We should all get a life, but sometimes we can’t

Working on a Saturday should no longer be a new thing if you’re into a field as demanding (and sometimes unforgiving) as information technology or software services. I’ve been in that business for 15 years now and I could say with confidence that I’ve had more than my fair share of weekend work. No big deal.

Problem is, working extended hours becomes a big deal when it becomes the norm instead of the exception. And no, this is not whining. This is lamenting on the plight of good people who are dedicated to their work but at the same time have lives outside of their work. Yes, some of us can be workaholics in the real meaning of the term, but that’s not saying that workaholism is a good thing. In the grinding fast lane of the corporate world, being a workaholic may be admirable, but only for people who, we probably could say need to get a life.

It’s no laughing matter when people are consistently made to work extended hours to the point where they could only talk to friends via instant messaging, only see their kids to tuck them in and their husbands or wives to kiss them goodnight, with the kiss being relegated to nothing more than a fleeting peck from someone who’s been up so late the person could hardly keep his/her eyes open. I wouldn’t call that a life, not by a long shot.

This week could probably be the last straw. I jumped on board a company with the group I’m handling already in the thick of a war against deadlines that had been going on for more than half a year. Interesting time to come into the picture, says my colleagues. At the time I thought it was said as a good thing. I was wrong. With the way the client gives us so-called “hard deadline” — to finish in one week or less (that’s the trend) enough work for a 50-man crew to take a month to finish under marginally reasonable estimates, I learned that my group had been working like horses in the most unforgiving timelines I have ever seen.

Like I said, I’ve been in software services for more than 15 years now, and in all that time, save some rare exceptions, the relationship between client and vendor has always been that a client presents a task and a vendor evaluates whether that task is doable with the given timeline and resources. If not, the vendor pushes back and proposes an alternative. Now here at my current workplace, the term “push back” is almost synonymous to eating live, 12-inches long irradiated Chernobyl earthworms as far as the clients are concerned. Which is the reason why my people have been working as if the office is the only place on earth where they could breathe oxygen. Of course, if they could have it their way, they’d rather spend Saturdays and Sundays with family and friends and relax even for just a bit. But the clients won’t have it. “We have a hard deadline” is their usual statement. Which doesn’t sound like a statement at all. Sounds more like a decree from a dark and angry god.

I’m pissed. I am royally and immutably pissed. I have never seen one sincere and heartfelt smile from my 24-strong group for several weeks now and that’s quickly making for the most hopelessly gloomy workplace I’ve seen. So a few days ago I decided to exercise my prerogative as manager. With the deadline that we have to meet today, the client agreed that they wouldn’t be pushing for additional work anymore to help us meet our commitment. They violated that agreement the next day with another task that required at least a week of work but they demanded we finish for two days. It took us three days, and set us back for that much with our original task for the week. So I sent a status report to the client management stressing that because of the additional work they gave us, our current deadline is now compromised. Of course, I have an action plan in place to make up for lost time, but that would require another working weekend for everyone. The client didn’t catch the part where I said I have a plan and simply told me that if I couldn’t get the job done, they’d find someone else who would.

There’s something I need to clarify because of this. Did they really hire me to manage? Because any manager could manage for only so much without having to resort to slave-driving. And right now that’s what I’m forced to do.

And I hate slave-driving.

Two days ago I felt myself choked up from seeing the exhausted and exasperated expressions on the faces of my people when I told them that again, we have to work overtime and weekends. I feel so sorry for them, but I couldn’t do anything about it. The client has released a statement that if we don’t meet this deadline, heads will roll.  If I get axed because of it, that’s fine, anyways I don’t think I could last in a job where I will be forced to treat my team like slaves and work them past their limit. But what weighs heavily on me is I couldn’t guarantee that my team will be spared. Most of them are parents already and they need this job.

Oh, and did I mention that I got this job because the manager that I replaced was axed for this very same issue?

Suckiest job ever. But I care about my team so I couldn’t leave just yet. Wish there’s something that could actually be done to alleviate their plight.

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quistian

An incorrigible Gen-X cynic who writes too damn much