Unsatisfactory Responses Jul15


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Unsatisfactory Responses

OPINION: the price of employment should never be your health

Sysadmin Day is coming (much like winter). Be nice to your IT staff. Plan a party, eat some cake etc.  For those of you deep in the trenches, finish early and go home and see your loved ones.

I’ve worked with SMEs for a long time now. My friends know this and so occasionally one of them gets in contact with me to ask a question.

This happened on the weekend and I thought I’d take the time to share my thoughts publicly on what I was asked. First of all, I’d like to apologise because this really isn’t a nice post. There’s no easy way to deal with the situation that this friend finds himself in.

My friend has asked for anonymity and I’ve provided it; I’ll only be referring to him as Frustrated to protect him from any possible backlash and I won’t name their employer either. Here is their e-mail to me:


I changed jobs late last year just like you did. The wife and I wanted a sea change so I’ve gone from working with a large enterprise to providing support for a number of SME’s. Its hugely different and a big challenge but I’ve been finding it worthwhile nonetheless. As you know every year in October the wife and I always take a Holiday. Its tradition. I proposed to her on this holiday (redacted) years ago so it means a lot to us.

This year I’m in a bit of a bind. About a month ago, one of the guys quit and they haven’t found someone to replace him yet. I’ve been doing his job and mine for the last month and the hours are starting to mount. [Redacted] was supportive at first however she’s starting to get upset at the long hours and lack of weekend quality time together.

When I approached my Employer yesterday about having my normal time off, his response was “its IT. You know what its like. Its sort-of hard to plan for these things” and changed the subject. I want to bring it up again but there’s not much employment where we are and [redacted] is worried about what will happen if I do. I’m a contractor so I’m not getting paid any more for the extra hours I’m doing and he doesn’t pay me for holidays anyway.

What should I do?



The above makes me sigh. I really hate it when people transitioning from Enterprises to SMEs ask me questions like this, because there really is only one answer.

If you wouldn’t put up with it from an enterprise employer, then don’t put up with it from an SME employer. If you are uncomfortable with what is being asked of you then you need to discuss the situation with your employer immediately.

It’s complicated


The part of me that has worked as a manager says “maybe you caught him at a bad time”, and is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt until you’ve spoke to him again. Once you have spoken to him, if the situation is unable to be resolved satisfactorily, then you need to give your notice as soon as possible.

SMEs are quite often owner operated. This usually means that when you’re talking to your “boss” the person you’re referencing is actually the owner. Owners, unlike dedicated managers, aren’t hired because they know how to run a business. They often haven’t worked at many other places and if this person has been the owner for many many years, they can become blinkered and extraordinarily set in their ways.

Worse still, if the business has been disadvantaged – either by the ending of during or the tenure of a previous staff member – they may not be objective about the situation and can then make subsequent decisions that will have potentially disastrous effects on their business.

The self-destructive tendencies of owner-operators aren’t what angers about this situation though. Not even close. What absolutely shits me to tears about this situation is the response from Frustrated’s employer. If any of my bosses ever says to me that “it’s sort of hard to plan for these things” I’ll quit on the spot.

Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself

Anyone running an IT business who tell an employee that it’s too hard to plan for something is running a business that is going to fail.

Period. No need for discussion.

IT is a numbers game. We weigh the potential risks. We plan for contingencies and we often play the long game. We get really really good at making decisions based on this. Any IT guy worth their salt is an expert at planning. If your employer says something like this to you then get the fuck out. Now. Don’t wait. Run.

To compound this, every employer should be concerned about the well-being of their staff. If you’re working huge hours and they don’t seem to think that’s a bad thing you should get the hell out of dodge because it means that they don’t respect you as a person.

The same applies for asking for holidays and being told “no.” If that particular time of the year is the wrong time then the response should be “that week, fortnight etc doesn’t work for us because X, however this time does”.

Reading between the lines though, it seems like there’s something else going on here too. Frustrated doesn’t provide enough details – and I haven’t pressed him on it – but the level of service anyone is able to provide to clients starts slipping once you get past doing 60 hours a week on a regular basis.

There’s a reason that most workplaces limit the amount of hours a person works. Huge hours from someone doing a level 1,2 and 3 job are OK for the occasional emergency, but on a regular basis it ends up being bad for everyone involved.

You are worth standing up for

The flip-side of outrageous hours is the toll it takes on your personal life. No wife wants to see her husband lose his health (and/sanity) running himself to death for a company. My wife has mentioned this to me on a number of occasions. She’d rather be poor and healthy then slightly less poor and unhealthy.

Also,  no matter what what anyone tells you, the company won’t love you back. It won’t ever thank you for the time you miss with your kids. At the end of the day, once you’re too used up to do the job, they’ll just move on to the next poor schmuck who doesn’t know any better.

It’s better to make that shit someone elses problem then try to change it from the inside because its insidious. Once it takes root, it will never change.

It doesn’t take (or cost) much to treat your employees with the respect and decency that they deserve, although these days it seems that a lot of employers have forgotten that. Once it reaches a point where it becomes evident that your employer has no respect for you, jump ship.

There’s always another job and there’s always a choice. Validating your employer’s bad habits will get you nowhere. Not only that it will likely make things worse for the people who come after you.

Don’t believe me? Scroll down to the “preserve your health” section here.

So that’s my answer to you, Mr. Frustrated. You need to talk to your employer and get this sorted out ASAP. Voice your concerns. If they don’t respond satisfactorily to your concerns then you need to give your notice and start looking for another role elsewhere.

No job – or company for that matter – is ever worth sacrificing your health or your relationships for.

About Aaron Milne

Aaron is a systems administrator from Australia. He specializes in SMB administration where he has become well known for his ability to find unorthodox but entirely workable solutions to problems. Aaron has a talent for building something out of nothing and has proven himself to be highly adaptable to new technologies.
Aaron is a regular contributor to WeBreakTech as well as an occasional writer for The Register.

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