9

We're a team of three software developers trying to deliver a product with a lot of features and bug fixes in a little amount of time. Basically our boss decided it would be great for us all to fly to this location and sit in our hotel doing 16+ hours of development while he gets more features from the customer. This will be a four day period of work, but he's willing to compensate with days off in the following week.

I'm totally against doing this because of (1) the location I'm placed in with no ergonomic desks/tables nor access to a car or going home to relieve stress (2) 16+ hours a day will not get quality work out of me, especially four days worth of it. (3) He treats these trips as a school field trip, where we must all be together in a room at all times. Which means he'll be up my ass with new bugs and features, therefore causing more stress to the situation.

I'd be more likely to work the additional hours + stress in an environment that I know, and the ability to escape when I need breaks. However, he refused alternatively allowing us to use Skype and avoiding wasting money on the trip altogether.

This plan seems to have huge potential for burnout and sounds like a complete nightmare to me. Is it reasonable to push back against this? How can I effectively do so when the boss has already shot down my alternative suggestion? Is the location enough to justify saying no to the trip?

  • Do you normally work remote? Are you familiar with the other developers? Have you met them before? – Erik Jan 25 '17 at 7:14
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    Where In the world are you? This would not even be legal where I live. – nvoigt Jan 25 '17 at 8:00
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    Working 16 hours a day is not realistic. You'd have to start at 6 in the morning and end near midnight. What about sleep? – Brandin Jan 25 '17 at 8:08
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    @Kilisi Since indentured servitude is illegal and OP is not in the military, the alternative is to simply say "Sorrry but I'm not able to do that." That's just one of a myriad of respones to unreasonable requests. – Lilienthal Jan 25 '17 at 8:57
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    This is one more case of the increasingly popular trend of bosses trying to transform Hackaton-type events into a work model. – T. Sar Jan 25 '17 at 10:12
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Right, so first thing's first: you ask whether the location distinguishes this from a "normal" crunch but that's hardly the only thing. Crunch time has different meanings in different industries but even in sectors where crunch time is common like game development, 16 (plus?!) hour workdays are completely insane. There are dozens of valid arguments against crunch time in general but suffice to say that none of the points you raise are normal.

To read between the lines and summarise what your employer is asking you, he wants:

  • to double your workload to (more than?) 16 hours in day
  • to force you on a trip to a client you won't actually see because he wants to make sure you actually put in these insane hours
  • to make you travel on your own time
  • to make you work from a hotel
  • for the team to spend all day together and basically not allow any downtime

He's insane. None of this is even remotely reasonable and because of that, it is reasonable to Just Say No. Simply say any of the following:

  • I'm sorry, but I'm not able to make that work.

  • I've thought about this some more and this isn't an arrangement that I can reasonably follow.

  • I have other commitments that don't allow me to spend 16 hours at work.

  • I'm not able to travel during that time.

What you go with is up to you. Any of these are reasonable to say and you can combine them. Given the sheer insanity of the proposal, it's highly likely that your boss will not take it well that you're pushing back. This has all the hallmarks of a death march and when a project reaches that state even otherwise reasonable people start doing or demanding unreasonable things. That goes double if the project manager is actually the owner of the business.

But you don't have to go along with any of it if you don't want to. You can just hold firm and flat-out refuse to consider this ludicrous proposal if it comes to that. The risk of doing that of course, is that an unreasonable boss can also just fire you for saying no or reprimand you in other ways that affect your career at that employer. If you can't afford to be fire or need to keep this job on your resume to avoid looking like a job hopper then you might not have any choice. In the US both the request and firing you for non-compliance are generally-speaking legal.

But if you can afford to move on to a new employer, I highly encourage you to push back on this for your colleagues' sake as well. And regardless of how this resolves itself, you should be job searching. You're working for a loon.

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    "Both the request and firing you for non-compliance are generally-speaking legal." Can you add a disclaimer? Both is illegal in the parts of Europe that I know about and there was no country tag given. – nvoigt Jan 25 '17 at 10:21
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    @nvoigt Good catch, adjusted. – Lilienthal Jan 25 '17 at 12:24
  • @nvoigt Not only in europe - in Brazil this is also Illegal for several reasons. – T. Sar Jan 25 '17 at 16:53
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When the chips are down and deadlines are looming one person needs to make a plan. Then the rest need to support them and dive in. They don't have to agree wholeheartedly with the plan, but they need to be committed, otherwise they're not valuable employees, they're liabilities.

So to me this is a question on whether you personally can handle high pressure commitment and pull with the team, or not.

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    If you see it this way, why would the "man with the plan" not just plan for 24+ hours a day? Or maybe 36? Anybody who drops dead is just not pulling with the team, right? – nvoigt Jan 25 '17 at 8:02
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    Why would a professional even work for a manager that fails so badly that multiple 16+ hours days are necessary? The liability to that team is their manager, not the guy wondering why he should work double-shifts for no additional pay. – nvoigt Jan 25 '17 at 9:05
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    @Kilisi surely the manager is a liablility for allowing the project to get into such a state? 16 hour days is just going to end up with buggy, poor code. Why is he getting more features for a project that needs double the manpower (based on a typical 8 hour day), rather than managing it properly. – Andrew Berry Jan 25 '17 at 9:21
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    How on earth can 3 developers working 16 hours day make a difference? That's 3 more man-days of work. and that's an optimistic figure, assuming that those 3 developers are productive for the entire 16 hours.. – Steve Ives Jan 25 '17 at 10:18
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    I agree with both sides of this one. I've worked 18-hour days for a short time when on a project where the company's reputation was on the line (World's Fair). But I wouldn't do that if the stakes weren't that high, or if my health didn't permit it, or if I didn't trust my employer to recognize and reward extra effort. So I agree with Kilisi that sometimes you do unreasonable things because they're reasonable in context, but also agree that if they really aren't, you should know when to say "sorry, but nine women can't gestate a baby in one month even if they work overtime." – keshlam Jan 25 '17 at 13:02

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