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I work at a company that has a reputation for squeezing the most out of its employees, although the group I'm in doesn't share the same "burnout" culture that the rest of the company does.

I generally like my job, but what I've noticed that in order to get ahead (i.e. promotions, raises) you basically need to spend your own personal time developing improvements and solutions for the company. Performing your day to day responsibilities (even if you do so very well) is not enough.

As a family man I don't have the option to dedicate my personal time toward this sort of thing. I'd like to work my 40 hours and spend the remaining time with my wife and children. My team-mates, however, are all able to dedicate themselves to these after-work work projects.

Recently one of them developed a solution which has now become his full-time, at work, project, while his former responsibilities have fallen to the rest of us. I am so swamped with routine responsibilities that I have no time to work on additional projects at work.

Up until this point my boss had been grooming me for future promotion, and I had been pressured to perform, and thus rise in the ranks. However, especially now that my plate is so full, I don't feel like I can compete with my team-mates.

Is it unreasonable to feel that this lack of life/work balance, and the pressure to innovate on your own time are good reasons to quit the company?

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    "stack-ranking". Leave regardless. This is the worst management bullshit ever invented. It was only originally used as a tool to downsize a company that had to remove a quota of its workplace, it was never intended as a sadistic game management play on their workers. Don't play it. – gbjbaanb Dec 2 '15 at 13:31
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    "All of my co-workers are unmarried and without kids, so naturally the time they have available is greater." Spoke like a true manager :) Having more available time doesn't mean that available time should be donated to work. – Laconic Droid Dec 2 '15 at 17:39
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    @Ryan - sounds like you're working for Amazon :-P – AndreiROM Dec 2 '15 at 18:22
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    What to do? Get involved in helping him make the tool even better. Or find your own way to make a valuable contribution to the company. Or make minimal effort and get minimal reward, if you prefer. – keshlam Dec 3 '15 at 1:45
  • This I don't understand. If I develop something innovative and useful in my spare time, I'm not going to just hand it over to my employer. – James Adam Dec 3 '15 at 15:09
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There's an attitude in the question that I think really needs to be addressed. The idea that those who go above and beyond are promoted isn't limited to just the company you are at. It's actually a basic fact of life.

You can absolutely lead a fulfilling life putting in the bare minimum 40 hours work per week while spending the rest of your time on family or other personal items. However that way will rarely, if ever, allow you to climb the ranks.

The people who climb ladders do so because they aren't content with their current position and make a personal decision to do whatever it takes to move up. This usually means doing far more than what's asked of you and can certainly lead to quite a few late nights. So the question you really need to ask yourself is: are you willing to go the extra mile? Specifically, are you willing to focus a much greater amount of your energies on furthering your career?

If you are, then make those changes. If not, then you need to come to terms with the fact that you aren't going to be seen as a rising star. There is no "right" answer here. Some people are more than willing to sacrifice absolutely everything to get to the top. I personally think that's horrible. Others aren't willing to do more than the absolute minimum in their job; which I also don't agree with.

Certainly there is a happy medium to be found but it's up to you to decide what's important and go from there.

  • Thanks, this is really the answer I needed to hear. Finding balance is key, and perhaps I need to evaluate if I've found that balance or not. My guess is that I'm erring too much on the low side and might need to kick things up a notch. Figuring out how I can do that is the answer here. – Ryan Dec 2 '15 at 22:00
  • I have a coworker. He joined the team when i was an intern more than 15 years ago. I came back to the company a couple of years ago and he was doing exactly the same job, with the exact same responsibilities. And he is well respected within the department, but he is very much a 40-hour a week guy, and does not put in extra time. It just goes to show that you can be successful doing 40 hours a week, but you just may not get promoted at the same rate as your other colleagues. – psubsee2003 Dec 3 '15 at 1:37
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It sounds like your colleague has done some good work for himself. But you shouldn't let that impact on you. If you're doing a solid 40 hour week, don't worry about what others are doing. It comes across as mildly jealous.

Coming up with something groundbreaking in your spare time is not in your job description, it's purely voluntary on your colleagues behalf and he benefited as he quite rightly should, he took a risk, he developed something on spec and it paid off. It could have gone the other way.

If you're expecting a payrise and thinking you won't get one unless you invest personal time into work, then you have a totally different issue. Obviously you cannot compete at that level, so don't expect to.

Hard work is often rewarded, it's a fact of life. Cruising through has lesser rewards.

  • Yes, my whole objection is that in order to get promoted, or to even get a raise above the standard "inflationary" amount, I do have to go the extra mile outside of work. There are projects I'm working on right now, but unfortunately none of those are likely to be completed before review time. My boss has had a lot of different ideas for things I should do during the year, but several of those got scrapped, and I haven't been able to focus on one thing. We focused too much on automation when in reality nobody cares for the reports we produce, instead of focusing on actually adding value. – Ryan Dec 1 '15 at 22:14
  • And, to be clear, I believe my co-worker deserves all of the success he has achieved so far, and everything that will come, because he works really hard. I don't feel resentment towards him, it's just incredibly demoralizing because I feel like I'm just treading water doing things that add no value. I get the sense that my manager just keeps our group on autopilot because we're fairly low maintenance, and isn't able to fully develop our potential by removing obstacles that bring no benefit to the business and instead focusing on projects that are a true value-add. – Ryan Dec 1 '15 at 22:20
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    @Ryan The honest reality is that your coworker is putting in more effort than you are, and it's bothering you when it shouldn't. He's reprioritized his whole life towards work and you have family priorities. Neither of you are wrong, but it is silly for you to allow yourself to get upset in any way over this. If you're really so concerned with being left in the dust then you have the option of putting your family on the back burner, but if you're not open to that than accept that you made a choice. Not trying to be hurtful, just honest. – The Muffin Man Dec 1 '15 at 22:55
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If you feel that you're not growing professionally, or that you have no prospect for advancement (financially or otherwise), then maybe it's time to quit.

I think you know this by now, but there are 2 kinds of developers:

Type 1: Lives and Breathes Code

There's programmers out there for whom coding is the greatest joy of their lives. That's all they do. They get excited when a new version of Linux is released, they build their own frameworks for fun, dedicate their time to open source projects, and make apps because they're bored.

These guys are future senior dev material. Also, I find that the vast majority of them don't have a life outside of just coding (this might not be a popular comment on a site predominantly populated by programmers, but hey, I'm one of you).

Type 2: Enjoy Coding, But It's Still Work

There's also programmers out there who love tackling a new problem and sinking their teeth into setting up a new architecture, or system, but who draw the line on how much time they want to spend thinking about code. From my understanding you more or less fit into this group.

There's other things you want, or need, to do when you get home. You don't have the time to spend your evening "honing" your programming skills when you've just spent 8 hours or more in front of a screen digging for bugs through thousands of lines of code.

And hey, there's nothing wrong with that. Hell, it's your right to relax and enjoy your life when you get home.

Let's break it down: You spend 8 hours at work, probably another hour or so commuting, X amount of other hours preparing to go to work (making a lunch, getting dressed, etc), and you sleep around 8 hours a night. That's already around 18 hours a day. When are you supposed to get the time to spend with your family?!? We work too much.

This company wants to squeeze the life out of its employees - and the ones who want to put up with that are welcomed to do so. But it sounds more like slavery than an honest job when they want you to spend your personal time on work-related projects.

In my opinion - and take it for what it is: my very biased opinion - you should look for a job where you'll be more appreciated. There are companies out there that offer better life-work balance, and who respect their employees as people, not treat them like code-generating automatons.

It might be time for a change of scenery. Good luck!

  • Thanks. My co-worker definitely falls into Camp #1, whereas I'm in #2 (and btw we're not programmers by trade, but more programmer analysts). That in and of itself may be the defining factor here, and I shouldn't feel bad about it just because I don't fall into a particular group. I suppose the part that makes me uncomfortable is that I'm given all of the crap operational work instead of being able to dedicate my day job to actually creating some real value for the business. Because I don't fall into the "live/breathe/eat" code category, I don't get a chance to prove myself to the fullest. – Ryan Dec 2 '15 at 18:51
  • @Ryan - I know what you're going through. I'm a dev, but I have "real world" interests other than reading and writing code - I draw the line after 8 hours in front of a keyboard. At my old job my team-mate, a pretty introverted guy, would log into the system at 3 AM to make chances, etc. He was promoted and assigned new responsibilities, while his previous workload fell on my shoulders - I never got a new team-mate. At first I tried to work some extra hours to keep up, but I wasn't getting compensated. I ended up finding a new job, and have never looked back. – AndreiROM Dec 2 '15 at 18:57
  • One more comment, per my edit in the original post. I've been feeling the pressure of getting promoted from my manager ever since I joined the company (he brings it up every few months), but I haven't been able to produce anything meaningful in my tenure here thus far. When I see all my co-workers taking night classes and working on extra projects outside of their normal duties, I get stressed because I can't/won't do the same due to other life commitments. – Ryan Dec 2 '15 at 19:32
  • @Ryan - any company that seeks to make you feel guilty for not pouring your heart and soul into it is not one worth working for. It you were the owner, a partner with shares in the business, or heavily involved in a start-up, with the promise of large rewards to come, then it would be worth sacrificing your personal time for its success. But destroying your family-life for the sake of making other people money? Not my cup-o-tea. – AndreiROM Dec 2 '15 at 19:36
  • "Lives and breathes code" doesn't make you a senior developer, it just makes you a dull person. It doesn't mean you ever learn how to write good, working, maintainable code. And it's not scalable. The "lives and breathes code" person won't have kids who "live and breathe code". Most likely no kids, otherwise kids who won't want anything to do with programming. The "enjoys coding" folks may have kids who will one day enjoy coding. – gnasher729 Dec 3 '15 at 10:17
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First let me tell you that if your coworker did come up with something groundbreaking in his spare time and just gifted it to the company he is a total buffoon.

Once you gift something like this to a company and you do 10 mins of work on it at work it is very very hard to cry "I take it back" or "I should get a cut" later.

You should just distance yourself from the situation. Because either your coworker is going to skyrocket up the company ladder or they are going to be disgruntled very quickly.

If they skyrocket up the company ladder you do not want to be seen as the jealous friend. You simply shut up and do your job well and your coworker will hopefully be rewarding you - and remember the dynamic between you two has changed now even though he may not be in a different position. I would honestly treat someone like, like I would a boss. I know it sounds stupid but if everything you are saying is true he will have a lot more clout than your boss in 2 years.

If things don't go well between your company and coworker because of ownership/money/legality issues, it is just great that you didn't have anything to do with it.

So the morale is just be the best you. If someone else hits a homerun there is nothing wrong with starting up with a single.

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I highly doubt that your company only promotes people who develop "groundbreaking" products in their spare time. Argue for a promotion on your own merits instead of focusing too much on what your colleagues are doing. But first decide on what you actually want: a new title? A raise? Your own project to develop? No matter what it is, it's usually something you want to discuss with your manager. Find out if his and the company's interests align with your goals and what you can do to make that happen. It could be that showing an increased commitment outside the 9-to-5 is a condition for that. It's not a good practice but some companies work that way and you have to decide if that's a job condition you can live with.

That said, if you find that there is not enough opportunity for advancement at your current company, regardless of the reason, then it's probably time to look elsewhere.

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    Make sure to have that conversation now before the review process. You want to know what you have to do while there is still time to do it. Also if the team lead is full time on his personal project, consider asking to be acting team lead while he does that and then shine in that role.And if you aren't getting the support you need from the tech lead, and they won't appoint someone else talk to his boss about it. – HLGEM Dec 1 '15 at 23:46
  • The company I work for is very flat organizationally (there are only 6 levels between me and the CEO, and I'm closer to the bottom rung than the middle), and it's quite well known that leadership makes getting promoted difficult. It's not in the hands of your immediate manager, but rather an outside committee that has to be convinced your work exceeded the bar for a given level. As for taking on some of his responsibilities, I don't think that's going to work either - he's still committed to being team lead, and has just recently volunteered to project manage the project I'm working on. – Ryan Dec 2 '15 at 16:12
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The whole concept of "promotion" is that you're doing something exceptional. It wouldn't make much sense to me if everyone got promoted to Vice President just because they been doing what they're told. I should also mention that your friend may arbitrarily get high praises from upper management but at the same time is still maintaining whatever prior rank he had.

I had such a case in my work. I built this application in my spare time and got it working. I decided to present it to my co-workers hoping they'd use it. My boss later pulled me in and told me he thought taking the spare time to make the application was great and he gave me a small 2% raise on the spot. I was very happy with it but in the end, I still maintained the same position and nothing too great came out of it. It wasn't even brought up at the end of year review.

You shouldn't focus too much on what others are doing or even try to copy it. It looks childish and desperate, to be honest and it would only cause upper management to find you silly or as "that guy."

  • I definitely agree, in that I would never expect to get promoted because I do average work. The problem I have is that in the current setup, I don't have the bandwidth to really prove myself in other projects that will provide meaningful value and (hopefully) accelerate my career, given the dearth of non-value-add operational tasks I have. Perhaps it's just a fact of life at this company that in order to progress forward, I have to be willing to take on projects on spec in my spare time. – Ryan Dec 2 '15 at 19:11

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