Friday, May 26, 2006

Crossing a Line

Today at work I was confronted with a situation that confirmed my priorities in life. I was forced to decide whether I valued my job over my life outside of work. It turned out to be a pretty easy decision - as I've mentioned in the past, my job just isn't that important to me. I enjoy it, but it's not the focus of my life.

No, I didn't actually quit my job, or get fired, but some people in high places at the corporate headquarters most-likely aren't very pleased with me. Here's the story....

There's a project at work that is in danger of missing its completion deadline. It's not even a project that I am working on or am responsible for - it's someone else's project. But, because I have earned a reputation as a good problem solver, yesterday I was asked to help out with it. Today, I got a phone call from my boss as he was driving in to work and he told me that the VP of Engineering at the corporate HQ decided late last night that he wants (actually demands) the people working on the project come to the corporate headquarters immediately and stay until the project is complete. That would basically mean with no advance notice I'd be flying off a thousand miles away and living out of a hotel room for three or four weeks. It was such an absurd idea, I actually thought my boss must be joking. But, he was dead serious. I told my boss that it was best that I not tell him my gut reaction to the idea and I'd wait until he got into the office so we could talk about it. My gut reaction was I would quit before I agreed to such a ridiculous idea. Firstly, asking anyone at a days notice to just drop everything in their life and fly 1000 miles away and stay for several weeks is a bit much (yeah, like I might consider missing three weeks worth of karate classes for my employer). Secondly, there's no significant reason why we should have to even go to the corporate HQ. We can get all our work done in the local office. The only reason I can imagine they want us there is to basically hold us hostage and pressure us to work ridiculous hours since we don't have a home to return to each day.

Maybe if I was in my early twenties and was looking to make a good impression I might go for such an idea, but not now. I've already earned the good reputation. I've been in the software field for 17 years now and I'm very good at what I do. However, I'm not trying to climb the corporate ladder. My job is not my life. My job is 8 hours of my life each day. It is just a mechanism to provide enough money for me to do the things that are really important - like take karate classes. As one of my coworkers involved in this fiasco said, "I can have many jobs, but I only have one life." If the job starts to significantly detract from the rest of my life, it's time to think about whether it's really worth having. Granted, with any job there are going to be unexpected problems, overtime, and travel, but I felt this particular request was crossing a line. It showed a complete lack of respect for the people doing the work. I felt we were being treated like resources. And that's basically what I told my boss.

So, throughout the day today, there was meeting after meeting with my boss. We'd meet with him, then he'd call the VP at corporate HQ to relay the message that we still weren't receptive to going. I did not envy my boss. He is a very nice guy and I knew he was just doing what he was told by his boss, and he also thinks the trip is a bad idea. But he was still doing his best trying to convince us that we should go on the trip, while we were pushing back saying it was a stupid idea, listing personal reasons why we couldn't go, and if the issue is forced, we'll quit rather than go. At one point during one of these meetings I found myself staring out the window while calculating in my head how much money I'd get if I cashed in my stock options now and how long I could live on that money before finding another job. It might be fun to just take the whole summer off... (but it's probably not the most responsible use of that money.)

Eventually in these conversations with my boss, I realized I had crossed a line, too. I had made it quite clear to the VP at the corporate HQ that I am not a "dedicated employee". I had said in no uncertain terms that if the company had no problem uprooting people for signifcant amounts of time from their everyday lives with no advanced notice, then it wasn't a company that I wanted to work for. With all this refusing to bow to the VPs repeated demands, it dawned on me that regardless of how this current situation turned out, my days at the company are most-likely numbered. As it finally turned out at the end of the day, the VP decided that we would not have to travel, but this was after he said things like he felt we were "holding the project hostage" by refusing to go, that we weren't being team players, etc. I will now have a big black spot on my record. They may need me for this current project, but as soon as there is a lull, I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to find an excuse to get rid of me. No company likes to be held at the mercy of their employees.

So, what do you think? Was I being unreasonable in refusing to go?


Anonymous said...

Greetings from San Antonio!

I'm with you -- stick it to The Man. Employers need to understand that their employees have lives outside of work, and that you were not put here on earth to line their pockets with your labor. If they don't like it, do what I did -- go freelance! I'll bet someone with your talents could get plenty of clients, and you could work your hours around your karate classes.

The Other Linda (F.)

henry rhombus said...

Brian, these first two comments are from freelancers, so you should expect us to side with you.

I'm on the verge of losing a book project because the brand partner (which was brought in by the publisher to boost sales) refuses to remove a line from my contract that states I will make any changes they demand on a revised edition of the book at some unspecified time in the future for free. Ridiculous, says I -- you don't work for free, and neither do your printers, distributors, or warehouse employees, so don't ask me to.

On some level, the VP probably already knew his request was out of bounds. He was just caught up in the heat of the crisis and pushing for the solution that worked best for him. In his mind, he was doing something to solve the problem -- nevermind the effect it would have on you and your fellow employees.

Ideally, everyone at work can now put this unpleasantness behind them and present solutions to the current crisis. Keep the focus on action rather than reaction. I'm looking for new projects, for example, since the current iron in the fire seems like a branding tool aimed in my direction. Rather than get burned, I'll peddle my wares elsewhere.

big kahuna said...

It seems like everyone ends up in a situation like this one sooner or later. There is a big difference between a request and an order. Fortunately you are in a good position to to do what you feel is best. There really is no security in this world so whatever happens I'm sure that you will be able to roll with it.
You should feel good about your place in the world and don't loose any sleep over this!

JD said...

Sounds to me like you assessed the situation calmly and stood up for yourself, so good for you! (I say "calmly" because I know I would still be too PO'd at my boss to blog about this as lucidly as you have.) I second Big Kahuna - don't lose any sleep over this!

shiloh351 said...

A saying Graham always keeps in mind when dealing with work is-
"Work to live,don't live to work".It helps to keep things in perspective. A company will always end up trying to get as much out of you as possible. It's up to you to know when the requests become unreasonable and to stand up and say "no, I won't do that. I have a life outside of work." Don't feel guilty about it. If you do give in, chances are they will ask again and again and the requests will get harder and harder. Everyone has a limit to what they can or will do. You need to set that limit and stick by it. Otherwise your work will eventually comsume your life.
If they do let you go because of this, (which I think would be stupid)it's because the guy you said no to is on an ego power trip.
A good boss would understand the stupidity of the request and respect your concern and request for not compliing.(sp?)

Rob said...

If you roll over once, they won't feel bad doing a next time and a next time and a next time....Its true that no company wants to be "held at the mercy of their employees," but usually if you do good work and have few complaints you'll stick around. You might not move up, but you'll stick around. Don't sweat it. You've got to have boundaries.

Way to hold your ground. Thumbs up. ;)

eric+martha said...

brian u did the right thing. the boss put you all into a bad position by insisting on something rash and then couldnt back out of it because of ego. sounds like you were not operating from that position at all.

u are right that they will look at you differently now - that's their nature - you're with them or against them - sound familiar? :-)

henry rhombus said...

So, have you been fired yet?

The Other side of hallway said...


I only want to say thanks for everything.