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You Will Be Our Slave – Err, no, I Won’t May 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in contracting, Friday Philosophy, rant.
Tags: , , ,

For the sake of current clients, this posting has been time-shifted.

I’m looking at the paperwork for a possible new job in front of me. Document seven out of 13 is the Working Time Directive Waiver. It’s the one where you sign on then dotted line saying your proposed new client can demand more than 48 hours of work a week out of you. {This may be UK or European Union specific but, frankly, I don’t care}.

I’m not signing it. For one thing, I doubt the legality of the document under EU law – especially in light of the issues the UK government had with this and junior doctors {who often, and still do, end up making life-deciding decisions on patients when they are too tired to play Noughts and Crosses, having worked 80 hours that week}. For another, well, I don’t give a damn. I ain’t signing it.

Now, I’ve just completed about 60 hours this week for my client. Not a problem at all, something needed doing, I could do it and so I have. I have done, am doing and will continue to do long weeks for clients when there is a business need and it fits in with the rest of my life and it is not a chronic situation {chronic is a medical term that means “long lasting and on-going”}.

If I am doing 60 hours plus every week, that means I am trying to do 2 people’s job at the same time and doing both of them badly. I don’t care how great I am at doing what I do, if it is 60 hours each and every week, I’m doing it badly because I am too stressed and tired to be doing it well. Also, where is the rest of my life? I have no “rest of my life”.

If my client is asking me to do 60 hours this week and I say “no” and they sack me under the Working Time Directive waiver – that means it is not a request, it is an enforcible demand. I am their slave. Nope. Not happening. It is best all round if it is acknowledged up front before I arrive on site that the client may ask and I may well say yes – but I can say no.

I know, some of you will be reading this and saying “but I need my job and if that is what it takes, I do it”. Well, I’ve worked for 20+ years and I’ve realised that (a) there are organisations that don’t abuse you and (b) you actually get little real payback for those ridiculous hours. But it can ruin your non-work life, even your family life. I don’t need any individual job and I am bloody well not playing those games any more. Employment in a modern, democratic society is supposed to be a mutual agreement and, if is it not, I ain’t playing. That is my small win for all those years of grind and I’m insisting on it.

I know, some of you will say “look, it never comes to anything, just sign it and ignore it like the rest of us”. No. If you are right, it is a corporate lie and is not required. And, to my detriment, I know you are wrong and sometimes there is an attempt to enforce it. If you cannot get me to do the 60 hours by asking and explaining, either you do not have a valid reason {and history proves I am an utter push-over to a half-reasonable request} or there is a reason very important to me why I can’t comply. If you try and insist, you really are treating me like a slave. That empty space? That’s me having gone for a looong walk.

I am not signing a document saying “you can demand I work over 48 hours any and all weeks you like”. Your are not signing a form saying “I can demand any time off I like week in and week out”. All contracts have a clause saying “this is not working between us, we will curtail the agreement”. We will use that if need be, not a bullying document that says I am your slave.

I am not signing.


1. oraclenerd (@oraclenerd) - May 27, 2012


this couldn’t have been more timely. i’ve always struggled with it, working too much that is. i always did it voluntarily, but no longer. now i will work reasonable hours, and like you, the occasional long week…

2. Neil Chandler - May 28, 2012

Some organizations have a simple work/life balance. You work and we will increase your bank balance. I try to work for companies which have a better approach than this. Sometimes I get it wrong but I don’t tend to be at those companies very long.

3. Noons - May 28, 2012

Forcing anyone to work 60 hours in a highly technical job is stupidly unproductive to start with.

Anything over 50 hours/week is IME not worth any money being paid for those folks: the required level of attention and thought clarity will simply not be there. Highly technical IT jobs are not the same as sweatshop slave-work ones. They require a level of mental fitness that is incompatible with tiredness.

All the 60hr/week “pushes” are made by incompetent damagers whose approach to human schedule management is based on non-human considerations. Worth absolutely nothing. Those are the same damagers who cause project disasters out of unrealistic expectations. Mostly because they got no clue how to manage technical people in technical jobs.

Like it or not, there is a fundamental difference between working out the intricate details of a production IT system and mindlessly pushing levers by rote in a factory floor.

mwidlake - May 28, 2012

Nods, agrees. Yes, you quickly stop being properly productive and in the end the mistakes lose more than you gain. On the occasions I’ve ended up working eg 3 or 4 days a week I’d say I get done pretty much the same as I do over a normal week – as you just feel and think better.

I do think that you can do 60 hours, even more, productively – if it is only occasionally and you are enthused to do the tasks required . Perhaps the hardest I have ever worked is when I used to write and run training courses. I so wanted to get the facts right, make the courses interesting and push as much info into the heads of the candidates that I would spend half the night before and during the course improving things. As soon as the course finished, though, the drive evaporated and I was a wreck for a few days 🙂

4. Tony Sleight - May 28, 2012

Nicely put Martin. The Working Time Directive (WTD) rules are there to prevent exploitation, there is an opt out clause though which is meant to be used for occasional or unusual activities. It is not meant to be used long term.

Our company rigorously polices the WTD and very rarely will grant waivers. At our establishment projects have been hurt by enforcement of the 47 hour average Working Time Directive. The average is measured over 17 weeks, so you’ve really got to be pushing hard to break it by being at work. However, a lot of out time is spent updating systems around Europe and further afield. Travelling time is included in the average. So, a round trip to the Falklands, for instance, will add 48 hours to your total just for getting there and back. We’ve had instances where projects have been delayed due to our working time averages hitting 47 hours and we are prevented from travelling. Also, holidays are also included in the total as the company says ‘we are being paid for holidays’. The two ways we can get our averages down are 1) by taking days off without pay (flexi time), or 2) enforce the 37 hour standard week for at least a month.

mwidlake - May 28, 2012

If I was able to include travel time in my hours I’d be happy – I don’t have to take long flights to far-off lands, but as most work I find is in London and I have to drive/train/tube the daily commute is usually between 1 1/2 to 2 hours each way. My current job is almost 3 hours from home, so I end up staying over all week. I think most people who work in London but live outside the M25 have the same problem.

Tony Sleight - June 13, 2012

I can’t include my normal daily travel either. Like you I travel about 1 to 1 1/2 hours each way, but I do live 53 miles from work! I think I read a report that stated the average speed of travel within large cities has not increased significantly in over 100 years, but that could be material for another blog!

5. Rui Amaral - May 28, 2012

Simply put Martin – bravo. Although here in Canada we do not have the time waiver the pressure to work beyond normal hours to retain ones job is still there. I did that for a while and refuse to do it again precisely for the points you outlined.

Again, bravo.

6. jgarry - May 29, 2012

The real tough one is not doing it when your boss, a hands-on technical person too, does.

Noon’s comment (it’s really about Scientific Management) is spot-on, too. Our work is qualitatively different. I spent hours last week pounding on a problem with no luck. This morning more hours, no luck. This afternoon, fed and sleepy, I found the one line I dropped in a complicated upgrade of a 5K line 4GL program 4 years ago. That’s how long it took for users to complain about an actual problem I could chew on.

mwidlake - May 29, 2012

My wife recently went through the whole “Well, if my bosses and equals are doing these hours, how do I challenge them???”. Simple answer is to leave, which she did. Complex answer is – it’s a tough one. You are in an environment where no one is challenging a negative situation. To be first to pop your head over the wall is going to lead to trouble.

In the end I have a simple rule. No one should really be asked to do more than 35 hours a week of proper work. I see lots and lots and lots of situations where people ARE being asked for more than this – but in reality what I see is lots of people doing the hours beholden by the rules or the culture, but not working for several of them. Today, I watched a lady next to me looking at buying a new pair of shoes for about 2 hours.

I like your little war-story about solving problems. These days, I work at it like crazy for a couple of hours. I then go outside. Yes, out the building. I walk around for 10 mins, maybe even half an hour. I do not think of the issue, I might daydream about never working again, about Barbara Good off the “Good life”, whatever. I often come back to the office in a hurry though as, outside work and watching the clouds, the massive, obvious, huge thing has hit me in the eyes and I have the answer.

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