Brother, can you spare an hour for a CEO down on her luck?
November 30, 2015 12:01 PM   Subscribe

The Beggar CEO and Sucker Culture castigates employers who think their employees should do extra work for free.
posted by chrchr (212 comments total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
 
But for a more abridged (and free) primer, check out this post in which I define the corporate hierarchy, categorizing people into opportunists (those at the top), idealists (middle management) and pragmatists (line level employee).

This seems reminiscent of the sociopaths, clueless, losers analysis.
posted by thelonius at 12:10 PM on November 30, 2015 [39 favorites]


First of all, I’m not, in any way, allergic to long hours for myself. I’ve spent a career working 50 to 70 hours per week, at first for employers, later to earn a master’s while working full time, subsequently to moonlight, and finally to work completely for myself. This post is not me complaining that work is hard and I want to do less.

Hm.

I always wonder why people do this when they don't have to. Are there no books to read? No volunteer gigs to volunteer at? No gyms for lifting stuff? No coffee dates with friends? No children to read to? No bikes to ride? No meals to cook? No cakes to decorate? No walks to take in the forest? Are you going to lie there on your deathbed and say "thank god I worked twenty or thirty extra hours every week instead of doing something else?"
posted by Frowner at 12:23 PM on November 30, 2015 [168 favorites]


Also when you see your fellow workers rate-busting by giving away their labor for free, you should incentivize them to knock that off by keying their cars while you're leaving work.

You should also change the incentives for your better fellow workers — the ones who aren't trying to wreck the labor market by dumping their work onto the market for free — by organizing to bargain collectively rather than individually. By concentrating your individual power together, in the form of a union, you can have an easier time of raising the value you receive for selling your labor time than you'd have if you attempted to bargain individually.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:24 PM on November 30, 2015 [102 favorites]


Working hard and chasing ambitious goals is as fun for some people as that reading to children stuff. I don't always feel that, but I can relate to it. Sometimes a job challenges me in a way that engages my competitiveness and I put way too much of myself into it. It's probably not healthy, but it feels good.
posted by chrchr at 12:26 PM on November 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


The Beggar CEO and Sucker Culture castigates employers who think their employees should do extra work for free.

I'd bet cash money that many of those same employers regard taxation as theft.
posted by Gelatin at 12:26 PM on November 30, 2015 [41 favorites]


Time to repost "Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work" for the umpteenth time, in the vain hope that the tech industry will listen.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2015 [29 favorites]


Also, for someone who claims to have no problem with the free market, the author seems to have a lot of problems with the free market.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:29 PM on November 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


I always wonder why people do this when they don't have to.

Dietrich wanted to have his own successful business. His point was that in that case, it was extra work for himself and not for someone else who was reaping free value from his efforts.
posted by Etrigan at 12:29 PM on November 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


This seems reminiscent of the sociopaths, clueless, losers analysis.

He mentions it over here.
posted by zabuni at 12:31 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Working hard and chasing ambitious goals is as fun for some people as that reading to children stuff. I don't always feel that, but I can relate to it. Sometimes a job challenges me in a way that engages my competitiveness and I put way too much of myself into it. It's probably not healthy, but it feels good.

When you feel that way, why don't you put your excess energy and enthusiasm into organizing a union instead of giving your work away for free? If you're not up for that, you could instead use your extra energy and enthusiasm to work on your own projects for your own benefit, rather than giving away work for free and thus driving down the value of everyone else's work. Pick up a hobby, learn to cook, learn to do electrical wiring, write a book, take up knitting or chess, play with a raspberry pi, work on your favorite free software project. Just because you feel enthusiasm for work doesn't mean you have to suddenly start working against your own interests.

Hell, even people with bad politics know this. If you're excited about the work you're doing for pay, and want to do more of it, why not try to poach your employer's clients and go into business for yourself? There are a range of valid things to do in the situation you describe. "Give away work for free" is not one of those things.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:33 PM on November 30, 2015 [55 favorites]


Dietrich wanted to have his own successful business. His point was that in that case, it was extra work for himself and not for someone else who was reaping free value from his efforts.

But the thing is, this is a rhetorical gesture that always has to get made in arguments about wage theft - "oh, it's not that I would want to do anything except work for money in my spare time - no sir, I'm not lazy!!! - but you shouldn't force your employees to work for free". As if wanting to do anything besides be at work doing paid labor is mere laziness and something that undercuts your right to criticize wage theft. Basically, it's as if in order to argue for paying workers at all, you have to reaffirm that work is the most important thing in human life.
posted by Frowner at 12:35 PM on November 30, 2015 [53 favorites]


"Working hard" is a phrase nebulous unto uselessness and is simply one of our modern religious linguistic tics, along with "free market".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:35 PM on November 30, 2015 [19 favorites]


8 Hours.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:36 PM on November 30, 2015 [42 favorites]


Basically, it's as if in order to argue for paying workers at all, you have to reaffirm that work is the most important thing in human life.

Our sick work culture has become so very deeply ingrained, you have to make these sorts of genuflections to slave theology to deflect the thoughtstopping "lazy, entitled" accusations that will automatically fling from the barking seals if you don't.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:39 PM on November 30, 2015 [48 favorites]


But the thing is, this is a rhetorical gesture that always has to get made in arguments about wage theft - "oh, it's not that I would want to do anything except work for money in my spare time - no sir, I'm not lazy!!! - but you shouldn't force your employees to work for free".

It's a rhetorical gesture that might get inside the argument loop of people who will say "Oh, well, this guy's just lazy." Sure, it probably won't, but you seem to be dismissing his arguments (which I suspect you're actually more or less in agreement with) because of it.

Basically, it's as if in order to argue for paying workers at all, you have to reaffirm that work is the most important thing in human life.

I got the exact opposite read from it: If the people he's talking to expect their employees to work, they should provide incentive beyond work being the most important thing in human life.
posted by Etrigan at 12:40 PM on November 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I always wonder why people do this when they don't have to.

Because some people feel that they want to not just do their job to the requirements, but surpass them. They do this for anticipated benefits (I'll get a promotion!). They do this because they believe in the job (for my students!). They do this because they love their work (Sales is exciting!).

Working to live is a great strategy. Someone who wants to down tools at 5pm and go home to look after their kids/go to rehearsal/watch the skies has my respect. But not everyone who works extra hours is a blind fool, or a victim of wage theft. Sometimes it's a rational, moral or emotionally-rooted choice that makes a lot of sense.
posted by bonehead at 12:46 PM on November 30, 2015 [38 favorites]


Time to repost "Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work" for the umpteenth time

If only it were subject to reason. I have very occasionally seen companies try to do "permanent crunch time", but by and large it's a decision borne of sheer panic: "we over-committed to the [investors / customers / etc.] and we need to do all this work RIGHT NOW and you guys are the only ones who know how to do it. Somebody grab a case of Monster."
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 12:46 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I worked extra hours at a previous job because I was explicitly told, we'll all work hard and the company will succeed and we'll all get super rich! I worked hard and the company succeeded and then 2009 hit and my reward was a layoff. Incidentally, the company bounced back and ended up taking a buyout. Still waiting for my cut, I'll just be over here holding my breath.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:51 PM on November 30, 2015 [72 favorites]


Sometimes it's a rational, moral or emotionally-rooted choice that makes a lot of sense.

People who "believe in the job" are still making it possible for employers (yes, this includes the state) to shaft everybody by just grinning and bearing it. We will have to agree to disagree that this "makes a lot of sense".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:51 PM on November 30, 2015 [42 favorites]


I always find it odd when someone uses the word "company" to refer to a privately held business with no profit-sharing program.

"Why won't my employees do what's best for the company?"
"Maybe because they're not actually in the company. When it comes to companies, Bilbo Baggins got better terms than Jane down in accounts payable."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:52 PM on November 30, 2015 [39 favorites]


My husband's prior company operated on a Permanent Crunch Time mode due to the sales people promising vaporware to clients and then coming back in and being like, "And by the way, you have to make this totally theoretical thing real by our demo on Thursday." And the CEO was completely on board with that behavior, because he's a delusional psychopath. There's a Facebook group for former-employees of this place despite the fact that its' a small company with under 50 employees at any given time. No one lasts more than two years. Predictably, the products suck and the only reason it's still in business is mommy and daddy's money.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:53 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


The paragraph under "a note about my motivations" is such a load of mealy-mouthed milquetoast bullshit and basically undoes everything else in the entire article by preemptively coddling the hackernews libertarian douchebag brogrammers that he imagines might read it. "People should get paid, I guess, but let's not enforce that in any way. Also, I'm happy to work long hours for no extra compensation myself. Please love me!"
posted by Vulgar Euphemism at 12:54 PM on November 30, 2015 [25 favorites]


"Why won't my employees do what's best for the company?"
"Maybe because they're not actually in the company.


God, yes. Small business owners seem almost to a person totally incapable (unless they are all really wonderful actors) of understanding that people who don't directly benefit from the firm's performance might not have the same level of emotional investment in it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:57 PM on November 30, 2015 [63 favorites]


I've been sucked into this at times myself. I think a big part of what happens is that I internalize my work persona, so that tasks that help me at work seem more important to me than they should even when I'm off the clock. And it feels good to feel like you're accomplishing something towards your goals. Inevitably, eventually something happens to snap me out of it, that makes me realize I should not be aligning my personal goals with the interests of my employer.

While I appreciate the sentiment of "use that time to unionize", that takes no small measure of skills and motivation, not to mention risk, that an extra few hours of my regular job just doesn't require.
posted by sanedragon at 12:59 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why do people expect anything other than to waste their lives in 'companies'? They make stuff and sell stuff. It's pointless. If you want to have something meaningful in your life then go and be a doctor or an aid worker or an alcoholic or something.
posted by colie at 1:00 PM on November 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Hey I'm saving up to be an alcoholic.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:03 PM on November 30, 2015 [49 favorites]


I call it crisis culture.

We can now do things amazingly fast and be more productive than ever... productive as in quantity. No waiting for the mailman, or sending out for printouts, or waiting for the delivery service, or getting the specced type back from the service bureau, etc., etc.

There's almost never a reason things CAN'T get done in the same day, or deadlines can't get cut, or budgets changed, or last minute changes. After consulting with the client for three months on an accepted work plan, then the people who have to make it actually happen get a week to do it. Including the weekend. Make that six days.

Last full time gig I had, almost every day was an emergency of some sort. I am not exaggerating. Emergency becomes the new normal. And even in the last 15 years I've seen this creep more and more. Young folks in business see it as simply the normal way to operate.

It's poison.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:04 PM on November 30, 2015 [72 favorites]


I am a little stunned that the CEO who inspired this piece failed to think of the obvious incentive -- giving her employees a meaningful stake in the company. Or the less obvious one, which is making work a fun and enjoyable place to be. (For all those who do find making and selling stuff a reasonable worthwhile activity.)

I am very tired of people who whine that others do not want to devote their lives to uncompensated, unappreciated, and often tiresome workplaces where only the whiners at the very top reap big rewards.
posted by bearwife at 1:05 PM on November 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


"Or the less obvious one, which is making work a fun and enjoyable place to be."

The more foosball tables, free snacks, gourmet coffee and big TVs and video games an office has, the more they expect 60-80 hour weeks.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:08 PM on November 30, 2015 [72 favorites]


Last full time gig I had, almost every day was an emergency of some sort. I am not exaggerating. Emergency becomes the new normal.

My current workplace is very much like this. I wouldn't call it a constant emergency, but basically everything is "top priority," which means that nothing is, and we constantly stumble from one thing to the next without much if any thought given to the future. There is never time to plan things out, in part because we never say no to any of our clients, so the work just keeps rolling in regardless of whether there is capacity to handle it. It's pretty exhausting.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:08 PM on November 30, 2015 [24 favorites]


basically everything is "top priority," which means that nothing is

At one of my units, we developed a hierarchy of "top priority" type declarations from the CO:
"He said this is his 'number one priority'. Is that more important than this 'drop everything' he gave us last week?"
"No, 'drop everything' is less important than 'number one priority', but it's more important than the 'essential' task from yesterday."
posted by Etrigan at 1:14 PM on November 30, 2015 [26 favorites]


I remember walking out of a place where I worked at about 4 in the afternoon because I was going to a doctors appointment (Back then I took better care of myself because dr's appts seemed to be the only time I could break up a monotonously work related life) Some guy who wasn't my boss made a remark about "Bankers hours"- i replied that it wasn't the hours you worked, it was what you did with them.

No matter what, there is this expectation you will hand over your soul for free and some health benefits. I think I've worked one place in my 20 year career that doesn't want that. There is something deeply fucked up about this expectation- it's why half the people who in their 20s and 30's will never own a house. They mortgaged that future by trying to ensure a good enough job that they would at least have enough money to manage life while they are at work.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 1:14 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


I always wonder why people do this when they don't have to. Are there no books to read? No volunteer gigs to volunteer at?

For some of us, the more we work, the more we learn, and the better we get at our jobs. In cases of the self-employed, the more they work, the more money they make, and the fewer opportunities they have for letting someone else screw up he problem. Or the more they work, the better job they do, which means a product gets delivered in better shape.

Now to a large degree, those are very privileged jobs to have. But the people who have those kinds of jobs chose them because that's what they wanted to do, not because they needed to find something to do to support themselves while giving themselves time to knit.

The problem, of course, is that the culture of those kinds of jobs ends up leaking down to workaday jobs until someone comes recruiting with a big banner that says, "ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT ACCOUNTS RECEIVEABLE?"
posted by deanc at 1:17 PM on November 30, 2015 [27 favorites]


Lovely. I always enjoy an opportunity to post Pam Selle's excellent talk, Go The Fuck Home
posted by butterstick at 1:17 PM on November 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


but basically everything is "top priority," which means that nothing is

OMG do we work together?
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:17 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


The more foosball tables, free snacks, gourmet coffee and big TVs and video games an office has, the more they expect 60-80 hour weeks.

Ah yes. "Work-life integration" and other nauseating sermons from cult leaders.
posted by entropone at 1:18 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Life takes risk. The good life, doubly so.

Some people who have made very bad mistakes or very bad luck (most notably, people who have had kids, or (before the ACA) people with expensive medical conditions) can frequently find themselves taken hostage by their employers. This sucks. If your employer has legitimately taken you hostage, you cannot stand up for yourself in overt ways. If you are stuck in this situation, please quietly support your coworkers who are working to drive up the value of your labor and their own in whatever way you can. At the very least, don't undermine them by giving your labor away for free.

I absolutely respect the people who are driven to take pride in their work. To those people, I would urge them to always be aware of what your work actually is. If you are employed by a widget manufacturer — and it doesn't matter if the widgets are physical widgets, Cocoa Touch widgets, or whatever), your line of work is not the manufacture of widgets. Your line of work is sales, specifically the sale of labor time to be used for making widgets. If you are driven to take pride in your work, take pride in your actual work, which is to say the sale of labor time for the most money possible. There are a range of tactics you can use. Some tactics, like assuming leadership in a union organizing campaign, are not fully available to the people who have let themselves fall into a hostage situation wherein their employers can threaten their children with starvation if the employee steps out of line. That sucks, but it's real. Other tactics for doing your work better — and remember, your work is sales, not widget manufacturing — are still available to you. You don't have to throw up your hands and give up at your real job just because your employer has leverage over you. Moreover, you don't have to knuckle in, at least not entirely, to your employer's demand that you do their work (widget manufacture) for free instead of doing your own work for money.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:19 PM on November 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


I wouldn't call it a constant emergency, but basically everything is "top priority,"

I've worked (and volunteered) on responses to many honest-to-god emergencies, and they are nothing like that, funnily enough. We spend a substantial fraction of time in planning meetings. Triage and prioritization are very important tasks. We also monitor workload carefully from everyone from the ground workers to incident command (to the extent of some people wearing health monitors). We don't want burn-out, accidents from fatigue or environmental injuries from exposures. For example, first in might work 22-hr days, but they'll only do that for two days, then they get rotated out.

We're there to solve problems, not create new ones from poor planning or over-fatigue. Being measured and deliberate are seen as important values in every response organization I've worked in or with, industry, government or non-profit.
posted by bonehead at 1:21 PM on November 30, 2015 [60 favorites]


This is your friendly reminder that it's your absolute legal right to post your salary on the breakroom wall. Feel free to remind your dickface CEO of this fact if you get the "whaaa why are you leaving at 5" speech.

I am so fucking sick of this.
posted by odinsdream at 1:24 PM on November 30, 2015 [56 favorites]


I've worked (and volunteered) on responses to many honest-to-god emergencies, and they are nothing like that, funnily enough.

There is nothing even remotely necessary about any of the work my company does. the entire industry that we are tangentially attached to could dry up and blow away tomorrow, and everyone would be better off for it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:24 PM on November 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


This has been making the rounds all the usual nerd places this morning. Overlong, kinda businessy, but the basic point seems mostly solid.

> When you feel that way, why don't you put your excess energy and enthusiasm into organizing a union instead of giving your work away for free?

Do you want an honest answer to this, from someone who is generally sympathetic to your politics and rhetoric, and also works in tech, surrounded by a culture of working literally all of the time that you are awake?

My answer, one of them, would be that it is because unions seem pretty much like utterly fucking doomed total non-starters in the only field where I have even a faint approximation of cultural or labor-value leverage, and there is literally nothing I can do that will change that in any meaningful way, although I could probably suffer a lot and burn myself out completely by trying.

I don't like this. People who are better than me may eventually do something about it. Maybe. Although I kind of think that the union as a cultural form is so poisoned an idea in the collective psychology at this point that it's going to have to be union-like behavior by another name / under another set of abstractions. But this is kind of the place that almost everyone who might unionize in my industry is starting from. The collective action problem feels pretty much intractable and my life feels way too short to burn both all of my spare energy and my only prospects for participating in the economy on the off chance that somehow it's not.

I dunno. I mean, beat the drum. You're saying useful stuff. But I also sort of have to read it across a certain cultural/experiential gulf that is pretty hard to cross.
posted by brennen at 1:25 PM on November 30, 2015 [30 favorites]


Working to live is a great strategy. Someone who wants to down tools at 5pm and go home to look after their kids/go to rehearsal/watch the skies has my respect. But not everyone who works extra hours is a blind fool, or a victim of wage theft. Sometimes it's a rational, moral or emotionally-rooted choice that makes a lot of sense.

Stockholm syndrome.

If you have no shareholder stake in your employer, and you give your labor away for free, you are part of the problem. You make it harder (or even impossible) for others to not give away their labor if they want to keep a job.

This is incredibly important.

People who devalue the labor market by giving theirs away for free are individually and personally responsible for a significant percentage of unemployment and underemployment.
posted by yesster at 1:28 PM on November 30, 2015 [49 favorites]


While I appreciate the sentiment of "use that time to unionize", that takes no small measure of skills and motivation, not to mention risk, that an extra few hours of my regular job just doesn't require.

My CEO directly told me in a private conversation that he would not appreciate me trying to form a union with anyone in the company.
posted by odinsdream at 1:28 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I always wonder why people do this when they don't have to.

In some industries 30% of the workforce has been laid off. People in all industries, all geographic areas, and all demographic classes do not have the exact same options in front of them.

Some people do it for the love of the job, for competitiveness, for the thrill of feeling important, for the game of some sort -- but a lot do it because everyone else does and if everyone else does it they have to as well, because someone is going to go and it might as well be the person who went home at 5.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:30 PM on November 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


My CEO directly told me in a private conversation that he would not appreciate me trying to form a union with anyone in the company.

Gee, that's a shock and a half.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:31 PM on November 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


For some of us, the more we work, the more we learn, and the better we get at our jobs

Yeah, you know, I have an ordinary pink collar gig - but incredibly, despite the fact that I'm not, like, a developer or something, I too have learned more and improved at my job until I'm actually pretty good at it. Weird, right? Aren't jobs like mine supposed to be so simple that I could be replaced by a trained monkey? Aren't working class jobs all skill-less and stupid? Aren't people who don't want to work seventy hour weeks so lazy that they refuse to learn on the job? Gosh, I must be some kind of weirdo, building skills when I'm just some prole.

Now to a large degree, those are very privileged jobs to have. But the people who have those kinds of jobs chose them because that's what they wanted to do, not because they needed to find something to do to support themselves while giving themselves time to knit.

And the reason that most people have working class jobs is because we "chose" them so we would "have time to knit". Indeed. And of course, all the other things outside one's Very Important Job are tiny, frivolous and trivial - "time to knit" instead of doing what we're passionate about.
posted by Frowner at 1:32 PM on November 30, 2015 [51 favorites]


And here I encourage my staff to take regular vacations and time off because I think that well-rounded employees are better employees. Silly me!
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 1:32 PM on November 30, 2015 [19 favorites]


For some of us, the more we work, the more we learn, and the better we get at our jobs. In cases of the self-employed, the more they work, the more money they make, and the fewer opportunities they have for letting someone else screw up he problem. Or the more they work, the better job they do, which means a product gets delivered in better shape.

Fine, so be sure the employer is compensating you for this extra effort. There are existing legal frameworks that cover this, despite the loopholes.

I've only just realized that the last place I worked actually owed me way more compensation because of the overtime I was expected to (and did) work during.

Nobody believes this in a meaningful way, though. What, I should have sued my employer? Who the fuck has time for that?
posted by odinsdream at 1:33 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I hate staying late and am very vocal about how if everyone marched out at 5pm a lot of processes would change. However I've realized that I tend to stay late during bad weeks where I feel like my performance is not up to par - I've internalized that I'm a lazy piece of shit with horrible time management, and if I made any mistakes it was because I'm a capital-b Bad Worker, and now I must stay late to prove I am in fact dedicated. But I also work in a field where nothing gets noticed when you do everything correctly and the only time you're recognized is when shit goes wrong.
posted by windbox at 1:36 PM on November 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


God, yes. Small business owners seem almost to a person totally incapable (unless they are all really wonderful actors) of understanding that people who don't directly benefit from the firm's performance might not have the same level of emotional investment in it

Worse is that they actively resent their employees for "sitting around collecting a paycheck," as if there would be a business if the employees were not there.
posted by deanc at 1:36 PM on November 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


But I also work in a field where nothing gets noticed when you do everything correctly and the only time you're recognized is when shit goes wrong.

Oh, you also work in Every Field?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:39 PM on November 30, 2015 [63 favorites]


My CEO directly told me in a private conversation that he would not appreciate me trying to form a union with anyone in the company.

Well, if you want to go that route, recognize that your CEO just literally committed a crime and you should talk to the NLRB.

The law forbids employers from interfering with employees in the exercise of rights to form, join or assist a labor organization for collective bargaining, or from working together to improve terms and conditions of employment, or refraining from any such activity.

I hate unions, I really do. But I'm also a rule-of-law kinda guy, too.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:39 PM on November 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


really, it's not about unions — though unionization in tech-adjacent sectors is doing better than you'd expect. Tech itself is a hard nut to crack, since there are so many high-paid tech workers who function as an "aristocracy of labor" and who are thus isolated from the demands the workplace puts on most other workers. In their position as labor aristocrats, tech workers (even the ones who aren't particularly highly paid) are basically allergic to unionization, because they think that unionization is just a thing for proles. Because their lives are structured around the idea that they are better than workers, they cannot tolerate organizational means that require them to acknowledge that they are workers.

(as a sidebar, one of the reasons that computer manufacturing companies and computer using companies in the 1960s worked to replace the women who had dominated the first couple of generations of programmers with men, particularly young, white, socially awkward men, was specifically because socially awkward alienated young white men were correctly seen as the class of workers least likely to see the benefits of collective organization.)

If it is not possible (yet!) to unionize your field, there are a number of tactics that still might be open to you. You can steal your employer's clients and go into business for yourself, if you're ambitious. If you're less ambitious you can refuse (overtly or covertly) to work for free. You can use vandalism and other means of social suasion (overt and covert) to discourage your coworkers from working for free, and you can always remember that you are working in sales (the sale of labor time) no matter what field you're working in. sometimes, simply thinking in terms of your own interests and keeping an eye out can lead to real opportunities.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:40 PM on November 30, 2015 [39 favorites]


I remember reading Steve Van Zandt saying he called his Norwegian collaborators after official work hours (for Lillyhammer) and they refused to take the calls if it was about work and that it was great to work as an actor there because you had a life.
posted by juiceCake at 1:42 PM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Part of this is "busy" syndrome. You are not an Important Human Being if you are not Busy. Companies trade on this puritan work ethic bs to make people LOOK BUSY instead of actually be busy. Work expands to fit the time you give it.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 1:45 PM on November 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


If you are driven to take pride in your work, take pride in your actual work, which is to say the sale of labor time for the most money possible.

This is the exact same problem that I have with the ideological opposite point of view. I want to solve fun problems at work, just like I want to solve fun problems at home. I would like to keep solving the meta problem (keeping a supply of fun problems to solve, oh, and also a supply of materiel necessary for survival) as much in the background as possible, because social energy is much better saved for my personal life.
posted by ambrosen at 1:46 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


For some of us, the more we work, the more we learn, and the better we get at our jobs.

Some people work jobs that closely align with personal interests (botanists) and/or skills that help them be better people and citizens in general (nurses), and that's an incredible privilege. But the majority of jobs are bullshit jobs at best, and it's just incredibly fucked to ask a worker to voluntarily devote their energy and mental power--in their off time--to accounts receivable.

And! You should not devote that brainspace to your jobs for free. One blessedly reasonable thing my company does is allow us to pursue professional development during work hours, and sends us with funding wherever possible. You can also take college courses and earn certifications related to your job, and my company will cover the tuition. At no point are we asked to pretend like we're doing it for our own edification.
posted by witchen at 1:46 PM on November 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


I always wonder why people do this when they don't have to.

I went to school while working full time because I have no safety net. If I'm not the most competent worker I can be, I will be the first one out the door because I'm a single childless woman.

I know that it's fun for people to scorn those of us who make those kinds of choices as soulless drones with no ability to appreciate Real Truth, but I have to live in the world where I'm disposable to everyone but myself. The fact I enjoy my job and enjoyed the MBA program are bonuses to being employable, not the point.
posted by winna at 1:46 PM on November 30, 2015 [39 favorites]


And of course, all the other things outside one's Very Important Job are tiny, frivolous and trivial - "time to knit" instead of doing what we're passionate about.

I mean, you do you. If there were other things I wanted to do and other ways to plan my life, I likely would have done that. My ability to get the next job depends very highly on my ability to learn a lot and perform well in the current job. If I had a job that was very easy and just allowed me to go home after doing work that took a modicum of effort, then I would not learn very much, and I would be less employable when I had next-step goals. Becoming an expert in something takes a lot of effort. At a most base level, the sale of our labor becomes more valuable the better we are at that.

So yeah, lots of people want to do a lot of work at their jobs, rather than knitting or doing community theater or taking up dog breeding. You wanted to know why people would rather work than do those things, and I gave you an answer.
posted by deanc at 1:49 PM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


I know a few people for whom what they do for a living aligns almost exactly with what they would be doing anyway and I will always defend those people. That's not most people though.

I haven't actually had a job where I had to do a whole lot of crunch time (despite that being how "tech" supposedly is) but I have been in a situation where I knew I really wanted to *leave* but didn't out of a sense of loyalty to my co-workers who were also stuck there for various reasons. I think a similar dynamic often happens with hours/workload - see also the perpetual crisis thing.
posted by atoxyl at 1:50 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm disposable to everyone but myself.

You just hit the bull's-eye.
posted by No Robots at 1:50 PM on November 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


Well, if you want to go that route, recognize that your CEO just literally committed a crime and you should talk to the NLRB.

I literally want to know what kind of world people think employees inhabit. This would absolutely ruin most anyone's career by making it nearly impossible to get a job with another company in the same field. Meanwhile, you'd have an extensive legal process ahead of you, with no sure win, during which you've ruined the relationships with the people you count on for your livelihood.

Maybe you work somewhere where this would be not just good advice, but even slightly realistic.
posted by odinsdream at 1:51 PM on November 30, 2015 [47 favorites]


Another factor is the HR bullshit culture, which is sort of a Holy Inquisition keeping everyone in line. Not talking about sexual harassment, I'm talking the nitty gritty about your jobs.

I was "fired" (actually let go with benefits... the place imploded several months later and no longer exists). But yes, forcibly ejected. I was pissed. But I liked many of my co workers quite a bit. So I left my office with some possessions and proceeded to tell each person I saw on the way out that I had just been canned. When I got home, I used my personal email to spread this news to anyone I missed.

I actually got a personal email and a call from our HR person reprimanding me for this. AFTER I had been let go. I told her that she was no longer my HR person, and that I was free to communicate to whomever I wanted. She tried to spin it as "well, you don't want employers down the road hearing you were fired??" but basically they wanted to keep everyone in the dark for as long as possible.

I fucking hate corporate culture. I do freelance/consulting now. The absolute best thing that could happen in my industry would be for everyone to publicly talk about their salary and benefits. Heck, make a cool website where all the industry folks can see what everyone else is getting paid. It would be an amazing thing for some Millennials to do. Won't happen, but I do hope for it to.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:53 PM on November 30, 2015 [55 favorites]


There was a "warroom" I was sitting in during an outage where there were two partner/senior executive types. As things go, there are often dead times while someone at a remote site does something. So, the two partners starting talking.

One said "10% OT should be standard!" Uhg.

The other was more evil about it. He wrong "168" the whiteboard. "That's the number of hours there are in a week," he explained.

Then he started deducting. So much time for meals. So many hours of sleep. So much time for "worship" ("and I don't care if you worship a golf ball"). And so forth. I forget the exact breakdown, but he landed in the neighborhood of 60 hours a week. "That time is mine," he said, emphatically.

It was very off-putting, more so than "10% should be standard," or coming out and saying he expected 50% overtime. I thought about it off and on for years. The only thing I knew was that, if he ever said it to me (rather than merely in front of me), he would have to repeat it in front of HR.

It finally dawned on me: he wasn't really saying he got 60 hours. He was saying that he felt he had rights to 168 hours a week of my time. Only by his grace did I get 108 hours. If he decided I needed less sleep or worship, I might only get 100 hours. Or 90 hours.

In short: He was saying he owned all my time, as though my company granted him me as his slave. Only his generous nature didn't have me working 24x7x365.

I get that in some work, forty hours a week is not going to be the norm every single week. But I think the guys who enter the game assuming "10% is standard" and escalating from there are why this is out of control.

I'd bet cash money that many of those same employers regard taxation as theft.

The "generous" man offering 108 hours was definitely of that ilk.
posted by MrGuilt at 1:55 PM on November 30, 2015 [91 favorites]


Won't happen, but I do hope for it to.

You just gave me a wonderful, awful idea.
posted by odinsdream at 1:55 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


This part of the article made me want to fist-pump:
The real problem isn’t Victoria, and it isn’t sucker culture itself — it’s the fact that going home after 8 hours is the new original sin...We wear our unpaid, uncompensated overtime as a badge of honor
I work in sales. Whenever I am in the company of other salespeople from my industry, the conversation inevitably turns to the dick-measuring contest of discussing (bragging) who has the busiest travel schedule, who works the longest hours, who is so swamped that a large portion of their weekend is spent working too, who stays up the latest answering emails, who takes the fewest vacation days since there just isn't time with them being so busy and all, etc. Admitting how many hours of free labor you give away, far from being an acknowledgement of a toxic work culture, instead are points of pride since they are indicators that you are VERY IMPORTANT.
posted by The Gooch at 1:57 PM on November 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


Time to repost "Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work" for the umpteenth time, in the vain hope that the tech industry will listen.

As I'm fond of saying in meetings where yet another project is added to The Fast Track: "It'll take 2 quarters to finish. But if we rush it, it'll take 3."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:58 PM on November 30, 2015 [25 favorites]


Part of this is "busy" syndrome. You are not an Important Human Being if you are not Busy.

See also Cortisol addiction. I once worked in a place where the founders and many of their hires met in addiction recovery.

Yep, it was ALWAYS an emergency and they loved it that way.
posted by butterstick at 2:00 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


odinsdream, I smell a MeFi project.
posted by a halcyon day at 2:00 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


>> My CEO directly told me in a private conversation that he would not appreciate me trying to form a union with anyone in the company.

> Well, if you want to go that route, recognize that your CEO just literally committed a crime and you should talk to the NLRB.


The NLRB is a hollow shell and the laws you refer to NOT enforced, and so they might as well not exist (unless you've already got a union with a hotshot legal team representing you, which you probably don't). Despite the existence of laws purportedly allowing for employees to organize, in real terms worker organization has to operate outside the law, or even against it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:01 PM on November 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


The NLRB is a hollow shell and the laws you refer to NOT enforced

There's a whole lot of labor law that's not enforced. Always to the disadvantage of the employees.
posted by yesster at 2:04 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


To add to my HR rant: Another factor is FEAR. Young folks coming in do not understand how much getting married, having kids, buying a house, car, whatever... mentally manacles you to your job. I don't have kids and in this post middle-class era, I'm glad I didn't. I'm happy that people have kids and I am not slamming anyone's life choices. But our fucked up healthcare/school/childcare situation forces people into a game of "mental chicken"... I gotta keep my job, so I'm gonna do more that the other person, and vice/versa. Combined with this weird "no one can ever divulge their salaries" idea that's been ingrained, people are operating out of pure fear.

Long time business associate/work partner and I recently talked openly about or pay and compensations from years back when we worked together. It was as if a weight was removed from our friendship. Seriously cathartic. I have bonded with him now more as a fellow human than ever before, and I've known him for 12 years. Turns out he was making a little more than me. But you know what? We are all in this together.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:04 PM on November 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


"odinsdream, I smell a MeFi project."

Please make this happen. I am not web savvy enough to accomplish this. Facebook for salaries.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:06 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


"I work hard and I don't give money to beggars." That very last line is where he lost me.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 2:10 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


> Long time business associate/work partner and I recently talked openly about or pay and compensations from years back when we worked together. It was as if a weight was removed from our friendship. Seriously cathartic. I have bonded with him now more as a fellow human than ever before, and I've known him for 12 years. Turns out he was making a little more than me. But you know what? We are all in this together.

we're all in it together.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:11 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I actually got a personal email and a call from our HR person reprimanding me for this. AFTER I had been let go. I told her that she was no longer my HR person, and that I was free to communicate to whomever I wanted.

Technically true, but I want to remind the rest of mefi that she was never your HR person. Human Resources started out as "Labor Relations Management" and exists to consult with management on legal and contractual regulations. Management is not answerable to HR, and the proper place to escalate a dispute with a manager is your personal lawyer. Or if you're lucky, your union rep.
posted by pwnguin at 2:11 PM on November 30, 2015 [30 favorites]


So yeah, lots of people want to do a lot of work at their jobs, rather than knitting or doing community theater or taking up dog breeding. You wanted to know why people would rather work than do those things, and I gave you an answer.

And see, you do the same thing - your list of things people do outside of work is constructed to seem trivial, in opposition to the serious learning and expertise-gaining that one does in paid labor. You're not saying, for instance, that people might choose to be community organizers outside of work, or choose to teach, or choose to do...well, anything that can't be positioned as a lightweight hobby. You become an expert in your important job. Others devote their spare hours to mere amateurism, in which expertise is moot.

And again, you imply that no one who doesn't work seventy hour weeks learns - you use the same language to suggest that people who work forty hour weeks have jobs that are "very easy" and let them go home with a "modicum of effort", unlike you with the expertise and the dedication and stuff.

I wonder, does this carry over to Europe? Do the people who have skilled jobs and lots of holidays fail to learn since they're not always on call?

(I clarify that "when you don't have to" is the operative - lots of people work seventy hour weeks because they have no choice. I think that's a bad thing. But I also find the "I am a Serious Worker Not Like You Lazy Frivolous People Who Only Know About Your [implicitly Stupid] Hobbies" stuff pretty bad, too. If anything, I find it extra bad because my frivolous, idle reading about social movements illustrates very clearly that free time has been essential in labor organizing, women's organizing and - in particular - abolitionist and racial justice organizing. People who don't have free time can't do those things, and many, many movements have leaned very heavily on the volunteer work of people who weren't on the job seventy hours a week.)
posted by Frowner at 2:12 PM on November 30, 2015 [92 favorites]


Heck, make a cool website where all the industry folks can see what everyone else is getting paid. It would be an amazing thing for some Millennials to do.

This one? Or this one? Or maybe this one?
posted by pwnguin at 2:15 PM on November 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


This is why I hope the legal profession moves away from the billable hour in my lifetime. It's pretty hard to sell the 40 hour workweek when the hours themselves are your product.
posted by prefpara at 2:17 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


@ pwnguin : Those sites have nothing compelling about them. Glassdoor I know about, but in my opinion, tends to simply be a place for people with an axe to grind, fair or not.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:18 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a bit of a derail, but I find the more difficult a subject is to learn, the less time I can meaningfully spend trying to learn it and be effectual.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:22 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just going from my tech industry friends, people — decent, goodhearted people, smart people, lovable people who even vote for socialists when given the chance — have genuinely internalized the idea that they would be completely worthless without an employer telling them what to do. They seriously think that without the lash of threatened starvation through denial of access to work, they would do literally nothing with their time. They are, as they see it, valuable only as skilled hands to be put at the service of other peoples' minds. They will argue this vehemently. It strikes me as literally insane, but just because it strikes me as literally insane — even though I can easily rattle off the interesting and worthwhile things these people do specifically when they're not at work — doesn't mean they don't actually believe it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:30 PM on November 30, 2015 [22 favorites]


The American Corporate "Permanent Crisis" work culture is toxic. Let's just say it. Some of us HAVE to do it, others WANT to do it and a select few have been privileged enough to opt-out of it and good on them.

But we can say it for what it is: A toxic system where capital wins and labor loses.

And I don't think that match can be helped to favor labor either. Labor lost. Labor is broken by design. It's inherent in the system and all we can do is suffer it for as long as we have to until we can GTFO and do something more worthwhile with our remaining heartbeats.

So hey, if you dig 60 hour work weeks that's fine, but don't pretend like there's not a hot toxic mess that a lot of other people are having to muddle through every day just to eat and barely pay their bills.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:40 PM on November 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


It's fucked up that people can't just live anymore. The Maslow's basics seem to be missing for most.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 2:42 PM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: I actually know that I would do nothing with my time if not for a job; because in the periods where I was lucky enough to have a means of support but no job, I did nothing with my time. Indeed, I have done more productive things with my free time when I have a job than when I did not. So it's entirely possible that these people are not particularly well self-motivated, and find a structured activity on which other people depend helps anchor them.
posted by Grimgrin at 2:44 PM on November 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


I put together my applications for the MA program that more or less changed my life entirely while I was working at a low-level office job at a company that shipped videogames. The games companies would send a bunch of games in trucks to the company's warehouse. The warehouse workers would then take those games off of those trucks, rearrange them to match the orders the company had received from various game stores, and then put them on other trucks to be sent to stores. (Well, okay, after a few more processing steps that the company wasn't involved in).

My job was to prepare invoices to be sent out to stores. I realized in my first week there that all of the data needed to produce these invoices was available in either their SAP database or in the janky Access database that we actually used for most of the work. I knew a little bit of VB (which at the time was the only convenient way to script Office applications) , and so with the help of a reference checked out from the public library spent my down time in the first couple of weeks secretly automating my own job out of existence. After that, when I got to the office, I'd run my scripts, which would take about ten minutes on the slow-ass computer they gave me, and then fire up another script that would turn in my work bit by bit over the course of the day, so that it didn't look like I had automated my job out of existence.

Using the time I had won back, I ended up putting together applications for ten different funded graduate programs, a couple of which let me in. I can say with confidence that I owe most of the good things in my life right now to having had the canniness to covertly steal my time back from my employers instead of just letting them use me.

I don't say this often, especially not when I'm talking through my You Can't Tip a Buick persona (I mean I'm more or less openly crazy right?), but: PLEASE FOLLOW MY EXAMPLE. USE YOUR TIME FOR YOURSELF, EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO LIE, CHEAT, AND STEAL TO DO IT..
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:53 PM on November 30, 2015 [171 favorites]


( I don't discourage your methods, YCTAB...Well played, well played)
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:55 PM on November 30, 2015


YCTAB, you are my hero.
posted by Jubey at 2:58 PM on November 30, 2015


You Can't Tip a Buick: I actually know that I would do nothing with my time if not for a job; because in the periods where I was lucky enough to have a means of support but no job, I did nothing with my time. Indeed, I have done more productive things with my free time when I have a job than when I did not. So it's entirely possible that these people are not particularly well self-motivated, and find a structured activity on which other people depend helps anchor them.
posted by Grimgrin at 2:44 PM on November 30 [+] [!]


And this structure has to involve working for the benefit of the capital-holding classes under the threat of privation through denial of work why?

This isn't a rhetorical question — I do think that some people genuinely wouldn't do anything at all for themselves or anyone else unless threatened with either death or the social equivalent of death. I just don't understand why those people are like that, or how they got that way.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:58 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Unionisation seems like pie in the sky in North America, but even that isn't enough. Computers and robots and all the other modern efficiencies have created a massive pool of surplus labour, even in specialised areas, and I am sorry but in the long term if we carry on with this economic and social model we are all fucked, completely fucked.

Burn it all to the ground. Reset. The elites are not going to willingly share what they have grabbed from all of us. A bloody revolution isn't something I look forward to but it seems the least worst potential outcome in the next 50 years.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:11 PM on November 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


so that it didn't look like I had automated my job out of existence

One time I actually asked a supervisor to let me automate my job out of existence. It would've taken about half an hour for me, tops, and my employer's web filtering kept blocking more and more websites that made the job otherwise bearable, so I had no reason to want to stay. The supervisor wouldn't let me. I quit that day. I wonder what poor slob got to do the human-email-filter job next.

Had a new temp job the next business day, though. I miss the (relatively) good years, when dignity in the face of the starvation-whip was easier to maintain.
posted by asperity at 3:12 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or we just dismantle it one stock of post it notes at a time?
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:13 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


People work below potential when the rewards are inadequate. Some employers consider "being employed" to be a sufficiently thrilling reward to trump all objections. When increases in the cost of living are not strongly coupled to wage increases, the worker's deal becomes worse over time, eroding her sense of being significantly rewarded while the employer's sense of their own largesse remains undiminished.

I am not an economist (obviously). But I think that's the rub.

If Victoria wants her workers to act if they are lucky to be there and happy to chip in, she should make them lucky. No cat poster will do this job for Victoria. Clearly her people crave tangible rewards, not platitudes about mindful action. Dollars and perks. How about a company day care? How about a phat-ass health plan?

If Victoria causes her workers to self-select for suckers with an inferiority complex, how can she be surprised when she ends up with a work force that lacks gumption?
posted by Construction Concern at 3:14 PM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


YCTAB where can I read more about your ideas? Do you have a newsletter?
posted by gucci mane at 3:14 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Or we just dismantle it one stock of post it notes at a time?

Not worth the bother of carrying home. I scored so many free office supplies from a big-box office store dumpster years ago that I'll never run out, and they come in fun colors, unlike the boring ones my employers buy.

I wish I could sneak health benefits or paid vacation home in my lunchbox.
posted by asperity at 3:17 PM on November 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


> One time I actually asked a supervisor to let me automate my job out of existence.

Asking was your mistake. "Gosh, boss-man, I've thought of a great way to seize the means of production for myself! Mind if I implement it?"

You're the worker. You're the one whose hands are on the work. Don't ask. Take.

> YCTAB where can I read more about your ideas? Do you have a newsletter?

re: newsletter, not currently, though I'm banging some of my mefi comments into article form to post on a friend's website. (still a work in progress, so no link yet). if anyone would like to pay me handsomely to write a newsletter for them, I would gladly do that. If you invite me to your offices, though, I promise I'll steal every last office supply that's not nailed down, and the stuff you nailed down's not exactly safe either.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:19 PM on November 30, 2015 [31 favorites]


First of all, I’m not, in any way, allergic to long hours for myself. I’ve spent a career working 50 to 70 hours per week, at first for employers, later to earn a master’s while working full time, subsequently to moonlight, and finally to work completely for myself. This post is not me complaining that work is hard and I want to do less. In the second place, I’m not advocating for any sort of change to public policy, law, or even common practice.
no greater sucker than the "self-made" man...
If Victoria wants to haggle with and nickle and dime her employees for a lower wage, that’s an entirely rational thing for her to do (though not for the motivations she’s implying). She’s (in terms of wages) not doing anything differently than you are when you go to a car dealer and demand the product for less than MSRP. You’re playing a zero sum game with the car dealer, and attempting to get more for less. Victoria is, likewise, a consumer of her employees’ labor, and she’s trying to get more for less. That’s the nature of market economics.

I know that it's fun for people to scorn those of us who make those kinds of choices as soulless drones with no ability to appreciate Real Truth, but I have to live in the world where I'm disposable to everyone but myself. The fact I enjoy my job and enjoyed the MBA program are bonuses to being employable, not the point.


which is why it isn't a "rational game." "Victoria" can and will change the rules so that you are desperate, disposable, and thus willing to play a losing game. If you like thinking about life as a game with rational choices, the kind of game which is relevant is the one where you know you are going to lose: what's the rational choice?

the only solution is changes to public policy, law and finally common practice. a 'facebook of salaries' just plays into the delusion that you can make a rational choice when the people who own things control the rule book.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:20 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I actually know that I would do nothing with my time if not for a job; because in the periods where I was lucky enough to have a means of support but no job, I did nothing with my time.

I pretty much do nothing when I'm not at work and I'm proud of it. I greatly value my free time and don't have to justify it to anyone.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 3:21 PM on November 30, 2015 [30 favorites]


One effect I haven't yet seen mentioned here, is that when there's such economic pressure on labour, we all sort of help it along by erecting a de facto caste system. We see that better-paying job or field as a goal, a higher rung, and we invest effort to gain and keep it, even if it means working OT. At the same time we see lower-paying positions, and the people in them, as somehow inferior.

I ran into this head-on, when I invested some time and effort into gaining skills for another field that I thought I'd enjoy. I even worked a few months in it here and there as a form of apprenticeship. I enjoyed it alot. But... this field would likely only pay maybe 60% of what I get now (but I could still live on), and it's more blue collar. A bit reluctantly, I'm staying with my current field, but I'd be hard pressed to say which was the driving factor: the pay cut or the loss of status. I justify it mainly by thinking I can take more time off this way.

Mrs Codger, who is a better person than me, jumped was pushed (layoff with fat settlement) from a high-stress job to a much more "menial" field (cooking) at about 40% of her old salary, because she loves to cook... and is healthier and happier for it.

Work is worthy, and all workers deserve respect. I don't know how to get back to that.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:22 PM on November 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


Asking was your mistake.

Eh, would've required the supervisor's computer to do it, so I didn't have much of a choice there. This job was, literally, sorting and filing the emails this supervisor printed out for me. The wages were equivalent to other temp jobs I had at the time, but there's no wage high enough for me to do a job I could automate that easily.
posted by asperity at 3:22 PM on November 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Computers and robots and all the other modern efficiencies have created a massive pool of surplus labour, even in specialised areas, and I am sorry but in the long term if we carry on with this economic and social model we are all fucked, completely fucked.

See the many, many FPPs of kliuless, specifically the ones focusing on basic guaranteed income and wealth redistribution.
posted by eclectist at 3:26 PM on November 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


sorting and filing the emails this supervisor printed out for me

That's a job that ranks right up there with whipping the engines to make the trains run on time.
posted by bonehead at 3:26 PM on November 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


As a dev manager, the easiest way to increase my team's productivity has been to tell them to go home at the end of the day and forbid weekend work unless they think it is absolutely essential. It is important to save your team's reserve energy for when things go wrong.

Go home. Watch a movie, do something with your SO, play video games. I don't care what you do, as long as you are refreshed and energetic tomorrow morning.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:36 PM on November 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


My observation is that a lot of this comes back to the welfare system (or more accurately, America's lack of one).
In countries where you grow up not ever worrying about healthcare or homelessness, the workplace has a much less effective stick and so relies more on carrot. Life is less stressful in general - more about living less about surviving.

In the forseeable future, the USA is clearly not going to offer its citizens anywhere near as much security as some other countries offer their citizens, but I am hopeful that the recent minimum wage hikes will catch on and at least stop some of America's backslide - once minimum wage jobs are less financially terrifying, that sword hanging over everyone else becomes that little bit smaller, hopefully prompting a motive for some growth in the carrot.
posted by anonymisc at 3:38 PM on November 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


My PhD supervisor told me how he automated his own PhD such that he only had to go to the office every fifth day to reset his equipment. He got enough data to produce a thesis and do most of the writing in two years so was able to spend his third year studying anything he wanted so he did film studies and then spent the summer at the Cinecitta film studios near Rome, where they ingratiated themselves with a director and were allowed to hang around. So he's walking down a corridor one day and a guy pops out and asks if he can edit, he says he knows the basics and that's how he ended up helping to edit a Jean-Luc Godard movie.
posted by biffa at 3:43 PM on November 30, 2015 [38 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: Because I'm too agnostic for a monastic order, too out of shape for the military, and constrained to live in the same reality as everyone else is? Seriously, if you know how to make a living without having a job that doesn't require being intensely good at self motivation, please let me in on the secret. As for how I got that way? My working theory is lack of self esteem caused by severe social isolation in early childhood.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:48 PM on November 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


God, yes. Small business owners seem almost to a person totally incapable (unless they are all really wonderful actors) of understanding that people who don't directly benefit from the firm's performance might not have the same level of emotional investment in it

I always feel like an asshole talking about this. EVERYONE is so primed to love on local small business owners. It's a right wing make america great again talking point AND a occupy-everything-progressive-person thing.

And yet, for all the shitty jobs i've had, the shadiest outright fucking illegal shit and impromptu unpaid work or hours just not showing up on paychecks or whatever has all come from small business owners. They're always the ones whining about every last dollar while they rake in six figures and gripe that they can't give their employees raises.

Short term exploitation happens at startups, and there can be toxic culture of everyone-crunches or after hours work or whatever at some big tech shops and such... But yea, as someone else said above, the "I can't pay you more" or other weird excuses always come from small businesses.

Most corporate places have legal and HR and various other people and departments telling them "hey, you can't do that, that's illegal". You at least IN THEORY have someone to turn to. But at a place with like... 20-50 employees where the HR person is also one of the accountants/AP people and friends with the owner? You're fuckity FUCKED.

I left my last job because they told me that they couldn't pay me more than they were paying someone who had been there for 20 years that they were grossly underpaying.

There's something to be said for various corporate fairness-at-level-of-work/title systems where each job position has a range of pay with logical steps and then a promotion, etc. Ditto for "hey you can't do that" when it comes to unpaid stuff or fucking with hours. I know there's "exempt" fuckery but i've been burned an awful lot less by that side of the coin than small business shit as a w2 or contract employee.

There was recently a GIGANTIC thread on a friend facebook status about this. Basically everyone i know has stories like this. And it's more from established places that startups, not that those aren't awful too.

I could write an even longer post about people getting their asses exploited off at small companies or startups straight out of school when the place KNOWS this is their only good reference, and that they're going to stick around for a year or two to put on their resume, and just absolutely grinds them to pieces.

I worked extra hours at a previous job because I was explicitly told, we'll all work hard and the company will succeed and we'll all get super rich! I worked hard and the company succeeded and then 2009 hit and my reward was a layoff. Incidentally, the company bounced back and ended up taking a buyout. Still waiting for my cut, I'll just be over here holding my breath.

A friend of mine worked a monkey-bar chain of these jobs. There was always booku bucks just around the corner. He always ended up laid off("with a great reference and a great resume builder!") while a few of the guys who weren't cashed out, even if the company sort of floundered.

Now he works at microsoft and seems to really enjoy his steady paycheck and relatively clockwork promotions/reviews, while working normal hours and going out drinking on friday nights without having to check his phone every 20 minutes or jump on a machine at 1am to double check some BullshitSpec is met or deal with some last minute customer request.
posted by emptythought at 3:51 PM on November 30, 2015 [22 favorites]


Reminds me of this comic from a softer world.
posted by and for no one at 3:53 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


(as a sidebar, one of the reasons that computer manufacturing companies and computer using companies in the 1960s worked to replace the women who had dominated the first couple of generations of programmers with men, particularly young, white, socially awkward men, was specifically because socially awkward alienated young white men were correctly seen as the class of workers least likely to see the benefits of collective organization.)

YCTAB do you have any sources you could recommend for this factoid (not doubting you, just genuinely interested to hear more about it, as the lone woman on a team of young, white, socially awkward men)?
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:58 PM on November 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


I wonder, does this carry over to Europe? Do the people who have skilled jobs and lots of holidays fail to learn since they're not always on call?

I've worked in the US, Europe and now Hong Kong. Europe is far and away the most sane environment. (I had 32 days paid vacation which I was expected to take, unlimited sick days, my health care didn't depend on my job.) I honestly didn't find it appreciably less productive (with the exception of the summer vacation, which often stretches for weeks and causes genuine headaches to coworkers in other countries).

It's been a while since I worked in the US, but if I compare European work culture to Hong Kong then I would honestly say it's significantly more productive. Hong Kong has a work culture where your work tends to be judged by the number of hours you're in the office. Net result-- I have quite a few stressed out burned out coworkers who make a lot of mistakes. They also struggle with prioritisation, since it isn't as valued as completion. I literally have to make sure I am in the office at the end of the day to make sure everyone leaves by 7. I don't see any benefit in working this way and I'm trying (gradually) to change things. But it's a nervous business-- when the dominant culture has a narrative that companies can't make money unless they steal time from coworkers, it's a hard thing to change.

(I have had horrible fights with family members in the US when I share this experience of working in Europe, by the way. They *insist* that a company can't make money if they treat people decently. )
posted by frumiousb at 4:04 PM on November 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


soren_lorensen: The best published books (at least partially) on this topic that I know of are Janet Abbate's Recoding Gender and Nathan Ensmenger's The Computer Boys Take Over.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:05 PM on November 30, 2015 [16 favorites]




Fuck you Cadillac. You've ensured that no matter how much money I'll get, I'll buy hundreds of Trabants before you see a fucking dime.

At least the agency that made that ad is dead. Guess they didn't work hard enough to keep it.
posted by qcubed at 4:10 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


...and another script that would turn in my work bit by bit over the course of the day, so that it didn't look like I had automated my job out of existence.

This is the cleverest part by far. Well done.
posted by Aizkolari at 4:14 PM on November 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


oh god please no one register "Fuck You Cadillac" as a user name it'd be way too confusing.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:21 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


I did a week-long program at a Czech university several summers ago with a mix of American and European students. We were talking about economics and I said that if you work hard, you should be able to have a good life. One of my classmates asked, "what do you mean, 'work hard?' Why not just work?"
posted by kat518 at 4:29 PM on November 30, 2015 [24 favorites]


I have often wondered why one can't tip a Buick. Do Buicks view tips as beneath their dignity as workers? Is there a rule, like how there's no tip jar at Caribou coffee? Is it just that Buicks don't have hands?
posted by Frowner at 4:33 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


oh god please no one register "Fuck You Cadillac" as a user name it'd be way too confusing.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick


Pssst! I've heard that $5 can take care of that little problem for you... ;)
posted by anonymisc at 4:35 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean have you ever tried to tip a Buick? it doesn't work! you can't do it!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:37 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


A bloody revolution isn't something I look forward to but it seems the least worst potential outcome in the next 50 years.

Metafilter: agitating for murderous revolt from the comfort of our keyboards.
posted by Xavier Xavier at 4:40 PM on November 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Bonus points if you're doing so while on the clock!
posted by Xavier Xavier at 4:40 PM on November 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


I mean have you ever tried to tip a Buick? it doesn't work! you can't do it!

I think the people united could tip a Buick.
posted by Frowner at 4:40 PM on November 30, 2015 [27 favorites]


Ain't no power like the power of the people, after all!
posted by Frowner at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


If the kids are united / we could prob'ly / tip a Buick
posted by Xavier Xavier at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


And yet, for all the shitty jobs i've had, the shadiest outright fucking illegal shit and impromptu unpaid work or hours just not showing up on paychecks or whatever has all come from small business owners.

I hope to be a small business owner some day, and I can totally see how easy it would be to slip into this. Best intentions yadda yadda, but because there aren't departments and systems and institutions in place, then even when times are good it would be easy to still be scared that all is takes is a couple of bad months and any extra expenses I committed to would become a noose around the neck... or not wanting to study all the archaic fiddly bits of endless stupid laws, and in the process missing a few requirements that really matter... or thinking that things are working ok as it is so it's ok to leave wages where they are...

I think I'd need to draw up a few concrete principles ahead of time (like caps on the ratio of profit vs wages), if only so there would be a reference marker for how far I'd fallen :)
posted by anonymisc at 4:44 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


On my way home I'm going to see if I can spot some Buicks and figure out if I could tip one, maybe in an episode of hysterical strength.

Or is it that my conscience will intervene? It's true that I associate Buicks with my grandparents, so I'm not sure that I could bring myself to tip one over. It seems kind of cruel. Buicks are the placid ruminants of cars.
posted by Frowner at 4:47 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Thanks, Frowner, for (unwittingly) putting the asinine new Buick jingle back in my head despite weeks of effort attempting to dislodge it. ("Hey!") #notyourfault
posted by Xavier Xavier at 4:50 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't see a Buick! doo doo doo Hey!
posted by jaguar at 5:06 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Those sites have nothing compelling about them. Glassdoor I know about, but in my opinion, tends to simply be a place for people with an axe to grind, fair or not.
To share, or not to share-- that is the question:
Whether it's nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrages inequality
Or to take arms against a sea of data
And by opposing end it.
Any voluntary system is going to be self-selecting in a number of ways. From Glassdoor, to the self-reported internship numbers, to the Google Salary sheet, there's a non-random bias to who submits and why. Which is why I also linked to two government statistics repos. It's true that you can't go in and look up your coworker's exact wages with these systems, and are thus not very compelling to participate in. But it seems fairly Millennial to me to expect that level of detail in the first place.

In a different sense the ACS/BLS data is compelling, in that the government compels people to document their income for taxation. ACS microdata is actually quite detailed, and has been used on the blue before.
posted by pwnguin at 5:09 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of the perennial issues I have with my current job is trying to convey to the drip-drip-churn of new hires how to know when to stop, without sounding like the stereotypical/quasi-fictional factory worker who only makes n widgets per hour and doesn't want anyone else doing more nohow. Goddammit babies, your labour has value!

Really appreciating everyone's contributions on this subject as it's not something I feel I can/should much talk about or around. Loose lips sink poles and all that.
posted by comealongpole at 5:14 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's bad in nonprofits because then, if you don't work late, you get to feel like you don't care enough about starving children or whatever it is. (There's a reason nonprofits are so full of women - we're raised to think we need to help out until we drop, not make money until we drop)
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:16 PM on November 30, 2015 [25 favorites]


Does 40 hrs/week even mean anything for salaried workers anymore? People at my office are certainly not working for every single moment that they're on the desk, and I know people on Metafilter certainly aren't, judging by how fast comment threads blow up during US working hours. I mean - how much work do people actually do? Like actual actual work, not just warming a chair? 5 hours a day? 2 hours a day? Zero hours a day? Negative hours a day if you end up wasting a coworker's time? So in an ideal world, we'd just work the 2 hours or so we are actually productive, and go home. Yet for some reason most of us seem to have the idea that we need to "work" 9 to 5, and we're OK with this - but god forbid you "work" another hour for "free"!

The reality is if you have a salaried job, then in order to keep your job you stay however many hours your employer requires of you. At some places it might very well be a "come in whenever and leave whenever you're done" and you can literally work 2 hours a day...while telecommuting. At other places you need to show your face 12 hours a day.

The problem is when employees start working longer than is 'socially' accepted...if we all sit here 10 hours a day and you start sitting 12, then yes in some sense it fucks everything up for the rest of us...IF ENOUGH PEOPLE DO IT. It's like tipping, it's a race to the bottom to see who can outdo the other. The difference however is unless the boss is physically there the entire time, it's hard for them to know who is sitting later and who is leaving earlier, especially now that we have e-mail on our mobiles, etc. etc. And if the boss is physically there the whole time...well, then that's your mandated working hours.
posted by pravit at 5:16 PM on November 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


I've worked in the US, Europe and now Hong Kong. Europe is far and away the most sane environment. (I had 32 days paid vacation which I was expected to take, unlimited sick days, my health care didn't depend on my job.) I honestly didn't find it appreciably less productive

That's because all of our "busy"-ness is bullshit. The "busiest" people I've ever known (including myself) produce very little, because there isn't that much to produce in most cases, and the real labor product is smoke and mirrors, to stay employed.

(with the exception of the summer vacation, which often stretches for weeks and causes genuine headaches to coworkers in other countries).

In other countries. With less sane vacation policies? Ehh, fuck 'em.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:18 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


without sounding like the stereotypical/quasi-fictional factory worker who only makes n widgets per hour and doesn't want anyone else doing more nohow.

Those guys were smart! really, really, really smart! Sound like those guys. If you can't publicly sound like those guys, at the very least BE like those guys.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:27 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


(also: I do acknowledge that the fact that I am a tallish white straightish cisman with really good hair is in large part what lets me get away with my shenanigans. It's part of why I got an office job that I could automate out of existence rather than a warehouse job. It's part of why no one monitored what I was up to all that closely, and part of why way back when I was routed into advanced programs in high school that let me learn to play with code. I'm playing the game on easy. This is why when I'm doing real political stuff today, I aim to always work under the leadership of women and people of color. I have bad judgment in a lot of ways, because I've gotten used to how the world is primed to find me charming instead of threatening, even when I'm engaging in open mutiny. Letting the people at greater risk lead me is a way for me to mitigate the problems caused by my bad judgment.)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:32 PM on November 30, 2015 [70 favorites]


I always wonder why people do this when they don't have to.

For me? It's because between my employer and one non-profit I direct for, no one else values me enough to make things accessible for me. I could volunteer, but they never give me an interpreter so I'm pretty much just doing duties like a robot instead of talking to people or socializing with other volunteers. I couls take up hobbies, but I'm pretty extroverted - so I end up having no one to share them with since none of the clubs or groups are accessible. I could go out to events, but none of the events I want to go to are accessible and everyone at them are jerks to me anyway.

If it's between sitting at home and wasting away, and going to a place where I actually have resources and I actually have people I feel safe around, obviously I'm gonna spend more time doing the latter. Like, I get all of these gripes about capitalism and all of that - but insisting that working less is inherently against that system when we live in a capitalistic society in the first place doesn't equate. As a disabled person, my participation is measured in dollars and cents, and I'm only allowed to be in spaces if I can justify my costs. So the only places I can do that are places where I'm actively working and contributing. To demand that I work less when I'm under this grindstone, and to imply I'm a lesser person for not doing so, seems privileged when I can't do anything about the system in the first place, and when I'm first to be deprived of everything if I try.
posted by Conspire at 5:38 PM on November 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


Maybe I should clarify my point - by "don't have to", I was thinking specifically about the columnist, who was making this "I love hard work! I'm not lazy! I love putting in seventy hour weeks!" rhetorical move.

I wasn't thinking about people whose bosses push them to be at work, or people for whom work is the most welcoming space available to them, or people who have debt or medical expenses and need all the overtime they can get - or indeed, any one who has to be at work all the time because not being at work messes up their ability to live a decent life.

It's weird to me that when I was trying to say "why do people do this when they don't have to" my statement got so consistently read as "why does anyone do this at all", with the strong implication that I am a special snowflake with a fancy job. The "don't have to" part of the statement just dropped right off. And of course, I have a pink collar job in which I will almost certainly stay for good, if I'm lucky enough.

I feel like that's a sign of ideology at work - because we don't have a strong left narrative about work, the most natural assumption is that all of us - tech bro and janitor alike - are "choosing" to work our hours to the same degree. So saying "people who choose to work seventy hour weeks when they don't have to" gets read as "everyone who works seventy hour weeks". It's not that our minds are, like, totally blown by the idea that capitalism is coercive - people know that - I think it's more that the default language we have at our disposal conceals this.
posted by Frowner at 5:48 PM on November 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


Timely. (1) I just checked my work email at 830pm at night, (2) In there was an after hours email from my boss, (3) it was a fwd from his boss (the CIO) saying she was "sad" we hadn't finished something. Thank you for posting the antidote to the feelings of guilt this elicited in me!
posted by CMcG at 5:52 PM on November 30, 2015 [19 favorites]


Maybe I should clarify my point - by "don't have to", I was thinking specifically about the columnist, who was making this "I love hard work! I'm not lazy! I love putting in seventy hour weeks!" rhetorical move.

It's not that I don't emphasize with the columnist's statement either - I've talked about this before, but when you're forced to do things with no other choice, one strategy that people take is that they take is that they explore the confines they're in and they become deeply passionate about the things that they can do instead of dwelling about all of the things they're missing out on. It's a way to assert control in a world that doesn't let you have any, and it's a constant theme in disability as well. This has been the way I've approached my work too, and I can definitely see myself saying the same things as the columnist about the work that I do as a consequence. It's not like being pushed to work by one factor or another, and enjoying work that you willingly partake in it are mutually exclusive. In fact, the latter often springs out of the former as an adaptive strategy, and you can't really critique the latter without catching a lot of the former in that too.
posted by Conspire at 5:58 PM on November 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I once worked a contract position for a largish energy company. The contract was for seven months, but when I evaluated the project I figured it'd only take me five or so weeks. I asked my boss what would happen if I finished early and she got all wide-eyed and said "Don't do that!"
And that's the story of how I started a blog, an online art account, and got reallllllly good at MSPaint.

For contrast, I also used to cook in a chain restaurant and they were the only ones I ever had problems with trying to steal my labour and trick me into working for free. Every freaking shift was another crisis on why we had to work past closing and why the company shouldn't have to pay us for it. Luckily, none of us went for it but that didn't stop them from trying every bloody day.
posted by brain.eat.brain at 6:02 PM on November 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


To demand that I work less when I'm under this grindstone, and to imply I'm a lesser person for not doing so, seems privileged when I can't do anything about the system in the first place, and when I'm first to be deprived of everything if I try.

That's one of the things that seems appalling about the easy answers the thread has offered for being overworked. Organize? Organizing labor is apparently hard enough for abled people--so hard that the vast majority don't even try. Work less, and risk getting fired? Finding a job is hard enough for abled people...finding a job that not only says they will accommodate disabilities, but actually does something about it, is so difficult that it may as well be impossible (for evidence, I point to the skyrocketing rates of disability applications here in the US). Steal clients and work for myself? Laughable. And while I certainly understand the appeal of cultivating a life outside of work, the obstacles involved in any sort of hobby or activity involving other people just seem insurmountable.

In a lot of ways, I am extraordinarily lucky. After years of shuffling between disability and short-term jobs that simply could not accommodate me, I've found a spot, and have managed to keep it nearly a decade. To even excel at it. And it has been exciting, because I never really excel at anything! Has my employer got the better end of that bargain, thanks to my long hours? Well, sure, but it's not like anything else was on offer. Have I managed to eke some back by getting better and faster at my job so I can spend more time online (since I don't knit or breed dogs or whatever the examples were)? Why yes! If that is not enough to satisfy a moral obligation I have to the working class, should I spend more years starving on miniscule disability payments?

I find the whole topic very frustrating. But in the spirit of solidarity, I shut down my work computer tonight, which I don't think I've done in a few months. Of course I'm still addict-twitchy about it and wondering what emails might be coming through unseen. But let me not be first against the wall when the revolution arrives.
posted by mittens at 6:07 PM on November 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's not that I don't emphasize with the columnist's statement either - I've talked about this before, but when you're forced to do things with no other choice, one strategy that people take is that they take is that they explore the confines they're in and they become deeply passionate about the things that they can do instead of dwelling about all of the things they're missing out on.

I guess the issue is that work-life-stuff is so fine grained - everyone's emotional experience of work is so individual and complicated - that starting a critique with "why do people do that" isn't ever going to get anywhere. I mean, I think it's possible to make broader statements about structures of feeling as a social thing - we're pushed to feel certain ways and we do a lot of the time - but it's tricky.

At the same time, really, I'm basically a doormat at work. I recently stood up for myself about something that was a really silly, stressful, impossible "too many bosses" expectation, and that's the only time I've ever done so. I manage to draw the line at extra hours when it's not a particular project or event. But the thing is, I know that being a doormat at work is because I was raised to believe that unless I was "good" (that is, doing everything everybody told me to do, promptly and completely, and trying to anticipate the needs of others) then I was worthless, and that the worst thing in the whole world was to be "disobedient" by making things difficult for any other person ever. I feel extremely lucky to be employed in a non-horrible job, even if it's not a particularly fancy one, because deep down I believe that I will end up unemployed and homeless. I find it difficult to be as involved with my union as I'd like to be, both because my work tends not to permit me to go to any workday things and because I worry about getting a reputation as a troublemaker (since I've seen union activists forced out and fired).

But I just can't find it correct to say that because I feel this way then it must be all right or natural or inevitable. It's not all right. I shouldn't go around quaking in my boots or have a kind of work Stockholm syndrome. I shouldn't be cringingly grateful just to be employed. It's explicable, but it's not all right.
posted by Frowner at 6:15 PM on November 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


From the article: [Victoria's] goal is simply to be a company where everyone works, like, super-hard. She looks at Amazon’s tough culture, movies and shows about startups, and her own, over-glorified past, and thinks that she’s no longer one of the cool kids where people live to work. She wants that back, and resents that she’s now one of those places, where people don’t work like it’s a show about Silicon Valley.

People in Silicon Valley are given good reasons to work hard. They are given shares of the company, and the work they do has the potential to make the company, and therefore themselves, very successful. It is very motivating and it taps into our love of gambling - tiny chances of huge rewards are very exciting. Plus, even if you don't hit it big, you still get an excellent salary.
posted by foobaz at 6:35 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Dear Victoria: Blow it out your ass."
posted by five fresh fish at 6:36 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I just can't find it correct to say that because I feel this way then it must be all right or natural or inevitable. It's not all right. I shouldn't go around quaking in my boots or have a kind of work Stockholm syndrome. I shouldn't be cringingly grateful just to be employed. It's explicable, but it's not all right.

This is something I have a lot of trouble with. I feel like I ought to be grateful for my job, and I've certainly been told by others that I should be. But that gratitude feels kind of sick when I hear it from other people. I hear people at my job doing the bowing and scraping bit and it is so scary I want to tune it out, because I don't want to do that...and I don't want to find myself sliding into doing it either out of a sick sense of obligation.

I want to be ambivalent about my job. I want to be proud I do a good job. I want people to be impressed with my work. I want to slack and be lazy and recognize that I'm not exactly saving lives or starting new religions or something. I want the freedom to call out the sins of my organization without the terror that it will somehow be recognized and poof I'm gone. And to be unafraid of appearing too lazy, too sick, too eager, too endebted. Work has problems! But they're complicated ones, and I want to be free to feel whole lots of ways about that.
posted by mittens at 6:38 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I like how he thinks this problem can be separated from "the nature of market economics."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:41 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


> People in Silicon Valley are given good reasons to work hard. They are given shares of the company, and the work they do has the potential to make the company, and therefore themselves, very successful. It is very motivating and it taps into our love of gambling - tiny chances of huge rewards are very exciting. Plus, even if you don't hit it big, you still get an excellent salary.

All of this is true if the year is 1998ish or 2006ish. I'm not sure it's true, at least not for most Silicon Valley people, here in the year 2015.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:45 PM on November 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


All of this is true if the year is 1998ish or 2006ish. I'm not sure it's true, at least not for most Silicon Valley people, here in the year 2015.

This is true right this minute. If you are an established growth company and you aren't putting six figures of RSUs (Restricted Stock Units) right in the offer letter, no one decent is going to work for you, perhaps save someone coming right out of school. If you are an early stage startup, you better be putting stars in the eyes of your candidates with (likely bullshit) dreams of equity.
posted by sideshow at 6:55 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah! That's why all the support staff, administrative assistants, and receptionists in Silicon Valley are loving life!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:59 PM on November 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


People in Silicon Valley are given good reasons to work hard. They are given shares of the company, and the work they do has the potential to make the company, and therefore themselves, very successful. It is very motivating and it taps into our love of gambling - tiny chances of huge rewards are very exciting. Plus, even if you don't hit it big, you still get an excellent salary.

"Silicon Valley" is not really one thing - I'm rather underpaid for a programmer, really, but I never work more than 8 hours a day.

Though as Joseph Gurl suggests "Silicon Valley" is likely often a different thing in a worse way if you're not in one of the high-demand occupations.
posted by atoxyl at 7:04 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


sideshow: you're right — honestly, probably the only reason why I'm seeing this boom differently is that the tech industry people I know who were in their 20s in the 2000s are now well into their 30s, and so aren't getting the offers that they got then.

also I know way more people who got endlessly strung along by bullshit dreams of equity than I know people who actually won the startup lottery, so basically the only way I could be more of a cynic right now is if I like somehow reanimated the corpse of Alexander the Great and then told him to stop blocking my sunlight.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:06 PM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]



Yeah! That's why all the support staff, administrative assistants, and receptionists in Silicon Valley are loving life!


Yep.
posted by sideshow at 7:08 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pssst! I've heard that $5 can take care of that little problem for you... ;)

Consider it insurance against...A NAMESPACE COLLISION.

I'll be here till Friday. Sigh.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:09 PM on November 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


I've got 6 figures of RSU's and I still want to be ambivalent about my job. It's not about the money. I'd gladly do this work for 35k a year if it meant I wasn't on-call high alert 24/7 and basically owned by who I work for. I seriously can't poop some days without having to be in the stall on IM on my phone. It's fucking absurd how tied to my job I am.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:12 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yep.

You do realize that there's an article about that Apple policy because it's anomalous, right?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:14 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


You do realize that there's an article about that Apple policy because it's anomalous, right?

It also doesn't apply to the hundreds if not thousands of contractors who actually work in Silicon Valley as essentially perma-lancers for Apple who aren't getting any RSUs.
posted by dogwalker at 7:19 PM on November 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Dear mittens, don't fear being up against a wall. You are an exploited worker. I reckon narrow definitions of who is a worker really help the bosses class.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:19 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's because all of our "busy"-ness is bullshit. The "busiest" people I've ever known (including myself) produce very little, because there isn't that much to produce in most cases, and the real labor product is smoke and mirrors, to stay employed.
---
Timely. (1) I just checked my work email at 830pm at night, (2) In there was an after hours email from my boss, (3) it was a fwd from his boss (the CIO) saying she was "sad" we hadn't finished something. Thank you for posting the antidote to the feelings of guilt this elicited in me!

These two things kinda strike at the heart of the growing dissatisfaction I have with work. I do not do anything of real value--I mean, yes, I program, and I operate servers, and all of that is something productive, I suppose, except it's all in service to something with no meaning or purpose: I keep websites up. I build websites so people can sell more doodads and whatzits galore. Sometimes because the rest of the agency has no fucking clue what I do, I get tasked with making shitty emails that nobody reads because it's fucking junk mail.

And I'm busy. Very busy.

And yet, some seem to have the gall to wonder why something that I was sent Wednesday last was not ready Monday morning. Never mind the fact that much of the US was on holiday. Never mind the fact that I had that time scheduled off. Never mind the fact that I was already working on other client's bullshit.

I'm sure that CMO or whatever is busy being a fucking thought leader fast follower well-paid bullshitter somewhere and enjoying his time off and contributing negative value.

Fairly sure most of us are tired of workin' so they can play.

---

So it turns out you can tip over some Buicks easily.
posted by qcubed at 7:19 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


> So it turns out you can tip over some Buicks easily.
posted by qcubed at 7:19 PM on November 30 [+] [!]


I was prepared to be all "my life is a lie!" about this article, but it looks like they're talking about a Buick minivan. I think it's fair to say that minivans don't count.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:22 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


#notrueBuick
posted by Frowner at 7:38 PM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


#notallbuicks
posted by Xavier Xavier at 7:43 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm self employed and when not procrastinating, I'm a goddamned slave driver. You don't need a "boss" to ruin your life.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:45 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


At this enormous Korean company I've been at for the last 12+ years, there are very few people who leave before 8 or 9pm, most days of the week (starting at 8am or earlier). Many are still in the office or the factory until 11 or midnight. One guy I know had his boss haranguing him until 1:30am just a few days back because a project was behind schedule. This is not a new or an unusual thing, but interestingly, perhaps, well over half the new, young employees that join every year (in the hundreds) quit within a few months because they just can't or won't hack it. It's pretty much insanity, and it destroys lives. I think the fact that Korea has the highest rate of stomach cancer in the OECD (and, of course the highest suicide rate) comes more from stress and sleep deprivation than it does from the rotgut soju.

Thankfully, the training and consulting part of the company I work in doesn't pull that shit. I wouldn't still be here if it did.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:47 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Annika Cicada: "Pssst! I've heard that $5 can take care of that little problem for you... ;)

Consider it insurance against...A NAMESPACE COLLISION.

I'll be here till Friday. Sigh.
"

You know, that's a nice user name you got there...
posted by Samizdata at 7:54 PM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


There is no way to transition to a post-scarcity economy if we all continue to perform emotional, physical, technical, and intellectual labor, at scant percentages of their value. Some people are getting ridiculously rich off of what we all do.
posted by yesster at 7:58 PM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


" Emergency becomes the new normal"

Yup. Everything is a "do it right this second" sort of thing. My coworkers try to push back against the demand, but I drop everything and do whatever anyone says because I can't stop them from having that expectation, and I will get in trouble if I don't meet it. "Your emergency is not my problem" IS my problem, period.

"Aren't jobs like mine supposed to be so simple that I could be replaced by a trained monkey?"

My job was supposed to be outmoded by technology years and years ago. Surprise, I still have it because technology hasn't become that good yet.

" Young folks coming in do not understand how much getting married, having kids, buying a house, car, whatever... mentally manacles you to your job."

Same with being single with no husband to fall back upon if you lose your job. Most of us are shackled unless we're super talented programmers or CEO's or bigshots, probably.

"I think the people united could tip a Buick.

This sounds suspiciously like a lot of conversations I've heard about cow tipping.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:59 PM on November 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


You should also change the incentives for your better fellow workers — the ones who aren't trying to wreck the labor market by dumping their work onto the market for free — by organizing to bargain collectively rather than individually. By concentrating your individual power together, in the form of a union, you can have an easier time of raising the value you receive for selling your labor time than you'd have if you attempted to bargain individually.

I'd be really interested to hear about this from someone who has successfully led a unionization campaign in a non-traditionally-unionized occupation recently. And especially if they did so while having the real-life complications of children or ailing family members, and even more so if they didn't get fired along the way.

Because otherwise that has the sound of being easy to say but hard to follow through on for the vast majority of people here, and hence not such great advice. Or if you are going to say it anyway, maybe give at least a token nod to the structural barriers to this in the contemporary US, as well as the intersectional complications for many people.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:07 PM on November 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


The timing of this article couldn't be better.
posted by Samizdata at 8:23 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I lean heavily on "demand the impossible" as a rhetorical strategy, which well I don't think demanding the impossible is a bad strategy at all — sometimes if you demand the impossible you get it, as is witnessed by the ongoing success of the 15 Now campaign — in this context it's pretty much the essence of Internet, um, loudmouthery.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:24 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


without sounding like the stereotypical/quasi-fictional factory worker who only makes n widgets per hour and doesn't want anyone else doing more nohow.

We're currently having this issue with a couple new co-workers. And we do "jobs that matter," working with people with severe mental illness to help with psychiatric and case-management issues (like housing, employment, etc.), but we all have to have good boundaries about the work, otherwise we'll burn out and be overall less effective and/or possibly start exploiting our clients (like, trying to get our emotional needs met by clients, rather than by peers/ourselves). But it's really hard to explain that to an idealistic co-worker without sounding cynical and uncaring.
posted by jaguar at 8:25 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


(I mean, I'm also idealistic, but I set boundaries so that I remain idealistic.)
posted by jaguar at 8:27 PM on November 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


I guess the point of all the "organize!" stuff isn't that I expect people to go out and organize their workplace,1 but more about presenting alternatives to the "I love my work I'm invested in my work I will work twelve hours a day every day and love it and you can't stop me" party line that shows up early in this type of conversation badly needs to be corrected with something, some suggestion that someone with a lot of energy for work would be better serving the world if they applied that energy in a constructive way that helps their coworkers, rather than a destructive way that hurts them. but yeah the real world is much, much, much more complicated than that.

1: though if you think you might be one of the one or two in a thousand with the courage, timing, and position to organize your workplace, please please please just like organize the shit out of your workplace, okay? And if you're not one of those people, but you have time in the middle of the day to go to an action, please look out for opportunities to stand in solidarity with striking fast food workers.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:36 PM on November 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


Family value, I truly honored for many years: "If you never do more than you're paid to do, you'll never get paid more than where you start."

Still believe it. Still honor it.

But it has to be tempered with : "If you do more than you're paid to do, you'll establish a baseline of performance value that your employer will never forget."
posted by yesster at 8:51 PM on November 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


All due respect to your family, that's some bullshit. Overtime pay is not a luxury. It's also demonstrably untrue, as you can plainly compare the effort inputs between "low skilled" jobs and "high skilled" jobs, and find they're hugely imbalanced. The people who clean houses for a living are doing severely more work than the sales doofuses at my last job. Guess which one makes hundreds of times as much as the other. Guess who would give a shit if the house cleaner worked "twice as hard" (whatever the fuck that means, as if that's realistic, as if they aren't already working as much as they can).

We don't need more bootstraps rhetoric. Really.
posted by odinsdream at 9:15 PM on November 30, 2015 [23 favorites]


odinsdream - I don't think yesster is necessarily talking about quantity of work.

What he's talking about is 100% common sense in most working environments. There's a clear separation in skill set between technical specialists, managers and leadership. Someone may excel 100% at his job technically, but unless he demonstrates management capability, will never be promoted into management. He has to demonstrate the ability to manage himself and manage others, manage horizontally and vertically, before the company will entrust that role to him.

If you just go to work and do your job and go home, you're doing exactly what you got paid to do - that's a transactional relationship. Companies typically look for transformative people to promote: who're not just there to do their job and head back, but people who genuinely take the initiative to fix things and improve the way the company runs, who're willing to look outside the box and go further. There's a similar leap from management (mainly focused around resource management) into higher leadership roles (mainly focused around leadership, strategy and development).

I think a well run company has to genuinely care about developing their employees - and not merely in terms of work - but developing a person's core competencies, making them into a better person. Ability to manage ones self, relate with others, handle difficult situations, become a better planner, building emotional resilience, building integrity, learning how to inspire trust and loyalty in others. All these things have to be worth learning and developing in their own right - it's not a transactional relationship where if you demonstrate a certain quality then you obtain a promotion or pay rise. You do it because you're all on a journey together, and self development is always its own reward.

I've really drunk the kool aid today haven't I =P
posted by xdvesper at 9:42 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


> but unless he demonstrates management capability, will never be promoted into management.

Can I get a show of hands from everyone who has been downstream of incompetent managers?
posted by rtha at 9:45 PM on November 30, 2015 [51 favorites]


xdvesper - that's what's supposed to happen -- that's what used to happen (we're told) -- and that's the unwritten sales pitch.

But there's no follow-through now on the employer's part. It's always "do more, do more, do more," and the reward is always over the horizon.

The cake is a lie.
posted by yesster at 9:46 PM on November 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


> but unless he demonstrates management capability, will never be promoted into management.

Can I get a show of hands from everyone who has been downstream of incompetent managers?


And those that have been can attest to how toxic that situation can be. There was a wise piece of wisdom going round the internet which said people don't leave bad companies, they leave bad managers. The promotion process is critical - companies have to be very picky when picking people into management - ideally people who've already demonstrated strong capability in that area. Hence my affirmation of yesster's comment, that you're not getting there unless you demonstrate it. If you work in a company that promotes people who've not done anything more than their day job responsibilities, you're absolutely going to end up in strife.

The organization must also be absolutely ruthless in demoting managers who are not up to standard, and have in place upwards performance reviews - where employees review their manager's performance. For what it's worth, I've seen 3-4 demotions already - and I can't think of any remaining managers who aren't up to standard - and the company has to also manage demotions in a strategic sense, so it is NOT seen as a shameful action, so that the demoted employee can continue to work and contribute to the organization - you do not want to lose their expertise and skills, and in fact they should be happier in their new, lower position. The ones I've seen have all continued working for the company for many years afterwards.

Work culture goes through phases. It can turn toxic over a few years. I think the top leadership has a lot of influence over it (top down). I'm speaking about an ideal, of course, which is, well, what family values are based on anyway...
posted by xdvesper at 10:02 PM on November 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


But management skills have nothing to do with how many hours you put in. It would be equally logical to promote the person who gets all their work done in two hours, rather than eight, because they've demonstrated that they're good at managing themselves and their time.
posted by jaguar at 10:09 PM on November 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


Those of you who blame fellow employees for buying into the extra-hours-for-free thing:

When you all organize to advocate for work visa holders who are held almost at ransom by their visa and don't have a lot of resources to protest, let me know.

As for salaries: look up #talkpay.
posted by divabat at 10:20 PM on November 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Promotions don't go to people based on their skills, they go to them based on their social connections and their deftness in working those connections. Basically, to the people best at marketing themselves, and the connections they offer, to their superiors. Sometimes these people are talented — maybe more often than you'd expect the farther you go up the chain, since the people closest to the top tend to have grown up rich, and so tend to have received top-notch education and excellent childhood nutrition — but sometimes they're not.

Regardless of your politics, thriving in a job requires in some way tapping into a meaningful conspiracy — getting to know the real power structure in the company, getting to know who's worth flattering or otherwise ingratiating yourself toward, figuring out what power you have to leverage, figuring out who can help you leverage that power. I'm very bad at this game, but I have a huge advantage in most workplaces: no matter how weird I act, participants in and enablers of the ever-present white man conspiracy tend to assume that I'm in their club and treat me accordingly.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:35 PM on November 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


without sounding like the stereotypical/quasi-fictional factory worker who only makes n widgets per hour and doesn't want anyone else doing more nohow.

My version of this was in academia, when I was teaching undergraduate classes during/after my PhD. This was fairly insecure work (you typically didn't know how many classes you'd have, if any, until a couple of weeks before teaching started), and the pay wasn't stellar, but we offset that with the knowledge that a) we needed the experience if we were to stand a hope in hell of getting a full-time academic job and b) the work itself was great.

Then the department I worked for changed the pay system shortly before classes began. Instead of getting a lump sum per course taught, we would get a per-hour rate. And the hours we would be working had been decided in advance, including a very limited time for preparation and marking. Doing the calculations, this worked out as something like a 40% pay cut for doing the same amount of work.

At this point there was a very obvious divide between the newer PhD students, who had just started teaching, and those of us who had been doing this a few years. Many fraught conversations in the office. "We shouldn't really complain, we know the department has to make budget cuts" vs. "why do those budget cuts only affect the pay of those of us at the bottom of the ladder?". "We're lucky to even get teaching at all!" vs "You realise this is not a favour they are bestowing on us, right? You realise this is work we are doing for them?". And "well I just really like teaching, I'd do it for free!" vs "DO NOT SAY THAT EVER."

So we negotiated with the department, or at least tried to:

"Okay, if we get one hour of preparation a week, that means we can either do X or Y or Z. Which one do you want us to do?"
"You'll need to cover all three, that's part of the course."
"We only get an hour of preparation time so we can't do that."
"You don't only get an hour! That's just how we have to set it up so we can pay you preparation time. We made sure we gave you a really good hourly rate so it would cover the work you need to do."
"It's not a good hourly rate if it's got to stretch across three or four hours, though. It's below minimum wage then."
"You know, the History PhD students, they don't get paid for preparation at all!"

Eventually our (national) union got involved, at which point the department miraculously found some money from somewhere after all and our pay went back up.

The only way we could get to that point was to practically muzzle the newer PhD students, who would have been happy to work under the new conditions. They were grateful for the opportunity to get any teaching at all, they loved the work, they didn't want to be seen as trouble-makers, and they were carving out their identity as junior academics in a climate where you are strongly pressured to think of it as a vocation rather than a job and where that manifests itself in a lot of less-than-great ways (believing that you could never do anything else with your life, that questioning the system will mark you as undeserving, and, well, not valuing your own labour). But if they'd agreed to teach under those conditions, then all the existing classes would have been redistributed to them, so they were leaned on quite heavily to not sign anything until this had at least been hashed out further.

I'm sure what it looked like to them, though, was a bunch of cynics reducing this wonderful life of the mind to a mundane work world of rules about hours and money, frustrating jobsworths hobbling the enthusiasm of people who care more than they do.
posted by Catseye at 2:08 AM on December 1, 2015 [50 favorites]


I was recently drafted in to be part of a 'strategic' consulting engagement with the same client and my manager of course took this as the chance to say how awesome this was for my growth etc and then says of course you'll have to work 10 hour days because the senior folks who travel do that for four days. Left unsaid was that I would still work normal hours the fifth day. Pretty much came out and said you can't do your usual hours anymore.

I guess I saw the light a few years back when I explicitly told management in a previous workplace that 65 hour work weeks were unsustainable and was told you're not the person we hired, you have changed. There has always been huge shock from the owners of small shops when they realize you're not grateful as a foreign worker to have a job here at all. What makes it more galling is that on both occasions these were people that had started out in a situation similar to mine.

I happen to be a h1b employee too and have had to come home for my mothers funeral while my visa expires in a day. I have no real idea of if and when I can get back and my managers leaves me voicemail saying he needs to talk to me about my schedule and when I will be back. This after missing exactly one day so far. Very tempted to say something impolite if only there wasn't this huge risk of throwing away years worth of work and not being able to come back.
posted by viramamunivar at 3:25 AM on December 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


bonobothegreat: I'm self employed and when not procrastinating, I'm a goddamned slave driver. You don't need a "boss" to ruin your life.

When I started at the Big Red A after nearly a decade of running my own business, people asked me why I had given up the freedom of being self-employed. My answer has always been "The worst part about being self-employed was that my boss was a dick."

One of the most valuable things I learned being self-employed was just how many hours of "non-billable" stuff it took in order for me to work productively. If I can clear my plate of all of the filling out of TPS Reports, about 10-15 hours of "real work" makes a productive week's worth of work.

But I also point out things like "If it were all fun and games, you'd be paying them," or "You can go on vacation any time you want. You just might not be able to come back to work afterwards," to the amusement of my cow-orkers, and consternation of management. It seems to help people keep their perspective.
posted by DaveP at 4:24 AM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


It also doesn't apply to the hundreds if not thousands of contractors who actually work in Silicon Valley as essentially perma-lancers for Apple who aren't getting any RSUs.

This is something that really needs to be illegal. There are a lot of people who are absolutely full-time workers in every way that benefits management, but then the bosses call them "contractors" and it's like a magic wand was waved and now those workers have no rights, no legal support, and pay that's somewhere between 40 and 80 percent lower. If someone is doing paid work for you they are your employee and that's all there is to it, and you shouldn't be able to do some bullshit wordplay to just walk around the already extremely meager benefits and protections of being an employee.
posted by IAmUnaware at 4:37 AM on December 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


"almost to a person totally incapable (unless they are all really wonderful actors) of understanding that people who don't directly benefit from the firm's performance might not have the same level of emotional investment in it."

Small business owners, no matter how decent they may be otherwise, always operate under the assumption that their employees come to work because they love it, not because they have to pay rent and buy food.
posted by scratch at 6:39 AM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


If someone is doing paid work for you they are your employee and that's all there is to it

That is just patently untrue. Real freelancers have multiple clients, all of whom pay them, none of whom are the "employer." The concept of self-employment has many benefits, not the least of which is autonomy and freedom from the exact sort of culture of corporate servitude that is being pilloried here. And even if one works almost exclusively with one client, it is the freelancer's prerogative whether they want to enter into a W-2 agreement with the company. Generally speaking that means a lower income with the difference made up in benefits. So entering into a non-W2 arrangement with another party should definitely not be illegal.

That said, companies who depend almost exclusively on non-employee labor and provide exploitatively low pay (TaskRabbit, Uber et al) are clearly abusing this system, and there are lots of scenarios where companies are refusing to actually hire people who want to be hired and who are probably dangling the carrot of full-time employment to keep them from leaving. That sort of shenanigan needs to be illegal, and there are lots of lawsuits to that effect. But not everyone wants to be an employee, and we shouldn't legislate away the options of those who prefer not to have a boss.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:45 AM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Catseye: ... in a climate where you are strongly pressured to think of it as a vocation rather than a job

Describing work as a "calling" rather than a "job" is one of the more insidious ways organizations get folks to work for free. I recognize there are some "self actualization" rewards from work. But, if you are held accountable for work, and the work provides you basic needs (food, shelter), it needs to be treated as a job, and managed as any other negotiation.

At least with some jobs--teaching, zoo keeping, etc.--the notion of there being some level of vocation/calling can be seen. Too often, I've sat in rooms with executives of the Big Corporation I work for, and that expectation seems to be present. Looking for folks "passionate" about most jobs, I think, is asking for a lot (especially when "passion" is measured in "how much extra work you're willing to put in for no tangible, immediate reward").

If a company needs 45 hours of work from someone, they should pay for 45 hours, not 40 hours, and 5 thrown in because I'm a committed worker. I can't go tot the grocery, pay for 10 eggs, figuring the other two are because of the grocery's passion for omelettes.
posted by MrGuilt at 7:01 AM on December 1, 2015 [15 favorites]


But not everyone wants to be an employee, and we shouldn't legislate away the options of those who prefer not to have a boss.

Most of us who are in the full-time contractor for one employer racket are W-2 employees of our agencies rather than 1099 contractors. It really sucks (though it sucks less than unemployment), and there's nothing illegal about it, no matter how long the arrangement lasts.

companies are refusing to actually hire people who want to be hired and who are probably dangling the carrot of full-time employment to keep them from leaving

That's the situation I've been in for almost a year and a half at my current job, which I quite like except for the second-class status and compensation compared with my employer's Real Employees. There's absolutely no legal requirement that they hire me after any period of time unless I've got a contract to that effect, and I don't.

I've held many jobs in a variety of industries over the last ten-plus years. Not a single one has come with benefits, but I've never been anything but a W-2 employee. This is the most common arrangement for temporary work. While the problem of 1099 abuse by employers is real and horrible, at least there's potential for legal remedy. For the majority of us being strung along this way there's fuck-all we can do about it but find another job (which will probably end up being contracted through yet another agency anyway.)
posted by asperity at 8:10 AM on December 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


To bring that back to the FPP topic: W-2 contractors are pretty much never expected to work extra hours without compensation, because our agencies will come down hard on both employee and employer if they find out about it. The agencies stand to lose a lot from that sort of thing, as they're paid for every hour we work. We usually get a bit over half of that pay.
posted by asperity at 8:38 AM on December 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Most of us who are in the full-time contractor for one employer racket are W-2 employees of our agencies rather than 1099 contractors.

Ah. The bad actor in this scenario is your actual W-2 employer if they're not providing benefits. But yeah, as you said, they're not going to let Apple or whoever exploit you since it is not in their self-interest.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:40 AM on December 1, 2015


> The promotion process is critical - companies have to be very picky when picking people into management

And yet they are not, as evidence and experience demonstrate. Or, perhaps, they are picky - but picky about the wrong qualities.
posted by rtha at 8:41 AM on December 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Digression:

So he's walking down a corridor one day and a guy pops out and asks if he can edit, he says he knows the basics and that's how he ended up helping to edit a Jean-Luc Godard movie.

Some Godard films ('King Lear') really look like they were edited by some random guy who walked in off the street.
posted by ovvl at 8:55 AM on December 1, 2015


even if one works almost exclusively with one client, it is the freelancer's prerogative whether they want to enter into a W-2 agreement with the company. Generally speaking that means a lower income with the difference made up in benefits.

This was clearly written with no knowledge of the current "permatemp" scenario that confronts many people. The fiction of "independent contractor" is totally different from the old freelancer paradigm. It is the employer's prerogative whether or not to allow you to enter into a W-2 agreement, and I have absolutely never seen the "difference" made up in pay vs. benefits, as if it even could be, since the benefit of access to health care often far outweighs the actual monetary cost of the insurance, if the person were to be caught in a medical emergency without it.

But yeah, as you said, they're not going to let Apple or whoever exploit you since it is not in their self-interest.

Correct, because it is in the agency's self-interest to exploit them, which they manifestly do. I have seen many stupid arrangements where someone will be a "contractor" through an employment agency for years for whatever idiotic accounting reasons, and everyone loses except for the leeching middleman "temp" agency.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:01 AM on December 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


The only way we could get to that point was to practically muzzle the newer PhD students, who would have been happy to work under the new conditions.

And this a major problem I see with unions, including my own: we favor incumbents heavily. There's a substantial line of PhD applicants that aren't recognized by union negotiations, and if left alone they would likely bid the cost of labor down to the marginal rate of student loan debt. But frankly, the only reason they don't fire the lot of you is because they'd damage the PhD pipeline. One of the college / departmental metrics is PhDs granted -- it's a weird situation where you're the product and the consumer and the supplier.

But I recognize the value of unions: they protect us from the arbitrary and capricious whims of management, who would otherwise flout laws like 'pay workers for time spent' or social norms like 'hire the best candidate for the job.' Academia is a basically the worst managed industry you've ever seen, once you realize that every tenure track faculty is a manager, responsible for hiring, firing, budgeting and fund raising.
posted by pwnguin at 9:28 AM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The bad actor in this scenario is your actual W-2 employer if they're not providing benefits.

That's essentially every employment agency out there. The ACA has changed things drastically in two ways: the agencies can't provide the unusable bullshit insurance they used to (they now just give you a letter saying they haven't got insurance that meets ACA requirements) and many temp employees now have some access to individual insurance via the ACA marketplaces.

The pre-ACA agency-provided insurance was hilariously awful. In addition to the high premiums and ridiculously low caps on both individual incidents and annual payouts (some plans wouldn't have paid for an ER visit to set a broken bone, much less anything more significant) the agencies would require that you work at least 32 hours in any given week to have access. So if you were sick enough to really need the insurance, it would be yanked out from under you because you'd presumably have to take some time off work to deal with your illness.

There's no shortage of different ways for our employers to exploit us, and making the employment relationship indirect makes that exploitation easier. The victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire weren't directly employed by the factory, either.
posted by asperity at 9:43 AM on December 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


The only techies I know of who are organized are usually government employees in regions where such organization is allowed and encouraged.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:58 AM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah! That's why all the support staff, administrative assistants, and receptionists in Silicon Valley are loving life!

+

It also doesn't apply to the hundreds if not thousands of contractors who actually work in Silicon Valley as essentially perma-lancers for Apple who aren't getting any RSUs.

This is basically the situation in seattle. I don't know anyone under 40(and therefor, who isn't simply grandfathered in to being a real employee) who has a real permanent position at any of the big companies here. Amazon doesn't count because they kick fucking everyone out after 18 months and force them to repay their relocation or part of their signing bonus or both.

If you do get a real job, you rake it in. But everyone i know either contacts or ends up working some B grade job that isn't what they intended to or are generally qualified to do. It's gotten to the point that even if you have a bunch of experience, you get steamrolled by someone who has a shiny(or shinier) degree from a big name university.

And yea, everyone i know who works any support staff sort of role or outside of the tech industry is generally pretty fucked unless they're established as like... A real estate agent.

And yet they are not, as evidence and experience demonstrate. Or, perhaps, they are picky - but picky about the wrong qualities.

The #1 way to utterly kill morale is to have people work there for years, gain experience, maybe even promote them to some assistant/team lead/project manager/lower management position... and then hire a manager from outside. Bonus points if they have utterly no experience with the industry or type of work the place does. Double bonus if everyone really liked that seemingly moving up person and was rooting for them.

I have seriously lost count of how many times i've seen that go down, or heard that story. There's always a "logical explanation" or plausible deniability, but it's still almost always bullshit.
posted by emptythought at 12:05 PM on December 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also when you see your fellow workers rate-busting by giving away their labor for free, you should incentivize them to knock that off by keying their cars while you're leaving work.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:24 PM on November 30 [92 favorites +]


This comment just ticks me off to such a degree that I can barely articulate it. First, this is exactly the kind of action that drives people away from unionizing or coming together to promote workers' rights. For years, unions have battled a reputation for being a bunch of thugs and what do you propose? Doing hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars of damage to their private vehicles--vehicles which they need to get to their oppressive jobs. It's destructive and hostile against your fellow man.

It's also completely counter-productive. So what are the people with keyed cars going to do? Likely they'll work longer in order to make up for the time they spend on the phone with repair shops and insurance companies, because they'll feel guilty about "stealing" time to take care of these tasks, because we know this kind of stuff pretty much has to get done during working hours.

Additionally, it's such a personal, shitty thing to do to somebody, especially somebody who works hard and takes pride in their possessions and does their best to ensure the longevity of their belongings. Maybe you don't care if you drive a piece of garbage, but I do, and if I found out you did that to me and my car, believe me I'd be taking action--whether that's reporting you to the police or doing something else that would hurt you more. And you could better believe that if I found you organizing I'd work against you and your efforts, even though I strongly believe that more workers should ban together to protect themselves, because honestly, I'd rather only deal with one set of jerks (bosses/management) than two sets (management plus union officials). And yes, before you ask, I have been a union member in the past, and I joined voluntarily.
posted by sardonyx at 1:43 PM on December 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


That was very likely a tongue-in-cheek comment, and wasn't trying to promote actual property damage.
posted by erratic meatsack at 2:53 PM on December 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


But management skills have nothing to do with how many hours you put in. It would be equally logical to promote the person who gets all their work done in two hours, rather than eight, because they've demonstrated that they're good at managing themselves and their time.
posted by jaguar


That's exactly right, and in some companies that does happen. What I'm getting at is that some people are born with the natural talent and just "have it" AND are naturally efficient and can get 8 hours of work done in 2 hours. While others are not so lucky, and have to put meaningful work and effort into acquiring those skills: this means not only are they working their regular hours at their job, but also working to acquire more skills (learning by doing). Everyone reaches the limit of their natural skills eventually, and everyone has to decide where they want to stop - some people are happy to stop at a level where they only have to do 2 hours work in a day.

Promotions don't go to people based on their skills, they go to them based on their social connections and their deftness in working those connections. Basically, to the people best at marketing themselves, and the connections they offer, to their superiors.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick


This is also exactly right. That's what management is. At higher level meetings, no one talks about technical issues. Most of the conversations revolve around who they can get to influence another person, or how they can best broach a topic with some execs, how open a certain VP would be to this particular idea. It's about how you sell and market your ideas.
posted by xdvesper at 3:00 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


If that's the case, erratic meatsack, why is the same message repeated in a different comment: "You can use vandalism and other means of social suasion (overt and covert) to discourage your coworkers from working for free"? Additionally, I think there was another reference to keying that seems to have vanished, unless I'm just not seeing it at the moment. (It was in tiny script.)

If it's a joke it's a bad one, and the presentation of the joke doesn't work. If it's a serious comment, it is problematic for all of the reasons I said and more. (For example, how is somebody supposed to understand the message that keyed car=upset about unpaid labour? There is no cause and effect.

For somebody campaigning so hard to promote the idealism that is behind the union movement, the poster is undermining his own efforts and turning off even people much as myself who should be natural allies.
posted by sardonyx at 3:48 PM on December 1, 2015


At higher level meetings, no one talks about technical issues.

a) this explains a lot
b) fyi, those mutual hand jobs don't actually do a lot to solve issues based on merits. everyone who has to actual suffer the consequences is in a different room.
posted by j_curiouser at 3:52 PM on December 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I did a week-long program at a Czech university several summers ago with a mix of American and European students. We were talking about economics and I said that if you work hard, you should be able to have a good life. One of my classmates asked, "what do you mean, 'work hard?' Why not just work?"

Those decades of communist rule gave the Czechs a cynical attitude about rozhýbat.

"That was fun, but tomorrow I have to go & be a robot..."
posted by ovvl at 5:30 PM on December 1, 2015


It's about how you sell and market your ideas.

I recently moved from Canada to the US, and one of the big differences between the two countries in my experience so far is the amount of time that Americans spend promoting themselves at the office. Back home you did your work, and self-promotion was generally expected to be contained to reviews and employee of the month awards and stuff.

At similar start-up-y tech companies in the US, though, I see the majority of my coworkers expend a great deal of energy every day to not only promoting their own efforts, but devaluing those of their colleagues. Seriously, the amount of email announcements and bragging during stand-ups and accomplishment-sniping during meetings is weird. I can't help but think that my workplaces would get a lot more done if people could focus on their actual work and not "selling and marketing their ideas" in pursuit of promotions at best and just not being fired at worst.
posted by jess at 9:25 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is also exactly right. That's what management is. At higher level meetings, no one talks about technical issues. Most of the conversations revolve around who they can get to influence another person, or how they can best broach a topic with some execs, how open a certain VP would be to this particular idea. It's about how you sell and market your ideas.

And this is where I see some of the worst of the heteropatriarchy at work. I mean, it's literally the crock-pot of privilege, power and colonialism. I mean, seriously, that's like, the problem, exactly, what's inherent by design to reward the majority and stigmatize the minority.

I try my best to influence those discussions, but I'm mostly mocked for what I believe, which is pretty much contrary to everything that is said in those meetings. I don't know how to put it any other way other than, I have zero hope that the corporate structure will ever undo the power it gave itself because there is zero incentive to do so. Like, to do so would act against the very design of the corporate structure, which is to colonize a space, extract the resources for as cheaply as possible to maximize profits for the privileged, eliminate competition outside the corporate borders and homogenize everything that touches the corporate borders. Management *IS* the problem, and your description of what happens does not make it any more acceptable, because I am in those meetings every day and yes, exactly what you say happens is what happens, and the content of context and outcomes of those discussions are in my opinion extremely harmful to anyone who does not meet their overly narrow definition of "normal and acceptable good guy"
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:28 AM on December 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


We had some shuffling around in the upper management levels that I usually ignore, and the new guy (from outside the company) decided at the latest big group meeting that he had to share with us this "motivational" clip from the movie Whiplash. I was mostly just horrified, and the main thing it motivated me to do was update my LinkedIn account.

Also, if you're wondering, the reason why the guy in the clip refers to his job in the past tense is because one of his students committed suicide, implied to be due to the stress of dealing with this asshole.
posted by ckape at 10:08 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


this "motivational" clip yt from the movie Whiplash

Really? Really?

I suppose the charitable assumption is that our schools need some mandatory film studies courses.
posted by Frowner at 10:30 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


he had to share with us this "motivational" clip from the movie Whiplash.

I don't think I would have been able to stop myself from saying "Have you seen Whiplash? For that matter, have you seen any movie ever with J.K. Simmons? The closest he gets to playing a good guy is the yellow M&M, for chrissake."
posted by Etrigan at 10:36 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's weird to me that when I was trying to say "why do people do this when they don't have to" my statement got so consistently read as "why does anyone do this at all", with the strong implication that I am a special snowflake with a fancy job.

Well this is Metafilter afterall.

Can I get a show of hands from everyone who has been downstream of incompetent managers?

Once had a head of IT point out to a fellow IT worker that he could use the mouse, "you know". Using the keyboard to work faster for IT work was completely foreign to him. I doubt he even understood the advantage of keyboard shortcuts. Said manager didn't even understand how to move up a level in a directory using a command line. Said manager pretty much knew nothing about IT at all really but for some reason he was hired at a large salary and when both staff and clients pointed out how horrible he was it was always the fault of the staff and clients. Upper management was so bad that we banded together and mutinied against the General Manager who felt himself a design and marketing expert what with the way he centred everything and loved to promote services we didn't have. Unfortunately his replacement was worse in other ways. I left the company the moment the new manager asked me, "What are you going to do here when the web site is done?" They went bankrupt a year later.

But there's no follow-through now on the employer's part. It's always "do more, do more, do more," and the reward is always over the horizon.

I remember at a former job being told that hey, the already bullshit bonus structure was changing so that you, the worker, could, I repeat could, actually get a higher bonus. Everyone got lower bonuses, if any.

Promotions don't go to people based on their skills, they go to them based on their social connections and their deftness in working those connections.

Absolutely. One coworker in particular I had failed to finish any of the training manuals he was supposed to write (I ended up doing that, which reduced my bonus because I couldn't finish both most of his work and mine). He'd come in late all the time but the bosses loved him and held him to a completey different standard than every other worker. It took client after client after client filing shit reviews of his training ability to get them to change their viewpoint. Eventually the vendor of the software we were training people on withdrew certification from us because of him. The blame went to the vendor of course.

here has always been huge shock from the owners of small shops when they realize you're not grateful as a foreign worker to have a job here at all.

Indeed. When I quit one of the companies above I did so by making sure I got a job at a competitor's and then I went into the CEO's office, cut my security card up in front of him, told him a couple of managers were so useless, incompetent, and toxic (particularly the former disbarred lawyer who, when we pointed out that one of the workers was using all of our incoming bandwidth to pirate commercial software said to now worry about it, it's no issue at all) and immediately terminated my employment with them he was quite shocked. It's as if you have to literally be overly dramatic to get them to even listen for a moment.
posted by juiceCake at 11:13 AM on December 2, 2015


I suppose the charitable assumption is that our schools need some mandatory film studies courses.

It is getting pretty bad, between that clip, the GetMotivated subreddit posting con job lines from The Wolf of Wall Street, and people claiming the Joker doesn't make plans despite just watching him pull of a bank heist with precision (comic) timing.
posted by ckape at 6:41 PM on December 2, 2015


My new job is unionized (well, not my new job, because they strung me along as a "temporary" employee without benefits for two years, so "newly permanent job"), and I contacted the union rep today about something and he was so helpful and so awesome that it made me doubly happy to be a union member. (Well, pending member.)
posted by jaguar at 6:51 PM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


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