Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Keeping your time your own

A subject near and... well, not dear; but certainly of significant concern to me was recently raised in the "gun thing" forums: Overtime and On-Call time

Oooh boy... I have some stories...

There are some jobs; more and more these days it seems (though at least in my field not as much as in the mid to late 90s); where mandatory, uncompensated overtimes is just expected. This has been part of the computer culture since it's inception. It's just assumed that when deadlines approach, you will work "until it's done" no matter what it takes.

Now, I'm a workaholic by nature. Without outside restraint, that's exactly what I'll do.


Not only that, but it's expected that you'll drop everything at a call from work and get on it; no matter where you are or what time it is.


I say this from years of painful experience; unless you are in the military, or an emergency responder... or MAYBE if you're working at a startup and overwork now means the potential for never having to work again in a few years... you MUST keep your time your own.

If you don't respect your time, then your employers or clients will abuse it. They will require more and more of it until you are doing nothing but working, eating, and sleeping.

Believe me I know, I did it for years. I've worked months on end of 100+ hour weeks. I've worked 24 hour shifts more than once; more than a hundred times even. Hell, I worked a 78 hour shift once. I've done 16 hour shifts, got on an airplane for 8 hours and done another 16 hour shift, then got back on the plane for an 8 hour ride home... It "helped" to kill one marriage and an uncounted number of other relationships. It "helped" me gain a hundred pounds over the healthy and fit weight I'd kept for 10 years.

A few years back, I swore I would never do it again (along with a personal commitment to never have a commute of more than one hour each way ever again). Without leisure and personal time, your life gets more and more unpleasant; until there's no real point to it. You've stopped living, and you're just existing.

Sure you may be making good money, but what good is it if you don't have any free time to spend it? What good is it if you're dead at 40 from a heart attack?

This isn't to say that you shouldn't do overtime at all; just that you should properly manage it. Hell, overtime is a way of life for the trades, and most unionized jobs; but they make sure that they get paid for it, and the more there is, the more they get paid. This acts as a natural brake against employers abusing overtime.

So how much is too much? Well, that's a personal choice, but I draw the line at 60 work hours a week; and I really think that two consecutive days off is important.

Oh, I WILL work more than that; but you can damn well bet I'm gonna get PAID for it.

And then there's the sticky question of On-Call, and out of hours work.

The contract I've been on the last two years, is the first job I've had in years that didn't require at least some on-call and out of hours work (or overtime for that matter, which is not allowed by the company for exempt employees or equivalent contractors at all). Most of my contracts have been in environments where 24/7 on call was a way of life; and on-call can be worse than overtime, because it steels your most personal time: your sleep and your personal time with your wife or girlfriend, and your kids. If you're on-call you can't make any real plans without excess stress, because you know you could be interrupted at any time.

Worse, some employers seem to think that on-call "just goes with the job", and that they can reasonably expect you to be on call without any restrictions or compensation.

I don't think so scooter.

I'm pretty reasonable about overtime (to a point), but I charge quite a lot for on-call, and out of hours work. It's not because I'm greedy; it's because I respect my own time, and I expect my employers and clients to do so as well.

If on-call means I have to be grab and go ready 24/7 with immediate on-site response time in a local region, then I typically charge 50% of my full rate per on call hour; full rate for every hour of actual work time between 8am and 10pm; and 200% of my full rate during “emergency hours” between 10pm and 8am.

I also charge a minimum of two hours for any on-call that requires me to interrupt something I was doing for any length of time, or cancel it; and 4 hours for any on-call that requires me to go on-site.

If my on-call requires 24/7 grab and go with immediate out of region travel (I had to fly from Dublin, to Nashville, to Quatar in a 48 hour period on no notice once. The airfare alone - for clients I fly a minimum of business class or above - was well over $10k) then I charge full rate for every on call hour, including travel time; but I waive emergency rates unless my actual work hours (including travel hours) exceed 60 for a given work week or seven day period (whichever has more hours), at which point I go to full doubletime.

If immediate phone response is required then I’ll typically charge 25% per on-call hour, and the standard 100% for non emergency hours and 200% for emergency hours. Also, if on-site response is required when my on-call is supposed to only be by phone, I charge full emergency rate, no matter what time it is.

Only if my response time requires no on-site, and 2 hour phone response or greater will I waive a blanket hourly on-call rate and go to straight time; and I still charge 200% for every actual work hour.

Oh and any time that I was absolutely not supposed to have on-call time and I end up having to call in or go on site? Yeah, thats at full emergency rates. I don't allow clients or employers to screw up my plans without notice, unless they're paying handsomely for the privilege.

As to overtime charges, in my contracting work I don’t charge overtime rates up to 60 hours, but I do charge an out of hours premium of 150% for any scheduled work between 10pm and 8am; and for any unscheduled emergency out of hours work, or any work over 60 hours I charge 200%

Customers have to pay for the privilege of stealing my sleep, and my family time; or they will attempt to do so far too frequently; rather than provisioning proper staffing for their out of hours needs.

If I have a very good customer who I know won’t abuse the on-call provisions, I will soften my stance here; but I’ve had too many companies try and screw me to not take a hard line without a degree of trust there.

Now, I can get away with this, because I have a skill set that is in demand and difficult to replace; and my experience and abilities are commensurate to my rate. When you are just establishing yourself it can be difficult to maintain terms like that; but you need to make every possible effort to make it non-free for your employers or clients to abuse your time.

Now, it is very important to note, that comp time isn't sufficient to make your employers stop abusing your time. Comp-time looks free to your employers (believe me); unless you get two hours of comp time for every hour of overtime or out of hours time. It has to be two hours to hurt enough. When you've got straight comp time, as far as they're concerned it's just shifting the money around; it doesn't matter to them that they are screwing you over in the process.

It doesn't take very much financial penalty for employers to think twice about wasting your time, and that's what's really important. If it's critical they'll gladly pay whatever it takes (or at least they should; if they don't, then they are stupid and you should find a better job), but if it isn't critical they shouldn't be bothering you.

I've had clients or employers say "That's ridiculous. We would never hire someone under those terms". Some employers seem to think that you should be HAPPY to give the company all your time whenever they need it, and if you don't you're not a "team player".

Fine, then guarantee me in writing that I will never have to do any overtime or on-call work; and that there will be no penalty or stigma against me for refusing any such work if it comes up.

"But, we can't guarantee that. If theres deadlines or emergencies, of course you may be needed".

Good. That tells me all I need to know about your company; and I'm glad I wont be working there.

I don't work for you for fun. I don't work for you for my own personal satisfaction. I don't enjoy giving you my time. My time would be much better spent doing stuff for ME and for my family, why would you expect me to joyfully take my time away from them?

I may love my job and take great personal satisfaction from it; but if you didn't pay me, I wouldn't be doing it. Why would you think I would work MORE if you didn't pay me more? It's called work, not play, for a reason.

What it comes down to is this. Your time is valuable. You only get so much of it, and it all happens on a very strict schedule. If you miss it because you're working, you cant get it back.

You know what compulsory work without compensation is called? Slavery.

If your employers don't have to pay for your time in order to use it and abuse it, believe me, they'll think nothing of making you a slave. Make them pay, and they'll respect your time, and you will stay free.