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I've recently started as a project engineering for a global company. Through various discussions with line managers, colleagues etc. it's been recommended to me that I should propose studying for an MSc on a part-time basis - something which I have wanted to do for a while and is pretty key for my future career.

I floated the idea with HR who then proposed it to the plant manager. To my delight it was approved in principle. I explained the requirements for time off, as it is a day-release course, and we have come to an agreement that I would work the hours missed throughout the year so that no work hours are lost overall - all great up to now.

This is where it gets tricky - naturally I will required time off for revision around the 2 exam periods but the system proposed above, I feel, will not work, as the time which I have off will massively start to stack up and I will inevitably end up working untenable hours. I must add that, despite my work ethic, everybody needs regular time off for recuperation and the prospect of working 14+ days on the trot is not good.

HR suggested that I take the time as unpaid leave, but unfortunately owing to my immediate financial situation/future, I cannot afford to take the time off - it's something which would hugely take from my concentration on studies and my results would ultimately suffer.

I have tried to argue the point that the course is mutually beneficial to an extent, mainly because of the work-based dissertation, but I am thus far unable to find any middle ground and I am feeling completely backed in to a corner, to the point where it's putting me off even starting the course.

I have refrained from bringing up using holiday for the time off - I have been advised by other members of staff, who are experienced with HSE/EU directives etc., that I should NOT be using holiday for something like this and HR should not even be suggesting this option - frankly taking hard-earned time off work just sit in a room and look at a book is not a holiday.

Can you wise folk offer me any advice? Am I being unreasonable in my requests?

  • So the agreement will work fine except for the exam periods? How long are those exam periods? Could you take some days off just in that period? – Brandin Jul 21 '16 at 18:34
  • The agreement in principle will work, what I mean is that the time I will require off is likely to exceed the 7.5 hours per week which I need off for normal lectures. These hours will start to stack up meaning that I will start losing weekends and/or evenings which are the opportunities which I can see my partner. I think that I am scheduled to have roughly 3 exams per calendar year - 1 in Jan and 2 in may, or vice versa. Do you mean take time off as in holiday or? – Phizzy Jul 21 '16 at 18:38
  • If the agreement works in principle except for 3 exams per calendar year, I would just take a few days around that time. Whether you call them holidays or sick days, etc. is really up to you. Sometimes one just needs a day off to take care of personal business. That's what it sounds like. – Brandin Jul 21 '16 at 18:46
  • Thanks for your comments Brandin. Just so I know where you're coming from, are you saying this from the point of view that I am being unreasonable in my requests? Work is being stubbord and I should just take the hit, or what? – Phizzy Jul 21 '16 at 18:55
  • You asked for changing your hours to accomodate the course schedule and they gave it to you. I'm not really sure what else you want. Yet you say "I am thus far unable to find any middle ground" so maybe not "unreasonable" but I think you are missing that you already gained a lot. Your employer could probably have just said "No, these are the hours. If you can't work them, you're out." – Brandin Jul 21 '16 at 19:05
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This is pretty much what it comes down to: You can't have your cake and eat it too.

The company is already being quite accomodating by allowing you to take off to class during the week. This is very disruptive to their operations. If they didn't need you there all the time then they wouldn't have hired you full time in the first place.

However, the hours you're going to have to catch up are going to add up quite quickly. You pointed this out, and the company offered to allow you to take some of it as unpaid time off. That, again, is very generous.

You see, this is your education we're talking about. The company is generous in that they're giving you the chance to go back to school. However you must now live with the consequences of making this decision.

Work 10 hour days. Work weekends. Take some unpaid time off. These are all options.

You can't expect the company to not only make do without you for one day a week, but also pay you for it. Unless you're an incredibly valuable employee whom they want to promote to a position of leadership there's no way they're going to make that kind of sacrifice for you.

Look at things from their point of view and realize that you're simply being spoiled at this point. Figure out your priorities, and make a decision.

PS: I'm also taking 2 -3 courses a semester while working full time. My boss is understanding, and I get some hours, or days off to study for exams, etc. However, unlike you, I know that the burden of making up those hours, keeping up with my work, and not abusing his generosity is on me. Is it easy? No, but I made the conscious decision to go back to school. Now make yours.

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When you go back to school while working, your personal life will suffer during that period. Yes you should make up the time working nights and weekends. You are investing in yourself by getting the education, this is not something required by your employer. So the burden of finding the time is yours not theirs. If you consider taking holidays during the back to school period to be more important than doing your school work, you are not ready to go back to school while working.

Working ten hours days as your regular schedule will make up the days for the regular week. Then build up to the exams by working for 2-3 hours one day every weekend until you have built the hours. Then of course you are going to have to spend time studying and doing the projects. That will likely account for most evenings during the week. If your partner is not OK with that, then I would suggest that it is a bad idea for you to go back to school at this time.

Every single person I know who worked on a degree part-time (and I have known a lot of them through the years) got no time off from work except using their vacation time (usually to study for exams). Some of them worked in programs where the classes were on weekends out of town, so they lost a lot of weekends with their families (and most of them had spouses and children) and had the financial burden of paying for hotel rooms. But they had the support of their families knowing a short-term sacrifice could pay off with better salaries and career prospects later.

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