Working For An Evil Corporation Is Bad But What About An Incompetent One?

We all talk about bad places to work with toxic cultures and awful bosses. I agree that these are bad places to work. However, there are even worse places to work. These places don’t just make your time at work hell, they sink their teeth into other parts of your life causing significant hardship out of incompetence or ignorance. Let’s go through my favorite example of such a workplace.

Welcome. Your bail is set at twenty thousand.

I started working at a company and naively trusted the company to do all the invisible administrative things correctly. Setting up payroll, depositing my paychecks via direct deposit, paying me the correct amount of money – you know, things you don’t usually think about with a Fortune 500 company that’s been around for decades. Having never had a problem with pay prior to this, I was not prepared for what happened.

I set up direct deposit my first day and happily awaited getting paid. After two paychecks did not show up, I started asking around where they might be. Human resources directed me to the mail room. No paycheck. My manager started making inquiries with administrators. Nothing. Finally, one week into the investigation, someone overheard me talking about this in the kitchen. This stranger let me know that the first few paychecks have been known to go to the front desk of the building. Really? Whatever. I got my overdue paychecks and went home.

I had my money, direct deposit verified, and all things looked as they should. This is where I made a mistake. My previous job was a monthly pay schedule and I calculated the expected paycheck for a monthly pay period. Unfortunately for the heroine of this story, this company was bi-monthly. So, if you expected one paycheck per month and instead were getting two, doesn’t that mean you were accidentally being paid double?

Yep, the company was accidentally paying me double. They caught it before I did but not before I owed them in the neighborhood of twenty thousand dollars. Notice how I wrote this out to make sure no one mistook the number of zeroes in that.

We’ve corrected your pay and we’d like you to pay back that money now.

What are the options to pay it back?

All at once or a regular paycheck deduction until it has been paid off.

Well, since tax deductions mean I don’t actually have all the money at the moment, I will have to go with the paycheck deduction.

Wonderful, how much would you like deducted from each paycheck?

This sucked. I knew I couldn’t just keep that much money and I also didn’t have that much floating around since I had taken a “sabbatical” prior to starting this job. I had to ask myself how much I could afford to give up each month and how long I could handle being chained to this company?

I named my price and then knew how long my sentence was with the company. I counted down the days and never let a paycheck slip by unexamined again.

One of the interesting things about this incident is that none of my coworkers or managers knew this was happening unless I told them. My managers didn’t know that I had an unusual financial interest in getting good performance reviews. I wonder if they would have treated me worse had they known it would cost me to leave. For performance, getting a bonus or raise helped offset the amount owed and sped saving bail. I preferred the raises though. The double edged sword of the bonus was that it counted as a paycheck so the deduction applied. It sucked not to get my full bonus but it also meant my sentence was shortened by a pay period.

But wait, there’s more! I hope you’re thinking it can’t get worse. Sorry: it can get just a little worse. About halfway through this debacle, the company decided to change their pay schedule. Does this mean I would get one less paycheck a month and then a longer period to wait? Or would I be paying more per month with more paychecks and have a shorter time to stay? I personally would have preferred the less frequent paychecks but when did my preferences ever matter to this company? They made a seemingly minor change from bi-monthly to every other Friday. I think most people at the company didn’t care about the change or even notice it. I cared, though, because it meant that some months I’d have 50% more taken out of my pay for the extra paycheck. Yes, some months have five Fridays and, when the stars align, that is three paychecks in that month.

While thinking about whether or not to do anything about this change, I decided to look up the people I interacted with on this pay fiasco. All gone. Of the three people who had less than a year before set up this stupid ball and chain, none had stayed at the company. Can’t blame them.

Benefits are for us, not you.

I often approach job interviews with the attitude that managers have to make their teams sound good but ultimately are going to have to lie about something. I try to ask questions to figure out what they’re hiding and then decide if I’m okay with it or not. Never have I had a reason to question how human resources worked until the above payroll incident. I developed what I felt was a justified level of contempt and paranoia towards this company’s human resources department. Having a flexible work arrangement, I wanted to make it clear that I would get the benefits advertised. Of course, they said. I’ll never know if they were lying or if they were ignorant of how benefits worked. Either way, I couldn’t find them to follow up on the bullshit that followed since they’d left the company by that time.

Once day, I got a letter in the mail. You are no longer eligible for medical benefits. Your coverage will end on X date.

If that doesn’t that send you into a panic when living in the United States with a chronic health issue, I’m not sure what will.

I called up the benefits people. They explained that there’s a requirement for me to work a certain number of hours per eligibility period to qualify for benefits. For my flexible work arrangement, I worked part-time hours. What I found out later was that a this was “unofficial”, yet another Molotov cocktail into this dumpster fire of a human resources department. Not only did I find out that I can’t get benefits which I was promised, but also that my work arrangement didn’t go through the proper channels so there’s nothing I can do about it.

Luckily, at this time, I was covered by another health insurance policy for a short period of time. No sweat, let’s just make sure I’ll be eligible when that one lapses. Point blank question: will I be eligible for enrollment period on X date? Yes, you will.

Time passes. The enrollment period begins. Not eligible.

Again, upsetting and panic inducing. Human Resources can’t do anything. It’s the law. We can’t change it.

Screw you, too. If I hadn’t had that stupid debt to pay, I’d have been gone. But, as misfortune would have it, I decided to stick it out until my debt was below a certain amount.

By the way, do you want to know by how many hours I was short? 12. If someone had told me ahead of time, I could have bumped my hours for just a couple days. Then again, with the body count of people leaving the human resources department, I don’t know who would have told me.

If you don’t know, health insurance covered by employers can be up to $600 USD, something I had to pay after this incident. Something my employer advertised as a benefit. Something my employer screwed me over by 12 hours they could have easily told me were needed. Assholes.

Honestly though, given that I was planning to quit less than a year from then (when my debt was guaranteed to be gone), having my own health insurance was actually beneficial. I don’t need my company for benefits so they’ve made leaving that much easier. Thanks?

In the end…

This company cost me a lot financially. Life-wise, the timing was bad, resulting in poisoning the rest of my life with financial and emotional strain. I was hoping this company would crash and burn. Wall Street did consider their demise imminent at one point but alas, they managed to pull themselves out of a slump. Too bad.

If you want to learn something from this…

  • Check your paycheck regularly. Full stop.
  • Identify the actual people responsible on any administrative issue: payroll and benefits are not the same as the generic human resources department.
  • Any and all agreements must be documented. No verbal agreements for flexible work arrangements allowed.

An Independent Venture: Flexible Work Arrangements – Working Less

In the previous post I talked about working from home and keeping the approximate same hours. Below I’ll talk about the ways I looked into working different hours or less hours.

Flex Time

This a really popular option among tech and non-tech companies. The way it works is you work an extra hour for 8 days and you get the 9th day off so you keep your average of 80 hours per 2 week period. This doesn’t work in tech.

Flexible work arrangements typically require either hourly work or a fixed frame of time where you are working. In tech, full time employees are intentionally not hourly so they can be asked to work extra hours and the company pays the same salary either way. Similarly in tech, companies offer core hours and flexible start and end times otherwise. You can do 7 – 3 or 9 – 5 or 11 – 7. Due to this pressure to work long hours and a lack of consistent work time, flex-time tends not to work. Managers are happy to have you work an extra hour a day but you can’t have an extra vacation day.

Exception: The only exception to this is if you are on-call or supporting a customer product and you are asked to work nights or weekends. In these cases, I’ve been told to take the corresponding amount of time off that I worked.

Part Time

You’ve probably wondered if you could work 4 instead of 5 days a week and just get paid 20% less. Why not have a long weekend every weekend? This would be the thought process that lead me to ask about part-time arrangements.

I have seen part-time arrangements put in place at some of the old tech companies and some of the new ones, for young and old, for test and dev, for women and men. So what does it take to get in on this and what does it look like?

Here are some of the examples I’ve seen:

  • Highly valued software tester was going to quit to be a full time mother and she was convinced to work 3 days per week
  • Highly valued developer with PTSD was allowed to work 4 days per week and work from home 2 days of those 4 days per week
  • A full team was working part time to investigate the impact of offering this option: each member worked 4 days per week for 6 hours per day

When I asked about how I could get in on this, both the examples and the management gave the same response: you either need to be a superstar at this company for 5+ years or you need to be a lab rat. I was neither unfortunately so this wasn’t an option for me.

Being part-time outside of being a superstar or a lab rat means that you have to sacrifice benefits such as health care or other company programs like parking discounts or gym memberships. Health care is quite pricey and it does grind away at your self-esteem when you are treated as less than your peers even though you put in the same rate of effort, just for less time.

As a note, there are plenty of articles that explain why 8 hours per day is a recipe for stress, physical exhaustion, and just an unproductive worker. Example: work less hours

Related Articles:

Shared Worked

This is a really unusual option that I haven’t seen in play before. I’ve only seen reports of it.

The way this works is you have two people who can work a particular position. They will together do 1 person’s worth of work for 1 person’s pay. Typically these two people need to apply for the position together as if they were a single person and then work with the hiring manager to outline how they can split their responsibilities. I’ve only seen this proposed for managerial positions where 1 person would do a lot of coaching and career development and the other would do project management.

In order for this to be successful, you need to first find a person that has complementary skills to your and who you can work with closely. Next you’ll need to do the hard part of applying for jobs together and convincing your prospective employers why two people are better than one. Given how people are happier and more productive when they work fewer hours, you might actually be able to do this fairly effectively. Similarly, if you have a managerial position that involves a lot of travel, you might be able to make a good case for it.

As far as engineering positions go, I have never seen this before. I suspect this might have a lot to do with engineers having too many responsibilities or too few. If you manage code, deploy, test, debug, devops, design, planning, interviewing, and mentoring, it becomes hard to group those into equal parts without creating two separate roles. Similarly, if you only code and test, you will become too narrowly scoped if you only do one or the other. That’s my theory anyway.

Unfortunately, it looks like the “work less” options are all bust. Next up are ways you can take time off.

An Independent Venture: Flexible Work Arrangements – Working from Home

Continuing with this series of posts, I’ll describe some of the flexible work arrangements I’ve investigated. Thus far, I’ve explained that once I determined that my job was the main source of my unhappiness in life, I started researching how to change it.

I was working in a large tech company that was typical Monday to Friday, 7 – 9 hours of work per day. This company offered me all of the benefits of working for a large, established company that was successful enough to liberally fund its development groups. Given that this was a very comfortable position, I started off looking at ways I could make it work for me but also change the situation. Previously, I described ways of making small changes to your work life to reduce stress without any significant job changes. The changes here are more significant and will require working with your managers or potentially your HR department.

Working at Home

If you find that you are unhappy at work either because of your commute, your coworkers, or the work environment, you can look into working from home. This can take a few different forms and which works best will depend on the problem. Here are a few things I’ve tried.

Work from home in the morning to reduce commute stress

I noticed that my commute was causing me some stress, especially on days with bad weather. My commute time would go from 1 hour to 1.5 hours. Sometimes I’d be squished between smelly commuters in an overheated bus. Or stuck waiting on an off-ramp for 30 min. I decided I could try to change this by working from home in the mornings just until after rush hour and still make it in time for team stand-up.

I approached my boss about this asking if the work arrangement would work. Since no one in that team booked meetings before stand-up unless absolutely necessary, the arrangement had no problem and I got the green light immediately. Here’s a comparison of what changed:

  • Work start time: 9 am → 8 am
  • Commute time: 1 – 1.5 hours → 40 min to 1 hour
  • Commute method: Bus or car → car
  • Daily cost: Bus (free) or car ($20) →  car ($20)
  • Likelihood of finding parking in my building: 100% → 0%

Did this work? No. I exchanged my commute stress for more costly commuting and stress finding parking. Interestingly, I later found that if I rode a motorcycle, I would get free, guaranteed parking. Unfortunately, that does have an increased risk of death. [Disclaimer: I currently ride a motorcycle to work from time to time when I want to come in late]

Let’s try a different tack.

Work from home to avoid going to and being at work

Since working part of the day didn’t work out, I upgraded to trying out the full day. It turns out a lot of people like working from home or at least not having to work from their desk. Several of my teams have had a policy where if you don’t have meetings in a day, you don’t need to be in. Virtual stand-up was supported on these teams. Generally, I made use of this as often as I could, which was probably 2 – 3 times per month.

When I approached my managers on each new team and described my circumstances with stress and work, they said they understood and wished they could accommodate me. Usually they would say I could work from home if there were no meetings but I had to be at work during team meetings. On some teams they said they didn’t trust that the team would be productive if everyone started working from home (apparently the natural escalation from accommodating my needs is that everyone is going to want to work from home).

I decided to talk to HR about what I could do to force the issue. I did have a doctor or two that could certify that I have a need to reduce my exposure to stress at work so I could swing it if needed. HR at more than one company said that I could go the medical route but if my manager wasn’t willing to support the accommodation, my performance would suffer.

Conclusion: this is a good option but ultimately not in my control.

Can I just work from home all the time?

I never tried this. If working for myself doesn’t work out, this is what I’ll be aiming for. So, why didn’t I try this out?

Doing a fully remote job is definitely on my radar. One of the catches I’ve noticed about some remote jobs is that they require you to be at an office from time to time. This can range from once a year to once a week. Depending on your location and life situation, this can be challenging.

For my next venture of working for myself, I will primarily focus on working at home and going to meet clients when necessary. This won’t be easy or simple. I will need to make sure not to fall into the traps of working where I live like getting distracted by my cats, sleeping in too late, or just not being in the right mindset. There will likely be a post from me on that topic later on.

Next up: An Independent Venture: Flexible Work Arrangements – Working Less