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I'm a consultant (employed by an external company to work for different companies). I'm on a client project, whose scope has grown to more than 200% of the initially planned scope shortly after starting.

My boss simply accepted client's request to increase the initial scope. When that happened I asked them (my boss) for a conversation, during which I explained the risks: We didn't have enough people and/or time and I worked 14h/ day already and I was tired.

This wasn't received well. They gave me a talk about being motivated and massively underestimated the effort related to the additional tasks (they estimated it for 2h using the term "if you are thinking pragmatically" - instead of my estimation of "several days of full-time work". I asked but no clarification was given on how to get it done in 2h).

After that I repeated my estimation of the situation again per email.

This was ignored.

Now the client complained about me that I seem to appear to meetings unprepared and they need to tell me things twice.

This is partially true. I didn't make any huge mistake but I can believe that I come across as tired and unfocused. I'm extremely tired working 14h/ day and on weekends.

What is the right way to deal with these complaints without being a jerk?

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    I'm not 100% sure about this, but a region tag might be helpful, because the culture could play into the matter. – Paul K Oct 25 '19 at 5:47
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    I agree with Paul - is a 14 hour day even legal where you are? – Mawg says reinstate Monica Oct 25 '19 at 5:50
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    In what manner did the client complain and to whom? – Kilisi Oct 25 '19 at 9:13
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    Please don't post answers in comments. OP: what do you want to happen? You want plan changed, more people on the project, stop being blamed? Communicate better ("they need to tell me things twice")? stop working 14hrs/day+weekends? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Oct 25 '19 at 16:47
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    @Aganju, what do you mean? The working times or the complaints? The thing is, I've worked as a consultant before, but the work times were much more normal back then. Yes, there are these 3-5 companies that expect you to work crazy hours, but they give you a salary that considers this expectation. I'm not at one of them. If we consider my salary and work time, my hourly rate is just a bit higher than the minimum wage at my country. And this with a very good education and several years of experience. – user4233589 Oct 27 '19 at 4:49

10 Answers 10

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After that I repeated my estimation of the situation again per email.

This was ignored.

Now the client complained about me that I seem to appear to meetings unprepared and they need to tell me things twice.

Every time they say that, refer them to your email, and tell them that the project needs a drastic replanning.

Then polish your CV and start looking, because any company that treats you, or allows you to be treated, that way is not one that you want to work for.

Are 14 hour days even legal where you live? I hope that you are at least being paid overtime.

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    @Mawg, "legality" has nothing to do with. Salaried people work 14 hr days in all different kinds of workplaces. Of course, it's not sustainable on a regular basis and if it's frequent, it means something is seriously wrong. – teego1967 Oct 25 '19 at 11:27
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    @teego1967 yes, 12 or 14 hour days are the main reason for some workplaces to moan about high staff turnover and the high cost of training... You would think managers would learn, but perhaps that is not in their job description... – Solar Mike Oct 25 '19 at 13:36
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    Yep, if it's the "culture" of the decision makers to underestimate blattantly, and not listening to you, it ain't gonna change soon. Find a better place to spend your work life. – Pac0 Oct 25 '19 at 13:56
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    @teego1967 yeah, people doing thing voluntarily does not mean it is legal. Here in the Netherlands for example there are some hard maximums on workweeks. Lax actual enforcement means that manuy places skirt the lines but 14hour days are definitely on the wrong side of the divider. – Borgh Oct 25 '19 at 14:25
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    @teego1967 What the OP describes would be illegal in my jurisdiction. Whilst 14 hour days are legal, there's also a legal requirement for 12 hours of rest between shifts, and if you're working 14 hours a day, that only leaves 10. – James_pic Oct 28 '19 at 12:15
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First, you should stop working 14 hours a day: it might be sustainable for a few days (and I insist on the 'might', and I'm kinda confident it can't be applied to everybody), but a project is not a sprint, it's a marathon.

You are eventually going to damage your health, this is hard to recover and I doubt the amount of money they pay you is worth it. Moreover you will not be more productive with 14 hours a day than with 40 hours a week, you can't keep focus this long without making mistakes, so get back to whatever hours you are contractually bound to work and see how much you can get done during this time.

If it's not enough it's not your problem, it's your manager's problem. You customer is right to complain that you come tired and unfocused in the meetings, get some rest and give your best eight hours a day to your customer.

Do not forget to document what you are doing, how much time it took you, what was your estimate, and your manager's estimate.

I'm going to repeat what others said: polish your resume and start looking for another job.

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    I can't upvote this strongly enough. Your health is never worth sacrificing for someone else's profit. – Player One Oct 25 '19 at 11:39
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    And not just for your own sake. Most knowledge workers can only turn in about four or five hours a day of high quality work. After that, the quality drops off to the point where they're doing more harm than good for the long term maintenance of the project. – StackOverthrow Oct 25 '19 at 16:39
  • Very solid advice. And yes, at the end of the day, you're being mistreated and abused in your role, so look for a better job ASAP! – Noldorin Oct 25 '19 at 16:47
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    @Maxime you could improve your answer by making the paragraph "Do not forget to document what you are doing,...." bold. I also want to share my experience without writing an own answer: When i was working 45 hours a week for more than 4 weeks i did so many errors in my work that i had to use a whole day to correct them. even for the simplest tasks. In conclusion i was overworked by working more than 40 hours a week and i could not finish more work in that time because i needed the extra hours to correct simple mistakes which normally would take only 10 minutes. – some_coder Oct 28 '19 at 11:05
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    @some_coder I think if something should be highlighted in my answer it would rather be the "stop putting 14 hours a day immediatly" part. – Maxime Oct 28 '19 at 14:14
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To answer your question, you cannot be an asshole however you react. You just react to asshole behaviour.

they estimated it for 2h using the term "if you are thinking pragmatically" - instead of my estimation of "several days of full-time work".

This shows ambiguity in their behaviour. Either you are unable to do a 2-hour task in 2 hours OR they don't understand the task. If it would be the first thing, then any sane manager would move you away and replace you with someone who can. Because they didn't do it, it means A) they are not sane manager B) They know they overestimate but want to extort you and treat you like a scapegoat.

There is nothing to save because you were/are written off as collateral damage. Either your boss will put all the blame on you or you will explain to the client that your boss is bad at bossing and they will end the relationship with your company.

In the EU (I don't know what country in Europe you are in), working 14h days and on weekends while understaffed is a violation of labour laws and can even be classified as bullying. And there are not many companies that like to be associated with such.

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What you're describing is a classic case of shooting the messenger.

You told those people something they didn't want hear, they dismissed you, and they're now holding you "accountable" for the problem you've warned about. And worse, they're questioning your motivation and competence.

There is no easy way around this because often "shooting the messenger" is a technique people use to deflect their own accountability. You might be the person they've chosen to blame so they don't have to blame themselves.

This is really a situation where prevention is vastly easier than fixing it after the fact. But how do you prevent something like this?

The best solution is to get in front of the situation. This means keeping the manager fully informed at all times of what you/your-team is doing. How far behind you are, how much capacity you have and what is feasible in the near future. If the manager is equipped with that info, they're far more likely to be realistic when the idea is first proposed or at least mitigate the demands.

The manager's reputation hinges on making promises that are fulfilled. That's the key thing. If, after the promise has been made, you tell the manager and the client that it can't be done-- that's going to paint a big target on you (even though you're not entirely at fault).

You can avoid this in the future by making sure your manager knows what's going on at all times. It's not foolproof, of course, think of it like a guard rail.

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  • This kind of dismissiveness is verging on gaslighting, imo – Morgan Rogers Oct 25 '19 at 22:11
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You have made numerous mistakes in this project and are now paying for it.

First, you should never, ever work 14 hours a day continuously. You can do that kind of crunch for one or two days in an emergency, but if you think you can keep that up, you have absolutely every piece of research ever done on the matter against you.

Second, you should have brought this up as a problem much earlier, before tiredness and burnout become visible to the client.

Third, you should not have given up so easily on the added workload. You should have stood your ground and made it clear that you can not do this work in considerably less than the estimate you already gave. If the manager thinks you can, you should sit down with him and put your estimate and reasons on the table and he his. It is common for managers to make estimates for things they know little about, and it is necessary to push back on that when it is completely wrong - your manager needs feedback to improve his estimation skills.

Fourth, you did not see that this would be coming, but it was a virtual certainty from the way your describe the situation.


What to do:

First, you need every piece of paper or mail that supports your position gathered in a safe place (e.g. export the mails to an encrypted folder or something). You don't know how foul people might play with you. Take care to not violate any company rules, especially about putting data on non-company storage, but having a second copy in a non-obvious place (within the company infrastructure) can't hurt.

Second, you need to answer to those accusations. And you need to point to your warnings and how they were ignored.

Third, you need a fine ear on how this is going to be played. How well do you know your manager? Is he more likely to do a constructive approach and try to solve the problem, or is he more likely to make you take the fall so his record remains clean? Your actions depend entirely on this. If your boss is setting you up as the scapegoat, you can leave or destroy him.

Fourth, you need to know your position and how strong you are. I've been in a somewhat similar situation before (not the same, but being blamed for what was bad management planning). I knew I was in a strong position, so I handed in my resignation - and almost immediately got a personal offer from the CEO for a different position in the company.

So in short, you need to know your cards and the rules of the game being played. There's not enough information in your question to recommend a precise course of action, but covering your ass, being ready for a fight (or a quick exit) and understanding what you did wrong - and being ready to admit it in the right moment, to the right person and nowhere else will be the key ingredients.

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The basic mistake you made here was to pick a fight with the clients, not with your boss.

The clients have every right to change their mind about the scope of the project and double the original content.

The problem is that your boss agreed to an unreasonable promise of the delivery date. The clients should never have even seen your estimates of the work involved - that communication should have been only to your boss, who is paid more than you to deal with plans that are indistinguishable from fairytales, but without the distraction of actually having to do any real technical work.

When (not if!) the program runs late, your boss then gets to deal with the clients, not you.

Having dug yourself into this hole, it may be that the simplest way out is to find a new employer - but again, that decision should be a matter for your boss, and not for the clients.

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    I've no idea what you mean. I didn't fight my client. I talked to my boss and tried to convince them. I think it's clear if you read my post. – user4233589 Oct 26 '19 at 11:48
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    The basic mistake you made here was to pick a fight with the clients, not with your boss. -1 for making a claim never said in the post. – The Anathema Oct 27 '19 at 18:11
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Option 1. find another job asap. Even if you put 100% effort into finishing the project you will be way behind your boss's schedule and client's expectations. Your boss will use that against you to try and guilt you into working as hard or harder on future projects which will also have unreasonable timelines. There is NO light at the end of this tunnel. You might as well quit right now, actually. It's not like this boss will give you a reference or that you'll be putting this company (which I assume you haven't been with for long) on your resume. You won't have time to find a job if you're working 14+ hours/day. I hope you have an emergency fund and/or contacts to help you get a job now. Putting it off isn't going to help you.

Option 2. Push back against your boss hard. Don't give him any impression that you can do the job on time. Make it clear that it's not happening. Maybe you've been using language that is leaving room form him to think you're unsure. Stop working 14 hour days unless it's just a short burst on a 1-2 day job. Cut back to 8 hour/days. Figure out an estimate of how long it will take to finish your work based on 8 hour WORK days. No weekend. Give that new estimate.

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The contract between your company and their client is not the contract between you and your company. Period.

Your company is free to agree on whatever they want in the contract with their client but it doesn't change a bit in your contract with them, and therefore, your responsibilities.

The problem is, that they seem to convince you that it's otherwise and it would be your guilty if they fail. It won't. They will have to handle with the problem, but they believe you will be the hero that will fight for their money sacrificing your free time etc.

Stop that. Don't work more than stays in your contract. You warned them and they've ignored you, now they should face the consequences, not you. Maybe they'll have to hire 5 contractors, each of them getting 3 times the money they pay you... Polish your CV in case they find a loophole to fire you or they will go insolvent, whatever go first. But not sacrifice your health and private life for someone who cares only about money.

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Consider that, in your legislation, work stress might be considered as a legitimate health issue and you are then entitled to adequate sickness leave. Then you can explain this going and its effect on your stamina to the doctor.

By the way of stress, it is very important to stress positively that recovering from fully-fledged burnouts can take several months to recover. A leave of several weeks is a completely rational choice, even if you weight the raw numbers of time off work.


Besides, my personal impression is that you are being bullied into believing that you are incompetent, while you are the most competent in the pack, or the most prudent and cautious. In a healthy work environment there is room and respect for bears and bulls. Not for bullies; the rules of the street are not applicable.

When your faculty to agree to disagree is belittled and dismissed offhand, I fear that the role you are fated to play next is a scapegoat for someone else's ill-thought pragmatism.


The remarks of a intelligent and sensitive client are a most valuable hint that you have to protect your your clarity of vision and professionalism. It is difficult to engage in new projects when you have been hurt inside during the previous ones.


Disclaimer. Admittedly I have composed this answer assuming you are an employed consultant. Please OP feel free to note whether this is not the case.

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  • What are you actually advising the OP to do? It doesn't seem entirely clear to me. Are you suggesting they should take sickness leave, because of work stress, or threaten to do so? – Time4Tea Oct 28 '19 at 19:55
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    The OP should decide for him/herself. I do not suggest threats, for they do not lead to conflict resolution for sure. I consider it well-spent time to pay heed to the warnings that come from his/her body (health) and from the work environment at large (clients). – XavierStuvw Oct 29 '19 at 1:24
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Additional to the other answers given I'd like to offer tackling this from a different angle: why does your boss think it's 2h worth of work, and you think it's several days?

Is it possible that there is actually a way to achieve the goal in 2h? Maybe achieve the goal in a different way than what you think will take you several days? Maybe satisfy the same level of quality (in the eyes of the client and your boss) in a different way?

Finding a creative way that may be different from your first approach would prove you to be extremely valuable, both to your client and to your boss.

Focusing your energy on finding a solution may help you more that focusing on how to "be right" while not being a jerk.

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  • Reading your 2nd paragraph reminded me of a good quote from a Dilbert cartoon: (to his Manager) "I have infinite capacity to take on more and more tasks, as long as you don't mind that the quality of my work will approach zero" ;-) – Time4Tea Oct 28 '19 at 19:51
  • Good point - I wasn't suggesting to reduce the quality of the solution but rather examine the criteria assessing quality in the eyes of the client: is the difference in effort required really worth the additional quality achieved? Is the difference in quality not the boss's responsibility to explain to the client? Edited second paragraph to add the aspect. – miw Dec 30 '19 at 23:16

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