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I am an engineer in my second job. I also find dealing with people exhausting; I would happily work for days without talking to anyone. Obviously that isn’t possible, so instead I do my best to balance my preferences with the requirements of the workplace.

In my first job, I never had any issues because we had very limited social interactions; I usually had 1-3 meetings a week and people rarely called me or dropped by my cube. My new job is entirely different; we sometimes have 3-4 hours of meetings per day, which frequently run over time, and many, many impromptu calls and meetings. The impromptu calls and meetings are the biggest problem for me. I like to know about meetings in advance so I can mentally prepare for them, and these surprise meetings often come when I am already exhausted and frazzled from sitting through other meetings, so I can’t participate well.

However, it seems like long impromptu discussions are a normal part of engineering. All of my coworkers seem to be perfectly fine with them. I don’t want to be seen as uncooperative or a bad coworker, so I am afraid to refuse them. But then I end up in a meeting when I am angry or exhausted, and several times I have even been noticeably irritated or upset, which is definitely not how I want to behave at work.

My questions:

  • First, are these long impromptu meetings the norm in the engineering workplace? If I ask to postpone or refuse these meetings, will I be seen as abnormal or a bad coworker? Will I get cut out of decision making?
  • Secondly, I would love suggestions for dealing with this. So far the strategies which have been suggested to me are having some sort of formal policy of requiring X amount of time before meetings, or postponing impromptu meetings or calls on an as-needed basis when I feel I just can’t handle yet another meeting right now.

Also, please note I am mostly concerned about the reactions of my coworkers to this. My manager is supportive of my asking to schedule impromptu meetings or calls for a later time.

  • I forgot to mention that I already have scheduled time to get work done without interruptions. This problem is more about dealing with unscheduled meetings specifically. – js9927 Jul 12 at 20:57
  • What are these discussions about? As unless they are to solve an immediate problem, they would probably benefit from more structure. – Matthew Gaiser Jul 12 at 21:04
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    "I am also an introvert and would happily work for days without talking to anyone" This is not a term with universal definition, more so this specific one. Saying it like it's something obvious is going to raise a lot of brows, and honestly I don't think this adds anything of value to your question, similariy it doesn't to keep it in the title, so I would recommend removing it from the question and focus on the actual issues you are facing - impromptu overrun meetings. – Tymoteusz Paul Jul 12 at 21:30
  • This is really two questions, so put the introvert part into another question. Before you do, check if there are other questions handling your topics (hint; yes, there are). – RedSonja Jul 13 at 5:16
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    @js9927 introvert is a non term, with very little actual meaning behind it (there is no universal definition for it, nor is it a defined disorder etc), so you will be better off explaining the actual problem you are facing, than trying to hope that people will understand the one word the way you do, that was the point. – Tymoteusz Paul Jul 13 at 14:59
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The norm? There is no norm. Every business you'll find has its own way of doing things.

Your first step should be to talk to your manager and/or HR about it. If the business values you they'll try to work something out. If they don't they won't.

You then need to decide whether the environment is one you can cope with - if not move on quickly!

In future job applications try to determine during the application process what the environment will be like.

What I'm trying to get at is that a job is like a suit. If its a bad fit, it's a bad fit. Minor alterations OK, but if your colour is blue and the suit's green... It's never gonna work. Trust me though when I say they come in all shapes and sizes.

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Meetings are normal. If you don't meet with people, then you don't get to know things like project requirements, scope, sprint planning, and so on. They are both normal and important. So let's get that straight: You're not going to find a job where you just put your head down and write code all day every day. It's also a good idea to get to know your coworkers: the more people who like you, the less chance you'll be on the chopping block when layoffs happen, and the more connections you'll make with people who might be useful to you later. So be more sociable.

That aside, 3-4 hours of meetings per day is definitely not normal. Think about it: You work 9-5, which is 8 hours, minus an hour for lunch, and then 3-4 hours of meetings, that's already almost your entire day gone; you can't be productive in 2-3 hours per day, especially with people coming by your desk outside of these times to ask you additional questions. Factoring that in, and also the cost of context switching, means you're probably doing around 60-90 minutes of useful work per day, or around 20 hours of work per (2-week) sprint. That makes no sense.

What you need to do is raise this issue with your manager. Perhaps you have the wrong understanding of your job description; perhaps your primary function is as a facilitator, not a developer, and in this case meetings are normal. Perhaps the company isn't interested in output and more interested in meetings and the company is simply dysfunctional. When you raise this with your manager, I'd raise it in terms of simple math: "If I'm doing 3-4 hours of meetings per day, and 1 hour of lunch, I have 2-3 hours of productive time per day, and that time is encroached upon by constantly being bombarded with other requests, so I can't get things done". And that last part, in bold, is the most important part, because at the end of the day, you're being paid to get things done, and if you're not getting things done then you're not doing what you are paid for (by no fault of your own). It's your manager's responsibility to make sure you perform your job function of getting things done, and if you raise an issue that's preventing you from doing that then it's his job to step in and fix it.

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  • Where did you get "you work 9-5 minus an hour for lunch" from? – guest Jul 14 at 19:27
  • @guest Because that's the hours that most people work. Especially OP is an engineer, which is (usually) a cushy office job with standard hours. – Ertai87 Jul 14 at 19:29
  • Ah, interesting. When I was an engineer two years ago, I started at 8, but more importantly, my break was not paid. Glad to hear paid breaks are the standard now! – guest Jul 14 at 19:35
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    @guest I personally start at 10 and end around 6. But that's not the point. The point is, you're in the office for X time, and an uncomfortably large percentage of X time is filled with meetings. Whether that time is 9-5 or 8-4 or 10-6 and whether or not lunchtime is paid is irrelevant. – Ertai87 Jul 14 at 19:42
  • I think lunchtime is paid is relevant for the "only 60-90 minutes of useful work" argument. – guest Jul 15 at 7:22
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Yes, these meetings annoy sometimes. I would suggest that you ask for a delay sometimes but not always.

Request like

"If there is not some urgent matter then can we do it a later?".

Being introvert is a personal trait but if meetings are a requirement and needed in order to run the business affairs then we can't avoid them. Although you can definitely ask for time and schedule adjustments. That must not be an issue.

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First, are these long impromptu meetings the norm in the engineering workplace? If I ask to postpone or refuse these meetings, will I be seen as abnormal or a bad coworker? Will I get cut out of decision making?

It's unclear what "long" meetings are. As a developer myself, I get pulled into typically 15-30 minute meetings. However there are times when I would be in meetings for 2-3 hours but luckily it is not the "norm" but can happen when I least expect it.

If your role is senior level or mid level, then you may have more input into the decision making process. I would say that if you are senior level at your company, then yes, you better have inputs into what they're doing or you can expect to be demoted or fired.

Secondly, I would love suggestions for dealing with this. So far the strategies which have been suggested to me are having some sort of formal policy of requiring X amount of time before meetings, or postponing impromptu meetings or calls on an as-needed basis when I feel I just can’t handle yet another meeting right now.

A lot of times people feel like EVERYONE is enjoying the meeting but secretly, everyone hates these meetings just as much as you do. I think the biggest ones anyone hate are those "team building" ones where you have to stand in front of everyone and do something silly. It's painful, and yes, dumb.

Now what I can say is it entirely depends on your status. If you are mid-to-senior level, either officially or not, then expect to be pulled into these meetings.

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