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Working on Saturdays

Published 7/20/2016

In today's episode, I answer yet another question from Reddit about working overtime.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey, everyone, welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, and today I'm answering a question about working on Saturdays. So just like Monday's episode, I have pulled a question once again from Reddit, and this question comes from a user named McFarGyle. I guess that's how you say it, McFarGyle. And the question is quite simply, my employer wants me to work on Saturday, and I do not want to. And I plan on saying, no, do you have any advice or thoughts? And the detail of this question is, boss is worried about a project missing its deliverable date, and heard that he might want us to work on Saturday. As in the title, I do not want to work on Saturday, and I plan on saying, no. Every person on my team has already put more than 40 hours a week into this project. Am I being unrealistic, or is this something that is just kind of commonplace? We've probably all faced this as developers, specifically the first part, which is our projects are going to miss their deliverable date. This is such a common thing. There are many, many books about this specific subject. The idea of estimating software development has long been discussed as one of the most difficult processes. Most difficult parts of our job is estimating how long it will take to build something. So let's all start by getting on the same page and recognizing that estimation is extremely difficult. We've talked about this in the past on the show. Maybe you'll remember it by the metaphor of sandwiches. I'll let you go and listen to that episode if you haven't heard it. I don't want to ruin the punchline. But the simple idea here is that estimation is very difficult unless you are estimating something very small. In fact, you can't estimate a bunch of small things all at the same time stacked into one big thing. You have to estimate one small thing at a time. So the reality here is that we're going to get into situations where our deliverables are going to be late. That is just a part of this industry. And there's a lot that we can do to deal with this kind of thing so that we don't end up working on a Saturday that we don't necessarily want to work on. One method to eliminate this problem is to eliminate the concept of a delivery date. And instead, simply work at a steady rate on something until it is complete. And then when it is complete, you ship it. I don't want to make this episode all about the ways that you can ship stuff on time. I also don't want to make it about the differences between waterfall and agile. These are all things that have been talked about a lot. And we're not going to solve those problems in one episode of Developer Tea. Instead, what I want to talk about is the concept of working more than a 40-hour week. And I want to talk about it with relation to the software development industry or the web development industry. This is common. It is common to work more than 40 hours a week. The interesting thing is it is also common to work less than 40 hours a week. The industry lends itself to this because of the flexibility that is inherently a part of web development or of software development. Because you can take your computer to a remote island and as long as there is a wire running out to that island that gives you internet, then you can go and develop software on that island pretty much as effectively as you could develop it in the middle of the United States. Or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Software development is kind of fundamentally decentralized and also flexible. And that creates a mental state for Developer To think that they are always on. In other words, that you can work anytime, anywhere. So you're pretty much always working. This is exacerbated by the fact that your email is always on and your cell phone is always on. So you're always reachable. This is such a common situation to get a text message from your boss or to get an update from a client via email at eight or nine o'clock at night when you're otherwise going to be disconnected. So we already have ourselves in the state of constant engagement with the work that we do. And a lot of companies offer that extra flexibility as a benefit or in exchange for that always on mentality. That sounds like from this particular Reddit user, this post sounds like your employer is wanting you to be in the office on a Saturday. But the same complaint could come from someone who is being asked to work on a Saturday remotely as well. So that doesn't really make a difference to this request. Now I'm going to go ahead and admit my bias. As I record this episode of Developer Tea, it is Saturday. It's the middle of the day on a Saturday. Not only do I work on the weekends for Developer Tea, but I also do work on the weekends for Whiteboard. But here's the thing. In most tech companies, in most development firms, in most product companies that rely on code, the schedule is going to have a day of demand on the weekend at some point. Or the server is going to go down in the middle of the night. It's going to happen at some point. And so the demand for a developer to work in what would otherwise be abnormal hours and after hours, that demand is naturally higher for a developer than it would be, say, for somebody who works as a cashier at a restaurant, right? Because the restaurant closes and there's never a need for that particular worker to work that cashier when the restaurant is closed. And that has been the structure of jobs for many, many years. In fact, the concept of the 40-hour work week was built on that structure, the business hours being open or being closed. So if you find yourself in this situation, first recognize, yes, this is a relatively common thing to occur in this industry. Does that mean that it's preferred or that it should become a regular thing? Not necessarily. So when is it a problem when this occurs? That's really the question that's being asked. When is it problematic when my boss asks me to work on a Saturday? The first answer is when your boss asks you to work on every Saturday, even though he previously had promised you or the previous deal was that you wouldn't work every Saturday. In other words, if it is a common occurrence for your boss to ask you to overextend yourself, okay, that is a pattern that is unhealthy. And unfortunately, it's also going to lead to long-term bleeding in the company culture and in the company profits. So yes, it is a problem for your boss to overextend and ask you to do something on a regular basis that you didn't sign up for, that you didn't agree to doing particularly when it comes to the amount that you're going to work. Now what if you didn't have an agreement with your boss? What if they didn't explicitly state how much of a work week you were supposed to work when you started your job? Well, then you have to think, is this job the one that I want to be at? Is this job worth the overextension? Is this job actually the pattern that I want to set for myself? If you decide that you are regularly working more than you want to and your boss is unwilling to reduce the number of hours that you are working, well, your options are kind of cut and dry for you, right? Your boss is not in the wrong because they didn't establish in the beginning set expectations with you. So their expectations are simply different from your expectations. Another scenario where it's probably incorrect or inappropriate for your boss to ask you to work extra hours is if they are unwilling to compensate you properly for that extra work. However, this comes with a caveat. I want you to think about your work and your time in terms of investment, okay, in terms of investment. If you are investing in your job, in other words, if periodically your boss asks you to be flexible and come in on a Saturday, the people who come in on the Saturday and view that as an investment, whether the investment is in directly in the company or if it's in a client relationship or maybe if it's just in the relationship between you and your boss, if you view that time that little bit of sacrifice that you're providing as an investment, then it's easier to come to terms with that being worth it, right? An investment is a sacrifice. And in the long run, if you do this periodically, if you do this extra work periodically, that investment is likely to pay off. If your boss is very seldomly especially if your boss asks you to work extra hours just to get something out the door to win over a client or to actually hit a delivery date that was, even if it was wrongfully promised, if your boss asks you to do something like that, then view it as an investment if you decide to go forward with it. Now, I do have a very strong word of caution and this is especially for managers to listen to the people who are making these decisions of asking your employees to come in on the weekends and chronically being off the schedule, right? Chronically being late on projects. There is no single work day. There is no amount of overwork that is going to get you back on schedule. I want you to view this like you view gas in a car. Gas is the employee's energy. Gas there will to work on a project. If you see that you're running out of gas, in other words, if you see that you don't have the resources necessary to finish a project, then what is the correct procedure? You see gas in a car is a fixed resource. In other words, you can't stretch the gas. The worst thing that you can do is slam pedal to the metal. In other words, if you try to make that cargo faster, you're going to end up burning more gas and ultimately in the long run, your car is going to run out of gas sooner. If you push your employees over and over and over, then you're effectively putting the pedal to the metal. You're going to ultimately be more inefficient and be more off track if you try to push your employees over the edge every single week. If you're asking people for extra time every single week, you're exhausting your resources. You manage your embosses and CEOs out there. If you're pushing your employees over and over and over, not only are you going to increase your turnover rate, in other words, the people that you're investing time and money and resources into are ultimately going to leave your company because they feel overworked. They feel like it's unfair. Not only that, but you're also going to end up off your mark. The reason for that is quite simply the burnout is going to affect the productivity rate of your employees. If employees are working 50 hours a week, they're getting about as much done as someone who is working 40 hours a week. The amount of extra work that can get done with that extra 10 hours is limited. This is especially true if it is continuous. In other words, if you're chronically working that extra 10 hours a week. Now talking once again to the developers who are being asked to do this work, can you work an extra 10 hours one week and add a bunch of productivity and value to a project? Absolutely. It is certainly possible. My personal opinion is that sometimes that is absolutely worth that investment as well. Obviously, I spend extra time working on Developer Tea. I spend extra time working at whiteboard. I put a lot of my energy into the work that I do. But I'm also very aware of when I start to get burnt out. If I start to burn out, then my productivity spirals into the ground and I start wasting time. I want you to be aware of that same tendency with yourself when you start to actually waste time rather than being productive. User Mick Fargail on Reddit, I hope that you weigh all of this. You don't look at this as a black and white decision of whether it's wrong or right. It is a very common thing in the tech industry. Sometimes it is totally worth those few hours that you work on a Saturday in the long run. You may be buying yourself a raise that will pay you back time and time again in the long run. If you see a bad pattern emerging, if you see your manager abusing the workers and abusing and disrespecting them by taking time away from them or making them feel bad rather than appreciating the extra time that they spend, that's a situation that you want to avoid and get out of. Go and find someone who appreciates your time and appreciates your work. Speaking of appreciation, thank you all so much for listening to Developer Tea. I recently looked at the episode count and I hadn't even realized that I'd passed 250 episodes of Developer Tea. And that's such an awesome number because all of you are listening to this show. That's the only way that we could ever get to 250 episodes. So thank you so much for subscribing and for listening to Developer Tea. Of course, if you haven't subscribed yet, you can do that in whatever podcasting app you use. And that ensures that you don't miss out on future episodes of Developer Tea. You may have noticed that today's episode of Developer Tea was not sponsored. We have some sponsor spots open for Developer Tea. That is what keeps the show going and you can get your message in front of thousands of developers. There's over 10,000 people who listen to this show regularly. So go and check it out. Spec.fm slash sponsors if you want your message delivered to the ears of thousands of developers. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea. Make sure you subscribe and give us review in iTunes. Let me know how we're doing. And until next time, enjoy your tea.