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July 28, 2011 3:36 AM   Subscribe

I’m a systems analyst who just started consulting. What are the expectations for my weekly hours? Not the expectations in the contract, the real ones.

I have experience with an enterprise software suite. Analysts are in demand right now, so I just got a 6-month contract for an analyst position. I’m part of a team of 7 analysts - 5 employed and 2 consultants. I’m paid a very high (to me) hourly rate - over $80/hr. My contract is for 40 hours per week so their expenses will be predictable and any overages have to be approved. That seems like a lot of money for 40 hrs/wk, and I'm being as efficient as possible so the customer gets what they're paying for. I also assume that I should not watch the clock too closely - if I end up working a little extra per week so I’m not flying out the door every day at 5, no big deal. The team lead at the client doesn’t seem to be pushing me: I work 4 10 hr days, and at the end of the day she’s usually reminding me “you can go home.” In general, I don't see lots of people at the client site working long hours. They seem to work hard 9-5 and then go home.

But I was chatting with another consultant who is just rolling off the project. I asked if he was on the 4 days x 10 hours schedule, and he said “there is no such thing as 4 10’s.” He claims that there’s an unstated expectation (everywhere, not just at this client) that consultants will work massive amounts of unpaid overtime to keep the customer happy and to meet deadlines. He claims to regularly work overtime and to respond to non-emergency emails on Fridays even though he’s offsite and well over 40 hours for the week.

Now I’m worried that I am supposed to do the same thing. My question: is an unsaid expectation of unpaid overtime common? Is this guy right? Or did he just find a poor way of trying to impress the client and I should ignore him?

I don’t have a problem with occasionally working more hours and writing some off - If I messed something up, if I committed to a deadline, or if there are critical tasks looming that the client really needs me to complete. But the contract says 40 hours, and it seems that I should more or less stick to that agreement as long as I'm handling my tasks. Any guidance about expectations would be appreciated.
posted by Tehhund to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Consulting work of all kinds generally pays quite well. That rate doesn't sound extraordinary to me.

Let your client's reaction be your guide. If the team lead is encouraging you not to work excessive overtime, then don't. You're obviously doing a good job and keeping your client happy. Better to put in 40 hours of focussed, productive work than 60 hours of head-in-hands, disorganised suffering. If in doubt, asking 'how am I doing?' should be ok in most workplaces.

I've met this kind of work-martyr many times before. You can spot them by the huge number of hours they work (or claim to work), their air of thinly-veiled despair, and the glee they find in making everyone else feel like they're not pulling their weight. Either that or his skills aren't that great and he has to put in a lot of overtime to keep up.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:06 AM on July 28, 2011


Should you devalue your work to cover for someone else's poor planning, at no reward to yourself? I would say no.

If you're good at something, never do it for free.
posted by mhoye at 5:04 AM on July 28, 2011


I agree that $80 doesn't sound like an exorbitant rate, although you don't say if you're traveling on expense or not. (Or traveling at all for that matter.) I'd say that if you're getting your assigned work done in 40 hours, then that's all anyone has any right to expect.

As to overtime as a consultant in general, I think that it depends on the nature of the engagement. If it's the kind of job that is just steady 9-5 type work, I see no reason to work off-the-clock gratis. On the other hand, if you've been hired to take a lead role in a 'big-bang' implementation with a mandatory go-live of the first day of next fiscal year (which is only 65 days away at this point), you have to suck it up and do whatever it takes, but you shouldn't agree to a 40-hour week in such a case.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:22 AM on July 28, 2011


Yeah, if you're getting your work done, your team lead is telling you to go home, and your client is happy, don't worry about it. Ultimately it's the work that matters, not the appearance of working long hours (unless you are in Asia).
posted by Xany at 5:47 AM on July 28, 2011


I'd say it is very dependent on the type of work and the personality of the person who hired you. Your informant might have had bad experiences, or just love to work (even if he tells himself he hates it). By working sensible hours yet still meeting your requirements and satisfying your client, you are doing your part to make this pattern the norm and therefore, in some small way, helping everybody else in the world who wants to go home on time. Thank you.
posted by No-sword at 7:27 AM on July 28, 2011


I'd say it is very dependent on the type of work and the personality of the person who hired you.

No, it's not. Whether or not you work huge amounts of overtime doesn't depend on whether or not the client wants it. That's insane; you have a contract that puts a value on a quantity of your time. Why would you undermine yourself and undervalue your work like that?

He claims that there’s an unstated expectation (everywhere, not just at this client) that consultants will work massive amounts of unpaid overtime to keep the customer happy and to meet deadlines.

It's unstated because if it were stated, everyone would rightly say that's both wrong and illegal. Further, if you act as though your time is valueless, you should expect to get treated that way.
posted by mhoye at 8:55 AM on July 28, 2011


I did consulting for a few years at a company where image was everything, and I'd just like to add that the people who needed to work 60 hours to get their jobs done were viewed as incompetent. You do your job in 40? Great. Go home. If you can do it in 30, it's time to ask for more work. If you can't get it done in 50, you need to step up your productivity. Adjust the specific numbers somewhat for the company culture, seniority, and level of responsibility (in mine, it was ~45 hrs/wk). If your team lead is telling you to go home at 10 hours a day, you need to go home. The reward for keeping the client happy is that you get to go home.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 10:30 AM on July 28, 2011


mhoye, what is dependent is the expectation. Some clients really do expect you to work crazy hours. Most are more realistic -- and the best recognize that results matter more than hours, and structure incentives accordingly. It's up to individual contractor to manage these expectations and run their business so that their obligations are reasonable and acceptable to everyone. As I said, I am on the side of realistic agreements that don't devalue anyone's work or time.
posted by No-sword at 4:12 PM on July 28, 2011


Some clients really do expect you to work crazy hours.

Then they shouldn't have signed a contract for your services saying 4x10.

Let me turn that on its head: if I was a consulting company billing a company per-hour for my employee's services, that is to say if I was in the business of selling units of my employee's time and I found out that one of my employees was giving away that time for free to a client who should be paying for it? I would consider that tantamount to theft, as sure as if they'd been giving away lumber or rivets.
posted by mhoye at 5:02 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mhoye, I think we are arguing at cross-purposes. Yes, when a client signs a contract requiring one thing but expects another thing, it's bad. Contractors shouldn't let that kind of behavior go on, because it devalues their work and causes problems for everybody. That doesn't mean that there aren't niches where it does go on, or contractors who allow it to because they judge the benefits to them, rightly or wrongly, to be worth it. The question was, are such unrealistic expectations common? The answer is, expectations depend on the client and industry, but there is no obligation to meet unrealistic ones above what you are actually contracted to do. Not "expectations depend on the client and you must meet them or you are a bad contractor." Acknowledging the fact of unrealistic expectations in some areas doesn't imply endorsement of them. On the contrary--it's the first step to making things better. (And, incidentally, if you too run your business in this reasonable, non-crazy way, thanks.)
posted by No-sword at 6:56 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


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