Can't find any time
October 11, 2007 2:29 PM   Subscribe

Is my employer being unreasonable by taking too much of my personal time? What can I do about it? It is impacting my health and personal life.

I should first state that I really like the work I do. I also like my managers, in general. I work maybe 45 hours per week. In my last review, my boss suggested that I consider taking some tech writing courses on his dime. I agreed.

I signed up for a program that requires about 15-20 hours per week to keep up, in the form of night courses "designed" for working people.

Two weeks into the program, I am overwhelmed. I haven't slept, have been spending every week night either doing course work or spending time in class. My work is suffering and my weekends are shot with homework.

I went to HR who said, sorry but they could not offer any time off to complete school work. Clients are important and so on. I talked to my manager, who said, sorry but all I can offer is that you can do some course work in the office during down time (of which there is very little).

Are they being unreasonable? I think I agreed to more than I can handle, so that part is my fault. I thought I could do it. It will look very bad if I quit school, since the money has been spent -- I also feel that I would be letting my boss down.

What now? How can I save myself and somehow make them see this in a positive light?
posted by |n$eCur3 to Work & Money (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I agreed to more than I can handle, so that part is my fault.

Yep. Drop one of the courses and chalk it up to experience.
posted by LarryC at 2:34 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Larry C. I thought about that option, but the only way to quit is to drop both courses. The classes build off of each other and each person is expected to attend both. It would be awkward to do that.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 2:37 PM on October 11, 2007

Were you told from the get-go that the classes would require so much time each week? If not, perhaps you can make a case with the school and get a refund (whole or partial).
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:42 PM on October 11, 2007

Sounds like you gotta put your head down, eat healthy, don't drink or smoke, and get enough sleep. All those things have a big impact on your ability to handle hard work.

I just started work as a middle school teacher, and compared to being a sysadmin it's kicking my ass. Now a couple months in, I'm starting to think I might survive. For me, the key was machismo. I may be crazy, but I'm equally stubborn and can't give up.

Tell your family you'll make it up to them when the classes are over. What doesn't kill ya makes ya stronger.
posted by maniabug at 2:48 PM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Is there a reason you cannot drop both classes? I understand the disinclination to come back with "I can't do this"—and the potential financial burden, if they decide not to cover the cost if you bail—but it's not unreasonable to go to them and say that you consider providing quality work for your clients and your employer a higher priority than this coursework and that you feel it'd therefore better serve all involved to abort the classes.

Sometimes good ideas don't end up working out. It sounds like you're grinding yourself up trying to pull this off; you need to decide if that's really worth what you're getting out of staying in.
posted by cortex at 2:52 PM on October 11, 2007

Must you do all of the course work? Is there a grade you must achieve, or is it pass/fail? At times, I've coasted in night classes by deciding which things to learn/strive for as the class is running and which I'll save and practice later when I have more time. What would happen if you did half of the assignments instead of all of them? What would happen if you did the writing homework but only skimmed the reading?
posted by xo at 2:53 PM on October 11, 2007

A 60-hour work/school week will not break you. Don't quit, just keep plugging away until the semester is over. Learn to adapt to the time-crunch (PB&J, naps, drink lots of water, coffee is your friend, stretch, small meals, &c.) and focus on the fact the it's temporary. You will not die.

Don't bitch to your boss, either. He knows you're under stress.
posted by Pecinpah at 2:59 PM on October 11, 2007

Is the question about if this is a reasonable course load or about how to cope?

If you don't feel that you should drop coursework, perhaps you can adjust your approach to the courses. I went back to school after years off, and at first went gangbusters at everything until I realized I didn't have to do that.

I don't know if you are a perfectionist or have a goal of getting a super high grade, but that's one area you can scale back. An average grade is fine. Really. Remember, you are supposedly taking this course to improve your work - not to get a high GPA. Tackle the things that you find pertain to your work first, then fit in whatever else seems reasonable.

Whatever you do, you'll never feel like you've done enough to study everything to the utmost. Even if the only thing you were doing was taking two courses, there would be a few things you could not cover adequately.

Have you been out of the classroom setting for a while? If so, you have the experience to work smarter, not harder. Use that strength to your advantage.

If the question is how to extract yourself from the situation? If the money is already spent on the courses and if there is no refund, you may as well continue (with scaled back expectations) and see how it goes.

Or, is the quandry something else?
posted by mightshould at 2:59 PM on October 11, 2007

Are there other ways you could make more time for yourself? Maybe make getting meals more efficient (spend a little more for prepared food), laundry (have it done by a laundromat for you), get a dog-walking service, something?

You might also meet/call/e-mail your instructor(s) to ask how to prioritize, or whether the work load will get or seem lighter as the courses progress.

How much longer will the courses last? That could also affect your answers.

Good luck. This too shall pass. Eat healthy, however you take your meals.
posted by amtho at 3:15 PM on October 11, 2007

Can you take a vacation day here and there until the course ends?

Short answer: Your employer is being reasonable, I think. It would be nice if they could cut you some more slack, but they are not obligated to do so. They are doing you a favor by paying for the course. Have you been with the company a long time? I get the impression from your profile that you changed to this job recently, which means they're being quite generous by educating you.

Now, it's up to you to be creative and resourceful in order to get the most you can from the experience. That may not be as much as you'd hoped, but you should still be able to get something.
posted by amtho at 3:28 PM on October 11, 2007

do you need a grade, or is it just pass/fail? if it's just pass/fail, don't stress about your homework so much. i don't know what field you're in, but in my field, no one would care what my grades were, just that i passed the class.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:29 PM on October 11, 2007

A 60-hour work/school week will not break you. Don't quit, just keep plugging away...

Maybe so, and maybe this is good encouragement, but this is not univerally true, as many people obviously *do* get burned out by 60hr+ work weeks all the time. There is an unfair amount of stigma attached to being unable to cope with high stress roles. The OP should know best whether it is likely in his case, but the very fact he is asking speaks to that.

Unfortunately, there is probably no great way to bring to your boss's attention that you can't quite handle everything while not risking the possibility of dropping in his estimation.

I would suggest (without knowing anything about your workplace dynamic, or your security of employment) that it's probably better to keep your boss informed of the problems this is causing you (eg: "Of course, because of these courses, I can no longer keep putting in extra effort on XYZ project.."), and so continually provide opportunities to assess whether it is still fair to give you this workload. .. as opposed to the risk of blowing up and taking a month off with stress, say.

I take it that deferrring some or all of the courses to a later year isn't an option? I suppose that you are a valuable employee, and your company should want to make the best use of their asset, so maybe try to frame it from their pov: you'd like them to send you on courses only when you can best benefit from them, and also not push you into compromising your ongoing work for your clients.

This is not terribly helpful, but at the end of the day it may be that you'll just have to admit to biting off too much, if that is the case - unless you have been misled about what you were getting into, which doesn't seem to be the case.
posted by wilko at 3:42 PM on October 11, 2007

How much longer do you have with these courses? That data would be very useful for me to form my opinion. :)

I don't think the employers are being unreasonable, but it would sure be nice if they offered you an hour a day or so to study. Is there ... any way you can do that without their knowledge?

If it starts to really kill you, I think you owe it to everybody to go to your boss and say that you gave it the college try, but just can't tend to everything without work suffering. Maybe then they'll give you some time to work on your courses, or maybe you'll just get to drop them.
posted by iguanapolitico at 5:00 PM on October 11, 2007

If you're doing 45 hours a week of regular work, there will be a big difference to you, whether your class load is really 15 hours a week, or 20. Particularly if, in addition to classwork, you have additional commuting time. Even at 15 hours/week, you've added 2 additional work days, every week, to your schedule. You need to be efficient at your schoolwork, so as to keep it 15 hours, and not let it creep to 20.

And even with a 15 hour committment, something in your life is bound to have to give.

It can't be your physical or mental health. Apparently, neither can it be your job. Practically, that only leaves your school time, and your family life as flex contributors. For many people attending night school at that loading, it usually means no free weekends, and considerable family support, in terms of help with household chores, meal preparation, laundry, etc. Your family, as a whole, needs to recognize that your education has potential benefit to you, and therefore to them, in terms of increased job security, and potential future promotion/pay raises. This is well recognized by most night school graduates, and their families, and if you ever go to a graduation ceremony for one of these institutions, you quickly understand that the graduates get the degrees, but their families get the credit.

You can't expect much free time on weekends, either, as you have to get your schoolwork done. Try to "work ahead," if you can. Through the week, organize your study tasks, and compartmentalize them, as much as possible, to be reasonably done in small amounts of "in between" time. As an example, do as much of your course reading at work, as possible, and save the writing for home, where it's easier to spread out reference materials, notepads, computer, etc. If your courses don't have enough reading to occupy all the limited time you might have at work, add only incremental tasks, like outlining, from the writing work, to the tasks you try to get done at work, so that you only have to transport your textbooks, and a notepad, not all your writing paraphenalia.

It helps, tremendously, to be able to view your schoolwork as a respite, rather than as a burden. If you see it as a burden, you dread it, you fret over it, and you're more easily frustrated in doing it, as you'd always rather be doing something else. When I was going to night school, I always found my classes mentally refreshing, even if, sometimes, I went, so sleep deprived I slugged a quart of coffee while I was there, just to keep from dozing off. Try working a bit on your internal attitude, and see if relaxing into the work, doesn't, itself, work wonders.
posted by paulsc at 5:39 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

> Is my employer being unreasonable by taking too much of my personal time

No, because they paid for the course that ultimately is to your benefit, even though while you're employed by them it also benefits them. Suck it up, take the work-harder advice above, because you have been given a gift. It was your choice to spend your personal time this way, wasn't it? So make the best of this short-term situation, and complete the course.
posted by Listener at 5:47 PM on October 11, 2007

I think it's too late: you signed up for the course and didn't plan accordingly. Going to your manager now is going to signal that you can't plan and/or are a quitter. Oh, I just read you've already gone to HR and your manager. I hope you didn't go to HR first...

"How can I save myself and somehow make them see this in a positive light?" I think the "outsourcing" idea is your friend: order groceries online and have them delivered, get a laundry service, etc. If you're in a relationship, have a talk with your SO to see if s/he can pick up some of the mundane life stuff while you're in class. As for work, get to a strict 8-hour schedule: if anyone asks you to do anything or stay late, your excuse is always, "Sorry, I have class." Finally, don't complain/mention that you're overwhelmed again: just kick butt in your course and re impress your manager. Good luck!
posted by sfkiddo at 6:38 PM on October 11, 2007

i agree with what sfkiddo says, and was going to say something similar. clearly your boss felt you needed this class in order to excel at your job, and they even offered to pay for it (amazing these days!). so you can't do poorly at the class, nor can you drop out. nor can you let your work suffer. just plug through the semester and get it done. take a vacation day here or there if you can. it will be over soon.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:36 PM on October 11, 2007

... my boss suggested that I consider taking some tech writing courses on his dime. I agreed.

I signed up for a program that requires about 15-20 hours per week to keep up, in the form of night courses "designed" for working people.

All evidence points to you having not a leg to stand on here. Your boss suggested that you do the course, you agreed and signed up - your boss has met his obligation and you have to meet yours. Next time, negotiate a workload reduction before agreeing to training in your own time.

Two weeks into the program, I am overwhelmed. I haven't slept, have been spending every week night either doing course work or spending time in class. My work is suffering and my weekends are shot with homework.
Yep, that's what happens when you take on training outside work. You will get used to the new schedule and this could take several weeks. Other than that, suck it up and think of the benefits you are getting from the training. As noted above, try and change your attitude so that you feel more positive about the learning.
posted by dg at 7:42 PM on October 11, 2007

Also, assuming you have sick pay available, a "mental health" day every now and again will help you deal with any spikes in the course workload.
posted by dg at 7:43 PM on October 11, 2007

I would also point out that you have every reason to limit your regular work hours to 40 (or even 37.5, depending on the job) during this training.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:18 PM on October 11, 2007

Yeah, you never should have agreed to do it, but it utterly sucks in the first place that your employer considered it acceptable to give you an extra 20 hours work per week even if he paid for it. In my experience*, people given extra training – even if they are given it to get a promotion and a higher salary – are always allowed to take one or two days out of the week for study. If they’re worth that much, the employer can afford to give up one day a week of their time for a month or two.

I suppose he doesn’t consider the training that important, since he hasn’t made that provision for you. So dump it and tell him you can do the odd morning during work time if he really wants you to get the training.

*UK public sector, natch
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:30 AM on October 12, 2007

It seems like your options are
1) take it on the chin and work hard
2) slack off, either in class and at work, or
3) quit class

Personally, i don't feel like 60 hrs/wk is too unreasonable, at least in the short term, so I'd go with (1). However, if it's that draining, then quit going to class.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:07 AM on October 12, 2007

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