I've been working in my position (at-will, exempt salaried, not a startup, United States - U.S. Citizen) for a few months, and the environment has been mostly okay.

Recently, a few other co-workers and I have been put on the 20-person team of a very big financial project, at about two-thirds of the way through its scheduled life. It took us a little bit of time to acclimate to the project, but since then we have felt that we have been making good progress in good time on the tasks assigned to us. However, the management communicating with the project lead don't see this the same way.

In the time that should reasonably be devoted to task A, we can get through tasks A, B, and C, but we are still expected to have done A, B, C, D, E, F, G, etc.

This confused me for a while, until I learned that a few months were scheduled for a project that should normally take several, several years. The project is fast approaching its HARD deadline with no real end in sight, and most of the ground-level people working on it have realized this.

Today I learned that management is pressuring to have us come into work both full days of the coming weekend. I've also learned that this won't be a special case – they are likely planning to do this every weekend, and eventually ask us to complete extra work from home at nights, with the potential for a few all-nighters as a group. I feel kind of swamped as it is – at the same time, I'm still juggling other work that needs to be done on other projects by myself. On top of this, a few people have already quit, and they aren't being replaced.

When I was hired, I was explicitly told that I would only be expected to work outside of normal hours in the event of an emergency. Emergencies have occurred since then, and I've handled them on my own time without any real complaint. I don't know if this qualifies as an emergency, but I'm not sure that this kind of work load is even possible (maybe it's expected in startups, but I'm not working for a startup).

As an at-will exempt salaried employee, is it unwarranted to be dissatisfied with this kind of environment?

I know that this type of employee doesn't have many protections, but is it normal to be asked to work like this?

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    "a few people have already quit" - I think you have your answer. They clearly have zero respect for their employees. I would be preparing my resume.
    – Bowen
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 23:53
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    Stop, and take a long, deep breath. That smell - That is the scent of failure. Learn it well, and don't let yourself get in this deep a mess, again. This is what a total management failure smells like. Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 23:58
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    You misunderstand the concept of 'at will'. It means, if you don't finish the work, they can fire you if they feel like it. Or you could finish the work perfectly by working 150 hours a week and they can still fire you if they feel like it. Commented May 1, 2015 at 0:43
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    You're heading towards a Death March. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_march_%28project_management%29 You can say whatever you want, but a management that chooses to ignore this very fact probably won't be able to handle your feedback well at all. That being said, if you don't have another job lined up already, at least research what you have to do to qualify for unemployment benefits. If you simply quit without thinking ahead, you might not qualify for unemployment benefits. Commented May 1, 2015 at 1:27
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    @ReallyTiredOfThisGame I wasn't sure that a solution even existed for my particular case, and asking for advice would probably have been seen as seeking an opinion-based answer. I honestly wasn't sure if this kind of environment was the norm for incredibly large projects approaching their deadlines. Commented May 1, 2015 at 2:22

2 Answers 2


You are on a death march, and there are no good options. Edward Yourdon wrote an entire book about this, which is worthwhile reading. I don't have a copy on hand, so I'm summarizing from memory, but the options are:

  • Quit. Try to line up your next job first.
  • Get transferred out. Difficult because death marches are usually by definition high priority.
  • Cut down project scope. Unlikely to be an option unless you're a manager.
  • Pull off the impossible and deliver. Exceedingly unlikely without a really dedicated crack team laser-focused on sending a man to the moon or whatever and a supportive management team. (Yourdon goes into a lot of detail on the sorts of perks that can get a team to pull insane hours for a while, but it sounds like yours aren't offering anything at all.)
  • Work to rule: 9 to 5, zero overtime. Management and coworkers will hate you for it, but they're unlikely to fire you because that would make them even more late. Obviously you should be looking for a new job while you do this.

I would recommend the last of these. Your health is not worth sacrificing on the altar of managerial hubris and/or incompetence.

  • I didn't even know that term existed, but I think it perfectly describes how we're all feeling. Thanks for your answer! Commented May 1, 2015 at 2:23
  • @Longjourney You might also want to read about anti-patterns, death march being one of those.
    – Masked Man
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 4:23
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    Just a note, but if you do pull off the impossible and deliver, you have just dug yourself a deeper hole for the next time as it will be expected.
    – user34687
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 9:08

Short answer: Leave. As soon as you can.

I have worked on a project that was like this. The expectations of the key stakeholders were unreasonable. Dates were chosen arbitrarily then try to fit the project within that timeframe. They would throw people into already overworked teams, expecting that to reduce workload and neglecting that for the first three months new people are a drain on existing staff.

I was the lead developer in one of the teams involved in the project, and despite my pushing back over and over to my manager, our warnings went unheeded. I jumped before the project hit critical failure, which happened about five months later. All staff were shed and saturated the market, which made it difficult for them to find another job. There was also a significant stigma attached to people who had been involved in this very high profile project.

As @jpkatol says, it's a Death March project and the best thing to do at this point is to exit as soon as you can before the whole things goes completely pear shaped. You have no reason to assist poor management. Get out while you can and find another job that is managed properly.

  • That is an interesting point to consider about the period after the deadline passes. Thanks for your answer. Commented May 1, 2015 at 2:32
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    This answer does not really add anything that is not included in the answer you referenced, other than a "this one time at band camp" story. That is not what answers are for. Commented May 1, 2015 at 13:30
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    @ReallyTiredOfThisGame I see the bit about market saturation as a concern not present in the other answer which should be taken into consideration. While this probably would be better fit as a comment/edit to the existing answer, I would say this answer does add something of value. Commented May 1, 2015 at 18:09

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