I work at a coworking space. Yesterday, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in a while and she asked me “How’s work?”.
I was about to respond about how it was pretty good. I was making good progress with existing clients, helping grow Omigo, and should start a new project soon that is going to be exciting.
But before I could respond, she assumed:
“No.” I said. “Why do people always say that? It shouldn’t have to be crazy at work.“
After thinking about it, I remembered that this person works at an agency, and I’ve talked to at least two other people that work there. All of them talk about how much work they have to do all the time. This expectation seems to be prevalent, especially in white collar service jobs like marketing, SaaS, etc.
Why is that?
If you’re one of these people, I know it isn’t always an option to work less than that. That’s normally because of one of two options:
1) You take pride in telling people you are busy. This may be conscious or subconscious (take a second and think about it).
You may not be directly to blame here. The modern American workplace has deemed overwork as “class and status maintenance“.
If you work that much, it seems, you must be very important. If someone says they worked a 35 hour week (or even 40!), they’re clearly just not that badly needed, right? (Wrong.)
2) Your company/boss has deemed it mandatory. If you don’t work that much, you will lose your job, whether immediately or over time after you are deemed an “underperformer”.
If you fall under category #1, I worry about you, but at least you’re the one digging yourself into that hole.
If you’re in category #2, I have a question for your boss.
If you are the boss of someone that has to work more than 40/45 hours a week, how do you not feel terrible about that?
To be clear:
I’m not talking about short term crunches that are the exception to the rule. Sometimes you have to get something out the door. But this should not happen often.
I’m not talking about people choosing to work more hours because they are passionate about the business, or because they’re hourly and they’re choosing to work more to bring home more money. In both cases, these people should be able to cut back to ~40 hours and everything should be fine.
I’m talking about people for whom these extra hours cause stress, not joy. Cause nightmares, or bad eating habits, or bad spending habits to compensate for the nightmare that is their work day.
If the people that report to you have nightmares about work, how does that make you feel?
If your business is dependent on people working 50+ hours a week, what kind of business is that? Is your business model to burn through college graduates, expecting them to leave after 1-3 years, and then hire someone else to replace them?
If your partners expect this kind of work, why haven’t you put your employees first and changed how you do business with them?
If your clients expect this kind of work, why haven’t you told them they’re not paying for that many hours or, alternatively, raised your prices and then hired some help?
If your business model simply requires that much time per person, how valuable is your work?
I cannot understand the people that allow this to happen. The video game industry caught a lot of flack last year after reports of terrible work stress (aka “crunch culture”) came out following games like Red Dead Redeption II (“We were working 100-hour weeks”) and Anthem. Luckily, they’re finally getting called out about it.
America was founded on cutthroat capitalism. I get it. And sometimes that means that, in order to beat a competitor, you have to work 60 hours a week while they’re working 50.
But a new model is developing, and I hope it accelerates. Tobi Lutke, CEO of Shopify had a great Twitter thread in December about how they view employees at Shopify.
“In some places average tenure is only 18 months. Yes, you might want to work everyone 80 hours to make that work. On-boarding is expensive so you skip it. You need value day 1. The relationship is exploitative…When I hire someone at Shopify we can make the assumption that we work together for a decade.”
There’s a lot more to his thread, but my favorite quote is:
For creative work, you can’t cheat. My believe is that there are 5 creative hours in everyone’s day. All I ask of people at Shopify is that 4 of those are channeled into the company.-Tobi Lutke, Shopify CEO
I think this applies to more than just traditional “creative” work. All work is creative in some way. And he expects you’ll get 4 good hours of work done each day. Other research confirms this. And I’m sure everyone that’s reading this agrees. You can’t be “on” for 8 hours straight. Or if you are, you can’t sustain it for long.
I’ve heard much of this philosophy before, most notably from the crew at Basecamp, especially their CEO Jason Fried. They even wrote the book on the subject, rejecting the workaholism that is so prevalent today.
I hope Basecamp and Shopify’s model continues to develop. Companies like Patron, Gumroad, and Twitch can help (if you’re good enough, you can quit your job and be funded solely by your “fans” on these platforms), and I hope more come along.
I wish people could work less, take more paternity/maternity leave, and have other hobbies that bring meaning to their lives. We can help by starting to question when extra hours are a requirement. Join me in doing so!
What do you do with your 1 hour of creative time at home each day?