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Or am I just whining?

Background: I work for a "startup," which I put in air quotes because the company has been around for 4 years, though it isn't profitable yet. Standard work week is supposed to be about 60 hours, but they justify that as needing to be online when our international offices are awake.

When I started the job, I spent about a month prototyping an iphone app and did really well on my own. I also told them about the success of my facebook applications. From this they judged that I must be very independent and have an eye for marketing, and assigned me to a project optimizing adwords campaigns. Today I got reviewed, and then chewed out, by our CEO for not totally rocking this project.

Now I thought I was doing ok, but the CEO said the project is stagnant and they're expecting more from me. But since it's a startup, they play loose with job roles and I've had plenty of other things to do in the past three months. Every time I ask what's most important, I get conflicting responses depending who I ask, and the end result is that almost everything has equal priority - high.

I could go on about how I don't think this project is worthwhile for us, but that's not the point. I have explained to my supervisor that I don't actually know anything about marketing, I'm just a decent programmer, but they think my general smarts will prove capable of tackling this challenge. The CEO also clarified that he wants a more technical and algorithmic approach to the problem.

So is there something I can do to address this? Combined with my existing and confusing workload, should I be raising an issue? Or should I do the grown up thing and give it my all, asking for help when I need it and hoping for the best?

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+1 Tough question, wish I had the answer. Hope it works out. –  Kavet Kerek Feb 15 '11 at 3:23
60 hours/week? Oo –  Dave O. Feb 15 '11 at 4:14
I agree with all the answers of "find another job," but I also realize that is very easy to say from relatively anonymous people on the 'Net. Be sure to at least start the process of finding a new job first, before starting to really rock the boat. Otherwise, you may just find yourself in the same situation again, and if you start to repeat the process (jumping after 6 months), it will be more difficult to find another full time job. From experience, doing it once (or once in a while) won't hurt you, but a repeated pattern may. If you are a little timid about doing so, maybe try contracting. –  Wonko the Sane Feb 15 '11 at 14:18
How's the pay and benefits? Is it worth it to you be treated this way? –  Jay Bazuzi Feb 15 '11 at 16:59
Run away! 60 hours/week as a standard expectation is absurd. With expectations like that, it shows your company is treating you like a match to be used up and discarded. Go somewhere that will actually value you as a person with wants and needs outside work. –  dsw88 Mar 17 at 22:16
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9 Answers

From your description, bear this in mind: They need you more than you need them.

From a business point of view, that makes you very valuable, because you control a scarce resource. Namely, your time and attention. Manage that wisely.

You might have to tolerate some verbal abuse if you choose to continue to do business with them. But you probably have more power to shape the relationship than you think. That, in itself, is good training. But ultimately it's a business relationship, and it doesn't sound like they're maintaining their side of the bargain. That is, they're not managing and planning in such a way that you can be effective and get proper recognition and reward for your work. The problem is, that once an organization tips the scales that far, it's really hard for them to come back from that.

While you're still working with them, you might have to start setting some hard limits:

  • Limits on the hours you work. i.e. just get up and go home at 6:00.

  • Limits on disorganization. i.e. focus on one project until it's done. If they try to distract you, just tell them what you are working on & that you can talk when it's done.

  • Limits on professional courtesy (or lack thereof): i.e if they aren't communicating with you in a professional, respectful manner, you may have to master the "folded arms, stony gaze" stance. Or find the humor in their behavior. Humor is both a good defense as well as a salve.

If you balance the relationship to something more in your interests, they may not like that and let you go. But seriously, is that such a bad thing?

You might be able to salvage the situation, if you choose, but it would require some really hard limit setting. And they may become abusive and spiteful. But you may have a lot more power to choose in this situation than you think.

(my instinct tells me that you're dealing with sociopathic personalities, though, and that you're never going to profit by doing business with them. Try to take some time off after this relationship ends, though, because some personalities like that can twist your whole worldview around.)


One more thing. Sometimes I enjoy disorganized workplaces, because if they give me more than I can do, then I get to choose what gets done. That gives me the freedom to pick the pieces I think are more interesting. If things don't get done, then shrug. They shouldn't plan for more than can be done in a 40-hour work week.

There are ways to salvage and find value in a disorganized workplace. Take it as a training exercise for whatever comes next.

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Other than the "They need...need them" part this is an excellent answer. There are many, many very talented and hard working people who thought their company "needed" them before their company let them go. The problem is that everyone is replaceable. It isn't a question of how much the company needs you, it is a question of how marketable are your skills so you don't have to worry about if the company "needs" you or not. If your skills are marketable then you can set your boundaries as you described in a stress-free way and your time will be even more valued as you won't be taken for granted. –  Dunk Mar 17 at 22:57
@Dunk thank you! and agree ... but "need ... need" is not to establish a sense of entitlement (that's bad), but rather to balance the business equation. And it doesn't mean the company recognizes that, either. "need ... need" unfortunately doesn't translate into security. Sometimes, irrationally, just the opposite. –  Rob Y Mar 17 at 23:06
I think I was trying to say that if you set your boundaries then you will almost always end up being treated with more respect. If 40 hours a week is one of your boundaries (except the occasional deadline) and you give the company a solid 40 hours week in and week out then the company will respect your decision, even if others are working 50-60 hour work weeks. I'll bet the solid 40 hour person is accomplishing more than the 50-60 hour work person anyways. With that said, if you are working 40 and others 50-60 then don't spend much time goofing off like the 50-60 hour people.it will be noticed –  Dunk Mar 19 at 15:25
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Yes, the correct answer is really: find some better place.

But I would like to give you and advice based on my previous experience.

After working too much for some years I incurred into anxious attack. From that time on I've been working on myself to improve. you should work for your wealth before than for every others.

Have you ever heard of the comfort zone? Sometimes we have to face a changement.

Try to take this easy and short test: http://www.whatismycomfortzone.com/

There is a really good book, which I would like to advice you to read. The title is Your erroneous zones. It's a best seller.

Have a brief look to the reviews. It contributed to change my point of view.

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Speaking as a veteran of several startups - 60 hours a week is crazy for someone coming into a company 3.5 years in. Initial founders can definitely can work those kinds of hours, and some executives may be expected to (VP and CxO level mostly) but unless you have a giant (like 15% +) equity stake in the company, or maybe expect it to be the next Facebook or something (which it won't) that's a totally unfair expectation.

As for conflicting priorities - it happens all the time at startups. You're seeing things at a certain level, it doesn't necessarily mean that the company as a whole lacks direction. CEOs get distracted, have a lot of things to think about, and (if they're good) are blunt about what they like and don't like. That said, if you have issues, raise them. You're being unfair to yourself, and to the company, if you don't. If something isn't working and that affects your productivity or motivation, by staying quiet you're depriving the executives and managers of information they need to make decisions, and that helps no-one.

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You had me at 60hrs/wk. That's simply unacceptable, assuming you are 'salaried'. That's basically just a not-so-sneaky way for them to pay you 33% less. Everyone understands that occasionally you put more hours in... but a standard work week of 60hrs is ridiculous. How are YOU supposed to have a life? Which ultimately is whats important.

If you want to do development, flat out tell them. Or if what you want is just a better defined role or less conflicting directions, tell them. And while you're at it, tell them enough of the 60hr nonsense. If they don't like it, adios. It sounds to me from what you describe that their direction isn't very clear, and that the CEO may not be keeping up on things or is over their head. It also sounds like you got a lot going for you, and can do better elsewhere.

And a word of warning - a startup losing money for 4 years straight... there's a good chance if you have investors they will at some point decide they'd get a better return buying lottery tickets (at a 75% return, that might be true), and pull their money out or stop feeding money into it. And then guess what happens.

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+1. And even if they paid 33% more, 60hrs standard work week would still be unacceptable. –  nikie Feb 15 '11 at 7:53
+1000 if I could. Agree with GB, now and again, overtime is acceptable, but as a rule is just ridiculous, and shows bad planning. –  Ozz Feb 15 '11 at 8:39
+1 Overtime as an exception? Fine... As a rule? Thanks but no thanks... (unless we are talking SERIOUS money of course... but that may be part of why they are unprofitable) –  WernerCD Feb 15 '11 at 14:21
@nikie even if they paid 50% more, 60hrs/week wouldn't worth it even legally (at least in my underdeveloped country) since those 20 extra hours should be paid between 50% and 100% depending on the day and amount. Plus the stress the overwhelming of non-sleep and out-of-social-life could sum up to a whole lot more... Yet, that's how life is for the majority of the employed people on the planet! –  Cawas Apr 29 '11 at 10:21
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It seems like you have a good eye for making apps that sell themselves. Your management need to realize that that doesn't necessarily make you a natural at marketing in general. You probably had fun creating those apps, while I would assume you find the adword-related tasks a drudge.

Quit, start your own company and make apps on your own. More freedom, more time and probably more money as well.

If a startup still has red numbers after four years, it's a good sign of a bad idea or bad management.

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I don't agree that just because it is taking a company a while to begin making money that it means it is a bad idea or bad management (but in this case I agree, with the bad management part). Some products are inherently complex. Pharmaceuticals can take 10 years or more to get to market. Also, it is not necessarily a good thing for companies to make money, especially in the early going. There's a lot of tax write-offs that companies use in order to look like they aren't making money when they really are. Reinvesting in the company is just one of those write-offs. –  Dunk Mar 17 at 23:06
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If there is no effective management, manage yourself.

Make index cards describing what you do, for whom and how long it's going to take you. Put them on the wall. If someone says "this is more important than this", than tell them to negotitate priorities with the other stakeholders.

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Its the conflicting responses that worry me. In a startup if they can't figure out where they are going they are going to go no where and FAST. Startups need very clear goals for where they are going and how they are going to get there.

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This might be part of it, but maybe they're just thinking I have all this extra bandwidth that I don't really have. Having five different projects is fine as long as they're toward a common goal, but assigning all of them to me isn't ok. –  Tesserex Feb 15 '11 at 3:47
@Tesserex Having five different projects is NOT ok. Your productivity peaks at 2, and falls off drastically after 3. (I forget where I first encountered this - might have been one of Joel Spolsky's articles) –  Greg Feb 15 '11 at 4:20
@Tesserex Sry, misread - I thought you meant they were assigning YOU five projects. –  Greg Feb 15 '11 at 4:22
@Greg actually you didn't misread, I do have a lot of projects. I was saying 5 or more is fine throughout the company, but it's not ok for them to give me 5 (which they did.) –  Tesserex Feb 15 '11 at 4:31
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Every time I ask what's most important, I get conflicting responses depending who I ask, and the end result is that almost everything has equal priority - high.

Therein lies the problem. Some amount of hero programming has gotten you (maybe the whole company) to where you are, but at some point that breaks down and the infinite amount of "free time" your bosses imagine you have is depleted to nothing. That's not to mention how burnt out you must feel. IMO the only sustainable path is for you to do one thing at a time. If they can't schedule you correctly, and cannot communicate amongst themselves effectively, then they have a problem.

This is an important time to remember that you have power in this relationship. They seem to need you and you can always quit. Sure they can always find another sucker for the job, but it will cost them a lot in lost expertise. Don't be afraid to get a little angry and speak your mind-- the worst that can happen is you have to find another job. The good news is this should be easy for you based on all the accomplishments you have.

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So in that case, if you focused on one task then does the CEO's reaction mean the adword campaign trumps all? –  Kavet Kerek Feb 15 '11 at 3:25
@Kavet, most importantly I'd tell people that that's what the CEO said to do so that's what your going to do, and if they have a problem take it up with the CEO. I've been in your situation, unfortunately, the appeasment/pleasing/want-to-do-a-good-job-for-everyone strategy doesn't work. You've got to show them that you're frustrated, angry, and prepared to leave if they can't get their act together. Be fully prepared to leave too, sounds like there's a good chance they won't get their act together :( –  Doug T. Feb 15 '11 at 3:30
@pythagras, Luckily I'm not the OP (just interested) and so a portion of your comment is directed at Tesserex, but thanks for the response. –  Kavet Kerek Feb 15 '11 at 3:33
@Kavet -- whoops :) –  Doug T. Feb 15 '11 at 3:34
Thanks. It has basically been that every time I put energy toward one thing, someone else asks why that other thing isn't progressing. I work on adwords, our custom client projects aren't getting done fast enough for the clients. I do those, and our advertising (not adwords, mind you) campaigns aren't moving forward. I do those, and I haven't been contributing to the performance improvement or documentation initiatives. Do that, and the API project is behind... really, wtf? –  Tesserex Feb 15 '11 at 3:44
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Find some place better

I've worked for a place similar to what you describe. I had a dozen projects at any given time; when I asked what was most important, the answer was, "they're all important". The boss criticized me during my first review and even said, "multitasking may be inefficient, but that's what we do here". Most of the tasks I got assigned would have generated no revenue nor would have lowered our costs.

It never got better under that leadership. I should have left much earlier. And you should leave. Because your superiors don't seem to understand what they're doing, especially if they're still very unprofitable after four years of 60 hours a week.

If you really are good at Facebook and iPhone apps, then you'll have no difficultly finding employment. Find some place better.

Oh, and as for what happened to the place I worked at: I got a raise when the boss found-out I wanted to leave. Then all the morons were fired by the parent company and the boss resigned under pressure. Then it was a fun place to work for a few months until the parent company shut us down, laid off just about everyone else, and gave me a consulting position for another department at an even higher rate. Karma's a bitch like that.

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Yeah, I've already felt like I should leave, but this was literally the only available job in this area, and I had to move to follow my fiancee to school. I guess I could start looking again. I'm also hoping for some investment into my FB business... –  Tesserex Feb 15 '11 at 3:42
@Tesserex Where in Illinois are you? Chicago and Urbana-Champaign both have lots of tech firms. And yes, your own FB business sounds more like what you should be doing. –  chrisaycock Feb 15 '11 at 3:44
That's my initial thought. I know it might be hard, but seriously, this is not the place to stay and blossom. Find something else and see what happens when you tell them you're quitting. They either need you and might consider improving your work environment or they don't and you should just go. It's a harsh answer, but it's true. –  Anne Schuessler Feb 15 '11 at 12:26
It's funny that all the subsequent responses to this question are basically, "X is the part of the story that bothers me", for all different values of X. I'm bothered by the WHOLE STORY. There are other, easier, better paychecks out there. –  Dan Ray Feb 15 '11 at 16:36
@Tesserex, don't limit your job search to places that are "hiring". Companies will create an opening for you if they see that you have great skills (such as creating iPhone and Facebook apps). –  Marcie Feb 16 '11 at 17:25
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