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I work for a very large IT corporation as a programmer. I'm quite new to the team (two months employed). There's a very large contract deadline coming up with a very large client that apparently we are behind on so management has "asked" people to work an extra 15-20 hours a week to meet the deadline.

The dilemma, I have had absolutely nothing to do with this project. I wasn't aware that our team was even involved with this client until the overtime email went out, and I still can't get a definitive answer on how our team was involved. I don't believe we have one team member who is actually doing anything with it. The project spans several teams, all of which are expected to work extra now.

My question, should I really be expected to work an extra 20 hours a week on a project that I have no involvement in or even knowledge of? I do have other family related obligations I need to take care of outside of work hours. If this is a normal and acceptable scenario, then I won't question it.

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  • From what I've been told, it'll last a month. – jaredready Nov 3 '15 at 21:44
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    You say "no involvement in or even knowledge of"? Has no one given you tasks related to this? Pretty hard to work overtime when you have no assignments. – mcknz Nov 3 '15 at 23:27
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    "The dilemma, I have had absolutely nothing to do with this project." - Is this really the dilemma? Being asked to stay late 4 hours per day (=20 hours per week total) to work on anything should be the problem itself. Not to mention those extra hours will probably be your least productive hours. – Brandin Nov 4 '15 at 6:24
  • @Brandin indeed, if not having negative productivity (achieving only tiring you for the next day leading to less output per week) – Richard Tingle Nov 4 '15 at 7:04
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    Most of the time what has happened is that someone has driven the car off the road and into the swamp. Mashing on the gas pedal harder just gets them further into the swamp. Similarly, late projects aren't going to be saved by having a bunch of people doing more of the stuff that hasn't worked. If it were me, I would be looking for something else. I don't join death marches led by incompetent management. – kevin cline Nov 4 '15 at 9:28
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This is a very typical situation I have seen in a number of large organisations. There is a belief that just by throwing more resources at a problem, you can make it happen faster. The assumption is that if 2 developers take 10 weeks then 10 developers will take two weeks. All developers are created equal, you see :)

It's total garbage. There is a ramp up time for new developers to pick up a new project, and this drains heavily on existing team members while they try to not only do what they were doing, but train the new people and potentially get held up on tasks allocated to them.

So. How do you respond?

Well, the chances are you aren't going to argue that it's a bad idea (I've tried this a number of times in my career, but you can't fix stupid). So what I would suggest is:

  • It is planned to only run for a month. At least it has a finite end to it.
  • I would talk to your manager about your external commitments such as family, which means that you can offer some hours, but realistically it will be limited. Perhaps your manager will reduce the number of hours.
  • Are you salaried? Do you get overtime? Most places don't pay overtime for these types of "sprints to the finish" when everyone works extra hours. It doesn't hurt to ask the question though.

You could refuse to do so, but it is likely not a very career enhancing thing to do.

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    @ResidentBiscuit Pizza is overtime pay for developers the world over. Apparently :) – Jane S Nov 3 '15 at 22:04
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    In addition to the ramp up time, even after ramp up more people will not necessarily finish a project faster. The increased communication overhead will take over, and projects will finish even later. In this context, the Mythical Man Month is a great read. – Paul Hiemstra Nov 3 '15 at 22:17
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    @JaneS The compensation is not only the pizza itself but also: you don't have to pay for the call to the Pizza place, you don't get bored waiting (because you happily have work to do), you don't have the burden of having to choose a type of meal and you are freed from having to eat something healthy with your family. How is that not a fair compensation ? – ereOn Nov 3 '15 at 22:34
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    @JaneS: Pizza is at least acknowledgement that you ought to be paid for your work. I bet there are places that deduct both the pizza and the time it takes you to eat from your salary. – gnasher729 Nov 3 '15 at 22:37
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    A good analogy you can use relates to baking bread (or any cooking thing, really). You can't turn up the oven and make bread cook faster, at a certain point it just burns. If you want to cook it twice as fast you can't double the temperature. Similarly you can't just "turn up the heat" and throw resources at a problem. Or another analogy is making a baby... some things just take time and more money/people/resources don't help. These can be helpful anecdotes for this conversation though I do agree it's less than likely to "fix stupid." – enderland Nov 4 '15 at 12:55
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Of course they can ask you to work on whatever project they want, and they can ask you to work overtime however it is permitted in your area. Whether or not you have knowledge of the project doesn't matter, in that sense.

However, the more relevant question is: is it worth it to have you work overtime on a project that you've never worked on? There's always overhead when switching to a new project, as you need to familiarize yourself with it. You may possibly take up the time of people who are familiar with it too, asking for help getting started, this pointlessly slowing up the project they're trying to rush it the door.

So it may be this would make it not worth it for your company to have you pitch in on a project like that. In the end, this is something you should discuss with your manager.

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    +1 for go speak to your manager. All the rest is window dressing. Whether you think it's constructive means little unless management agrees with you. – Kilisi Nov 4 '15 at 0:20
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My question, should I really be expected to work an extra 20 hours a week on a project that I have no involvement in or even knowledge of?

In my years of software experience, it's not at all uncommon to ask everyone to pitch in when an occasional business-critical project needs help. In those situations, even folks who hadn't heard of the project before the request could be expected to help as best they can. I've seen it happen more often in smaller companies, but I've seen it happen in large companies as well.

The fact that you weren't involved before, and didn't know of it before may not matter, if you are capable of helping now. You know about it now, and you received the email requesting help.

But "should I really be expected to work an extra 20 hours" is a question only your boss can answer. Go to your manager, and ask if your team is indeed expected to help. If so, then ask how you can help. Learn the expectations.

I do have other family related obligations I need to take care of outside of work hours.

Most folks have family obligations outside of work. And an extra 15-20 hours per week is a lot to ask, in my experience.

If your obligations are so critical that you cannot devote the expected extra hours for this critical project, then discuss this with your manager. Try to come to some sort of agreement - perhaps you can devote some extra hours, or some days, but not all of them.

If this is a normal and acceptable scenario, then I won't question it.

In my years of experience, some companies seem to make a habit of requesting (or even requiring) extra hours all the time. In other companies this virtually never happens.

But "normal and acceptable" are very context-specific.

It might be normal in your company, or it might be a one-time occurrence.

And you might consider it acceptable. Or you might consider it so egregious, that you will start looking for a new job immediately, where you would never be expected to work extra hours.

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To get this out of the way: 20 hours of overtime for more than one week in a row is unreasonable in every case. From a project management perspective there is zero chance that this makes the project finish faster, and it will also disgruntle employees for no reason. This indicates that this company doesn't really care about their employees.

A company can ask you to do many things, they can ask you to do overtime, take a pay cut, wait a few years more for a raise, scrub the toilet, etc.

While there are laws against some of this, there are almost no laws that punish the company for trying. They won't be able to fire you for refusing unreasonable requests, but they are certainly allowed to make up a bogus reason for firing you instead. How far you go along and where you draw the line is your decision and your decision alone. Given that you were only hired 2 months ago, firing you is easy. So if you flat out refuse the overtime and the management wants to set an example, you are a prime candidate for being sacked.

Personally, I'd compromise and put in some overtime, and at the same time start looking for a job with a normal company.

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This is highly, highly unreasonable. As the other comments have said, the project's really not going to go very far.

On the other side, you need to consider yourself in this setting. So you're going to go from working 8 hrs a day to 12? Five days a week? When will you have time to sleep? This time doesn't include whatever time you already spend commuting, either.

I had a co-worker who was going through something like this in her department. She had a 3-mile drive to get home, but during such a period of unusually heavy overtime, she fell asleep at the wheel driving home one day. She cracked a few ribs, and totaled the car. Your situation may not go this extreme, but your body will pay for it.

Is it worth it? Ask around. If 55 to 60 hour weeks are the norm, start looking for your next job.

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