employer is suddenly forcing me to work Saturdays

A reader writes:

Last year, after my having worked in this company’s IT department for 12 years of almost completely free weekends, we were told to start a Saturday help desk coverage rotation between April and August. I very reluctantly agreed to be part of the rotation, even though I am not a help desk person (not like I had a choice), in the belief that this was a seasonal thing. Fast forward to this year, and I see that the Saturday coverage has been expanded until the end of the year without any notice to us.

I value my free time very highly, and am usually not willing to sell it for time-and-a-half. This was fine with my supervisor for the first 12 years of my employment. The way I see it, forcing me to sell my Saturdays (with the implied threat of punishment if I do not agree to do so) for time-and-a-half when I did not offer them for sale is tantamount to theft.

Well, they can’t force you — you get to decide whether or not you want the job on these terms.

The way this works is this:  An employer can decide that they need to change the terms of your employment at any time, and you can decide whether you accept the job with those changes or not. They can add to or subtract from your job description, change your hours, change your boss, change your department, change your title, even change your location or your salary. At that point, you decide whether or not you want to work under those new terms. If you don’t, you can try to negotiate for something more to your liking (which you may or may not succeed at getting) or you can decide that you no longer want the job on these terms and go somewhere else instead.

Does it suck to have a job that you were perfectly happy with suddenly change in a significant way? Yes. But this is the reality of what happens sometimes.

That said, it sounds like they handled it badly, if they instituted it without any notice or discussion. If they’d come to you and said, “We’re sorry we have to do this, but here are the reasons why, and we know it’s an imposition and we really appreciate you pitching in,” you still might not have liked it but I bet it wouldn’t be as infuriating as it is now.

However, have you talked to your manager about how unhappy you are about this new schedule? If not, that’s where you should start. Explain that you never signed on for Saturdays, that you were willing to do it to help out when there was a short-term need but you’re not willing to do it long-term, and ask what can be worked out. If your manager is highly invested in keeping you happy (and keeping you on the job), she may be able to work out a different arrangement for you. Or she may not — but you won’t know until you ask.

If she says no, try asking for a compromise. On weeks when you work Saturdays, can you swap it for a different day off in that same week? (Note that you’ll probably be giving up overtime pay if doing this keeps your total hours at 40 or below that week.)

If that conversation doesn’t produce an arrangement you’re happy with, then you’ve got to decide if you’re willing to keep the job under these conditions or not.

In any situation like this, the general principle is this: If you don’t like what’s being offered, go out there and see what other offers the world has for you. You might find one you like a lot better — or you might decide that you’d rather stay put, despite the current terms. But you’ll be picking it deliberately, rather than feeling it’s being forced on you.

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