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I manage a team of programmers, and I'm having trouble dealing with their attitudes towards work.

A few months ago they were getting too loose with their lunch breaks, so I told them they had exactly 30 minutes and they had to be back within exactly that window. I had one guy not come back from lunch at all, he just emailed me that he quit.

Just this week, another guy quit on me because I told him he needed to stop coming in at 10am.

How can I enforce rules without making it an ultimatum or making them leave?

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    We need a lot more context in order to be able to help you. How large is the company? Were you one of them before becoming their manager? Are they paid market rate wages, or does your company have a history of low-balling people? Maybe perks such as long breaks, and late start times are the only reason why they're still working there, etc. Tell us more, otherwise this will likely be closed. – AndreiROM Sep 5 '19 at 18:17
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    Do these rules have some business purpose, or are you just trying to micromanage your team? Have you communicated that purpose to people? Have you listened to their concerns? – Kathy Sep 5 '19 at 18:20
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    I never heard of 30 mins as the lunch break. It was always a full hour. Also, your Q is "how", knowing the "how" is exactly why managers actually become managers. – Sandra K Sep 5 '19 at 18:33
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    @SandraK at least in my part of the world, it's not uncommon to hear of 30 min lunch breaks (but usually those jobs also have two other 15 min breaks during the day) – DarkCygnus Sep 5 '19 at 18:34
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    Given the name and the unlikelihood of the scenario (programmers don't walk out without saying something the first time the boss makes a ridiculous demand) I strongly suspect this is a troll question. Let's ask for more info, and not answer until it is forthcoming. – DJClayworth Sep 5 '19 at 18:35
17

In the software industry, most companies have flexible hours. This does not mean that laziness is allowed; what it means is that as long as projects are done on schedule, no one cares too much about exact working hours, lunch breaks etc.

As long as projects are done on schedule. That is, if the project that was supposed to be done in 6 months is indeed done in 6 months, and if every developer in the team has done his part on time (or if there are valid, objective reasons why it wasn't possible).

This is commonly accepted practice, and if you try to enforce strict hours, you're being the exception.

Do you really need that? Most companies just need the projects to be on schedule, and exact times are rarely needed except for meetings with customers.

At this point, if you insist on running the team as if it were some profession where strict 9-5 job with 30 min lunch break is the norm, yes, they will leave. I would, in their place.

The next question is if your employees, in your city and country, can find an equivalent software development job, with same (or better) salary and benefits. If they can, why would they be afraid of leaving?

If you want to keep them, you need two things:

1) If you have a real need for them to follow a strict daily schedule, then explain the reasons to them, so they can see it's a real need and not your micromanagement.

2) Offer sufficient salary and benefits that they cannot easily find another such job. That is, find what the top salaries are in your area and then give them 10-20% more. Then you can ask them to follow a strict schedule.

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    @dwizum many details still missing from OPs post, I think this answer is good despite the current lack of info... let's hope OP clarifies – DarkCygnus Sep 5 '19 at 18:40
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    @dwizum no, the two points at the bottom explains how to enforce the rules. – thursdaysgeek Sep 5 '19 at 18:40
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    @dwizum I'd say this falls under a "don't foo the bar". If the business case is real - great, enforce by explaining that. If there isn't a business case, then don't do it! – David K Sep 5 '19 at 18:50
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    That's a great theory, but in practice, many line managers don't have control over policy - it may not be up to the OP whether the employees have strict hours or not. – dwizum Sep 5 '19 at 19:00
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    incidentally, you will probably take a productivity hit, even if you keep the programmers with extra money. If I was stuck on a problem, I was more likely to take a long lunch, which would often result in a new perspective. If I was in the middle of writing some code and it was going well, I would stay late. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 5 '19 at 19:17
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The current programmer employment marketplace being what it is, you can't just order programmers to follow your rules and instructions -- you will have to convince them to do so. You will need to explain to them how strict attention to rules about work hours and break times will improve their productivity.

But before you can effectively explain this, you will need to thoroughly understand it yourself. So do some research into exactly what programmers do and how they do it. Read the essays and articles of authorities like Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood. Talk to your remaining programmers and ask them how they go about their work.

Then develop a metric of programmer productivity. Figure out how to tell when a programmer is producing value for his salary. Who finishes promised tasks on time? Whose work rarely needs to be corrected during code review? Whose code has the least number of downstream bugs traceable to it? Once you know the real productivity of your programmers, you can correlate that with their attention to work hours and break times.

I am very confident that once you have done the research necessary to support the need for your rules... you will tear up your rule book, stop harassing your most valuable resource, sit back, and let them get on with making your company rich.

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    This answer assumes that 1) this is solely about productivity and 2) the manager has the option of ignoring these rules. There isn't enough information in the question to know either of these are true. – BSMP Sep 5 '19 at 18:55
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    This answer assumes that since OP say he is a manager, he is actually empowered to set, change, and enforce rules; recommend for promotion, raise, or bonus; place a subordinate on a PIP; and do other managery things. If he is not, then he is wasting his time asking for advice on how to do a job he is not allowed to do. – A. I. Breveleri Sep 5 '19 at 19:03
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    The nice thing about being able to touch type is I can type a response while I stare at your response. The bad thing about that is not getting to the end before clicking the downvote button and starting my reply. Your last paragraph is golden -- I'm willing to work strange hours because I know that the creativity needed for being a good programmer isn't on a clock. The OP needs to internalize that. – Julie in Austin Sep 5 '19 at 22:08
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    @Julie in Austin: You think maybe the other downvoters didn't bother to read the whole thing? – A. I. Breveleri Sep 6 '19 at 2:20
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    @A.I.Breveleri - That would be my guess! – Julie in Austin Sep 6 '19 at 11:20

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