The Digital Sweatshop Continues
June 13, 2000 10:59 AM   Subscribe

The Digital Sweatshop Continues If this letter is for real (and corroboration would be nice), the CFO of is berating his staff for having the gall to go home before 6:45pm. In fact, he wants to mandate office hours of 8am to 7pm with a 30 minute lunch.

That'll really boost morale. I don't think I've gotten to work at 8am ever.

Anyway, though I lovelovelove the idea of, I don't think I'd invest in them anytime soon.

The letter, which states that they're "lagging behind revenue goals" seemingly contradicts the interview with the CEO, where he states "we're exceeding expectations" with revenue.
posted by peterme (33 comments total)
On a mailing list I'm on, Janelle Brown (of Salon) has mentioned that the email at has been doctored (particularly be adding the 8a-7p and 30 min lunch stuff), but that the gist is still legit.
posted by peterme at 11:08 AM on June 13, 2000

Whether or not the letter is real, the syndrome is far too common, and reflects two different bogus beliefs on the part of management....

1) "If revenues are in trouble, let's focus on controlling costs." If the organization's constraint is in the market, what good does it do to downsize. Focus on addressing the constraint, not things that are not related to it!!!

2) "Long hours mean more gets done." There was a recent EDS ad that I've written about
posted by fpatrick at 11:34 AM on June 13, 2000

...whoops...that suggests that long hours are an indicator of deveotion to customer satisfaction. They are far more often a symptom of mis-management.
posted by fpatrick at 11:35 AM on June 13, 2000

posted by tiaka at 12:11 PM on June 13, 2000

Here's my theory : Ceo really wrote the letter, and then sent a copy to everyone, including Fucked Company. This gets out, makes him look tough. Makes the compny look tough. More organized. and Better. Sure We'd want to invest in something like this. This is something that's needed in these dot com things - schedule.
posted by tiaka at 12:14 PM on June 13, 2000

This makes me INSANE!!! ACK! ACK! AAAARRRRRGGGHHH!!! There, that's better. (Typing sound effects is really soothing!).

Either this is real or it is an artistic statement pointing to a real trend. As my wife and I have hopped from job to job, we've noticed that it's getting harder and harder to get 9-5 work anymore. And I'm not just talking about dot.coms.

Where will this end? It take me an hour and a half to commute to work each way. If I work 8-7, I have to get up at 6 and I don't get home until 8:30. Then I make dinner and it's basically bed time. Then I have to get up and go back to work again.

And we don't have any kids. I feel really sorry for people who are trying to have a career and a family. We're going to have a whole generation of kids who don't remember what mom and day even look like.

How the fuck to we stop this trend? I'm usually against this sort of thing, but I'm starting to think the only answer is legislation. We need some adult labor laws. I have no idea how to make such laws practical, but if Chrystler makes it's employees stay at work until 7, Ford is going to feel like it has to do the same. Maybe if the government steps in and does away with overtime (or puts a strick cap on the amount of overtime allowed) the problem will cease.
posted by grumblebee at 12:31 PM on June 13, 2000

It's simple. You don't take those jobs. Slavery was abolished in the 1800s.
posted by holgate at 12:35 PM on June 13, 2000

"The floggings will continue until morale improves."

In the Taoist sense you shouldn't force people to stay but foster an environment wherein they want to work hard (which may not include long).
posted by plinth at 12:41 PM on June 13, 2000

>It's simple. You don't take those jobs.
>Slavery was abolished in the 1800s.

Yes, of course, you can opt out. But let's get real. I'm talking about real-life nuts-and-bolts average people. We just want to be happy. We don't want to live a radically different lifestyle. We're willing to work hard. We just want some time to spend with our families. Why is that such a problem?

Also, that "just don't take the job" attitude works pretty well when you're just out of college. When you're 40 and you have 3 kids (all of whom need expensive dental work), you don't have as many options.

I agree with plinth that employers would help themselves, their companies, their employees and their country if they created happy work environments. I've always wanted a job that I love so much that I don't WANT to leave at the end of the day, that I can't WAIT to get to in the morning. I have a very good job. But I'm still always happy when the workday is over.
posted by grumblebee at 12:56 PM on June 13, 2000

Now, while it seems that Mylackey is an increadibly stupid idea regardless, am I the only one who would not want to use a company that condones this sort of thing? I suppose condone is the wrong word...

If a company needs its employees to work more than 8 hour days, that company needs more employees, I think. That, or some sort of compensation (overtime) for employees doing so.

But I'm not even sure the letter is real. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if isn't just a big joke. Getting weirld solipsistic here.
posted by Doug at 1:01 PM on June 13, 2000

While I think the letter (and hours) were a bit extreme, to make an Internet startup werk, there *is* a lot of extra push, extra hours, and extra werk to make the company successful. This means wearing a lot of different hats, werking a lot of extra hours, and going the distance for the company (assuming you believe in them).

I've werked for several startups (some successful, some not so) and while they weren't this strict, there was a definite attitude of "this is not your regular corporate 8-5". But I also went into those jobs *knowing* that. (As it turned out I was lucky and got hella flexible hours anyway).
posted by zannah at 1:01 PM on June 13, 2000

but, but, wait!

this story about the note has been corroborated by a sister of a friend who is a employee ...
In a phone interview, Barnicle said he did not impose a mandatory work schedule that went beyond a normal eight-hour workday.

But according to a version of the e-mail sent to The Seattle Times, Barnicle wrote in the latter part: "Given the severity of the situation, I am putting strict office hours into effect immediately. Until further notice, all employees are required to be at their desk from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., with 30 minutes for lunch. There are no exceptions. If you need to leave early, then you must be at your desk earlier. I am very sorry that we need to instill such strict guidelines."

Barnicle said he did not write that portion of the e-mail and that he believes the e-mail was "corrupted."

"I'm a lawyer," he said. "And I know you can't impose these kinds of working hours."
posted by maura at 1:08 PM on June 13, 2000

You know, maybe this is a new layoff strategy. Maybe the CEO said that they needed to cut 10 to 15 jobs but they could not take the heat from VC's. Mr. CFO says "I know, lets piss them off and make a bunch of them quit!" Course, I also prank called mylakey and quit as soon as I read this note.
posted by DragonBoy at 1:09 PM on June 13, 2000

We need some adult labor laws

Such laws exist for hourly workers. But salaried workers aren't so lucky. Unless you work for the government. We've got it made.
posted by daveadams at 1:10 PM on June 13, 2000

When people stay late, sometimes I remind them, "Hundreds of workers died so that you could have a 40-hour work week."

Luckily, I do work for a company that makes the office a place where we don't mind spending extra time when it's necessary.

But everyone should remember the strikes, the struggle and the deaths that occurred when the unions fought for fair working conditions. Sure, it's hard to compare sitting on your ass in front of a computer to arc-welding car parts, but they fought for your time, too.
posted by wiremommy at 1:11 PM on June 13, 2000

This seems like a pertinent thread into which to inject my observation that *we asked for this*.

Class? What is the overriding goal of a public company? You there, in the back row.

Yes, that's right, "shareholder profits". Not good corporate citizenship, not gooe environmental behavior, not kindness to employees, no, none of those things. If you can't demonstrate a *direct* connection to shareholder profits, not only will we have you fired as a corporate office, we'll sue you too.

And all so some clever stock pickers can make lots of money for sitting on their asses doing no work.

We deserve what we fucking get, people; you know?
posted by baylink at 1:17 PM on June 13, 2000

I work 8 hours every day. This included lunch, breaks, and just general screwing around. And I work at a dot-com. Is my boss happy with that? Not really, but I've said many times that I'm not about to work overtime, unless there's some incentive in it for me.

My private time is my most important time. I only work to make money to live on, and I could do just fine for myself making a lot less than I am, so I'm happy where I'm at, even if there are many other places that have offered more. I just would never want to live the 60 hour work week life. To me that is just not worth it. You really can't put a price on free time.

The only downside is management not thinking I'm a "team player". But I'd much rather have a bunch of suits think that then have my family and friends think that.

Just my opinion tho.
posted by vitaflo at 1:18 PM on June 13, 2000

To some degree I found myself sympathizing with the mindset of the big mean boss who allegedly wrote this email.

Some background: I work for a dot-com startup and I'm rarely out of here at 5:30 when my work day officially ends, usually only when I have to be somewhere that night. Hell, this weekend alone I was here for over 50 hours after 5:30pm on Friday and before 8:30 am on Monday morning.

I also work in an environment that totally caters to geeks. Free Juice (I think it's part of the Microsoft Certified Solutions Partner requirements :-), ping-pong, programmers lounge, playstation, big-ass monitors, LAN deathmatches, individual offices with DOORS, stock options, a good salary, all that jazz.

Talent will get you far in the company I work for, but personality will get you farther. If you don't mesh with the group, there's a good chance you'll be gone in a few weeks.

Despite my regular attempts to prove otherwise here, we're all on the right-hand side of the bell curve; there's an IQ test before you'll get an interview.

One minor bone I have to pick with the email is that there's 65 employees. 65 employees, to me, does not constitute a start-up. I don't know what the actual cut-off point in my mind is, but there are 13 programmers at my company (what with the monthly covens, it really works out well! :-) and ... umm.. some other people. Marketing or something. I don't know, they have a different building.

(And the seperation is also a perk. I don't care if some bigwigs with lots of money are coming through to arrange for our product(s)/services, I want to be able to run from my office into a coworkers yelling like a freakin' madman and pumping Nerf hardware at him the whole time)

My point, I think, is that once you get beyond a certain number of employees, you stop being a group of people working your asses off to get something done, and you start being a corporation.

You'll get people that are in it only for the gainful employment and the regular paycheque, who do only as much is necessary for that paycheqye.

There's nothing wrong with those people either, you just can't expect them to have passion for this mysterious entity that's your corporation, and if people don't have passion about what they do, they sure as hell aren't going to sacrifice themselves for it.

(note: I've deleted a LOT of stuff from this post to make it mildly relevant. Hopefully it remains mildly coherent.)
posted by cCranium at 1:28 PM on June 13, 2000

That's what happens when you try to use CTRL-C to cut.
posted by cCranium at 1:39 PM on June 13, 2000

A few posts back, baylink pointed out that the goal of a public, for-profit company is shareholder profits. In other words, "make (more) money now and in the future." What is forgotten, far too often, is the "and in the future" part.

If the real meta-goal or any entity is to survive and thrive, financial considerations are necessary, but not sufficient to get there. The real goal must be supported, like a three-legged stool, by assuring that all three of the following necessary conditions are not violated...

1) Make (more) money now and in the future.
2) Satisfy the market (including the community) (more) now and in the future.
3) Provide a more (and more) satisfying and secure environment for employees/associates.

If any one is forgotten, then sooner or later, all three will be lost.
posted by fpatrick at 1:46 PM on June 13, 2000

I assert here that it's not that "in the future" is *forgotten*, it's just that *they don't care*.
posted by baylink at 2:12 PM on June 13, 2000

At least you didn't use Ctrl-C,Ctrl-V,Ctrl-V,Ctrl-V,Ctrl-V. I used to use that for term papers, but my professors caught on quick.
posted by daveadams at 2:13 PM on June 13, 2000

I actually work about 4-6 hours a day -- working longer makes no sense.

I belive that you can only do so much creative work during the day. I spend most of my days doing markups, creating interactive interfaces, flash animations. I've tried working 8 hour days but the last 3-4 hours were always wasted. I'd just sit and read on-line articles, waiting for the clock to to strike 5pm.
posted by jedrek at 2:29 PM on June 13, 2000

baylink suggests that it's not that the future needs are forgotten, but rather that "'they' just don't care." Managers are people too, and also fall into the world of "tell me how you measure me, and I'll tell you how I'll behave." Unless measures and incentives associated with long term performance are given equal weight to the short term, cost cutting and slave-driving will be the norm, as they are the quickest, easiest ways to getting short-term "performance" in terms of the usual measures.
posted by fpatrick at 2:40 PM on June 13, 2000

>This seems like a pertinent thread into which to inject
>my observation that *we asked for this*.

I don't remember asking for anything.
posted by grumblebee at 3:42 PM on June 13, 2000

I sent an email to, asking if the memo is real and expressing my anger if, indeed, it is.

I just received this reply:

Thank you for your feedback regarding the email that is currently circulating and being attributed to our Chief Financial Lackey. The email has been severely corrupted and contains numerous inaccuracies. is deeply committed to its employees and acts in full
compliance of all appropriate labor laws and regulations. In addition, the company provides complete health, dental and vision insurance to all
employees and their families, as well as a 401K plan and stock options. It is very disappointing that this inaccurate email is creating misunderstanding about our company.

If you have additional questions, please email us at, or contact our customer support team at


Richard Cowen
phone lackey
1520 Bellevue Ave
Seattle, WA
toll free 1.877.MYLACKEY
fax 206.320.7663

a lackey is not a luxury

posted by grumblebee at 3:46 PM on June 13, 2000

The problem, bay, is that attitudes like this lose money, time after time.

This is a guy who has a serious need to read Peopleware.

But I'd be tempted to buy a share of stock, just to sue the idjit for wasting shareholder value, myself.

On the other hand, at least now we know who to short. :)

posted by aurelian at 4:10 PM on June 13, 2000

Whether the memo is true or false, the story has now become a myth (as in "Mythic," not as in "False"). It instantly generated a lot of posts here--and probably elsewhere as well. I'm starting to read more and more articles about this issue. Maybe all this tension will eventually build up into something. Maybe there will be a change.

The alternative seems to be longer and longer work hours until we just give up going home and sleep at the office.
posted by grumblebee at 4:19 PM on June 13, 2000

Maybe the head lackey got what he wanted: publicity and a little notoriety for running a tight ship (or at least attempting to).

I think it's all a big publicity stunt.

Either way his company is on the lips of everyone with an opinion...and he didn't have to file a C&D for it.

posted by perplexed at 4:57 PM on June 13, 2000

>I don't remember asking for anything.
"I didn't ask for the anal probe."

Here's the deal: I've worked at places wherein SOP was to take away holidays and vacations in order to meet deadlines. I've seen circumstances where workers were brow-beaten into working beyond already crazy hours. Did it help in the end? No.

I'm glad to see that this place (at least) isn't owning up to that policy, but it's commonplace. I've seen artists and QA treated like commodities, not people. I've seen programmers treated like workhorses. I've also seen employees driven by their own desire to make the best product possible. The latter was by far the best place to work and the place at which I'd seen the best quality code.

The problem, as acknowledged before, is that much work associated with producing software and similar products requires creativity. Pushing hard doesn't make more creativity the same way that pushing hard makes more widgets.

posted by plinth at 5:26 PM on June 13, 2000

I see a lot of dot-com, late-90s, full-employment mentality in the posts here. All well and good, but keep in mind that it wasn't long ago that many companies routinely enforced things like 45-hour workweeks on their exempt employees. I was on an interview around '94 where I was told the expectation was fifty hours, with the bait being flex-time and "mental health days" at your manager's discretion. Even then I wasn't too keen on that, and I didn't have a real track record. Now, the high side of 35, and I feel I've paid my dues. It amuses me to see youngsters who aren't old enough to know what dues are (present company: I'm just teasing, relax) making a big deal over this ...
posted by dhartung at 7:05 PM on June 13, 2000

I get the feeling Jim's Mowing would run Mylackey off the road if they operated in America.
posted by GrahamVM at 8:54 AM on June 14, 2000


And, being just shy of 37 myself, and having "paid my dues", too... I'll tell you: I've always known that "dues" were bullshit, financially speaking. That is, one never makes up in productivity what one loses in "undertime" from one's employees trying to recover from overtime.

Overtime is almost always an admission of failure. It means either a) you don't know how to delegate; b) you don't know how to realistically schedule; or c) you're understaffed. Sometimes all three.

And the guys who wrote Peopleware (link above) are older than either of us.

What was the line from Cringely's Accidental Empires? Something along the lines of, "Adobe has an annual company-wide waterfight. Not the sort of thing you'd expect at IBM or AT&T, but then, they don't make gross margins of 70%, either." This was Adobe ten-plus years ago, but the observation is still valid.

posted by aurelian at 10:32 PM on June 14, 2000

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