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Disclaimer: I know there have been a lot of posts already about unrealistic deadlines, but this one's a bit different, so please don't mark it as a duplicate right away.

Background: For the past two years, I've been working in a global accounting software company and despite my "young" age (28), I was recently promoted to software engineering manager. I think I work hard enough, I constantly work 14-16 hours a day, 6-7 days a week to the point that even my health has deteriorated (constant shaking due to anxiety, sleepless, weight gain, etc.). I am fully committed to my job.

Main Issue: Today at 1:00 pm, I had a discussion with my Director, asking for a detailed report on the plan for the whole quarter and I need to submit it before evening (8-9 pm?). I asked if it's possible to submit it tomorrow morning, mentioning that I have other scheduled meetings with HR and we're currently handling a Severity-1 issue, among other things. She responded No, because it's being asked by the Vice-President today and in turn, the Vice-President will present it to the President next week. I responded that I'll do my best to deliver.

Notes

  1. I already have the quarter plan prepared, but she wants more details about it.
  2. These meetings with HR are Administrative Hearings, and are quite important as well. I cannot delegate this to someone else.
  3. Severity-1 Issues need to be constantly on the call with the customer/clients and need to have a resolution ASAP. I need to be in this call since the ones handling the issue are newly-hired employees and I'm the only one with experience on this matter.

Unfortunately, I finally finished the meetings and working on the Sev-1 Issue around 9 pm, and I immediately messaged the Director, informing her that I cannot deliver it tonight and will stay up to send it to her tomorrow morning. She responded:

I just did it myself as I cannot wait for tomorrow. The VP asked for it today so it means it is very important. you need to have sense of urgency of the priority. This time its OK as I can do it for you, but it should not be like this every time.

I felt that was unfair, considering the report was only requested in the afternoon and I already informed her beforehand that I had a full day ahead of me. I also informed her right away that I couldn't make the report because of the items I've been working on. It just didn't sit well with me.

Considering all the aspects above, Is it recommended that I confront the Director about this? I think it's also good to let her know that the expectations are unrealistic and so that she won't do it again next time, but I'm afraid it might turn out differently.

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  • 171
    You should seriously reconsider the way you work, not because of what happened today, but because constantly working 14-16 hours a day, 6-7 days a week to the point that your health has deteriorated is going to kill you. Overtime should be for exceptional cases (like making room for that report you had to do today) not everyday. Working those hours gives you no room for emergencies because you are always in emergency mode and reprioritizations don't help you much when you have no room for maneuvers.
    – Bogdan
    Oct 6 at 15:50
  • 16
    In addition, if you are really committed to this job, you would make sure your health is prioritized to the point that you don't kill yourself doing it. Then they won't have you, and how will that help? Oct 6 at 16:02
  • 70
    If you are regularly working 80+ hours a week for someone else, you are failing. It's not heroic dedication to your job; it's mismanagement of your work. Try to find a mentor. Your ambition and drive are admirable, but you don't have to damage your health to be successful. A mentor with more experience can help you see that you don't have to keep every ball anyone throws at you in play. Knowing which tasks to do immediately, which to delay or delegate, and which to simply ignore until they're irrelevant is something that you learn by doing (and sometimes by messing up :))
    – ColleenV
    Oct 6 at 20:10
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    @AlanDev True, but the situation is probably more complicated, with conflicting orders. I work at a good company, and I get comments from my manager if I work too long (and she often gets that comment right back, because obviously she's also still working then :D ). I'm pretty sure if I structurally overworked, there would be some kind of intervention. The amount of work OP does is a red flag, and if he would ask to prioritize, the answer would probably be "all of the tasks are important".
    – R. Schmitz
    Oct 7 at 11:22
  • 6
    "I think I work hard enough, I constantly work 14-16 hours a day, 6-7 days a week to the point that even my health has deteriorated (constant shaking due to anxiety, sleepless, weight gain, etc.)" What country is this? Depending on the country, you can probably ask that your boss be sent to prison for making you work these hours.
    – Stef
    Oct 8 at 18:15
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Confronting your boss will rarely end well for you. Instead, I'd explain the other tasks you'd prioritised and ask whether she'd have ordered them differently. This way you'll either learn to prioritise better or will gently lead her to the realisation that you did everything correctly.

I'd guess that her answer will be that you should have delegated the customer call and delayed the HR meeting. Both learning to delegate and how to (politely) say no to meetings will be useful in helping you reduce your working hours - regardless of how badly you want to progress your career, you are currently working way too hard. This in turn will hopefully help you to deal with the stress you're feeling.

Your post strongly suggests you are very focussed on your career. Being smart and prepared to work hard is often enough to get a first promotion. On its own it us unlikely to take you any further. You're responsible for the output of an entire team; you need to make them productive to demonstrate readiness for further promotion. If you aim to spend less time in meetings (e.g. regular HR catch-up) and spend more time on developing your team, including allowing them space to grow (e.g. first attend customer calls with you, then later take them over), you'll be able to pass on a task the next time something comes up at short notice. This may avoid you needing to ask your boss about priorities. In the worst case where she says that everything is a priority, delegation gives you a route to progress on multiple fronts.

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    This ^. To put it less retrospectively, the next time your manager gives you a hard deadline you can't meet, ask for their help with prioritization (and, if possible, get it it writing). "If I have to get either the SEV-1 incident settled OR the report done by 9pm, which is more important?" When they say "the report" then you do the report and kick the consequences back up to them. This isn't just CYA - the report might actually be more important, so you need to trust that they know this and you don't. That's why they make more than you.
    – mkdir
    Oct 6 at 16:23
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    This. Plus the issue of "newly-hired employees" - what is a "newly-hired employee"? Are they new to the company or entry-level employees? If they're new to the company but already have experience (e.g. mid-to-senior engineers / devs) they should be able to handle those issues with some guidance from you but not need you sitting in the call. If they're entry-level employees, then you're assigning the wrong tasks to the wrong people Oct 7 at 10:07
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    I strongly disagree. Calling your boss out when they're explicitly using you as a scapegoat for someone else's bad planning is essential. If you're fielding a severity-1 problem (which usually means a major outage with major effects for customers and potential damages for loss of service), then your boss's job is to go back to the VP and say no. If necessary, be prepared to go all the way up to the Pres justifying why dealing with this is more important than writing a report. But right now the OP is being a doormat, and is being used as one. They need to stop being a doormat ASAP.
    – Graham
    Oct 7 at 12:49
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    -1: This answer ignores the most likely possibility, where OP goes to his boss and asks for a priority list and the boss comes back and says "just get everything done, it all needs to get done, so do it". Such a response is obviously ridiculous, but is unfortunately common at companies who allow their employees to regularly work 16 hour days and 7 days a week.
    – Ertai87
    Oct 7 at 21:50
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    @Graham While pushing back on unrealistic expectations is indeed necessary and I fully agree with you, this needs to be done proactively. Being confrontational with the boss in the way OP wrote they wanted to do (i.e. after the fact and after they failed to deliver) is NOT going to help Oct 8 at 9:30
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You are not working “hard enough”, your working hours are so ridiculous I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

I’m doing 40 hours a week, you’re half my age, and if we both continue working as we do now, I will do more work in my remaining working life from today than you will. That’s because you’re killing yourself. Anything above 40 hours a week will destroy your productivity.

Your hours, over 90 a week, they make you sick (you noticed that already) and the expected end result is that one day suddenly you will find yourself incapable of doing anything. Usually takes a year of doing nothing to recover.

PS. What are you getting paid per hour? Did you ever calculate that? Do you think your company will support you when you burn out? Just curious.

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    The "per-hour" wage is a great question! I had a good friend who thought he was making good money at his job until he calculated how many hours he was working and realized he was actually making below (US) minimum wage. He very quickly found a new job.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 7 at 12:50
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    The best answer, even if it might not be an answer to the question, it's an answer to the question that should have been asked. OP seems proud to be working these hours. I hope they will learn in a good way that they are mistaken about this, before they will find out the hard way.
    – user132647
    Oct 7 at 14:31
  • Even if OP was paid a thousand US dollars per hour it wouldn’t be worth it. This is not about money. What use is money if you have neither time nor health to spend it?
    – Michael
    Oct 8 at 13:20
  • no, i'm not working per hour. I'm salaried and my overtime isn't paid unfortunately.
    – AWOra
    Oct 19 at 2:37
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Considering all the aspects above, Is it recommended that I confront the Director about this? I think it's also good to let her know that the expectations are unrealistic and so that she won't do it again next time, but I'm afraid it might turn out differently.

No, you should not confront your director.

What you should have done, after mentioning all of your ongoing work, is to ask your Director which task is the highest priority and followed their instruction. If that means that you miss the HR meeting or the Severity 1 isn't handled, that falls on your director, not you. Whenever you are in doubt as to what is a priority, ask your director.

If, however, your director expects you to be able to do all of these tasks simultaneously and you are struggling to complete them even though you are working extreme hours you should probably start looking for a new company to work for. If you are not already burned out, it appears you are very close. You need to take care of your health and work for a company that does not impose unrealistic and unreasonable expectations on their employees.

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  • +1 for raising the possibility that the manager still expects, unreasonably, that all the tasks are done, and how to deal with it Oct 6 at 20:30
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    It's also important to note that meetings can be postponed, if they cannot be delegated. If there's an emergency in the production environment, then you kindly inform the meeting chair that you cannot attend, and offer to reschedule the next day/week. It's up to the chair to decide whether your participation is more important than the schedule. Oct 7 at 9:57
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    Moving to another company may not be the ultimate solution. I find that some people just more easily fall into the trap of working long hours, no matter where they work.
    – Berend
    Oct 7 at 12:19
  • It may be worth noting that as a manager, he shouldn't need his next level up to set priorities every time, but this time he did.
    – fectin
    Oct 7 at 15:16
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What you need to do is not to confront the director, it's to find another job.

You cannot work 14-16 hours per day. It's unsustainable. Getting sleep/rest/relaxation is known to be medically important; lack of rest can literally kill you. And I don't mean in the "I'll go crazy and commit suicide" type, I mean in the "contribute to severe illness which winds up in hospitalization and death" kind. You are literally killing yourself by doing this, so stop. If that means the work doesn't get done, then the work doesn't get done. Your company can fire you and find someone else who is literally willing to die for the company, because you shouldn't have to (they shouldn't have to either, but there's a sucker born every minute, as they say; don't let that sucker be you). The same goes, by the way, for working 7 days a week; even if you can get your workload "down" to 8 hours a day 7 days a week, that's still not good enough. It's simply unsustainable.

Here's another way to look at it: As a software engineering manager, you're probably salaried, meaning (in some places in the world), you don't make extra money for working overtime. Your salary is based on a 40hr work week, because that's (in most locales) the statutory definition of a full-time employee. Let's say you make $150k/yr as a software engineering manager. That works out to roughly $75/hr for a 40hr work week. If you're working 15 hrs per day, 6 days per week, you're making $33.33/hr, less than half. This works out to roughly $67k/yr, as a 40hr/wk job. To put this into perspective, you are making the same hourly rate as a junior fresh-out-of-college developer at an early-stage startup (actually you're probably making less than that), and you're literally killing yourself for the privilege.

Here's another, other way to look at it: You're a salaried employee (again, presuming this), and you don't get paid for overtime (again, presuming this). Your salary is based on a 40hr work week. Let's say you make $150k/yr. This means, every 40 hours per week that you work is worth at least $150k annually (it actually scales up; the more hours you work the more it takes a toll on your health, so the more hours you work the more valuable those hours are, but I'll brush that under the rug for the moment). If you work 15 hrs per day, 6 days per week, that's 90 hours per week. That's (roughly) $185k/yr in extra hours you are working and not being paid for. You are freely donating $185k/yr in man-hours of labour to your company and getting nothing for it. Now, what do you think the likelihood of this situation is to work in reverse? Do you think the probability of your company just going ahead and donating to you, free of charge or service and no strings attached, $185k/yr, is a high probability or a low probability? Would they treat you as well as you treat them? I'm guessing they wouldn't; perhaps you should ask HR about this (you probably shouldn't unless you want to get fired, but you may want to ask them this on the way out the door as part of whatever exit interview process they have, if such a process turns hostile for whatever reason and you feel like lighting a 5-alarm gas fire on this bridge and don't care about losing whatever reference letter or whatever they may give you). They wouldn't do it for you; don't do it for them.

OK, so we're stopping working 14-16 hours per day, 6-7 days per week. That's not happening anymore. Now, what's going to happen is that someone is going to get pissed off because they can't abuse you anymore (and make no mistake, what's been happening up until now is abuse). This is why you have to look for a new job, because this is almost certainly going to get you fired; abusers (in any situation, be it corporate or personal) tend to get angry when their abuse stops being tolerated.

As for the current situation, this is simply a symptom of the ongoing abuse. They know you have 2 other high priority events going on, and they simply add another one onto your list as though it's nothing. They have no respect for you, full stop, end of story. There's really nothing you can do about this; you explained the situation, and you simply can't be in 2 places at once. Of course, you can ask them, as other answers have suggested, to give you a priority list, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that the response will be "it's your task, you're a manager here with responsibility, can't you figure it out?" or something equally ridiculous. In which case, if you try to fight harder, you may find yourself in a disciplinary hearing (abusers, etc); it's not worth the time or the hassle. Since you can't be in 2 places at once, and your job description appears to include "be in 2 places at once", it's time to admit that you cannot perform the requirements of your job and to find another job whose requirements you can perform. Let another sucker try to take your job.

In the meantime, while you're looking for another job, just do the best you can. You'll probably get called in for various disciplinary hearings or whatnot over the fact that you can't do silly things like being in 2 places at once, or you need to take 5 hours out of your 15 hour workday to eat meals, or whatnot, but just ignore those. Start the ball rolling on a new job and you'll be happy sooner than later.

For what it's worth, you may want to look into whether or not your labour code supports cases of what's known as "Constructive Dismissal", which is basically where the employer makes the employee so uncomfortable in the job that they are forced to quit, thereby alleviating the employer from responsibilities such as severance pay, unemployment insurance, and so on, that they would have had to pay in case of a termination. In some countries (including the UK and Canada, and also some others), this is illegal and the company can be sued. If your country has these statutes, you may want to contact a lawyer to see if bringing such a lawsuit is in your interests.

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    @Berend OP states he's been working these hours long enough to have noticed the impacts on his health. It may not be intentional but it's abuse. They're abusing OPs youth, naivety, eagerness, whatever, but it's definitely abuse.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 7 at 12:54
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    @Berend OP states that he was in the middle of a Sev-1 issue and also scheduled, unavoidable meetings with HR, and his boss plopped a huge report on his deck to be done same-day despite these other things going on, and chastised him when he was unable to complete it. Reasonable people don't do that. Based on that alone I can surmise that the rest of OP's circumstances are probably not by choice.
    – Ertai87
    Oct 7 at 15:16
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    The fact that OP's manager asked OP to submit a report at 9pm, nonchalantly, as if he expected OP to be working that late anyway, is also a pretty dead giveaway that OP's circumstances are not by choice. I've never had a manager ask me to do work at 9pm.
    – Ertai87
    Oct 7 at 15:32
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    That’s right. 90% of people working 14-16 hours in professional jobs do it not because the job requires it but because they lack professional discipline and boundaries. Those things go with you when you change jobs,
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 9 at 13:24
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    @mxyzplk Citation needed. Most people who work 9-10 hour days, 5 days per week, do it because they can't set boundaries. People who work 14-16 hour days, 6-7 days per week, while complaining that it's having a negative effect on their health, do it because they don't want to be fired.
    – Ertai87
    Oct 10 at 4:13
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(and that probably applies at every level up the tree)

Polish your CV and get out of Dodge, before you work yourself into an early grave for management who seem to be contanstly testing your limits. They will keep shoveling the excrement on until something breaks. That something is you.

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  • 2
    Blunt and to the point.
    – StephenG
    Oct 9 at 16:53
  • 1
    Upvote. That's pretty much all that is left to OP at this stage, alas Oct 9 at 21:01
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You definitely need to approach your director. You need to then tell them that you are having challenges with prioritization, delegation, and work-life balance and you really need their coaching.

It's not anyone else's fault that you cannot control yourself and your environment. I'm not blaming you for not developing these skills yet, but you need to clearly understand that's where the shortcoming lies.

And full sympathies, I've been there. But here's how you get out.

First of all, no one can "make you" go to a meeting, and when you have to prioritize things sometimes something gets the short end of the stick. You say "we'll need to reschedule that" to meetings. Guess what, it gets rescheduled, especially if you don't show up. You find other non-junior folks to delegate the Sev1 to, or failing that you let the juniors sink or swim.

Set a realistic goal, like 10 hours of work a day 5 days a week. Start doing it, without exception. When things aren't getting done, coaching from your director should help you prioritize, delegate, and maybe even get more resource (why do I suspect the plan you submitted doesn't allow for staffing so you aren't the one working all those hours...).

Lean from your director. She clearly has learned the art of ruthless prioritization and delegation. Be more like her not less. Enlist her help in seeing your work as a landscape YOU control, not that controls you.

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I think I work hard enough, I constantly work 14-16 hours a day, 6-7 days a week to the point that even my health has deteriorated (constant shaking due to anxiety, sleepless, weight gain, etc.). I am fully committed to my job.

Your commitment is misplaced. It's gotten you in a situation where you are compromising your health and sanity and you have no spare bandwidth to deal with the issues that your director expects you to deal with.

Main Issue: Today at 1:00 pm, I had a discussion with my Director, asking for a detailed report on the plan for the whole quarter and I need to submit it before evening (8-9 pm?). I asked if it's possible to submit it tomorrow morning, mentioning that I have other scheduled meetings with HR and we're currently handling a Severity-1 issue, among other things. She responded No, because it's being asked by the Vice-President today and in turn, the Vice-President will present it to the President next week. I responded that I'll do my best to deliver.

And here it is causing you to do your job poorly. You told your manager that you were capable of doing something and then failed to do it. This was terrible for you and the net result was that you failed to execute on the task that you were told was the highest priority.

The good news is that both your problems have the same solution. If you reduce the amount of time you spend working, you'll feel better and you'll better be able to handle any last minute top priority jobs.

First, start gradually reducing the amount of time you work immediately. Accurately report to your manager what you will be able to get done and when on this gradually adjusting schedule. Let your manager choose your priorities and avoid the temptation to assign yourself additional work.

This will mean that some things won't get done. This will mean that some other people fail when you could have made them not fail. But this is important because your employer has to adjust so they're not relying on you to overwork. That's never sustainable and doing this gradually is better than all at once, which is definitely what will happen if you don't do anything about it.

You may get some feedback that your productivity has dropped off. How you handle that is up to you, but I suggest being honest. Report that you were working at an unsustainable level and that it was causing your work quality and health to suffer.

Get your manager used to setting your priorities, you respecting them, and them having to deal with the consequences of the de-prioritized tasks not getting done. Try to avoid any timeline surprises. Make only commitments you are confident you can keep without harming your health and keep them. Then maybe the next time something urgent comes along suddenly, you will easily be able to put in a few extra hours to get it done.

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I agree 100% with the other answers, which pretty much state that, when you have multiple tasks with deadlines such that you cannot meet then all, you need to tell your Director that you can't get it all done and have her tell which which task(s) to focus on, which to postpone, etc.

Separately, it seem like your problem isn't limited to this one instance - if you are regularly working those hours (especially at an established global firm) it seems like you have more work than you can handle. There are many reasons that could be, perhaps you are "volunteering" for extra work (as a new manager trying to make a good impression), maybe you aren't delegating enough to your team, maybe you are underestimating how long each task will take, and taking on obligations based on those faulty estimates, or maybe your Director is assigning you too much work.

In any case, you need to figure out how to get down to a manageable work load - one that isn't making you sick, or causing you to burn out, because there is no way this situation clears up on its own.

2

Take a long vacation. Do this as soon as practical. If possible, the vacation should last at least two weeks. And make sure you leave all work behind.

The main problem isn't your manager, it's you.

The first week of the vacation will give you some distance from your daily routine. You need to free your brain from schedules and deadlines. Avoid any contact with anything work-related. Take a trip, learn a new skill, whatever. But get away from your work.

This will prepare you for the second week. Now you can start to think about you and what you expect from life. Your work is not your life: We don't live in order to work but we work in order to live. Right now, you have no chance to see beyond the little cage you are locked in. Only a greater distance from your current situation will allow you to see better. Make sure you do this soon!

With the necessary distance gained, you are much better placed to see this as what that really is: Poor management which tries to exploit your unhealthy dedication to please them. You will also be much better able to identify what your next job should be and, more importantly, be not.

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