Competent management should be able to easily recognize the signs of overwork. Commits late at night or on weekends, the growing frustration that slowly creeps out in all of your interactions with management, the stagnation on task progress, the physical exhaustion, etc. Is your management too incompetent to spot the signs (personally I feel like they are easy to spot and I looked for them constantly when I was briefly a team lead)? Or worse, do they not care?
I'm learning to have confrontations with employers about issues. I used to assume confrontation was a bad word and it conjured images of shouting matches with co-workers, passive-aggressiveness, breakdowns in front of coworkers, and other not-so-wonderful actions. But really, confronting them can also be directly bringing up issues in an appropriate setting and honestly discussing how they affect me and if I can do so without violating anonymity, how it is affecting team-members.
I've worked at places that did a terrible job of gathering requirements, resulting in inaccurate estimates for the entire sprint. Maybe, just maybe, turning sprint demos and planning into 8 hour marathon sessions was a terrible idea? Especially when I had been up most of the night saving the demo (often at management's request if I wasn't already proactively doing so), I didn't give a shit about requirements, I just wanted to get home and sleep. I assume that everyone with their laptops out was not doing research relating to requirements or checking their completion times for previous similar tasks to calculate an accurate estimate.
When it became evident that estimates were off, the answer was always "work smarter, not harder." Something along the lines of "Do your best, but remember, we don't ghost hours winks. But this is your first project as a team lead, you don't want this to be your reputation, do you?" Our "agile" process was beyond broken to the point of parody.
I confronted management about an 80-hour week I sort-of volunteered to work and said that this wasn't happening again. I gave a number of reasons why we got into this mess and asked them to consider how they can transform our development team, because my authority was limited to my team. I neglected to discuss the issue of micromanagement with one of the managers in that room, which I regret. He apparently walked out of that room thinking that he wasn't doing enough, and that he needed to micromanage the project twice as much to keep us on track.
All I wanted was to go home and get some sleep. For liability purposes, they probably shouldn't have let me drive knowing how sleep-deprived I was on account of my heroic efforts all weekend. The micromanager told me that no one was leaving until we fixed all the bugs because he promised the client all bugs would be fixed in 24 hours, right after my plea to change things. I tried to keep my cool but was failing to do so based on the number of coworkers who ran up to me and asked what was wrong. I couldn't even think at this point, and because I was covering for him while he was on PTO (does the irony ever end?), I was being interrupted so many times I think it was safe to say nothing good was going to come from me staying in that office.
I called his boss and laid out the situation and explained that I was going home to sleep, that he needs to have a talk with micromanager if he didn't want me getting written up. The next day, my phone was already ringing at 7AM and when I didn't pick it up, a stream of texts all demanding to know where we stood on the bug fixes and I better have a good excuse because the whole team (aka him) was on the line if we didn't have a bug-free application deployed before the sprint that morning. I opened up Outlook on my phone, typed up a quick resignation to HR and my boss, arranged to turn in my laptop the next day, turned my phone off and went back to bed for several more hours.
I hope this horror story is an isolated incident and most of y'all aren't reading this and thinking OMG did we work together? But I have a lot of friends who are overworking themselves. At the end of the day, I think it isn't the fault of (some) employers, but a mutual agreement many of us make to hide from the real demons in our lives. I am pretty sure that, at least in the US, we are working more hours than ever before. As my psychiatrist likes to say, "What the hell are you running from?"
I will gladly admit that I don't like what I see in the mirror when I am stripped off my professional identity. It forces me to look into the distant eyes of a man who doesn't know who he is anymore after years of emotional abuse sustained during relationships and witnessing unspeakable things as an EMT. Who turns the music up louder so his roommate can't hear him when he breaks down crying. I will gladly code 24/7 to avoid having to confront my problems. It's what I was taught to do by my father who learned how to do it from his father.
Software is a profession where you can work as many hours as you desire and no one bats an eye, many companies will reward you greatly for doing it. I'm not doing it to "make it big" or covering for coworkers, it is an escape from reality. I'd probably be at the bar by 5:05 if I didn't have coding in my life. Or I'd create an Instagram and elaborately plan how I will showcase a fake life I don't live figure out how you smile excessively in a manner that is physically impossible to invoke unless forced. Fortunately I do enjoy coding, even though it is an escape, so I don't resort to more extreme ways of escaping reality.
There are many toxic companies out there. If you are working at one, be an agent of change, or just leave if other circumstances prevent you from doing that. It doesn't make you a coward or a failure, it isn't your job to fix the company. The people getting paid lots of money to do so probably aren't even coming into the office anymore...they need to "build client relations" on a golf course in Miami or do shit Patrick Bateman would be doing.
If your company isn't toxic, or it's flawed but fixable, I'll pass on the question to you: "What the hell are you running from?"
My inbox is always open if anyone out there needs to talk. I promise you it isn't a burden to me. But please find someone to talk with. Even if you haven't identified the root of the problem, just learning to identify your emotions gives you power over them. As overwhelming as they feel, emotions cannot kill you. They sure feel that way, but they are temporary states that dissipate. If it's 2 in the morning and you have no one to talk to, try journaling. I have entire notebooks full from just the past year and a half.
In another week I should have a job again and the first thing I will be doing is making an appointment with a therapist to get back to working on myself. It's going to be a journey of its own because there are many therapists and psychiatrists who I would argue are doing active harm to the community so long as they hold a license to practice, but that's a story for another site or day or something. I'm incredibly grateful for my friends who have helped me get through all of this and for the positivity and community spirit I see every day on this site, which gives me hope.
damn!! first off, that was a great comment. I felt like I was reading a book and it consumed me in to this world. Second off, if you ever need a friend, I'm here for you. I'm sorry you have so many hard things in your life that you have to fun from.
I heard a lot of things that I relate to. I used to work a job like that and I quit, and I am so proud of myself for quitting. No one should ever be controlled like that. It should be against the law!
You did the right thing. My company isn't at fault this time. It was myself. That was the core of my post, that I am my own worst enemy.
Like you, I take it upon myself to work these insane hours even if not asked to do so, out of pure paranoia or due to a pressure I let myself build up.
It's ok to tell other people no or to tell them what a realistic amount of work looks like. I just feel guilty because I'm a people pleaser. but then I get overworked, bitter and grouchy so in the end it doesn't please anyone!
We (I assume you and I because if what I read), tend to do all this work and we think it's upon us to carry the team but really we need to step back and realize we are not that important. We are not special. Both of our companies will live on even after we leave.
That is what I'm really focusing on changing. Is being humble. Yesterday, a project that I had a good amount of time on, got introduce to everyone. And my name didn't get listed. It hurt but I didn't speak up because honestly, I need to learn to be humble. I just thought about all the work that others did on it and learned to be happy they got credit.
We both work our asses off, but letting it get to us is actually worst than if we were lazy, because we end up tearing others down by pure exhausting and frustration. I did it with my last coworker. He was burnt out and defeated by his position, and so I ended up with most of the work. Instead of lifting him up and helping him, I just complained and argued with him.
I see that now. Yes, he put me in a bad situation and i took it as long as I could but I didn't have to take that extra work on. I didn't have to become bitter about it. I should have just told him that he needed to pick up on his end or let him know that I would need to bring in a manager to fix the situation.
At the end of the day, I encourage you to learn from this event, to humble yourself. Forgive yourself for being so hard on yourself. To learn that you are not required to work more than the next guy. Find the joy in it again. If you're in Phoenix, AZ USA, then hit me up and I'll see if I can get you a job.
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