Working the System at a BigCo

Way back when I used to wear a tie, I worked as a salaried employee for a large consulting firm.

They made their money by charging their engineers out at an hourly rate on these big Time and Materials contracts, but they paid their employees a regular salary.

I'd record my hours on a timesheet so that they could bill the right clients, but anything over 40 hours a week was ignored on my paycheck. The understanding was that if ever your hours dropped below 40, you could bill an overhead number to make up for the difference, thus the fairness of not getting paid for overtime.

Anyway, after about a year of working there and putting in my share of unpaid overtime, I only managed to find 35 hours of work to do one week. No problem, I thought. I'll just call up HR and get the overhead number to put down for those extra 5 hours. I submitted my 40 hour timesheet and went home for the weekend.

Monday morning, bright and early, I found myself in a meeting with my boss and his boss, learning about the importance of always keeping one's plate full. Consulting, it seems, is all about utilization percentage, and while it may be necessary for, say, an E4 or E5 to spend overhead time on business development, an E1 like myself should always strive for 100% utilization.

To help learn this lesson, I was being put on some form of probationary "hourly" status, working part time until I could get my workload back up to speed. I'd keep my benefits, and I could work as few as 24 hours per week, but I'd only get paid for the hours I worked.

So naturally things picked up and soon I found myself working 50 and 60 hour weeks again, and as advertised, my new "hourly" status meant I was getting paid for all of them. Surprisingly, though, they were paying me time and a half for those overtime hours. Suddenly I was making a lot of money.

HR noticed that my hours were back up to expectations, so they sent up the necessary paperwork to get me back onto "Salaried" mode and I told them I'd get it right back to them.

1 month later, they sent that paperwork again, and I apologized for letting it go on so long.

Next month, my boss delivered it by hand and I promised to "get right on it."

Finally, after 180 days of billing 60 hour weeks and getting paid a hefty premium for all of it, I found myself back in that same conference room with my boss, his boss, and now his boss, all of whom wanting to know why I hadn't filled in that paperwork.

I laid out the math for them. Silence... Then uncontrolled laughter from all hands. Congratulations, son. But how about we fill out that paperwork right now?


Now I've been asked by people I've told this story to why it wasn't obvious to all those Big Bosses why I hadn't filled in that paperwork.

The answer is that they wouldn't be looking at it from that angle.

Probationary statuses are generally considered a bad thing in big companies, and are often used as a first step in building a case for termination. As a cog who's hoping to make a career in one of those big companies, you're expected to want to get off that bad status and back into "good worker" mode as quickly as possible. It had never occurred to anybody that they might have an employee who didn't care about internal promotion or their "career" at the company.

So no, the only reason they pushed it at all was that it was looking bad for them to have employees on the "underperforming" list. The fact that the penalty for underperformance was essentially a raise was something they had never even considered.

Jason Kester

I run a little company called Expat Software. Right now, the most interesting things we're doing are related to Cloud Storage Analytics, Online Classrooms, and Customer Lifecycle Metrics for SaaS Businesses. I'll leave it to you to figure out how those things tie together.

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