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How to handle dodgy work ethics

Hey All.

My post is rather similar to a few other ones that I've seen here, but still (I hope) different enough to warrant it's own space. It is basically about how to handle work issues in places where things fall apart.

I work a company that places some consultants (like me) at clients. This is something I like, I like the dynamism of it, I like meeting the new people, working with them, and I'm learning a lot.

My current client however is problematic for me.

In this fair Verona our scene consists of a company were people work ridiculous hours (no really), management does near illegal things, stress is out of control and people generally freak out, run away and very little works as it should. There are no schedules, no testing phase, no documentation (some comments in code though) and a lot of punishments. Heads roll, just because. And aggression (sometimes physical threats) is out of control. Incidentally, if I leave the client I lose my current job.

Well, I'm one of those naïve morons who try to change things. I got a bug database working, with about 98% acceptance among the exhausted techies. We had about 800 bugs through the system in a week... and was told to shut it down by management ("what if it leaks to the client?" WTF…). We now run it from my pc, in "secret". All I care about is increase of code quality, so IT SHALL RUN come hell or high water.

I can go on listing all my attempts, but I am losing most battles, so their is little point in listing all the areas where I am failing.

And this is my dilemma - I am getting tired. In my mother tongue we have a word for this: "vuisvoos" (pronounced face-fooce) which translates literally to raw-fisted / tired-fists. I'm beginning to not care anymore. I've no energy for the endless fights anymore. I'm tired of people screaming at each other the whole time. Tired of aggression. Tired of my hastily slapped together work.

I want to hear from people who have had to survive in a place like this. Do you try to change it, or do you run?

I feel like running (I have 2 other options even if I do lose my job) but this seems to me like the reaction of a petulant child. What do you think?

If I stay what should I do?  How to handle it? How to better it?

Postscript.
I've tried not to embellish on the facts or make it sound like a classical Management vs Me struggle. This has been written under the influence of emotion, so if it sounds like an attempt at describing techie dystopia, I'll list the good parts too in a future post, just ask. The truth is that there are good people (99%) in the company, but that three of the top guys have enormous clout and no scruples - and that screws a lot up.

Agurkie
Monday, September 15, 2003

The first thing I would do is start a daily journal documenting the who, what, when, where, and why (in your opinion) everything is happening.  I'd build a case, then go to the senior management at the company that placed you into this hell-hole of a work environment.

Incidentally, it should go without saying that you should create the journal on your own time on your own computer, so the company you're working at can't claim that you were taking time away from their work. (Although, now that I think about it, it sounds like they'd try to f**k you over in any case.)

The bottom line: life is too short.  As the well-known psychologist Bob Rotella says, "You can either love what you do or do what you love--it's your choice."  I find it hard to believe you could love what you're doing where you are right now, so it's time to start figuring out how to make a change.

By the way, why will your company fire you if you go to them and explain the situation?  Do they just expect you to prevail at the client no matter what?

Dave
Monday, September 15, 2003

Dave,
Thanks, your comments are helpful.

To answer your question regarding my firing -
I have been talking to my company, informing them of the client's setup.

We agreed that I will only extend my contract at this client one month at a time so that I can duck if things become really unbearable. Last week, I told them that I want out, and they informed me that they've just extended my contract six months, and that I will bear with them and stop my crap.

Needless to say I'm not to happy with my own people for this trick - it was (IMHO) very unprofessional of them.

Thanks again for the response.

Agurkie
Monday, September 15, 2003

They extended your contract without your participation?

How can they enforce that?

If you can do so legitimately - RUN AWAY.

These people WANT to be in hell. You don't.

Fernanda Stickpot
Monday, September 15, 2003

It is an impossible situation to change, just quit, unless you are being paid $200/hr or more.

rz
Monday, September 15, 2003

Yes.  Definitely keep a work journal.  (OT, I think everyone should do this as I just got burned for not having one.)  Sure, leave if you have another opportunity.  It's not childish to want to improve your working environment. 

I think the most important thing you should do is notify your employers; these people who have placed you with the problem company.  They should be made aware of the problems by you and before any proverbial excrement impacts an impeller. 

D
Monday, September 15, 2003

It's always easy to give advice, particularly when the advice-giver isn't the one who has to face losing his job.

That notwithstanding...I've been there man. About the only difference between your case and mine is that I wasn't contract; I was an employee brought in to help clean up the mess, or at least that is what I was told.

After six months of arguing and fighting management and even developers who were doing things that would make even the most hardened JOS'er shudder, I decided that it was simply pointless to continue. The place was a train wreck and they refused to change even one iota. Management was scared to do anything different lest the bad news leak to their managers.

At that point, I began a job search in earnest and in the meanwhile I simply went on cruise control on the job. No more pushing for changes, no more arguing, just did what was necessary while I focused on finding a better job.

Easy to say..tougher to do, but I'd heartily recommend that you start looking for the escape hatch now.

Mark Hoffman
Monday, September 15, 2003

Agurkie your situation is neither shocking nor atypical.  A lot of techies don't seem to understand how the IT consulting/contracting industry actually works.

"...Last week, I told them that I want out, and they informed me that they've just extended my contract six months, and that I will bear with them and stop my crap."

I am afraid that is exactly what you are going to have to do if you want to keep your job with this particular staffing firm. 

While your client's work environment might be f*cked up, that is probably the reason why you are working there.

As long as this client with a shitty work environment pays your employer on time guess where you will be working?  I doubt your employer would have complied with your desire to "be moved out" even during the client-rich 1990s.

Realistically, you only have two choices available to you:

* Quit
* Stay and start hunting for another job

One Programmer's Opinion
Monday, September 15, 2003

I was in a similar situation (although not quite as bad) when I worked for a large services company. My managers didn't really care what the client was like as long as I was billing out to them. And there were plenty of others on the bench who weren't getting placed.

I'd say do what you can to make things better. Keep a log/journal of accomplishments/setbacks. You might not be making a great deal of headway at your current job, but you ARE generating great bullet points to put on the resume for your next job.

If things get too stressful for you then it's fine to leave for something better. As a professional you have the right to expect a good working environment.

NathanJ
Monday, September 15, 2003

That'll make a man do just enough to not get fired.  Do what they want you to, find a new job, get out.

Greg Hurlman
Monday, September 15, 2003

You can't change the environment.  You can either stay or leave. 

What is your health worth? If you stay, your health/wellbeing are at risk: you're in a very stressful environment. Your primary "job" should be to take care of yourself first.  If you can't handle that kind of environment -- and very few people can -- there is no shame or fault in leaving for the sake of your own wellbeing.

My suggestion: leave.  You said you have two other opportunities.  Your health is worth more than a job.

-Thomas

Thomas
Monday, September 15, 2003

"...Last week, I told them that I want out, and they informed me that they've just extended my contract six months"

Either:

1) They just created an obligation to place a warm body at this office for six months - which has nothing to do with you. So you can tell them "So put someone else on this project and put me on another project - or I'll walk."  Of course, you have to acutally be willing to walk, but it sounds like you are.

OR

2) They created an obligation to have YOU at this place for the next six months.  This is great, because you have no legal obligation to stay.  I'm pretty sure that's a legally unenforcable contract ... but they might not know that.

If they tell you they are in situation #2, you can find out if they really believe it by asking for more money.  When they balk, you can find a way to tactfully say "You may have a legal obligation to keep me there, but I don't have one to stay.  I expect to be compensated appropriately."

They will probably blow you off, because they know they are in #1, not #2.  Hey, at least you got them to bring the real cards to the table.

In any event, if the same guy you told to extend you by one-mont increments allowed you to be extended for six, you know you are working for a bunch of people who don't care much about the truth.

Sadly, this is common.  Get out anyway.

regards,

Matt H.
Monday, September 15, 2003

Choose your battles and do your job. If setting up a secret bug database is not your job then don't do it. You're right, you're naive if you think you can have much of an impact. Contractors and consultants aren't supposed to have much of an impact. They're supposed to get stuff done.

pb
Monday, September 15, 2003

Agurkie, OK, first, you're in a pathological environment. Nothing you can do to change it so don't bash your head trying.

If it's such a hostile environment, you should be getting paid more to compensate you for the stress. In fact, I bet the employer is paying a lot to the recruiter who placed you. That recruiter is sitting back watching the money roll in, at your expense.

Do this: go to the recruiter and tell him or her - don't ask - tell him or her that you want twice the pay you're currently getting, or you're moving to another job. If tney don't give it to, leave.

Do not buy all the crap about having to "hand-over" or whatever. If they screw you, you screw them.


Monday, September 15, 2003

"Should I stay or should I go?
Should I stay or should I go?
If I go there will be trouble...
And if I stay it will be double.
So c'mon and let me know...
Should I stay or should I go."
    -Sex Pistols

Run like hell in the opposite direction, I say.  Do enough to get by at your current job while you hunt for another workplace ASAP.  Life is too short to live miserably.

anon
Monday, September 15, 2003

Dude, you just quoted the Clash, not the Sex Pistols.

Joe Strummer
Monday, September 15, 2003

Doh!  That's what I get for trying to quote from memory.

anon
Monday, September 15, 2003

"The captain of this lugger
He was a dirty bugger
He wasn't fit to shovel shit
From one place to another"
--- Sex Pistols

jeffh
Monday, September 15, 2003

Hhm, I wrote this post just before going home (I live on the other side of the planet to most of you, I guess)
A lot more responses than I expected. I'll try to answer most of the comments in one go.

"They extended your contract without your participation?
How can they enforce that?"
- Labour law around here, and a gaping hole in my contract I should have plugged some time ago...

"...unless you are being paid $200/hr or more."
- Good lord, that is a lot. We have an annual IT Salary Survey in my country and at current exchange rate that amounts to about twice the top salary recorded this year. Should maybe consider moving to the US ;-)

"Definitely keep a work journal"
"...start a daily journal documenting..."
"Keep a log/journal of accomplishments/setbacks..."
- Yes, I'll definitely start doing that as a rule, might come in helpful in all sorts of situations in future.

"doing things that would make even the most hardened JOS'er shudder"
- Uhh, not familiar with the term / acronym "JOS"?

"A lot of techies don't seem to understand how the IT consulting/contracting industry actually works."
- Yes, possibly, but this is neither my first project at a client, nor my first at a client where things go wrong. I've been consulting for some time, but this is the first time that things have fallen apart this badly. Previously (while working for the same company) my company would just take care of the politics while I take care of getting things done... but no more.
"While your client's work environment might be f*cked up, that is probably the reason why you are working there."
- Therein lies the rub - that is why I considered (in a moment of madness ;-)  ) staying and trying to get something working. But I don't think so, I'll quote _Slack_ on this (good book, I feel, BTW), "Once established, the Culture of Fear gets in the way of everything that is healthy or worthwhile." That is SO true, and I don't think I'll be wasting too much of my life on these guys anymore.

"What is your health worth? If you stay, your health/wellbeing are at risk: you're in a very stressful environment."
- True. Have noticed disturbed sleeping patterns etc.

"Choose your battles and do your job. If setting up a secret bug database is not your job then don't do it. You're right, you're naive if you think you can have much of an impact. Contractors and consultants aren't supposed to have much of an impact. They're supposed to get stuff done."
- Also true. But advising on improving code quality was an explicit part of my job here... but they are all talk, no do, so I started setting things up myself. BTW, do you have any advice (in general) on how to choose / avoid battles (what would you consider worthwhile)?

"Do enough to get by at your current job while you hunt for another workplace ASAP"
- That will be my course of action from this point on.


A big thanks to all who have replied, I appreciate it.

Agurkie
Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit. Just as soon as you have found yourself a new job :)


Tuesday, September 16, 2003

"JOS" is not an abbreviation in widespread use, but on this forum, it refers to "Joel on Software"

A.T.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003

A.T.: Doh! Thanks, "JOS" should have been obvious.

Agurkie
Tuesday, September 16, 2003

How to choose/avoid battles:

When you see yourself getting into an argument, ask yourself:  What will I gain if I win?  What will I lose if I do not win?  Weigh those variables, and decide if it's worth it.

There's no universally applicable formula as to how much you should be willing to win or lose; it depends on the situation and the variables.

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Agurkie, the company you are being rented out to, is probably unchangeable. Most of us have war stories of companies like that, and you are more exposed to it in the programmer-stable that you currently work in.

First thing - start a journal, electronic, day planner, it doesn't matter much, but update it daily, and outside of work hours. Track what you do, and the problems you are facing in the company.

Seek some legal advice. In most western countries workplace practices such as excessive working hours, threats and other kinds of psychological warfare are not viewed well and may be governed by laws. In the EU there are hard upper limits on the working week that an employer can demand from you.

I am not saying you take them to court. You are going to get the most benefit out of working with your employer. The way that you stated that you would lose your job sounds suspicious - if an employer engineers an intolerable work environment for the purposes of making the employee leave it amounts to constructive dismissal.

Play your cards close to your chest. And of course keep your eyes peeled for other work. I have been through enough companies and interviews to know that many respectable employers are quite sympathetic to people who have left intolerable work environments.

Richard
Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Hey, Little Gurkin

Move back to ZA! :)

Seriously, what country are you in at the moment?

Astarte
Thursday, September 18, 2003

> Seriously, what country are you in at the moment?

Verona would be Italy.

And the company sounds like an all too frequent Italian way of doing things.

Pietro
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Astarte,

I'm in ZA at the moment :)

why do you know what agurkie is?
OR
[kan jy verstaan wat ek nou sê?]

Sorry for this one everyone :)

Agurkie
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Pietro,

The Verona reference comes from shakespeare (romeo & juliet).
It is a prime example of the kind of madness that strikes you in the early morning hours, a mental breakdown that causes you to quote stuff like that :)

Agurkie
Thursday, September 18, 2003

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