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THE QUESTION

As a manager within a large, profitable corporation, I oversee a department and conduct people-management activities. I love my team, but I am burning out because over the past few years, my director has assigned project work in addition to my regular duties. This work results in 20 hours extra per week.

My company uses this tactic to avoid hiring and to keep costs down. I asked for compensation, and was told that they don't pay overtime to managers, and that management is expected to take on multiple roles. I was also refused time off in lieu.

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If my regular work suffers, I am disciplined by my manager; if I refuse to work the extra time, he says I am not a team player. HR does not want to get involved – they say I am management and my manager can do whatever he wants. Does HR not protect management? My manager said I cannot go to the human rights commission or the labour relations board, because they view management differently. What can I do?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Heather Faire, Corporate human resources executive, expat, Atlanta

Managers and senior professionals are often expected to take on additional work to help the business in peak cycles, and to develop their professional skills. At the same time, taking on more work should not be at the expense of your well-being.

An important responsibility of leaders is to help their employees prioritize work against business objectives. Refusing to work additional time is not likely to be viewed as a constructive response to your boss's request to do more, but you could have a different conversation with your boss.

Consider letting your boss know that delivering high-quality work is important to you, but you are overwhelmed and need his help prioritizing projects to ensure the best results. Suggest that you continue to own what he believes are the critical projects but that lower priority projects be delegated across your team to avoid significant overtime. Be prepared to have a point of view about what critical projects you would continue to own and what you would delegate.

While it is true that overtime-eligible employees are viewed differently than management in some ways, under employment law all Canadian workers have rights. You do have the option to go the human rights commission or labour standards office for a review of your situation if you believe your rights or employment laws are being violated.

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THE SECOND ANSWER

Bill Howatt

Chief research and development officer/workplace productivity, Morneau Shepell, Toronto

It's true that people leaders are not entitled to overtime unless they have a special arrangement with their employer, and it's common for corporate managers to work 50 to 60 hours a week. To stay competitive and profitable, most corporations provide managers at all levels with some type of annual bonus. This is the mechanism for rewarding, retaining and recognizing effort and results.

Regarding the 20 additional hours, there appears to be a lack of fairness and professional respect. What you have shared certainly warrants HR examining how your manager is interacting with you. In the province of Ontario, for example, the Ministry of Labour defines workplace harassment as "engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome."

Not all provinces have this type of legislation; however, most large corporations have no-tolerance policies for bullying, and what you describe appears to be a form of bullying. Your manager can't do or say what he wants. He must interact with you in a way that makes you feel psychologically and physically safe.

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HR should care about your concerns. Unresolved work too often is why good employees quit their jobs or go on disability leave because they can no longer cope.

If HR doesn't treat you fairly, consider talking to an employment lawyer.

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