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What's been happening is that my mobile team is kind of short-handed and we have lots of projects to deliver that our manager committed to, knowing we were short-handed.

Even though we all stated to our manager that we won't be able to meet the delivery dates because we have too much work, she keeps telling the bosses that the projects will be delivered. After all that, now she is asking us to work extra hours every day and on the weekend. I've already done some extra hours (around 15 hrs this month and 10 hours last month) and I don't feel like working on the weekend, especially when I want to do other things and mostly because this happened because of poor management.

At the same time I feel a bit guilty because I do have the spare time to work extra hours, but I would rather go to the gym or stay home studying or programming.

Any advice on how I should handle the situation?

Edit: Just to state that all my extra hours are paid.

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    Studies show that programmers who work more than 40 hours a week are actually less productive than those who go home on time. The longer a developer works, the more their concentration suffers and the more bugs they introduce which then need to get fixed. – Philipp Jun 14 '15 at 23:52
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    @Philipp: And to clarify, not less productive per hour, which anyone would expect, but less productive per week. Long term you get more done in a 40hr week than a 60hr week. And a quote: "You can make programmers come to work for 80 hrs a week, but you can't make them work more than 40 hrs a week". – gnasher729 Jun 15 '15 at 6:23
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    @Philipp: While I am sure you are right, do you have any source for that statement? Which studies do you reference? – Bjarke Freund-Hansen Jun 15 '15 at 7:52
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    @BjarkeFreund-Hansen This article has several sources. – Philipp Jun 15 '15 at 7:55
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    Mythical Man Month. – MDMoore313 Jun 15 '15 at 14:35
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There's a Difference Between "Team Player" and "Sucker"

You definitely shouldn't "feel obligated".

You could be a nice team-player and agree to do some occasional extra work (as you did), under some specific circumstances. But you should never let that become a habit.

Circumstances Matter

Follow the "Man with the Plan". Beware of the Prophet.

Personally, I'm willing to participate in the occasional rush if it's clear-cut and you know where you're going: management has a plan in place, you know how much will be expected, for how long, and, most importantly, WHY you need to do this and HOW these extra hours will translate to added-value and help the project.

If all you hear is "it's just one time" or "just a few week-ends" and that becomes a motto, or if you see people working on week-ends but that it doesn't translate to actual value on Mondays, it's a gigantic red flag. A good example: people staying late to finish a build on Friday evenings, or to build or run smoke tests or UATs on Saturday mornings, or do a migration from DEV to QA or whatever. Most of the time I've seen extra-time for these, they translate to very little added value: the build will generally take longer than expected, or fail, or critical tests will fail but the right person won't be here to fix them. So, in effect, some poor souls showed up for almost nothing, and the problem that was there on Friday is still there to fix on Mondays. Don't bother.

In fact, Dilbert says it better than me:

Dilbert - Sunday July 20, 1997

Same as fixing some stuff at the last minute on a Friday evening if there's no launch or if the critical person to check it won't be there. Just show up maybe a bit earlier on Monday. They'll likely be busy too anyways and you'll have just the same time to do the work, except you'll have the support you need, and you won't be exhausted.

Plus, you know, your kids won't call you "dude" or "lady" instead of "dad" or "mom", and your friends won't ask you where you've disappeared the past few weeks/months and if you enjoyed your travel through a space-time rift.

Dilbert - Saturday May 19, 2007

Still, Some Business are More Prone to Rushes

Keep in mind that in some industries there are specific "rush" times because of deadlines that can't be missed (e.g. eCommerce for sales periods, big sporting events, etc...). Not that it means there should be such rush times, but software being what it is, it's likely there'll be a few. It's still a big red-flag that some people screwed up, but it might be acceptable. Plus sometimes business "go-lives" will be done at odd hours so that legitimizes the overtime as well.

Beware of Peer Pressure and Emotional Blackmail

In any case, if you hear this, it means your workplace is really getting a bit toxic: "you know, everybody's been pitching in a little, so make an effort. We need you this week-end! It'll be just one time!"

Run for the emergency exit. Because:

  • It won't be just one time, the manager just told you it already happened a few times!
  • Managers should not use guilt as a pressure point.
  • Everybody is obviously getting screwed.

Mismanagement

But if the project is just clearly going nutty and mismanaged, just say NO. Otherwise it will be a disservice to everybody.

Everybody needs a break at some point, or quality will go down, and the deadline will likely keep extending. Most likely, it's the management processes that need rework and they need to face the fact that they screwed up and re-negotiate a new realistic deadline.

(Generally) Don't Work For Free

Also, never do the extra hours for free. Well, almost never. One hour here and there, but 15... hell no!

There are cases where contracts for higher-ups include clauses covering extra hours, but in some other cases it's just a no-no. It's illegal in some countries and jurisdictions, though it's quite dependent on location, labor laws and of course your actual contract. So get some info on your local labor laws for a definite answer on that front.

And management shouldn't be surprised if half of their team walks out the door at the end of the project (or before it) anyways if they try to abuse unpaid over time.

In fact, I've seen that happen quite a few times. Luckily, generally people have a sense of team-spirit and pride, and they won't let their team down until the project is finally done (be it launched or dead...). Which is nice, though maybe that prevents management from seeing the real issue. And then suddenly, you see 15 of your best engineers flock the hell out of the place to greener pastures, with good reason.

And keep an eye out for "hidden" over-time as well.

Dilbert - Tuesday February 18, 2003

It's Rarely Rewarding and Rewarded

Keep in mind as well that perception of work and performance are very often quite disconnected of actual performance:

CommitStrip - Let’s not be too proud to be busy - Tuesday March 25th, 2014

So, it's not really worth it to work all that extra time if:

  • you're not rewarded for it,
  • you're actually being nagged about slacking off on other fronts.

CommitStrip - Unfair Monday - Monday March 30th, 2015

If You Really HAVE TO, Keep it FUN!

Maybe that bit will be on you and not your management, and it's not really part of your question, but if you can't get them to let go of the crazy extra-time, make sure to keep it fun with your teammates.

A few suggestions:

  • show up with casual clothing (if allowed),
  • show up with your kids (if allowed, and if agreed upon with your teammates),
  • bring breakfast or even organize a team breakfast (if NOT allowed, whatever, do it anyway, seriously...),
  • make sure to have some time for drinks or another activity with teammates after work,
  • maybe try to do some sports together, or something like that.

Though it's easy to think "I see these people way too often lately", it's very beneficial to share more than just work in those times. It will be therapeutic (and give you the opportunity to frankly b#tch and moan about the project/management) but will also ensure bonding is OK. So if you can just say "hey let's go for a run Saturday morning before launch" or "let's grab a beer after that build is done before lunch", do it.

Regarding kids at the workplace... They can be great mood-supressant, but only:

  • if the environment is NOT too stressful. Because you don't want them to feel it, and you don't want them to potentially make it worse;
  • if it's in accordance with your local laws;
  • if your employer allows it;
  • if your teammates are OK with it (not everybody is so keen to have kids running around, yelling, touching things, etc...).

So make sure to check everybody's stance on it. If you get green lights, it's a nice thing to do once in a while: they help to keep the ambiance "family-friendly" and low-key during that dreaded Saturday morning smoke-test run, and it gives your kids an opportunity to see what you're up to. Plus you'll have them nag you to get out of there, so you'll definitely keep on your task and get it done and GTFO ASAP.

Negotiation

This is all fun and nice, but what do you actually tell your manager so they can see the light and realize they've been working everybody to the bone and something's gotta give?

There's actual academic research on the topic and heaps of not-so-academic texts as well (this place probably being a good source as well), showing that stress and overtime have negative effects on your health and private life (duh!) and on your work performance:


Comic strips courtesy of Dilbert and CommitStrip.

23

I always come back to something one of my first managers told me:

If you're regularly working more than nine to five, then either you're doing something wrong or we [the management team] are doing something wrong. If it's the first, things will happen about it and if it's the second, it's not your problem.

That's not to say you should automatically say "no" to this kind of request: if putting in a few extra hours can make a significant difference to the success of the project, then consider it - but if it's happening on a frequent basis, then it needs to be escalated up the management chain so it doesn't happen again.

You don't say whether you're getting paid for the extra hours or not - if not, then one thing I'd expect from management in return is not to be overly officious about people working every minute of their contracted hours in "quiet" times - there has to be some give and take in this.

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    You may want to clarify what the quote means by "it's not your problem". If you have to deal with the situation, it's your problem. And if you are being forced to work past normal hours because of management's mistakes, it's definitely your problem. – Omegacron Jun 15 '15 at 15:03
  • "It's not your problem" depends upon everyone involved being competent and understanding the reality of the situation. If you're regularly working more than 40 hours a week, and you can tell the manager what external circumstances are causing it, a good manager will tell you to make it not your problem, or, as others have said, put hard limits on it for you. – Jason Jun 15 '15 at 20:24
  • "It's not your problem" means exactly that. Mismanagement is not your problem. You have no obligation to fix it. It's not your job. Like it's not your problem if the heating breaks down in winter; not your job to fix it (unless you are a plumber). Of course it may have negative consequences for you, but you know it's wrong; you push back or look for the exit if that happens. – gnasher729 Jan 15 '16 at 9:06
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I am going to quote a colleague from a discussion in our scrum masters forum: Sometimes you have to go to your manager and say "Listen pal, if you're going to make commitment you're going to have to consult the technical team first or bring one of the technical staff to the meetings".

Sometimes there's no other way. Two weeks ago we were presented a new feature that we're going to support but not develop (outsourced) after I continuously asked what it's about. We were a bit perplexed from the requirements and the technical risks they can pose, and then you're always told: "But we already committed to the client".

Well, we're sorry, don't commit before consulting with the technical staff.

You are not the bad guy, you are doing your job: You're raising risks before you fail to meet your client needs. It is possible that if you go to the client and say "Listen, we can't finish everything on time" your client will say "Well, actually I only need A, B and C, right now".

Raise your heads above the water and talk to your manager honestly.

Working endlessly will not help.

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    True, the problem is that it's mostly advice for the OP's manager rather than for the OP :) He could still indeed go to him and try to open that line of discussion. – haylem Jun 15 '15 at 21:03
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    Indeed, have a heart to heart with your manager. From her perspective, she is probably feeling a lot of pressure from her superiors, and the toxicity of the company almost always comes from above. Sometimes you'll find a middle manager that's just a rogue perfectionist and imposes their own crazy on a project. But if you can start by putting yourself in her shoes, then she will be more likely to put herself in your shoes and begin to understand what an abuse she is making of her position. Communicating the hard things is how we all grow up. Have courage. Speak up kindly, but unapologetically. – Jon Watson Jun 16 '15 at 5:38
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I've been at both the receiving end (as engineer working on a project) and on the giving end (person responsible for project delivery). Although it's easy to blame the project manager or the lack of planning, the reality is that there are simply too many factors that go into a project's timeline and delivery. In my experience work is lighter during the initial phases of the project, and things pick up towards the end. If you are seeing the workload increase to 50 or even 60 hours a week for a few weeks (say, 4 to 5 weeks) at a stretch especially during key phases of the project, then I'd consider that to be somewhat expected. You might want to keep your direct manager informed about this and take comp days later on. Having said that, if these crazy work weeks extend for an indefinite amount of time, that's certainly cause for concern and you have every right to

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    "If you are seeing the workload increase to 50 or even 60 hours a week for a few weeks (say, 4 to 5 weeks)". Err... no. That's just poor planning. – Philip Kendall Jun 15 '15 at 5:44
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    If it is "somewhat expected", then it is indeed poor planning! And somehow it doesn't happen when people are paid by the hour, but only if if the employer can get the hours for free, so it may actually be "good" planning from the employers point of view, relying on free work put in by employees. At least I haven't seen anyone complaining here about too much paid overtime. – gnasher729 Jun 15 '15 at 6:15
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    That something is common and understandable doesn't mean it should be accepted or excusable. Planning was just bad, and the effects of it will likely cost more in the long run than if enough slack time had been foreseen. (And I've been on both sides too, and screwed it up. I know, it's Ok!) – haylem Jun 15 '15 at 7:08
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    @gnasher729 Actually, the whole point of this question is that the poster doesn't want to do paid overtime. – Philip Kendall Jun 15 '15 at 7:46
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    In each and every case, just as I do not suddenly require higher salary for same work out of nothing, the employer should not suddenly require more time for the same money. In both cases, the asker is cheeky and disrespectful. Overtime here and there, okay. But that should be paid for (at higher than normal rate), or given compensation time (likewise, more compensation time than was worked). Remember: There are two equal contractors, not just a Master and a Slave. Pay me, I do. Don't pay me, I don't. Why should I? – phresnel Jun 15 '15 at 14:37

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