize this they may be more willing to accommodate your needs to make this project bearable for you.

If you enjoy this work, and you are enjoying the company, what changes would you like to see them make for you? Rather than open-ended complaining with your supervisor, things will go better if you have a clear list of 2-3 things that you would like them to do, along with explanations of why those things will make you (and ultimately them) more successful.

If you were my son, here is an idea I might suggest: What if they offered to house you in the city you are working in for the duration of the project?

If you eliminated your 3 hours of commute each day, it might give you back the time you need to look after yourself, as well as giving you a chance to ease into the idea of living on your own, as you will need to do when your family moves. Managing yourself during the week might build confidence in yourself for the next phase of your life while giving you a peace of mind that you can still go home.

  • I appreciate this well thought-out answer. I agree that 48-hour work weeks are totally reasonable on travel. The time difference made it nearly impossible to keep in contact with loved ones at home during that time anyway. Actually, the only way to keep this up would be to significantly reduce the hours being required of me. L and I have been offered reimbursement for hotel stays in the city, but this would actually aggravate my issues since it would keep me away from my family and the rest of my life at home. Once again thank you very much for the kind and thorough response! – ribs2spare Apr 26 at 18:16
  • It sounds like you have four options: 1) Daily commuting to the city. 2) You stay in the city during the work week. 3) The project is moved to be closer to you, or 4) You do not work on this project any more. Which option(s) would be acceptable to you and your company? – spuck Apr 26 at 20:15
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    Or 5) work remotely some of that time. I have an hour plus commute and I work from home Mondays and Fridays. Look for options to deliver sustainably and present it that way, don't go in explaining reasons you can't do the work. – mxyzplk Apr 26 at 23:46
  • I can't work remotely because the code with which we are working is not publicly available and the client is worried about IP being on other people's computers. That's why I have to be physically present in the city. Option 2 doesn't solve my problem either, as I still can't attend doctor's appointments or spend time with my loved ones, which is the main problem with this arrangement. It basically has to be option 4...Thanks for putting it so succinctly! – ribs2spare Apr 30 at 18:47
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IMHO, you can see in current situation an opportunity.

Compose a list of things that are not well with the current situation and list of things should be done for you to continue at it.

And i don`t mean to "make it bearable", but the ones that make it great for you.

For example:

1,5 hours commute each way - accommodation closer to the site for the workdays, meals and travel expenses to get there, or option to work remotely from your location if possible

Demanding hours - OT rate with option not to do them

No one else able / willing to do the job - raise in your regular pay and more paid vacation time for recovery

You can also start looking around for different position, but from your description, this one gives you so much knowledge and experience that it be a shame to leave it if you can get the tools needed to do that project

  • ...and then what? Just compose a list? "compose a list -> ??? -> profit"? – Ben Barden Apr 26 at 17:02
  • I imagine @Strader would suggest I think the list through and present it to my company. Good plan. Already on it. – ribs2spare Apr 26 at 18:18
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    @ribs2spare Yes, that`s what i meant – Strader Apr 29 at 14:57
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You accepted a job under certain conditions and 4 months into the job you realized that the job isn't exactly the way it was marketed towards you.

If I were in your position I would send the email and explain that you wish not to continue with the project. If they choose to fire you because of that as you fear- then I would move on to better opportunities and find a job that honors the criteria they outline before you accept the position.

It seems like time with your family is a major priority and you are not getting that with your job. Your physical and mental health is also very important and you should not be neglecting that so that you can try to force this supposedly good job to work out in your favor. Communicate to your boss that you want out of this project because of all the stress. If they are not willing to work with you- quit and move on. This job is not worth stressing out on.

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Tell your boss which working times would be ok for you in the long run - also ask if e.g. home office on one day is ok. Your company has the choice to retain you with some hours less per week or have (another) person leaving the team in a time constrained project. Believe me, if they choose the latter, then you don't want to work there, since then it's not a case of different expectations for working time, but it's purely unreasonable.

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It sounds like you have a trememdous opportunity here, if you are willing to take it.

You mentioned that this company you are consulting for will have more business for your firm in the future. And you, someone who has only been at your firm for a short time are essentially the point man for all this new business.

If you are willing to do so, you should sit down with your supervisor and offer to take over contacts and take the lead on all new projects with this company. In exchange for a higher salary and an ownership stake.

Of course, this will involve many long weeks. Many much, much longer than 48 hours. 60, even 70 or 80 hour weeks. But in the end it will pay off. Remember that nobody becomes rich working for somebody else. You have to work for yourself. And believe me, chances like this NEVER come at bigger companies. You have this opportunity because of the small size and youth of your firm.

  • Ok, this answer is so crazy I think it might be a joke. I am not the point man for anyone. I am low man on the totem pole and just part of a team of 3 for this contract, mainly because there are so few people currently working at the company at my level (higher-ups either have families or full plates already). My supervisor does long weeks like you're talking about and makes a lot of money. I have NO interest in emulating him. Money, power, and prestige are not anything compared to a full life with other relationships. You know who my supervisor has? His cat. – ribs2spare Apr 30 at 18:43

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