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Status quo

I work as a solution architect in a consulting company where i like it. But unfortunately the workload is very high. 80% of the week are unnecessary meetings where it's all about my facetime, but I don't really get anything worked off. In the end, I do my actual work (research, conception, etc.) during the meetings, which means that my work does not get 100% attention and I rarely follow the meetings. This ensures that I am exhausted in the evenings and have no energy left for social activities or private projects and have to meditate to calm my nerves.

Solution Attemps

I addressed this problem with my bosses in the last feedback session and they were aware of it. The conversation went well, they showed me that they don't want to lose me at all, because in their eyes I have a unique skillset, they promised me some benefits, more money and were obviously concerned about my well-being. The usual "you're cool, we're cool" conversation to keep supposed high performers. Plus a fancy new title that doesn't do me any good at all. Being a "lead of" a one-and-a-half man development department is nonsense.

There were also some promises concerning the workload and that I should get a team. My objection that seven customer projects at the same time is simply too much was dismissed with the fact that it is the same in every agency business.

My considerations

My only problem now is that I'm not sure if this is more than hot air. A few days later, in a large internal meeting, it was said that new colleagues are also an economic risk and therefore want to avoid it. I almost wanted to argue that it is also a risk that the only people who can do it will be absent due to burnout. But I was smart enough to keep it to myself.

I also thought about not working parallel to the meetings and just showing what would be left over. But I don't think that's helpful either and in the end I'll have to do the work at some point anyway. Switching is not an option for me yet, because I did my master in another subject and I still feel not confident enough in the software industry to change.

Question

How can I make sure that the situation changes and it's not just a tactic to keep me in the company?

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    You can't. They're managing the business based on more factors than just whether you'll leave or not. You have no control over that. You have to decide whether or not you trust them. Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 13:27
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    When managers talk of loyalty, just remember it is a oneway street...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 13:42
  • You're right. I might have to adjust the question: Assuming that we have an information asymmetry and I do not know whether management is acting or not to reduce my workload. How should I act so as not to ruin the relationship with management, but also not to ruin myself?
    – user120107
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 14:27
  • Have you tried declining some meetings that you know you can't contribute much to? If yes, how did it go? If not, why not?
    – Kat
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 3:56
  • Often the meetings are too vaguely formulated for me to assess whether I am needed or not. Often customers terminate meetings with "technical coordination" without an agenda. Maybe it's something for me, but maybe in the end it's only about the content. Most of the time I keep bugging the PM until I have an answer. But a large part of the time is also spent on SCRUM meetings (Review, Retro, Planning,...) for 5-7 customer projects. Even if I didn't have a task for this sprint, it is still desired that I am part of it, because the Scrum Masters want to be over correct
    – user120107
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 5:32

3 Answers 3

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I also thought about not working parallel to the meetings and just showing what would be left over. But I don't think that's helpful either and in the end I'll have to do the work at some point anyway.

I think this is the crucial point here: you don't owe your employer more time than what you're paid for. If you're working a 40-hour week, then 20% is 8 hours. If your work output is in line with something that would be expected from someone in your role to produce in 8 hours, your management can't really blame you for underperformance. If a project takes 40 hours to complete - make it crystal clear to your supervisors that with the current amount of meetings in your calendar the project will be completed in 5 weeks. If they want it faster - they should help you clear up your calendar.

You mentioned that your management is very satisfied with your performance and they don't want to lose you. My advice would be to stop working overtime and take care of your mental health. If you're indeed as valued an employee as they put it this should not sour your relationship with the management. But if it does - that means you're only valued when you're overperforming at the cost of your health, which is a good sign that you should start looking elsewhere. I understand that you currently find yourself in the middle of a career switch and the timing isn't right yet, but sacrificing your mental health for a company that doesn't treat you well isn't worth it.

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  • Thanks. I struggle with the fact that it is contractually regulated so that we don't have real overtime or time tracking. The hours are compensated with the salary as stated in the contract. That's why many people in the company do much more and I feel bad when I close my laptop at 5 pm. If work not done with a deadline that means it has to be finished and someone will have to work overtime. At least my experience in consulting is that hardly any deadlines are postponed because something is not finished. It's more likely to skip on code review, clean code or bugs.
    – user120107
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 18:17
  • I don't think that my performance is related to the overtime. I am able to get into new tech quickly, have a very good overview of the overall architecture and can design it. I also have a background in economics and understand the business behind the code. What the management doesn't understand is that I am perhaps 60% of the week in meetings. The left 20% are wasted because I can't code for another project in a short break and then jump into a meeting for another project. They see the time in the calendar, but don't understand that you need bigger slots to really get work done
    – user120107
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 18:27
  • Do you really have to be in all of those meetings? Have you tried specifically discussing your calendar with your supervisor? A reasonable manager should help you make more time for the actual work and would understand that requiring you to hit the deadlines with only 20% or 40% of your time isn't really sustainable.
    – Egor
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 18:46
  • No, I don't. I already discussed the topic with my boss and the PMs (who are not authorized to give me instructions). But it doesn't really reduce it, because the PMs are so technically poor that they need me for the smallest questions. Then it is often said that I can be muted and that I am only there to listen if questions come up. Also, the company has no incentive to reduce it because they can bill the customer for every hour I spend in a customer meeting. It's of course lucrative to put me in chargeable meetings and on top of that I work my real work, which can be charged again.
    – user120107
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 19:03
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    I'll bet they don't tell the customers that some of their hours were billed to two people! If your employer is willing to cheat here, it's not surprising that they're happy with people who will work unpaid overtime when overloaded with work. You should realise that they're exploiting you just like they're cheating their customers. The only difference is that you know it's happening. Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 9:25
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I recommend you to schedule meetings with yourself to do your work. E.g. a meeting titled 'Project foo' so that you are able to actually work on project foo.

This is slightly different to Fattie approach of asking people not to schedule meetings some days. The people you talk to may not be the same that ask you to be at the meetings (and I wonder what good is it to have you there if you aren't paying attention, you might have skipped it as well). On the other hand, if someone wants a meeting with you, they will find that you have your calendar full. It is also easier to reject the meeting because "you have another appointment",

I also thought about not working parallel to the meetings and just showing what would be left over. But I don't think that's helpful either and in the end I'll have to do the work at some point anyway.

Well, you will have to do the work, but at another time. Let's suppose project Foo requires that you work on it for a week (5 days). You have provided your estimate with your boss. Then, you are dragged to lots of meetings, and your boss states that you must attend to all of them. Those meetings take the equivalent of 4 work days, so you end up working only 1 day on project Foo.

Yes, you will have to do the work at some point. It will just take 5 weeks rather than one. There is a deadline in two weeks since the company was going to show project Foo to some clients? It's not your problem. The company chooses where they want you. If they consider those meetings are more important than project Foo, why would you do otherwise? (and there are some -few- cases when having someone show up at a useless meeting is actually more valuable from a business perspective)

Of course, you need to have your manager updated with the progress. In this case, progress foo is at 1/5th. The reason being <list of meetings and time spent on each>. If they thought project foo was going to be done in a week and it actually takes 5 weeks, they don't want to learn about it at that point. They need to have the information, so that they can either work with those adjusted estimates (hey, perhaps taking 5 weeks isn't a problem, it's better that you are on those meetings) or prioritize their resources (adding more people to the project, or -more likely- asking 0x30 to skip meetings about X, Y and Z, but still go to those of W).

Switching is not an option for me yet, because I did my master in another subject and I still feel not confident enough in the software industry to change.

I think you need to gain more confidence. From your description, it seems you are a valuable asset for your company. Other companies would likely want to have you working for them as well. You are not in a hurry to switch, so you can start job hunting at a slow pace (they are also slow times at recruiting on many companies, due to COVID-19). By the way, I am sure that fancy new title will look good on your CV (and actually support your explanation on the interview. It's not just "I am good on this", it's "I am good on this, which my previous employer recognised making me lead of fooprjects").

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  • Good approach. I also tried to schedule "blocker" meetings in my calendar. Unfortunately, the attitude in the company is that external appointments always beat internal ones. Therefore, people still put appointments into time because "customer first" is... I want to try, as you and others have suggested, not to do anything else while in the meetings
    – user120107
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 6:07
  • If the company wants customer first, then it's customer first. Other work may be delayed, but it's the company choice. As far as they are fine with that, there's no problem. The main issue is, you should not be stressed to meet impossible deadlines, your health goes first. It's their job to prioritize that.
    – Ángel
    Commented Sep 29, 2020 at 22:36
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As I understand it, your primary issue is "too many meetings".

Apparently "talk is pointless" in the situation at hand; you've already told them; they've already mouthed agreement, and there's been no change.

If you are, anyway, prepared to leave I suggest as a "last effort" - on the basis of "why not since you're leaving anyway" - try an action change.

"Guys as discussed feedback session of the 13th, I am unable to proceed at the company with the current meeting load. I suggest, Monday - Tuesday - Wednesday I will take a no-meeting route to focus on work. How's that sound?

Just leave it at that. If they say "No" literally your only option is to leave.

Something to consider,

"How should I act so as not to ruin the relationship with management..."

It is worth considering that employees have no "relationship" with a company. Employees are a tool. Like a building or a desk. The company uses tools to make money.

(In some (vanishingly rare) cases one may have leverage to get something one wants as an employee (or as a desk or as a building!) but there's no "relationship" whatsoever.)

{One can use the word "relationship" in abstract sense like, a pilot has a "relationship" with her plane, or a farmer has a "relationship" with a meat animal, but there's no "relationship" in the normal sense between a company and employees.}

In summary it would seem that

  1. Problem == meetings

  2. It has been absolutely establish unfortunately that "words are useless"

  3. Unfortunately then you are only left with action, an ultimatum as it were. Assert politely that you want to try (say) 3-days-meetingless.

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