I was recently hired to a non-tech company looking for devs to build an maintain their in house systems. I really don't know how to describe what the company does, but half the people here are sales/custom service (on phones all day) and the other half provide the service being sold (they deal with a lot of paperwork and calls). Out of 150-200 people, I am one of 3 developers. And in the distinct minority of getting paid a salary as opposed to hourly wage.

Anyway, when negotiating the job, I made it very clear that I volunteer my time and that I expected to be able to continue doing so. However, now I am getting push back because I'm leaving fairly early (3 hours) one day a week. I make up the time later in the week, but the response to this is that I miss out of the impromptu meetings and the like when I leave early, as well as the fact that its out of the norm and they want everyone doing the same thing (ie, they don't want me being different). I even got an "if we let you do it, then what about the next guy?".

If not for the fact that my volunteer activity is seasonal (its tutoring/coaching high schoolers), I'd back off and do a few months of solid work before bringing it up. However, if I do that I'm effectively stopped from volunteering until October. completely skipping the bit where I am needed the most with these kids.

There are other things going on like the fact the environment is decidedly not dev friendly (hard to work) and certain policies are ridiculous from a tech point of view. Which all comes together under the question, what can I do about it?

These days the employer/employee relationship is very biased against the employee. On top of that, I am young, which does not help me personally. What I want to know is, how much can I push against the system without risking my job? Can I approach it with the mindset that I'm being paid for 40-45 hours of work a week and that it does not matter how that happens? Or do I need to consider it to be paid to have my butt in a chair from 8-5? What are the reasonable requirements that I must meet with my job, and what are "nice to haves" for the company, that I can ignore if I need to?

To reiterate, I'm getting push-back on something that means a lot to me and was discussed when interviewing. Do I have to fold? Will I lose my job if I don't? Where is the happy medium?

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    When you "made it very clear" that you volunteer your time, was it agreed that you could leave 3hrs early one day per week? And did you get that in writing? – Laconic Droid Feb 24 '17 at 1:38
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    @StudentT it's fairly clear from the question that the volunteering is in addition to the regular job, not instead of. – Philip Kendall Feb 24 '17 at 3:53
  • @LaconicDroid - The wording was "half day events" and yes. Its in the email chain that includes all the offer letters and documents I received before being hired. – amflare Feb 24 '17 at 5:25
  • You need to check your contract. If it says 8 hours a day and specifies when those hours are to be done then you are SOL. – Snowlockk Feb 24 '17 at 8:31
  • @amflare - I am not a lawyer, but that seems to fall into a gray area and you might benefit from legal advice. My understanding is it's the "four corners" of the contract that specify the arrangement, but the emails may back up your position. – Laconic Droid Feb 24 '17 at 19:12

Before I answer your question I'd like to start by offering a friendly piece of advice: having the attitude of "how much power do I have" is a really negative way of approaching the situation and I would strongly advise you to clamp down on that kind of thinking because nothing good will come of it over the course of your career regardless of how you handle this situation.

Trust me when I say you don't want to be "that guy" who acts like he's the most important person in the room and deserves to be treated differently than everyone else, because "that guy" is a douche and will be the first one let go the instant they aren't completely indispensable (and maybe even before).

As for how I'd approach your situation, a couple tips:

1) Have a polite, candid discussion in private with your manager and raise your concerns in a calm and non-confrontational manner. You're really going to have to feel out how you should approach it because every environment/relationship is different, but you want to express your feelings without coming across as whining or standoffish. Your manager may not realize how important this is to you, there may have been a misunderstanding, or there may be other factors you aren't aware of.

2) Your boss is in a tough spot and I don't think you fully grasp the implication of the situation you've put him/her in. It is absolutely true that if they let you do it then everyone is going to expect to and it doesn't matter if you're one of a few developers because nothing good comes out of other people feeling less valued. It's also possible they simply misunderstood the frequency or impact of how your leaving early would affect the team.

You need to remember that people can agree to something in theory and then after they see the result have to make a different decision because of an unanticipated factor. You may not want to hear that and it may put you in a situation with some tough choices, but that's life and this won't be the last time you have to make a decision like this in your career.

Ultimately what you need to decide is:

  • How important is this job to you and how easily could you find a similar one?
  • Is there a compromise you can make that will show the company you care?
  • How willing are you to make sacrifices in order to continue your volunteering?

If you want the brutal truth here it is: when push comes to shove the only actual power you have is in your ability to quit and find another job. At the end of the day you're an employee and no one is truly irreplaceable, especially not if you've just started and don't have years of expertise with their systems.

You may be able to exert some influence, but ultimately they sign your paychecks and not the other way around. The company can (and will) make changes to policies and how they handle situations in line with their view of what is best for the company, which may or may not line up with what you think is best for you or the company.

You have options for how you handle the situation, but as I said above I wouldn't approach it as "how far can I push this" because it leads down a road I call "entitlement" that in my opinion leads nowhere good. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting you give up what's important to you or "toe the company line"... I'm just saying you need to make an effort to understand the situation from both sides and make sure you fully understand the situation and that you're being reasonable.

If you do that and you handle it tactfully and in a professional manner, and you can't come to a resolution then you're going to have to make the ultimate decision whether your ability to volunteer is a deal-breaker for you. If so then I would start seeking other employment (quietly) and simply resign when you secure a new position.

Good luck!

  • +1 This is the answer I wish I had written. You stated it much better. – Seth R Feb 24 '17 at 17:35

The power you have as an employee is directly related to how hard it would be for your employer to replace you, and how hard it would be for you to find a new job. Remember that employment is a two-way street and is (supposed to be) a mutually-beneficial arrangement. Your employer gives you money, you provide your skills and services. You both have the ability to dictate the terms under which that happens. As long as both you and your employer are getting what you both want, everything is good. If that isn't happening, someone is going to be unhappy, and it is up to them to change it.

You need to talk to your manager. S/he is the only one that can answer your questions. You may have brought up your volunteer work in the interview, but obviously one or both of you did not make your expectations clear in your employment arrangement. Maybe they didn't understand how much you would be gone during core hours, or maybe you didn't understand that they expected you to cut back on it. At some companies, it is important to be there when everyone else is there so you can collaborate with your coworkers. Other companies don't care when or how the work gets done. I can't tell you how it works at your company or how your manager sees it.

If it is important to you that you continue your volunteer work and cut out from work early on certain days, you need to have a frank discussion about it and come to some kind of terms. You may be able to find some compromise that will let you continue your volunteering, or you may have to make a decision about whether your volunteering is more important than your continued employment at that company. I can't tell you how to make that decision either. (Note: I am not advocating you go into your boss' office and threaten to quit if you don't get your way. That will likely end badly. Just keep it in your back pocket that there are a lot of places you can work, especially as a software developer, and some of them are a lot more accommodating.)

Since you specifically ask about how much power you have, here are some factors to consider:

  • Employers don't want to risk having to replace a good employee. If you have a good track record and have proven your value, this works in your favor. If you do not have a good track record or are still new, not so much.
  • You said your volunteer work is only seasonal, so doesn't go all year. They may be more amenable to it if you make clear it is only for a few months of the year. Or if you can cut back on your time there without giving it up completely, they may be more agreeable.
  • As a software developer, there are a lot of places you can work, especially if you are willing to relocate. If this company won't meet your employment requirements, maybe another one will (again, no ultimatums with your boss! Just keep this in your head.)
  • software developers with a few years of experience can usually just knock on a random company and get hired. There are not many companies that doesn't have a need for software developers. – Migz Feb 24 '17 at 7:05

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