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I am working as a software engineer / developer. Mostly I do requirements engineering, implementation of said requirements, some testing and support and the like. I have somewhat responsibility for our interns (but only in a technical sense, not managerial) and our overseas department of developers - again, only technical, not managerial.

I have my annual meeting coming up to talk about my performance, projects, problems, salary and the like.

One important thing for me is that, although I really love my work and the company, I don't want to work a full 40 hour week. Reasons include

  • I am mostly done with my work ahead of my 8 hour day
  • I noticed that I tend to delay work just for the sake of getting a full 8 hours of work
  • Overtime is very rare and the only real opportunity to accumulate some overtime hours that I can take off on slow days

How can I communicate that I don't necessarily want more money, but more time off? My salary is enough so I can live comfortably and afford luxuries, but it is far behind industry standards. What I really want is more time for my hobbies and my (soon to be) family.

I have tried asking this before, but the answer was "we don't usually do that, because our target is normally to have a 40 hour workload for everybody. If that doesn't happen, talk to us so we can use your unused time on other projects".

I am afraid that when I admit to deliberately slacking off some tasks just to fill my 8 hours, it will result in some sort of negative consequences, although it never (literally) has impeded on any deadlines of any project I was involved in.

Basically, I am working on about 80% efficiency right now and get everything done without problems. I want to crank that up to 100% and get the remainder back as time off.

How can I communicate this without falling into the "you have more time than you need? awesome, we'll give you more work!" trap?

Edit: Working in germany, if it matters in terms of usual practices etc.

  • 10
    Interesting. I would have thought that this is pretty commonplace in Germany by now. (Quite a number of people in my team, me included, work 80%.) You could approach HR and simply inquire about possibilities for this - your managers may simply not be aware of established-but-rarely-used processes. – Stephan Kolassa Nov 27 '15 at 8:16
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    @Lilienthal: but HR might be able to inform the boss that yes, indeed, this is not an unheard-of request. The manager may be unaware of possibilities that simply haven't appeared in his particular area of responsibility. – Stephan Kolassa Nov 27 '15 at 10:22
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    If this works (say, you agree to work 30 hours instead of 40), the fact that you are working fewer hours will be visible to your other colleagues/contacts and it may diminish your "perceived value" (even if you are doing "100% work" for the 30 hours). OTOH, suppose you get a raise and work the same hours (and you continue your "80% work" routine), In this case your "perceived value" may actually increase. – Brandin Nov 27 '15 at 11:06
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    @JoeStrazzere: no, not at all. (I long since upvoted Lilienthal's answer.) I had completely overlooked the "for the same pay". Silly me. Fun fact: so-called voller Lohnausgleich, i.e., a reduction in the time worked, but an increase in hourly wages so weekly wages are the same for (say) 38 hours worked as they were for 40 hours, is a perennial demand by labor unions in Germany. – Stephan Kolassa Nov 27 '15 at 13:51
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    Have you considered that maybe this is on purpose? This way you have time to switch gears and relax instead of being turned into a "production machine"? This time that they're paying you that you're not working is a cost of doing business - it's the same as turning a machine off so it doesn't overheat. You're saying you want to run 5 or 6 hours straight and then cool off at home earlier, but it sounds like they'd rather have you do that cooling off at work. So I'm not so sure you should even try to convince them because I don't think it's good for you or them. – corsiKa Nov 27 '15 at 19:54
49

There's no realistic way to ask this without risking the negative repercussions that you say you want to avoid. In essence this boils down to a request for a raise as your hourly wage will go up. Your productivity is not relevant to this discussion. As you simultaneously want to reduce the hours you work, this is an even more delicate discussion/negotiation as you're essentially redefining your role to part-time while requesting a raise. If you're a good performer and/or have a good relationship with your manager then this is perfectly reasonable to ask and you can discuss it between the two of you to see where you both stand on this. You can usually work out a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Your strategy for such a meeting is to focus initially on your request to move to part-time (but see below, it may not even be possible). But part of that discussion should be that you'd want to maintain (or remain close to) your current salary, citing the normal arguments for why you deserve raise: good performance, below market rate, etc.

Making the argument that you can still do the same amount of work is not a great idea. You are indeed admitting that you're slacking off and you risk being assigned more work if transition to part-time doesn't happen.


Aside from that, I feel the need to point out a few things:

I have tried asking this before, but the answer was "we don't usually do that, because our target is normally to have a 40 hour workload for everybody. If that doesn't happen, talk to us so we can use your unused time on other projects".

This is a pretty good sign that what you're asking for may not be possible, simply as a matter of company policy. Some companies don't want to deal with part-time work or partial FTEs, mainly because full-time employees are cheaper on the whole. It's also a clear sign that they won't be receptive to your argument on slacking off.

How can I communicate this without falling into the "you have more time than you need? awesome, we'll give you more work!" trap?

You trade your time at work for the salary your company pays you. Part of that financial transaction is that you are expected to be productive while you're at work. Of course no one is switched on 100% of the time while at work but that's not the same as admitting that you're purposefully slacking off to avoid being given more tasks. Calling it a trap is a bit much and I'd recommend that you don't look at the employer-employee relationship in such a hostile fashion.

  • 2
    Thanks for the answer, I kind of expected something along those lines. I will try to get a feeling if someone else is working part time so I know if it is at all possible... I didn't want to convey trap as hostile as you say, more like a common mistake that might happen when inquiring something like this. – TheUsualSuspect Nov 27 '15 at 9:39
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    @TheUsualSuspect: Although this is not english.se I recommend you use the word "pitfall". Quote: An unapparent source of trouble or danger; a hidden hazard. As in "potential pitfalls stemming from their optimistic inflation assumptions" or "10 Common Pitfalls of New Entrepreneurs". – Søren D. Ptæus Nov 27 '15 at 13:30
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Incorporating all the caveats above - have you considered requesting working from home for say, a day a week?

It may be a way to get at least some of what you want. Most employers expect you to put in a solid amount of hours, but to a degree implicit in having a salary is 'getting the job done'.

You working from home for a day a week would grant you some extra flexibility, as well as potentially giving you a chance to get your teeth into a problem - I find that whilst most of my job benefits from being in an the office, there's some tasks that being away from the distractions is massively beneficial.

It may also prove useful to your employer for e.g. desk sharing/car parking constraints. (Not to mention, practically speaking, people who work from home often do end up more productive overall, not least because they're a little more tempted to work for free and 'just check something').

But otherwise, I'm afraid it's unlikely you're going to get what you want. You're basically asking for a 20% pay rise, and you'll have to be pretty convincing that you're worth it. Chances are if you're 'idling' a bit, you're not standing out as 'worth 20% more'.

Alternatively - you could treat that 'idle' time as innovation/development opportunity. Start looking for skill development options in an area that's relevant to your employer (so is adding value to them) but interests you as well. Take some time to experiment and innovate. This is perhaps the better choice, as it's the sort of thing to get you noticed within a company, and add value to your future employability.

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    Thank you for the last paragraph, I think this will probably prove to be the best of both worlds. My interests overlap mostly with the things I do at my job, so I guess using that time in (at least half) interest of my company will provide a benefit for all. I am not bored and don't have to "fear" stepping into a discussion I don't want to lead. – TheUsualSuspect Nov 27 '15 at 15:39
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    +1 for the last paragraph. Professional development is always a good filler for short amounts of down time. – Dan Neely Nov 27 '15 at 17:27
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    Actually a 25% payrise in terms of hourly rate, for the same reason that if you asked to work half the hours for the same money then that would be a 100% payrise (doubling your hourly rate), not just a 50% rise. – Steve Jessop Nov 27 '15 at 17:43
7

Some companies require their employees to be present as a condition of employment. Though present can also count time working from home. You admit that you have two tasks that require you to be reachable: the interns and the overseas developers. You are providing technical support for them. I have been in situations where there were some hours that I was in the office just because I might be needed to answer questions from management, or from customers, or from the testers. Sitting there ready to help was the service I was providing.

Their reaction to your request could be surprising: They may decide that they should take tasks away from you; or they may decide that you can never say oops I didn't get that done because I ran out of time.

If they do decide to grant your request: Be prepared for them to reduce their overall compensation to you. They could decide that here is no need for you to be an full time employee, they could transition you to part time status or want to bring you in only as a contractor.

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    Companies also have the problem of "me too" from coworkers, when someone semmingly is granted a benefit like reduced work hours or flexible schedules. So to avoid complains or a torrent of similar requests, they force everyone to the same schedule. I don't know if it holds true in Germany though. – Mindwin Nov 27 '15 at 12:40
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I don't know the situation in Germany, but at many companies in the US dropping to ~32 hours per week would designate you as a part-time employee and you would likely lose medical and other benefits afforded to full-time workers.

I don't mean to sound harsh, but have you considered simply finding other work to do that would benefit the company, but that hasn't been specifically assigned to you, instead of pretending that you're already working at full capacity? Imagine if you owned a business and your employee confessed that he'd been stealing 20% of his salary for a while now and he's tired of pretending so why don't you just let him go home early each day?

The cultural differences here between Germany and the US are fascinating.

  • I really would not pin this on cultural differences. I'm sure you find – Underdetermined Nov 28 '15 at 15:07
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    Healthcare is not considered a benefit in most of the developed world. – gerrit Nov 28 '15 at 18:57
  • Note that there is a word for this tendency to do the least amount of work that will go unpunished: soldiering. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_management#Soldiering – erich8 Nov 28 '15 at 19:49
5

While I do believe you are asking for the impossible as Lilienthal explains very concisely. I may have a strategy for you to achieve what you want. (Should this still be the case after you hear it...)

You could go about it in two parts: first go for a raise, then (after some time of course) half your hours by going part time.

The other way around is also possible: ask for part time, then try to get a raise.

Obviously there are risks involved with either of these strategies, but a plus side of both is that it gets you away from the idling time, which is not helping anyone, including yourself. I would say at this point I don't see that great of a chance of this going smoothly. I'd personally just try to go for a raise or look for a job that better satisfies my needs.

2

The simple answer is you can not. Most companies are buying your time and expecting you to work as much as you can for that time.

I've often wondered about this in the past. It would seem rational that actually a company wants the job done and is willing to pay X for that job. It unfortunately does not work that way. For this to work out it would require two things:

  • Managers to be able to price each task correctly
  • and the assigned task never take longer than expected.

In essence the management is buying your time wholesale inorder to avoid having to valuate each assigned task correctly. In my experience this arangement actually leads to daily slacking, it is a feature of the contract.

It is just not a good idea to mention your slacking or even show it. Many people will complain about how busy they are. Even though that is not really true. If you admit to this management will almost certainly take the view that you are a bad worker. In the case that you actually meet your work quota they would still demand more as you are in fact lying about the going rate of your work.

The big trap here is the failure mode. If you work less than full time and you encounter a task that will take more time than expected then the contracting model starts to be bad for you. Atleast when salaried it is easy to show that you have done your time. When you check out things by the task then all misalocation is on you. Also be sure that managers become instantly interested in erring on the side of the failure mode once you start contracting.

To recap this a weird consequence of having a hard time to set market value on work upfront. So we have evolved a system where you undersell your work in a way that minimizes exposure for the fact that we dont know the exact cost.

1

Try Something Else:
As you've seen, there's a number of people who have provided answers and are generally opposed to the idea of changing from FTE ("full time employment", 40 hours per week) to PTE (part time), due to the number of significant disadvantages that employers generally face.

So, if the idea you had in mind doesn't look promising, try something else.

Other roads:
There is a road, that man people have successfully taken, which may be able to offer you much of what you want. There may be a number of risks, and many people have decided to take this road and have spectacularly failed. Whether you are successful may partially depend on decisions made by people other than you. So this may seem to offer a number of downsides, at least potentially. However, this has a significant upside compared to your suggestion of becoming a part time employee. The significant upside is that many people have done this, with the successful blessing of the people who were writing paychecks at the start of the process.

What you do is you stop being an hourly employee.

Stop being Hourly:
There are two ways to do this. One is to become salaried. Your job is then to take care of tasks, not to submit a certain number of hours. Then, if you get your tasks done early, it becomes your professional discretion to decide whether you remain for any purpose, or take off early or stay at home.

Note: This approach is fraught with one specific danger: many places expect that salaried staff work a certain number of hours per week, like "at least 40". A lot of salaried people don't get overtime pay, and so they end up working more without getting paid extra money for the specific extra time that they work (but they get a higher pay overall, so that cost may be offset by a benefit).

Stop being an employee:
The other approach is... stop being part of their staff altogether. Instead, become a contractor. Bam! You're off their payroll. Now they no longer need to justify those pesky 8 hours of underutilized work. They don't need to worry about whether you qualify for any benefits that you are being offered because you are an FTE. You're just not seen as a drain on management's resources.

Of course, you can't just convert to contractor status and still keep getting paid by the same people just because you think you would like the situation better - your current employer needs to buy into the idea. This may require some salesmanship in your part.

You also get a number of drawbacks. For instance, you'll need to learn how to handle billing. Some such tasks may be something your can outsource. You may feel like your income is based on a less stable foundation, which may not be as desirable in the light of planning to support a larger family. Even if you can get the employer to agree, this might not be a good idea for you. You may not end up reducing the number of roadblocks that you get, but may just be trading one set of roadblocks for another.

Still, this is a decision that many people have implemented, successfully. Some people find that attempting this results in surprises and, overall, things just not not working out, and so some people end up having a lower quality of life after they pursue this.

However, there are also a large number of people who have pursued this successfully.

That's it!
Those are my ideas. Following are some additional perspectives... thoughts that further describe those ideas. However, I've already shared with your the ideas that are meant to be the core of the answer. You may want to consider whether either of those roads seem feasible.

A Success Story:
What you're seeking can be done. I provide you with a specific example. My father was called in by his boss, who said: "We love you. However, we are experiencing some financial hardships. We just can't afford to keep you." My father provided a counter-proposal: "Pay me the same hourly rate, and I will work fewer hours."

The employer deemed this to be a brilliant idea that the employer simply hadn't considered. Now, instead of reluctantly firing someone that the company didn't want to lose, my father's readily available solution led to him salvaging his employment.

The reason this happened to everyone's satisfaction, so well, is that the solution ended up meeting everyone's needs. At the time, my father ended up having five employers, simultaneously! The way he pulled this off has a lot to do with what he did for a job.

His primary role was as a salesperson. So, as long as he could sell some products, he was accomplishing the desired goal. The company cared more about getting the goal accomplished, rather than hour many hours were spent doing that. (And he sold things for multiple employers.)

His other role was a truck driver. (Yeah, stereotypical salesperson and stereotypical truck driver may seen very different. Well, he made a fortune earlier in life by selling, and specifically selling successful deliveries to trucking companies, often as a "dispatcher". So, those two worlds merged.) So if he drove a truck on a couple of weekends, that helped a small company.

The key is that, depending on what needs he served, he was able to identify specific tasks that he accomplished that didn't require him to remain at the office the whole time. If you spend a lot of time in the office, you may not be able to simply convert your scenario into something like his. But my father was once an office worker, too. What he did was identify what specific tasks were being done, and he figured out how he could accomplish those tasks without being stuck to a desk.

A Road For The Future:
It may be that you'll have an easier time doing some of this later in life. One reason is that after having many more years of experience, after you've developed a career, you may have some better intuitive insight into what makes a business happy. That additional business savvy may lead to you being able to better negotiate.

The other thing is that a lot of people have a basic attitude that 20 year olds are meant to serve, under the direction of 50 year olds. Letting a 20 year old punk get away with skipping the societal demand of serving is an idea that, quite frankly, seems offensively unfair to a lot of 50 year olds who already put in their time when they needed to work less glamorous jobs when they were 20. Such people may feel a lot more comfortable negotiating with someone in their thirties who has gained some experience developing their career, as they feel like anything they give up in negotiations is an act of giving something to a good person who deserves such a reward.

I did not just explain that reasoning because I wanted to justify such discrimination of the youthful employees. What I am saying, though, is that such attitudes are rather widespread, to the point that there is a societal trap that forces the extremely vast majority of youthful workers into needing to succumb to the desires of their elders who control much of society's resources.

As you mention your "(soon to be) family", I speculate you may be on the younger side of this story. There is one part of this situation that can be seen as a good side for you. That is, if you fail today, that doesn't mean that you will never be able to accomplish your goal. You just may not have as easy of a time doing this in the younger years of your career. However, in the later part of your career, this may be something you can still dream of, and shoot for.

0

You have got to be kidding me. Is your whole office not working much? If not I would be laughing if you even suggested anything on your list.

Here is how I see it going down (given a decent management structure and that they overall like you):

  • they display empathy towards you and maybe talk about a work from home day or a shorter Friday

  • department heads would meet. Figure out why we have this great staff member continuously underutilized.

  • come up with a plan to give you more work and/or responsibilities

  • start giving you more stuff to do

  • this may expand to more than 40 hours a week because it is really hard to tell how long things will take.

  • they will monitor that you are meeting your new requirements.

  • you will actually need to be at the office for 40 hours

  • you will come to the site and ask "Can I ask for a raise if my tasks go from 32 hours a week to 48 hours?"

My advice - you can talk about a work from home day but never mention not really working 40 hours a week or that you are done early. Generally shut up and be happy.

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