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I'm part of a massive death march project that really seems unlikely to be finished in shorter than six months. The company has announced a 1% bonus for everyone if this particular project is completed by the end of the year. Most of the people in this project seem on board with trying to accomplish this, and they're setting our work schedule. They're going off the expectation that everyone can go from working 9-5 to 7-7 every work day and take zero PTO other than the Thursday for Thanksgiving, and they're also talking about scheduling stuff on Saturdays and Sundays. The schedule of tasks does rely on me for around 25-30%.

I don't want to participate for several reasons, like having other stuff to do outside of work, the 1% bonus not being enough, and frankly I don't believe that we'll get the project done like this. But this seems to not be a common viewpoint among the rest of the team. I feel certain that if I follow their schedule I'll burn out. How should I proceed?

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    So they want you to work a 60 hour week for a ONE PERCENT bonus? 60 hours for time and half would be worth discussing. Say normal pay for 6 months = $40k, time and half for 20 extra hours = 75% more pay or $30k, you'd have to ask your wife and kids if not seeing you for $30k pay is worth it. ONE PERCENT? That would be $400 or $800? No way.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 31, 2022 at 15:54
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    1% bonus of what? Sounds ridiculous if it would be 1% of your base salary,, but if everybody else is super happy, maybe you misunderstood something and it's a ton of money because it's 1% of something else?
    – nvoigt
    Oct 31, 2022 at 16:24
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    I'm thinking the same as @nvoigt. If it's 1% of the base salary, then this offer is ridiculous. On the other hand, if it is 1% of what the company gets for the project, it might be worth taking another look.
    – Luc
    Oct 31, 2022 at 16:58
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    "massive death march project" If this is really true, then you can't just say 'no', you have to say 'no', because you're going to need all that extra weekend time and PTO to work on your resume and look for a new employer. The key is to make the switch to a new company before the burnout happens. Oct 31, 2022 at 18:07
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    Maybe you should ask why your coworkers seem to be happy about working OT for a bonus is much less than OT pay that they only get if they complete by an unreasonable deadline. Maybe they drank the Kool-Aid or maybe you missed something. I would love to hear what their reasoning is on here.
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 1, 2022 at 13:36

9 Answers 9

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I'm part of a massive death march project that really seems unlikely to be finished in shorter than six months. The company has announced a 1% bonus for everyone if this particular project is completed by the end of the year.

Counting this week, there are nine weeks left in this calendar year. Six months' worth of work is approximately 960 work hours. Spread that over nine weeks, and you'd need to work 106 hours a week, or 15 hours a day (including weekends). Four extra hours a day isn't going to cut it.

Spoiler alert: the project won't get finished, there won't be any bonus, and all of your families' holidays will be ruined for nothing.

I would tell my manager that while I don't mind working a bit of overtime occasionally, the current request is far beyond what you consider reasonable and won't significantly increase your output over the time period. Do the best you can for the rest of the year but don't burn yourself out. This is the textbook definition of "poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part". Your boss isn't going to fire you before the end of the year if, as you said, 25-30% of the work relies on you because that would guarantee that the project fails. Spend the next two months finding a new position with a company that treats their employees better and jump ship as soon as you get a chance. It doesn't sound like there are many options for salvaging your current situation, or that it's worth salvaging at all.

You do actually have a lot of leverage here, if you have the intestinal fortitude to follow through. Your resignation would mean the project is clearly beyond impossible for the remaining team to finish regardless of overtime. Your boss can accept that you'll work the normal hours that were agreed upon, or you can walk and let your boss explain to upper management how he drove off a critical resource and caused a project to fail. A manager willing to work you that hard already doesn't care about you at all, so don't waste energy trying to keep them happy with you. There's a risk that they fire you after the deadline but since it's essentially impossible to meet the target at this point, there's still that risk even if you did work yourself to death. Hopefully, you'll have started your new job long before it gets to that point.

Also, you didn't mention where specifically you are but, in many places, PTO is considered part of your compensation. If your PTO expires at the end of the year and your employer suddenly tries to prevent you from using it without adequate warning, you may have grounds to sue them for denying you compensation. That particular part of the issue would likely be a better as a question for law.stackexchange.com.

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    "Also, you didn't mention where specifically you are but, in many places, PTO is considered part of your compensation. If your PTO expires at the end of the year and your employer suddenly tries to prevent you from using it without adequate warning, you may have grounds to sue them for denying you compensation." Assuming that a workplace like this isn't trying for the scam that is "unlimited time off".
    – nick012000
    Nov 1, 2022 at 10:19
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    The OP will also need to understand and accept that their leaving will likely be pointed to as a major factor of why the project ultimately failed. The company will look for excuses and they need to be prepared to handle being thrown under the proverbial bus like this.
    – spuck
    Nov 1, 2022 at 15:08
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    I doubt that a manager would "explain to upper management how he drove off a critical resource and caused a project to fail". He would use the resignation as an excuse for not getting it done. "user137408 promised this was going to be done then quit when it was due." Nov 1, 2022 at 17:11
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    My concern is that Project Management will expect this kind of effort for all future projects. The Project Management needs to learn from this fiasco and reschedule or replan. Nov 1, 2022 at 18:27
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    @HannoverFist Part of a manager's job is to ensure that the team's bus factor remains sufficiently high. Claiming that one employee's departure doomed the project would be admitting that they failed to plan for one of the most common and predictable types of team problems. The manager would have to explain why he let one person be a single point of failure for such a large portion of the project, plus why he hasn't staffed, equipped, or cross-trained the team to be able to handle a single person's absence.
    – bta
    Nov 1, 2022 at 21:51
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There is a very good way to deal with things like this when you are being asked for Additional hours that are unreasonable:

"Sure - can you let me know what Cost Centre I can bill my Overtime Hours to, to complete this project?"

If they (invariably) say that your contract doesn't allow Overtime or that there is no cost centre - then at that point, you advise them that you are not a charity and don't work for Free and you will be finishing at your normal time.

If they raise a big stink, point out that a 1% annual bonus is not guaranteed, even if everyone was onboard with completing the project and that 1% is likely to be a far smaller amount than the compensation you'd get from OT rates at 4 hours a day for the next 2 months.

I'm not 100% sure on what your labour laws are like in your area, but I imagine that asking all employees to increase their work hours by 50% for several months with no increase in remuneration would not be considered reasonable for a Salaried employee.

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    then at that point, you advise them that you are not a charity and don't work for Free and you will be finishing at your normal time. --> this doesnt work. Companies where overtime is the way of life, you will face a lot of weird looks from the team.
    – chendu
    Nov 1, 2022 at 8:17
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    @chendu One interesting thing about being an adult is that you have the opportunity to value principles over whether or not people give you weird looks. Granted, far from everyone makes use of that opportunity, but it's there at least.
    – Will
    Nov 1, 2022 at 8:44
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    @Will. to be fair, not everyone is fortunate enough to be in a position to use that opportunity. I feel the majority of questions on The Workplace lack the critical detail of how desperately the asker needs the job in question. The advice one would give a senior staffer with an in-demand skill set in a major urban centre is very different from the advice one would give a single parent of three with no savings working at the only employer in their remote town. Nov 1, 2022 at 11:45
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    The problem with this answer is that it presumes that the pressure to work overtime is coming from the manager you're requesting the extra payment from. The dynamics are different when it's coming from coworkers -- you'll be viewed by them as not a team player, making things even harder on them, etc. Rather than just refusing, you should try to get them to understand why they shouldn't capitulate, either.
    – Barmar
    Nov 1, 2022 at 13:24
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    I don't think agreeing to such an overtime request would be a good idea even if management is willing to pay you every single hour of overtime at say 150% your usual hourly rate. They are trying to go from 40 hours a week to somewhere between 60 and 80 hours a week with zero time off for 2 months. That is not ok regardless of how much they are offering to pay.
    – quarague
    Nov 1, 2022 at 18:36
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A big part of the problem is if you don't work the hours, and the project fails, people are going to point to you as why it failed.

If you are like most normal people, then spending extra hours actually decreases your efficiency: you're tired, you make mistakes, and the next day, you have to spend the morning fixing those mistakes. Which is repeated each day, with less actual progress as the team gets more tired. And all that for a negligible chance at an insult of a bonus. (Because, it sounds like if you don't make that goal, you don't even get the bonus for all that work.)

Like others have said, I would tell your team you have appointments* after work that can't be changed, and things in the morning as well. That they should contact you if there are show stoppers where you are needed, but you won't be able to do that schedule except in rare cases. And then, work well and efficiently when you are at work. If possible, make it so you're the one who is actually making the best progress, because you're not wasting half of each productive day fixing the errors from the day before. And make your progress be very visible, so it's obvious that the well-rested employee is the better employee.

*A date with your tv and couch is still an important appointment.

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    no need to make up explanations, like an appointment (even with your couch). That only invites argumentation on details, distracting from the core of the problem (the ridiculous amount of overtime, the shady promise of a ridiculous bonus)
    – njzk2
    Nov 1, 2022 at 16:30
  • @njzk2 Oh for sure! Do not tell people your couch appointment! I'm just saying that an appointment with the couch is perfectly valid and important, so it is completely ok to say you have a hard stop time because of other things to do after work, when you're just going home to rest. Nov 1, 2022 at 18:06
  • agreed, I would not mention it as "appointments", though, I would just say "no thanks, I have a life"
    – njzk2
    Nov 1, 2022 at 19:11
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    @njzk2 and if you want to be a little more subtle, then "no thanks, I have things I have to do right after work, and I can't stay late most days." Nov 1, 2022 at 21:38
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Some coworkers are committing to work overtime for a 1% bonus. How can I best opt out of this?

If someone "schedules" you for your off hours you simply tell them that you can't make it. You do not need to give them a reason for not being able to work outside of your contracted hours.

If they bring up the 1% bonus, you remind them that even if you were able to make those odd hours/days, the 1% bonus is insufficient to make up for all of the unpaid overtime that you are being asked to do.

Obviously, there will be team members who will say you are not a team player and attempt to blame you and anyone else who decides to work normal hours if the deadline is not met. Just be mentally prepared for this because there is no way to avoid it.

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    @JoeStrazzere They are separate, unrelated arguments. The bonus being insufficient is only to counter the bonus argument.
    – sf02
    Oct 31, 2022 at 18:20
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    The 1% follow up is prefaced with "even if I was able to make it". The fact that OP can't make it is consistent regardless of the 1%
    – sf02
    Oct 31, 2022 at 19:29
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    For a "salaried, exempt" employee, what are "contracted hours"?
    – brhans
    Oct 31, 2022 at 20:25
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    @gnasher729 for any US employee working "at-will" in a "salaried, exempt" position, "contracted hours" are a figment of the imagination. There is no contract, and your hours are whatever your manager says they are. I'm not saying that I agree with this in any way - I'm originally from a civilized country with some labour law protections - but it is what it is ...
    – brhans
    Nov 1, 2022 at 0:46
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    My hours are whatever I work. No problems finding a job elsewhere, especially now.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 1, 2022 at 10:35
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Just...don't commit to the crazy hours.

The work that needs to get done before the end of the year is a major crunch for the company. I totally get that leadership would want people to work a bit more to have a chance at success, but the reality is that you need to have a work-life balance associated with this.

Make your assessment clear to the business that you can't commit to these hours. No need to delve into specifics, but state that you have other commitments outside of work and you would like to maintain a healthy work-life balance during this project.

What I'll say next is that they could look to terminate you, since there's probably a clause in your working agreement that stipulates that you could be asked to work overtime without compensation, but it's really up to you if that's worth it - having a job but working insane hours vs needing to find a job and working better hours.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Nov 2, 2022 at 10:10
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Do the Minimum Overtime and Get Out!

Been there, done that but without even the teaser of a bonus. This is always a major sign of a badly run business that has absolutely no problems taking it out on their employees.

This is a situation to run from, not stay and endure. There are many, many other companies that are much better run than this. Find one and go to work for them. Many will emphasize work/life balance as part of the description of their culture.

In the meantime, put in as little overtime as you can manage without standing out too much. That hopefully means you are able to "work from home" outside of core hours.

This is the tail end of one of the hiring seasons for workers so hopefully something will come up quickly.

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  • Doing overtime is exaclty what the OP is willing to avoid. Nov 3, 2022 at 14:56
  • @DanubianSailor - that's unlikely to be an option in cultures like this. They are based on intimidation of the average employee into doing the usual death march. The best you can do is mime the march while actually avoiding the worst of the overtime while finding a new job.
    – user79963
    Nov 4, 2022 at 11:56
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Tell your boss you're not doing it, and that they can of course keep the 1% bonus.

And you don't have to justify why you aren't doing it. You aren't a serf or a servant.

It really is that easy.

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The answer to your question depends on several variables, such as whether you are hourly or salaried, union or non-union, location, culture, company culture, etc.

The plain truth is both management and your co-workers expect you to work the extra hours.

The best way to deal with this, if you decide to do otherwise, is ignore it and wait till someone approaches you.

If someone approaches you, you essentially have three options

  1. work the extra hours
  2. find a new job (I'd keep current one until then)
  3. hope that you are an 'all-star' who they won't let go, even if you aren't doing the extra hours.

Note: In the case of (3) there will be resentment, no matter what. The exception would be if you have some obvious life-critical situation such as cancer in the immediate family, but apart from that, you will experience resentment.

To me, work-life balance is important, and it is with sadness that I give this answer.

Where I currently work, work-life balance is good, but this is the exception, not the rule.

My other answer would be "I wish I knew."

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If they are willing to give you 1% it probably means that the downside of not completing the project is worth ~10% of whatever.

You are basically getting a tip for doing all the hard work so that they can reap the benefits. This happens all the time but simply behind the scenes, I have been on both sides of the equation.

Now, having said all that. Being a leader in a situation like this can attract positive attention and can propel your career ahead by years in a matter of months.

Since they are trying to entice the workers it is obvious that it is highly visible project and "git-n-r-dun" and making sure people know that you were heavily involved can be seen as an opportunity.

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