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My job is stressing me out!

I work in an IT department at a non-tech company.  There are a handful of people who are carrying everyone else.  There are several loafers who get away with doing very little work while others are stressed to the max.  Everyone has their niche but responsibilities are not really clearly defined.  We have network people, support techs, etc.  I am mainly a programmer but I also wear many other hats:

Application Design
Coding
Testing
DBA
Project Management
Documentation
Training
Support Tech
Meeting with End Users
Dealing with Complaints

I've heard of shops where each of these functions would be individual positions yet I am involved in all of those areas.

In addition, there are several vendor-based systems that I am responsible for.  One of those responsibilities is to deal with difficult vendors (for systems that I do not build) and have to make sure they are doing their work.  I'm the "middle man" between the vendor and the users in the department that use their product.  The users are often frustrated with the product and the vendors tend to be understaffed, underskilled (I've had to bail them out on a couple occasions), and unable to satisfy the users.  Just going back and forth with these people tends to suck up a lot of time and energy.

I'm always finding myself in an awkward position of being blamed for problems that I don't create.  Nobody is perfect and I have no problem taking responsibility for my own mistakes but I am constantly taking the hit for other people and I'm not even a manager!  For example, I'll work on a system with another guy (the only other guy in the group that writes code).  When there is a problem, I will almost always be the guy that's contacted and/or blamed.  So I get blamed for all of the problems yet he is not shy about taking credit for projects that turn out well.  He always seems to get himself working on new projects while I end up cleaning up his messes from previous projects. 

It feels like I'm working for 10 different managers.  Instead of dealing with my boss, for one reason or another, several  managers from other departments deal with me instead.  So I'm constantly in a position where I have to pick what I work on and end up getting mixed up with company politics.  Isn't the manager's job to shield the grunts from politics?

The manager does not micromanage which is a good thing.  However, I'm not sure he is aware of all of the work that I'm doing (including user requests, maintenance, etc)

I have done many projects over the past several years.  Just maintaining the currently existing projects (upgrades, modifications, training, bug fixes, etc) is turning into a part time job itself.  And they just keep wanting more, more, and more.  I've somehow managed to keep up but have neglected some key areas (like testing) which leads to problems at times.

It is difficult to concentrate on my software projects for very long  since there's always somebody interrupting (IT issues, questions, casual conversations, etc).  So much for getting into the zone.  I could probably accomplish more in two days at home than I could there in a week...but I seriously doubt they would allow telecommuting.

Fortunately I have the freedom to use the technology that I want in order to solve the problems.  The flipside is that management has no idea about the work that I do and act like everything is supposed to be easier than it is.

I've been in the middle of nasty politics between managers (i.e. manager wants me to work on something that the director does not).  Had another situation where the users of an application changed and the new users don't like the way it is designed as requested by the old users.  As the programmer, I was blamed and had to explain myself to upper management.  In another instance, we did a project for one manager to collect data from another department.  Unfortunately the management in the other department are not cooperating and refuse to use it as the managers are feuding with each other.

I have nobody to delegate to.  There are "support techs" but they are not interested in writing code (can't say I blame them).

Lately I've had a few meetings with upper management about a couple of JOINT projects that they are having issues with but of course the other guy who did a lot of work on the projects (and created a lot of the mess) is not involved in these meetings and he's working on new stuff (that I'll likely have to fix later).  So again, I'm taking the hit for him.  And if I say anything about him, I look like an asshole.  Again, I thought that bosses are supposed to shield workers from upper management?

I come home every night tired and stressed.  I've also had borderline high blood pressure and trouble sleeping at times. 

There are some good things about the gig and they seem to be happy with most of my work so far.  But I need some tips on how to better manage my time and deal with the workload.  It just seems like I'm wearing too many hats.  It's a bit disheartening when I see 2-3 people struggle to solve a simple problem or the boss is in his office watching movies....while I'm struggling to keep up with all of these demands.

They won't be hiring anymore programmers so that's out of the question.  Quitting would mean taking at least a 20% paycut or moving so I'd like to avoid that if possible.
I know that "switching jobs" is a common response to these types of threads,  but I want to try to "make it work". 

So I ask you, my fellow JOS posters, for advice.  Can you give me any tips on how to deal with this environment?  If I keep going down this road, I have a feeling that it's just going to get worse.
Mister Ed Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
Well you got a lot of your chest, hope that helps by itself.

A couple of points:
- have you talked to your manager about your stress level? You say you're not certain whether he even knows how much you're involved in. One place to start is to keep him up to date on what you're doing.

- Do you keep a timesheet tracking hour by hour what you're working on? If you want your manager to help you, a timesheet will be invaluable to discuss how to better organize your time and prioritize requests.

- since you're dealing with requests from so many people in the organizations, it's quite normal that the individuals requesting your help don't know how busy you are. They may feel you're just being incooperative. Get your manager to help you and kick up demands from other managers to your own manager if you don't want to comply with their demands. For this to work your manager must understand how busy you are.

- non tech-users typically see the computer as a black box and you are the magician that makes it work or fail. If you are dependent on other people to fix a problem, explain that to the end user. Don't badmouth, just explain that you need them to fix it and that you have no direct control over their agenda and that this makes a guaranteed time-to-fix impossible.

- if a manager attacks you on errors in code written by your collegue, tell him you will fix it but let him know subtly that it wasn't your fault. Tell for instance that you can't give a time-to-fix because you didn't write the code originally and you'll have to dig in before you can indicate a fix time.

- finally one trick to allow your self some interrupted work time is to create a 'green zone' (we called it that way because we'd color the time block green in Outlook). You'll need your manager's help to get this to work well so discuss it with him. During a green zone you are completely unreachable. Simply block a half day in your agenda and shut off the phone and email during that time (Afternoons are better than mornings) Put up a no-disturbing sign on your door. if you don't have a private office, use your manager's office. If he doesn't have a private office either, work from home. If your manager won't allow that, try to shift your working hours a bit, come in early or stay late so you can work few people are around. early is better 'cause everyone that is in early is in because they need to get work done, so they won't have time to bother you.

keep up & good luck!
Mathieu van Loon Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
+1 Mathieu

My impression is that while the workload may be fixable with the above tips, the politics may be too toxic to allow you any relief.  You mention several times that your manager does not shield you from being torn in two by other managers.  If he really is that spineless your only option may be to polish up the old resume. 

I've been in organizations similar to this, although not quite this bad.  I've had to struggle with different managers who wanted their projects done first to the detriment of everybody else's projects.  My impression of these people is that they seriously think "I don't give a fuck what John Smith wants, you do my tasks first."  And of course manager John Smith feels exactly the same.  If you have this issue and your manager won't intervene on your behalf, then there is NOTHING you can do about it.
carrie cobo1 Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
Thanks for all the tips, Mathieu.

"- have you talked to your manager about your stress level? You say you're not certain whether he even knows how much you're involved in. One place to start is to keep him up to date on what you're doing."

Not yet, not sure how to approach him.  He's one of those "gung ho" managers that gets upset when you tell him that something can be done or you have too much to do. 

"Do you keep a timesheet tracking hour by hour what you're working on? If you want your manager to help you, a timesheet will be invaluable to discuss how to better organize your time and prioritize requests."

No but that is a good idea.  Thanks.

"since you're dealing with requests from so many people in the organizations, it's quite normal that the individuals requesting your help don't know how busy you are. They may feel you're just being incooperative."

Right.  I get that feeling from certain managers.  The people who I do tech support for likely think that when I'm sitting at my desk in the office waiting for stuff to break (like some of the techs), when I'm actually trying hard to keep up with the software projects.

"finally one trick to allow your self some interrupted work time is to create a 'green zone'"

I don't think working from home is a a possibility because then they would have to let everyone else do it and there are people who would abuse it.  Even that thought would be an ideal situation, that would not be possible.  I am not a morning person but working later hours might be a possibility.
Mister Ed Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
"My impression is that while the workload may be fixable with the above tips, the politics may be too toxic to allow you any relief.  You mention several times that your manager does not shield you from being torn in two by other managers."

There is an issue going on now where a department will not use a project that was sponsored by manager in another department.  One of the managers tried to blame the software (and they CC'd someone in upper management and my boss) but after investigating, I determined that there is nothing wrong with the software.  I guess I will need to explain what is going on how do I do this without bruising egos?  Or just fill my boss in and let him deal with the other managers?

"My impression of these people is that they seriously think "I don't give a fuck what John Smith wants, you do my tasks first."

This is the case sometimes and my manager does set priorities on the NEW projects.  But when it comes to day-day maintenance, updates, requests, day to day issues, etc, I get overwhelmed.  Maybe we need some official request system and force users to submit ALL of their requests for approval by management?
Mister Ed Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
I didn't get through the whole post. Sounds like you're getting hammered from all sides. That sucks, but it may be because you actually get things done. I've been in that position before and I found out, much later, that it was because:

1) Most people felt more comfortable talking to me than the other development staff. I may be abrasive at times, but at least I used plain English and talked in terms most people could understand.

2) I am willing to listen to people's issues and not automatically dismiss them as stupid because they have a job that requires something other than banging out code.

3) I actually get stuff done.

I found this out most satisfactorily once at review time, which was a nice surprise :-)

Anyway, I know it sucks getting pulled in a lot of directions by a lot of people. On your end of things you need to find a way to set up some boundaries for yourself so you don't go completely crazy. That may involve talking directly to the people that are hounding you, your boss, or your bosses boss. I've found that people can be surprisingly understanding in situations like this. It's a lot like college in a way, I think. Each professor gives you homework as if their class is the only one you're taking. It may be the same with all these people you work with. Individually, each may not be asking for much. But throw 10 individuals together all asking for a few hours of time and suddenly you're buried. But all of these people probably wouldn't be coming to you with all these issues if you didn't have a clue what you were doing.

Good luck.
Bart Park Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
I'm going to copy a response in another thread:  "Life is too short."

Get your resume out there, and keep trying to find a decent job.  If you can't get any decent job in IT,  consider changing careers. 

There are ten lousy jobs in IT for every good job.  Most managers are either technical themselves, in which case they don't care how unhappy you are, or they are non technical, in which case they don't understand what you're up against.

There is light at the end of the tunnel.  Hang in there.  Start with getting a better night's sleep.
Walter Mitty Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
"There are ten lousy jobs in IT for every good job."

I'm guessing you can remove 'in IT' and that is a general truth. And changing careers can be a long, expensive process. I know several people that have done it and the satisfied people make up about 50% of the folks, so like most things it is a coin flip.
Bart Park Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
+1 Bart

"3) I actually get stuff done."

That was/is me too.  I was always the guy in early, out late, customer support, maintenance support, etc.  I worked my ass off for a number of companies until I got royally screwed (promised things DID NOT happen, they just said sorry, we can't do what we said we would).

At that point, I:
#1 - changed jobs
#2 - stopped being the 60,70,80hr/wk guy and became the 40hr/week guy. 

Guess what?  I'm still the guy that gets stuff done.  But now, when I leave work, I leave work.  By the time I'm 10 minutes away, I have a huge smile on my face (thanks motorcycle!).

Except, of course, my very recent situation (detailed here) has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench in the '10 minutes away, I have a huge smile'.  But, that will get better too, one way or another.

The short answer is : you can only do what you can do. 
One of the best suggestions you were given was time tracking (to the minute).  If that data doesn't convince someone that something is up, getting out is the only solution.
schlabnotnik Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
>> This is the case sometimes and my manager does set priorities on the NEW projects.  But when it comes to day-day maintenance, updates, requests, day to day issues, etc, I get overwhelmed. 

When you get multiple competing "Priority One" requests (or when you realize other things have morped into them), ask your manager to proritize your list.  Then when you get pushback, it's not *you* putting people off, it your manager setting priorities, and "sorry M[r|s] Requestor, but ItemX is [not first] on my list".

If your manager can't or won't do this, or blames you for not doing it yourself, well, then let me quote from replies above:
"Life is too short"
"get your resume out there"
a former big-fiver Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
What I would do is get a white board, and list all your current activities in priority order. (Possibly keeping a seperate list of support issues.) As items get finished, cross them out, but don't erase them. That way others see what your work load is, and how fast you're getting things done.
Mike Swaim Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
SumoRunner Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
work reasonable hours and if the work does not get done, it does not get done. I have had management at alot of places say it needs to get done. My response is "thats nice, but I am not willing to live here so you either need to reassess your needs or get more people'.

generally people let themselves be pressured to work long hours. basically if you establish that you are the whacko who will live there people will come to you. if you go crazy because it "has to get done", then will come to you to stay late. They don't bother me, because I leave and turn off my cell phone.

also, working on lots of stuff is very common in smaller shops. I think this is a benefit of smaller projects/companies. I don't like larger places where you do just one thing.

so cut back your hours and if it doesn't get done, it doesn't get done.
Contractor Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
I'm a programmer who also does a little bit of support.  I got a reputation as a helpful, smart, approachable person.  This really trashed my productivity, because people kept interrupting me to ask questions.  They would choose to come to me rather than colleagues because I'd normally be able to help them there & then.

To fix this, I'm changing a couple of things (with my manager's backing):

- For certain kinds of questions I just tell people "I'm sorry, but I've been told to train Mr X and Mr Y to handle that kind of question.  Please go ask them - if they get stuck then they will come ask me".  I don't answer the question even if the answer is obvious - because that would reinforce my position as "the expert" and ensure I get followup questions.  This has reduced the number of questions I get.  (Note that the phrasing I use deliberately blames the manager for the decision not to help them - if they don't like the rule then they can discuss it with my manager).

- For anything that will take 1 hour or more I say "I'd like to help you, but that's going to take about X hours so please can you clear it with my manager first?".  This lets my manager make the decision about my priorities.
user99 Send private email
Friday, May 29, 2009
 
 
"I didn't get through the whole post. Sounds like you're getting hammered from all sides. That sucks, but it may be because you actually get things done. I've been in that position before and I found out, much later, that it was because:

1) Most people felt more comfortable talking to me than the other development staff. I may be abrasive at times, but at least I used plain English and talked in terms most people could understand.

2) I am willing to listen to people's issues and not automatically dismiss them as stupid because they have a job that requires something other than banging out code.

3) I actually get stuff done.

I found this out most satisfactorily once at review time, which was a nice surprise :-)"


Yep, I am guilty of all of the above.  My boss and some of my co-workers can be abrasive at times and like you wrote, make people feel stupid or blow them off, so some of the users would rather deal with me directly.  Also, when I get interrupted, I tend to take care of those issues instead of the stuff that I have been working on.  They'll either call me on the phone or stop at my desk, which makes it difficult to avoid them.  Some people seem to think that when I'm sitting at my desk, I'm "waiting for stuff to break" and they have no idea (or understanding) of the programming work that I am responsible for.  So they will just stop at my desk and interrupt as if it's no big deal.  I work in a cube and don't have a door so there is nothing stopping them.


"Anyway, I know it sucks getting pulled in a lot of directions by a lot of people. On your end of things you need to find a way to set up some boundaries for yourself so you don't go completely crazy. That may involve talking directly to the people that are hounding you, your boss, or your bosses boss."

I will definitely need to talk to my boss about this.  If that doesn't help, I could try to talk to his boss but I don't think he wants me going over his head.....although now I am on his boss's radar (the CEO).  There are a couple apps that I wrote (along with the other programmer) in the past that some of the users are not satisfied with and word has gotten to the CEO.  So I met with him the other day and he wants the issues resolved ASAP.  From what he was told, he seems to think the software is the problem.  Come to find out, a lot of the issues are either training issues (the old users did not train the new users adequately) and also software issues caused by the other programmer....and I'm supposed to fix them while the other guy works on new development that I'll probably have to clean up later.   

Anyway, the CEO wants me to update him on what will be done to resolve.  This is really the first time I've been asked to update him on anything.  In the past, I've rarely seen him as he does not make himself easily available to "grunts".


"I've found that people can be surprisingly understanding in situations like this. It's a lot like college in a way, I think. Each professor gives you homework as if their class is the only one you're taking. It may be the same with all these people you work with. Individually, each may not be asking for much. But throw 10 individuals together all asking for a few hours of time and suddenly you're buried. But all of these people probably wouldn't be coming to you with all these issues if you didn't have a clue what you were doing."

Very true.  You hit the hammer on the nail.  Meanwhile, the people that don't know end up passing the buck and they are the ones who spend their time going on breaks, surfing the net, etc.  I can't blame them since nobody is pushing them to do more than what they are doing now....I'm thinking this is more of a management issue than anything.  The problem is that there are no formal job titles in the department that match what we do. 

There is no official designation between IT support and IT development.  I'm responsible for nearly all of the development/database stuff but also get dragged into support issues that have nothing to do with my systems.  People will sometimes stop me as I'm walking around in the plant and ask me about issues that others are responsible for as if I can resolve them.  I am also expected to pitch in and help out with other tech support issues when others are not around.  It can be frustrating at times to have to be all things to all people.
Mister Ed Send private email
Saturday, May 30, 2009
 
 
"Get your resume out there, and keep trying to find a decent job.  If you can't get any decent job in IT,  consider changing careers."

Easier said than done.  Switching jobs would require moving or taking a pay cut.  And switching careers is such a crapshoot....any suggestions?


"When you get multiple competing "Priority One" requests (or when you realize other things have morped into them), ask your manager to proritize your list.  Then when you get pushback, it's not *you* putting people off, it your manager setting priorities, and "sorry M[r|s] Requestor, but ItemX is [not first] on my list"."

I will talk to my manager and try this and see what happens.  I woke up this morning tired and burnt out (even though I slept well) after another hectic week.  This is affecting my quality of life.  I go home exhausted almost every single night.  I'm due for a vacation soon, and that usually helps for a few months.  If I go more than a few months without a vacation then I start getting really burnt out again.


"What I would do is get a white board, and list all your current activities in priority order. "

Thanks for the tip.

"I'm a programmer who also does a little bit of support.  I got a reputation as a helpful, smart, approachable person.  This really trashed my productivity, because people kept interrupting me to ask questions.  They would choose to come to me rather than colleagues because I'd normally be able to help them there & then."

Same here.  Thanks for the tips.


"work reasonable hours and if the work does not get done, it does not get done. I have had management at alot of places say it needs to get done. My response is "thats nice, but I am not willing to live here so you either need to reassess your needs or get more people'."

They won't get more people.  Not in the budget.  In fact, if we lose anyone, they probably won't replace them so that will increase the workload on everyone else.
Mister Ed Send private email
Saturday, May 30, 2009
 
 
You have lots of advice here. However, you really want to find a balance in life.

Here is a link to a story about how a failed Toyko bank was turned around. The people in the bank were simply putting in huge hours and thought that putting in more time was the way to plow through their work.

Life long tip:

  When you don’t have 15 hours to do your work, you tend to prioritize your work and you become more productive.

  When you have a life balance and don’t overwork, you actually get more done, and feel better, and become more successful.

<quote>
In a cruel sense the more we strive to achieve, the less efficient we become. Each additional hour you spend in hard labour the less productive each hour actually becomes.

Stephen Covey calls Production and Production Capability.

We lose the balance between what Stephen Covey calls Production and Production Capability.

Paradoxically, often the best way to ensure we maintain our production capability is to cut back on our levels of production, and to spend time on renewal, or what Covey calls the “Sharpening the Saw”

This is habit 7 in Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

</quote>

The following link is where I took the above quote from:

http://championsclubcommunity.com/features/editorials/sharpening-the-saw/?utm_source=Newsletter_7-19

So, find a good balance, else you wind up doing less work.

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com
Albert D. Kallal Send private email
Sunday, May 31, 2009
 
 
Ed wrote: "Easier said than done.  Switching jobs would require moving or taking a pay cut.  And switching careers is such a crapshoot....any suggestions?"

In that case I'd suggest they are paying you extra - the amount of the pay cut you'd have to take - to be stressed out. Is it worth it?

I do understand, though. I'm in Los Angeles and think that there would be better opportunities if I moved to Silicon Valley or Seattle.  Moving and leaving everything I'm familiar with behind is kinda scary on some level. (At least this weekend I've started paring down my stuff to potentially make such a move possible in the future.)

Mathieu wrote: "finally one trick to allow your self some interrupted work time is to create a 'green zone' (we called it that way because we'd color the time block green in Outlook). You'll need your manager's help to get this to work well so discuss it with him. During a green zone you are completely unreachable."

I wish. Here, in addition to the paging system, I've just had to install Microsoft Office Communicator and am supposed to be available all day. I've resorted to coming in late "to avoid traffic".

-- T
Timothy Byrd Send private email
Monday, June 01, 2009
 
 
Mr. Ed,  I think you have in one posting pretty much encapsulated in an OOP manner what is wrong with IT. . .
em Send private email
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
 
 
1) To ensure credit for the bugs is assigned correctly, simply follow up any verbal request for a fix with an email to the responsible developer, and copy the manager on it:

"Bob:
    Jimmy is getting access violations in that Turbo C++ module you wrote.  Do you want me to take a look at it or can you handle it?"

2) To prevent overload, maintain a task list.  When someone makes a request, show them a list and ask them how they want their task prioritized.  I find this especially useful when you report to multiple managers.  However, it does take courage to say "I can do this or that today, but not both."  But you better start standing up for yourself now or it will only get worse
Bradley Brown Send private email
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
 
 
@Mister Ed

I think seeking Stock Options from your Employer will alleviate your job stress .
Dr Known Send private email
Thursday, June 04, 2009
 
 

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