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The Beggar CEO and Sucker Culture

The other day, I was doing something on LinkedIn, when I noticed a post title that somehow made its way into my feed: “Why Don’t My Employees Work Harder?”  I clicked through out of curiosity and found that this was a corporate Dear Abby sort of thing.  A CEO identifying herself as “Victoria” submitted the following as a question to Liz Ryan, who serves as Abby.

Dear Liz,

I know that leadership is all about trust and I do trust my employees, but I wish they would show a little more effort. They come in on time and they get their work done and that’s it.

I leave my office around 6:15 p.m. most nights and I don’t think that’s an especially long workday. But the parking lot is nearly empty every night when I leave. Why am I always one of the last half-dozen people out the door?

When I started this company six years ago there was a lot more team spirit. Now I have to come up with incentives to get people to put in extra effort.

I haven’t threatened anyone or threatened to cut the bottom ten percent of the team or any of that but I did tell my managers that I want them to incorporate not only output but also effort into their performance review rankings.

I want to reward the people who work the hardest here and make it clear that anyone who wants a ‘dial-it-in’ type job is not a good fit. I don’t think a growing, $10M company should be a place where people work from nine to five and then go home. What do you advise?

Thanks,

Victoria

Clipboard

I tweeted my gut reaction to this off the cuff, and it got a lot of traction for a random tweet on a holiday morning.

I then read through Liz’s response, which was patient, well-reasoned, and it brought up something called “weenie management,” so that alone is sort of oddly awesome. It also pretty resoundingly dressed Victoria down, which, I think was warranted.  And yet, in spite of expressing my disgust on twitter and seeing a somewhat satisfactory response to Victoria, I still felt sort of bleak and depressed about the whole thing.  I stewed on it further and realized what my response would have been, had I been Liz.

Dear Victoria,

I completely empathize.  Every couple of weeks a cleaning service comes to clean my house.  They put in their standard hour on the dot, and that’s it.  No matter how much I walk around sighing when they’re about to leave, or passive-aggressively musing out loud about the virtues of wanting to clean for the love of cleanliness, they still duck out at exactly the one hour mark.  What do I have to do to find someone who is as passionate about cleaning my house as I am about having it be clean?  Doing a good job cleaning is its own reward, even if it means an unpaid half hour or two every other week.

But on to your situation.  It’s clear that your employees are doing a bad job of working an extra hour for no pay, in spite of you wanting them to work an extra hour for no pay.  Sometimes, you have to get creative, and I can think of nothing more creative than a little arts and crafts project.  Here’s what you’re going to do.

Head down to the local craft store and pick out a giant piece of poster board, a sharpie, and about 4 feet of string.  Take all of it home, and then raid your cupboard and your closet.  From your closet, find your oldest, dirtiest outfit that you use for painting the house or something.  From your cupboard, get a large, durable plastic cup.

With those packed up and ready to go to the office, it’s crafts time!  Punch two holes in the poster board roughly a foot apart.  Thread the string through each of them.  Now, take the Sharpie and write on the poster board, “Brother, can you spare an hour for a CEO down on her luck?”  Bring that, the durable cup, and the rough clothes to work.  Set them aside until the end of the day.  And not YOUR end of the day, but the end of the day of those lazy ingrates that don’t want to donate their spare time to increasing the value of your ownership share in the company.

At 5:00 on the dot, throw on your ratty clothes, put the sign around your neck, and head down to the entrance, where everyone will walk by you.  As they start to file out, you’re going to make your pitch.  Assume that the average wage at your company is $50,000 per year, which means that the free hour they should be donating to you is worth about $25.  Look each of them in the eye as they walk past and say, “hey, man, I totally forgot my wallet and need bus fare to get home, so can you throw me $25?”

Do this every single day to every single one of your employees.  Either they’ll fork over the $25 dollars they should be giving you for free in the first place each day, or else they’ll find this so incredibly awkward that they’ll go back inside and wait you out.

Win-win, my friend.  You get paid or you get captives.  Either way, you’re setting pretty.

That was cathartic and sort of fun to write, but I’m not sure it’s directed appropriately.  The problem is that I think Victoria is more of a symptom than an illness.  Make no mistake — the beggar parallel is entirely appropriate.  She is bemoaning the fact that people don’t work 9 or more hours per day when she has forked over employment paperwork that offers them salary in exchange for an implied 8.

Oh sure, it’s relatively standard for salaried, exempt employees in the USA to put in the occasional spurt of overtime for “exceptional situations,” but the offer letters they get, for the most part, list their annual income and then also divide it by 2,080 and tell them what their hourly rate is.  2,080 is 8x5x52 and corresponds to the number of working hours in a year.  So Victoria hands out offer letters that say she’ll give them $25 per hour for a maximum of 8 hours per day, and then wonders what’s wrong with them for not putting in 9 or 10 with a total compensation of $0 for the incremental hour or two.

And yes, in spite of that, I’m saying that Victoria is a symptom.  But I’m going to offer some caveats to go along with this rant and return to that later.

A Note on My Motivations

At this point, I want to be absolutely clear, because I’m just envisioning what the comments would look like if this post floated near the top of Hacker News and I got a deluge of non-regular readers.  So, here goes.

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.  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.

What I object to is neither Victoria’s rational play of the game (though I am objecting to the way she plays it) nor the idea that people may opt to work long hours and get ahead for doing so.  What I’m objecting to is something that I’ll call “sucker culture,” and it lies at the heart of what Victoria really wants.

Sucker Culture

If you want to really dive into the stuff that comes next, I invite you to check out the book that I’m writing, called Developer Hegemony.  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).  Victoria is, theoretically, an opportunist (though she has such a clueless tinge to her entitled whining that I’m amazed she was able to recruit a third employee after mom and pop, much less a whole company full of them).  The people that she wants to work extra hours “for the love of the game” are pragmatists.  The whip crackers she’s going to task with evaluating those pragmatists “based on effort” are idealists.

Sucker culture is the race to the bottom that’s created where advancement within the company is predicated upon offering free labor.  I’ve discussed over-performance extensively in the past, but I’ll recap briefly here.  In a company like Victoria’s, the culture is one in which advancement is determined, as she says, by ‘effort.’  And effort is determined by showing up to work long hours, sacrificing your free time to Victorias, and generally participating in an arms race to see who can offer the most free labor to the company.  Victoria’s managing whip-crackers hoard carnival cash and get to where they are by working a whole lot of hours for free.  Their compensation in the end?  Victoria pats them on the head and tosses them a few grand extra per year that doesn’t come close to getting them back to even for all the free labor they give her.

If you think of labor as a commodity and of the laborers as vendors, you can see the problem with sucker culture immediately.  This isn’t an awful model for employee labor since employees are competing for necessarily scarce promotions, and generally doing so by prostrating themselves before the boss in an effort to impress.  Victoria, the customer, wanders downtown to the shopping district, and declares that she wants a pair of pants.  Whichever clothing store in the area makes her happiest can be assured of LOTS of future business, so she shops around with a feeling of haughtiness.  Interested in capturing this business, the stores all race to beat one another’s offerings for the price.  The first store knocks $5 off the price.  The second one knocks of $6 and throws in a free T-shirt.  The third one offers her two pairs of pants.  And so on.

Before long, this inverse bidding war has ensured that the ‘winner’ loses money in what is commonly known as a “loss leader.”  The trouble is, however, that when we switch back to the employment model, the “loss leader” is 5 years of 60 hour weeks for the hope of eventually getting a 10K per year increase.  The vendors are crippling themselves for Victoria, who is tapping her foot impatiently and wondering why they don’t make any effort to sell even cheaper.

The Real Problem

Victoria isn’t the real problem; as I said, she’s a symptom.  If you read her question carefully, she doesn’t have any specific goal or apparently rational reason for wanting her people to stay until 6:30.  For all we know, she’s lonely.  Her 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.

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.  In a world where corporate culture promotes 60-hour per work idealists and has them crack the whip at Pharoah’s request to force the pragmatists to build pyramids, the problem is that we are culturally expected to feel guilty for not “going the extra mile.”  “Extra” is the new “required,” to the point where Victoria feels justified “cutting” the “bottom 10 percent” for only wearing the required number of pieces of flair.

We wear our unpaid, uncompensated overtime as a badge of honor.  We sleep less, brag about our caffeine intake, and are available for calls and emails 18 hours per day.  We measure our importance by how many half hour slots during the day are double or triple booked, and we perversely consider it honorable to do this for free.

Let’s flip the script.

I’m over 2000 words in, so I probably owe it to you to get to the point.  And the point is simple: stop it.  Stop considering it impressive to give away more of your labor for free than the guy next to you.  Stop feeling guilty for asking, “what’s in it for me,” when your company implies that your 8 hour days should balloon to 10 hour ones.  Stop thinking that donating an extra 20-40% of your working hours for a possible promotion in 5 years is anything but a terrible time investment.  Stop participating in sucker culture.  Stop humoring Victoria.  Victoria doesn’t work for free — every hour she puts in increases the worth of an asset of hers — so why should you?

If you want to work hard, by all means, work hard.  If you want to log 60 hour weeks, by all means, do that.  If you really, really like your company and your work enough to donate spare time to it, then fine.  But do it with eyes wide open and don’t do it because of the destructive peer pressure of sucker culture.  However you choose to spend it, your time is valuable, and it’s yours to spend.  Would you walk into Victoria’s office and say, “Victoria, I know that you’re a big believer in me and in my cause, so, while I won’t ask for it, per se, I think that it’d be entirely appropriate for you to randomly give me ten thousand dollars more per year?”  No?  So, why do you feel even a twinge of guilt that you should be giving her more of your labor than you agreed to?

Don’t look at your feet guiltily and say that, “gee, Victoria, I’d love to stay until 6:15, but my son is receiving an achievement award and I guess I really should see that.”  Look at Victoria, sitting there, panhandling for your time, and say, “I’m sorry, but I work hard, and I don’t give money to beggars.”

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Robert O'Leary
Guest
Great post. I think the people who suffer this most are new employees whose first job it is. They are new to the game of work and are unsure what’s appropriate and what’s not. Especially when it has become so appropriate and “normalised” to do these extra hours. It’s stupid when we have plenty of studies showing that people working longer hours does not result in better progress and in fact it can result in a significant loss of work in the long run. Increasingly, at least around western europe, we are figuring this out and putting laws in place… Read more »
mgkimsal
Guest

” I think the people who suffer this most are new employees whose first job it is.”

And this is yet another reason why employers generally don’t want older workers.

mandreko
Guest
I would agree with this wholeheartedly. I remember being a new developer, and being told, “You have to stay until we’re done. If you go home, don’t plan on coming in tomorrow.”. I remember 90 hour weeks, because I feared I *had* to, followed by not even as much as a “thank you” when I saved the day. Then I realized that I was making less than half the average for my area, and continuously finding myself praised as a solid developer. I left the job, doubled my salary, and never looked back. I keep a timesheet PDF that I… Read more »
Philo Janus
Guest
Pro-ageism employers will often try to sell the idea that younger workers are “more dedicated” while older workers “have families and other priorities.” Total BS. If anything, older workers can be *more* dedicated. There are two problems poor employers hate: 1) Older workers will show loyalty *if* they are respected and shown the same loyalty. And a poor manager just wants religious devotion without having to offer anything in return except vague promises. 2) Older workers will be dedicated *to the ultimate business goal.* But when the company schedules an all-day offsite to stare at PowerPoint decks while deadlines are… Read more »
kelseyh
Guest

There’s more to the story. Younger developers are often naive and very fast at learning. They can be “tricked” into working very long hours for levels of pay older people won’t accept. That’s part of the reason there is such a bias for young people. By being naive they make the market bad for everyone else.

bob obviously
Guest

Is it total BS? It’s significantly easier to get a 20-some-year-old to work late than a fully formed adult who has perspective. You’re less likely to buy the latter off with a pizza and a six pack.

Erik Dietrich
Guest

Thanks! And I wouldn’t be surprised if reduced work weeks or different schedules led to higher per-hour or overall productivity. The concept of the 40 hour work week is more or less vestigial, as I understand it — it was intended to balance humanitarian concerns with getting manual laborers to work as much as possible. Knowledge work is a different beast.

Philo Janus
Guest

In the IT world the 40 hour work week is indeed vestigial, having been replaced with the 50 hour work week for salaried workers that are still being paid 2003 salaries. Unless their department is outsourced to a company that will do shoddier work for about the same cost because some executive didn’t understand the concept that “adding layers of someone else’s profit into your company may not be a good idea.”

pip010
Guest

“40 hour work week” it comes from the labor age.
In the Information age it’s simply not working.
Intellectual work is highly non-linear as it comes to time-vs-output.
Also the 8h day, regardless of where my body is, my brain doesn’t just switch off after 5 pm. In fact that, often it when it starts 🙂

My point is, if you have engaged employees they will contribute by simply keeping the company concerns/interests/desires in their head for longer anyhow, anyway.

Michael Tutty
Guest

I understand your frustration and agree with it to some extent. But if she’s asking for advice, however misguided the question might be, I think it makes sense to give an answer that could improve the situation.

“What’s in it for them to stay later?” you might ask. Is there profit-sharing? Per-project bonuses? Is everyone a shareholder in the company?

If you want folks to put in the extra effort when it’s needed, then get them bought in.

chiposaur
Guest

It’s real easy to go nuclear in these situations. “WTF is your problem lady?! Are you really asking your employees to work for free?!”

It’s much more difficult to analyze the question (like this blog post does), determine what the real problem is (like this blog post does), and then answer the question with a solution to the problem.

I agree with you. That if the meat & potatoes of this post were a reply to her question, that she might have actually learned something and become a better manager.

Philo Janus
Guest
Why wasn’t your first suggestion PAYING PEOPLE FOR EVERY HOUR THEY WORK?!?!?! Why do you have to rely on fuzzy things like profit sharing, dividends, and bonuses (which are all pretty much executively controlled by the CEO)? A massive problem in corporate America is a complete incompetence in project planning, because any slop can be cleaned up with the free resources of the exempt salaried employee. If every salaried employee outside of management and sales had to be paid overtime, the absolute first thing you would see is a massive crackdown on project managers to scope their projects correctly and… Read more »
Erik Dietrich
Guest

It’s interesting what a dramatic effect on efficiency there is to switching over to hourly work. Since everything I do now is either flat fee product delivery or hourly consulting, I’m way more conscientious about whether my time is being used effectively or not, and clients feel the same. The kind of things you mention, like vanity meetings, have utterly disappeared from my life — people don’t want to pay my rate for that, and I wouldn’t feel right taking it.

Salaried, exempt employment makes the job and its culture a lifestyle. The lines really blur.

pip010
Guest
“Why wasn’t your first suggestion PAYING PEOPLE FOR EVERY HOUR THEY WORK?!?!?!” …cause it is not that simple, at least for intellectual work. Let’s say I go home after 5, the problem I was fighting with code the whole day is still in my head. Passive or not I’m working on it, meanwhile I cook for my child. What do I report? 1h? 1h-15min? The distraction alone that I need to login and report might prove more counterproductive if I loose focus of the Babylonian tower in my head. In my personal case, I rather not report as a drone… Read more »
Philo Janus
Guest
Your reply boils down to: “Here are the reasons I don’t want to pay people more” The issue isn’t “once in a while we might miss something on a project, and it might take a few more hours to complete.” It’s that EVERY project turns into a sixty-hour-a-week grind because overtime is free and there is no penalty for underestimating by up to 20-30%. I know that when I’m a contractor and silly deadlines are set, then when I start talking about overtime suddenly the deadlines get re-evaluated. Every. Time. Or let’s flip it around – that surgeon you’re worried… Read more »
pip010
Guest
I was simply pointing to the silly let’s blame it all on the mid-management. Anyway, the whole issue gravitates around trust and motivation to commit this extra mile, much like in a relationship. If trust is broken and/or motivation is gone, you are free to move on. BTW contractors have no place in such relationship I’m describing. Also, i don’t see how unions can help me with either of those two. By no mean I implied “Here are the reasons I don’t want to pay people more”, just that there re different ways/means of compensation. Again the one model fit… Read more »
kelseyh
Guest

http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html You’re describing this problem. And I agree completely with this. Personally I prefer to distribute my work over a few very intense days than to broadly distribute it.

Erik Dietrich
Guest

That’s fair. My goal with this post was not to make suggestions for how Victoria might improve as a personnel manager, but to make suggestions for how we can improve more globally as a working society.

Unionist
Guest

More than 2,000 words and not one of them is “union”. That’s the real problem.

NoUnionsInTech
Guest

Good luck herding /legitimate/ tech workers into a union. I know damn well I wouldn’t join one.

Eric Boersma
Guest

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (http://www.ifpte.org/) represents some 80,000 Engineers in the United States and Canada.

I’m sure they’re all just fake engineers, though. I mean, the ones I manage obviously are, since they’re in that union and all.

Pmormr
Guest
75%+ of people in technology don’t actually have a clue what’s going on (and that may be a generous estimate). All a union would do is make it harder to fire the idiots at the bottom, normalize wages across the board, and make it harder or impossible for top talent to negotiate what they’re worth. So, as one of the 5 or 10 most technical people at my current employer, what’s in it for me? I already independently negotiated a pretty sweet gig. People who are legitimately good at tech don’t need a union. The market takes good care of… Read more »
Umphlove
Guest

… yeah all unions are like that. You think Tom Brady is in the NFL players union to negotiate a higher salary for himself? No he’s in it to stop the NFL from taking advantage of weaker players. I guess the question you need to ask yourself is if you’d rather work in an industry where low level employees are treated well or one where only a select few “invaluable” employees make the lion’s share.

Pmormr
Guest
The NFL players union has been around since 1956. Tom Brady didn’t make a personal sacrifice to make everything fair, he is simply taking what he can get since joining the union isn’t optional. If you tried to start an NFL players union today in 2015, I highly doubt you’d be able to convince him or anybody else of his caliber to take a pay cut in exchange for warm fuzzies. You’d get “meh, we’re doing just fine without you, kthx”. That’s my point. I know a union would help some people, it’s just not something you can pull off… Read more »
Just another commenter
Guest
Just another commenter

The NFLPA went to bat for Tom Brady during the Deflategate scandal, just as it would have for anyone else. And what happens to a star player who sustains a career-ending injury? Or, for that matter, how do you explain star players risking their health and what ought to be prime earning years playing for free in the NCAA?

Eric Boersma
Guest

If you tried to start an NFL players union today in 2015, I highly doubt you’d be able to convince him or anybody else of his caliber to take a pay cut in exchange for warm fuzzies.

The NFLPA is directly responsible for the NFL implementing rules about unrestricted free agency, a change which has made the average player salary rise dramatically since its inception in the early 1990s. If you were positing an NFL that did not have a players union prior to today, the need for that union would be obvious, much as it is within many other professions.

Anon
Guest

People who are good a negotiating don’t need a union. People who are talented at tech and bad at negotiation will be exploited by the market.

justsomeguy
Guest
Exactly. Tech is all about what your skills and abilities are. It’s the ultimate level playing field because the demand of truly skilled workers far exceeds the demand. Make it your passion, build a home lab to make yourself awesome at what you do, get some certs if your specialty needs it, then find a great job at a great place. I also try to never take a salary position without year end bonuses. I do only hourly, but I have the credentials and experience to only do consulting at an hourly rate so when I’m working 70 hours a… Read more »
Zachary Burnham
Guest
“then find a great job at a great place” Because it’s that easy. You can go to http://www.thisiswhereallthegreatjobsarehiding.com, NOT talk to a recruiter, NOT talk to some HR drone who shouldn’t be let within 40 feet of anything with more than three buttons, NOT play the “let’s make you sit and talk with 19 different people over 8 hours because we can” game.. I don’t know why I didn’t go there before! Obviously the reason people have bad jobs is because they’re lazy! Couldn’t possibly be because it’s a race to the bottom and their employers treat them like toilet… Read more »
Zachary Burnham
Guest

Found the management shill.

For the record, unions do NOT make it harder to fire someone, unless you consider “having a good reason” to be an unfair burden.

Cory Comer
Guest
Do you enjoy being a technology janitor? That’s effectively what those of us who have been around for a while have become. You say that a union would make it harder to fire the idiots at the bottom, but those idiots are there at the bottom because they’re cheap and will kill themselves to stay employed like this article talks about. Any where people are focused on time sheets, deadlines, hours, and asses in seats, which is what managers seem to think is important when it comes to managing technology, I guarantee you will also find an exponential amount of… Read more »
Eric Boersma
Guest
All a union would do is make it harder to fire the idiots at the bottom, normalize wages across the board, and make it harder or impossible for top talent to negotiate what they’re worth. The IFPTE doesn’t have input into any of those things at any organization where it is present. Seriously – it has zero input on pay scales, it doesn’t have any desire to normalize wages, and it doesn’t protect anyone from being fired. Instead, it provides legal protection for employees who seek to collectively bargain with employers for whatever employees feel are reasonable goals to get… Read more »
pip010
Guest

I wonder, is there union for employers? We desperately need one in the EU! 😀

Gryzor
Guest

It’s *called* the EU.

Philo Janus
Guest
Have you ever worked at a company where you had to do two jobs because if you didn’t, nobody else would? Did you get paid more when you were being both sysadmin and programmer, saving the company a salary? How about the Thursday afternoon “we’re going to have to work all day Saturday because my poor planning set an unrealistic paper deadline”? Or the Wednesday night “Company Morale Event” ? Or the “We need you to bill forty hours a week, but we also have ten hours a week of overhead stuff you have to do”? (Or what was done… Read more »
pip010
Guest

Hey we are always welcomed to start you own private business 😀
Then you will be doing at least 5 jobs and payed nothing! 😀

TM
Guest

I like some of your other comments, but I don’t see unions solving this problem. The best thing to do is find another job.

Sotonohito
Guest

Why not?

Michael_Sw
Guest
The conservative press and admittedly a fair share of poorly run unions have managed to convince most Americans that “labor union” = “mechanism to take money from good workers for the purposes of political lobbying and protecting bad workers from the consequences of their incompetence”. But labor unions were originally built because employers coerced employees to work long hours without sufficient pay, lobbied and bribed legal institutions to warp employment law and local law enforcement to their own benefit, and engaged in unethical practices to keep the price of labor low. Obviously corporate offices in 2015 aren’t as bad as… Read more »
kelseyh
Guest

Honestly unlike the coal worker, in this industry the best way to raise your pay is to switch jobs often. I can’t stress this enough.

Erik Dietrich
Guest
None of the words was “union” because that’s not a solution for which I’d advocate. I admittedly don’t know what Victoria’s workers do for a living, so I’m projecting my own line of work (software development/consulting) when I talk about this. I could probably write a post (or several) with nuance on this opinion, but I don’t think that collective bargaining is the cure for what ails a high-demand, knowledge work field. Reason being, I don’t think we need to accept the subordination that entails — I see the demand for and cost of software creating a future where we… Read more »
Eric Boersma
Guest
Reason being, I don’t think we need to accept the subordination that entails — I see the demand for and cost of software creating a future where we engage in a professional services model, like doctors and lawyers. Respectfully, I think this is a place where you’re letting your own skill set cloud your judgement of what’s possible. Everyone cannot just be consultants, dispensing code where it is valuable and proper, because that’s not a model that fits the needs of many or most programmers or businesses. Most programmers are quite bad at selling their own skill sets. Most poorly… Read more »
Michael_Sw
Guest
I would point out that many lawyers do not make high salaries and burnout in the field is high, while conversely there is intentional work done by organizations of physicians in the US to keep the supply of physicians low enough to artificially inflate salaries. That’s one of the reason the average US doctor earns so much more than international equivalents. Further, I think as more schools and free resources educate on software development, the volume of available and skilled software developers will increase. If only one out of every fifty people that tries their hand at writing code becomes… Read more »
Erik Dietrich
Guest
I’d be interested to hear more about what you’d envision it would look like to have a collectively bargaining developer workforce, meaning some of the more specific mechanics. I mean that earnestly, since in the relatively near term future I’m going to be doing a good bit of research on models for development going forward. Disqus comments may not be the best venue. If you’d be interested in chatting over email, I’m game. I was also thinking about using Slack as a discussion vehicle for a few different sorts of conversations that I’ve stared or been part of. Two things… Read more »
Erik Dietrich
Guest
I’ll actually make another note on this that I forgot to earlier, just as food for thought. Roles for which collectively bargaining is most effective seem either to be tied heavily into government either ipso facto or by regulation (police, teachers, etc) or to be for roles where workers controlling the means of production is impossible. For many knowledge workers, and specifically software developers, we necessarily own our own means of production right out of the gate. If I’m assembling things on a factory floor, I can’t just decide to start a new manufacturing business one day. But if I’m… Read more »
Eric Boersma
Guest
I admittedly don’t know what Victoria’s workers do for a living I’m double posting, but these are two separate points. What Victoria’s workers do for a living isn’t relevant. The core issue at play in Victoria’s letter isn’t that she’s entitled, it’s that there’s a mismatch in terms of her expectations and the understanding of her employees. She’s noted that she’s provided financial incentives for her employees to work late previously, but it seems safe to assume that at this point, or at a point in the future, Victoria is going to find some employees who are willing to work… Read more »
Erik Dietrich
Guest

I think what her workers do for a living HAS to be relevant. There are jobs that have more market demand than others. If Victoria is the only game in town willing to employe widgeteers, then the widgeteers have absolutely no recourse aside from collectively bargaining. If she employs gadegeeters, and everyone wants to hire her gadgeteers away from her, then they can just flip her off and leave to go somewhere that there aren’t over-performing Toms.

TM
Guest

My approach is to let the company keep their bonus and I’ll keep my free time. If they want to have a serious discussion about working longer hours, then we can talk about it and come to decision that we both accept, which would include higher compensation and some kind of written expectations. If they were to persist in expecting free labor, then that’s my invitation to leave. Not really that complicated and I don’t need a union to protect me.

pip010
Guest

well you answered you own question: NO

I’m not getting into this discussion, I just hope you all have a head and having one more above your will just bring extra weight on your shoulders 😛

I’m so against leftist practices!

pip010
Guest

no… that’s simply another problem.

tree
Guest

” the point is simple: stop it”

I was brave enough to be one of those who said no, and now I am unemployed. 2 little kids and not good prospects as I am 50 and applying for tech jobs.

Your advice is great for independently wealthy rich kids but unfortunately it’s very poor advice for typical oppressed working class mugs.

Michael_Sw
Guest

I have the enormous market advantage over you of being born twelve years later. So if you can figure out how to convince employers that your brain did not walk out back and shoot itself some time between age 30 and the present, please pass along the method. I’ll need it soon.

Good luck (for what little that’s worth)

ash
Guest

Just because you’ve been fired recently and been unable to score a new job, doesn’t mean this fairly good article is good enough only for independently wealthy rich kids.

And do you even mean by “wealthy rich kids”?Are you implying that the author inherited $$$? Or are you implying that the young generation have it easy, because they have the financial cushion of their affluent parents to fall back on ?

Entirely irrelevant and not contributing to the discussion. If you can’t fight for your rights, then you probably don’t deserve them.

ges2ika
Guest

Unfortunately, those of us who’ve hit the “over 40 years old” mark find that we’re quickly approaching our expiration date. We either work more hours to keep our jobs or we find ourselves looking for new jobs in an industry that has never valued experience.

kelseyh
Guest

Part of the reason technology doesn’t value experience is because the toolsets change so quickly. New frameworks are literally rendering old ways of doing things obsolete. The only way to get past this is to be constantly learning.

Hiveasy
Guest

No offence to you or your situation but your not the first one to get screwed over at a job. I have been fired from a job because I would not move my family “fast enough” (no joke)

Erik Dietrich
Guest

That sounds rough; I’m sorry.

As for my advice, I’m saying, “stop it” to feeling guilt/pressure to put in hours for free. How one resists this will, obviously, depend on risk tolerance and a whole host of other factors. What I’m tired of is the idea that there’s some kind of ethical, or even moral, obligation for people to donate time to a company.

Daddy Dave
Guest

I did the same thing at 55. I agree with your analysis.

John
Guest
You can’t have a conversation with most people working in IT about what someone in the trenches ‘deserves’ without being eyed as some kind of hippie or, god forbid, a ‘liberal’ arguing for “worker’s rights”. It’s hard to figure on how things have reached that point, except that perhaps so much brain capacity is spent on analytical tasks that there is none left over for critical thinking. However more to the 8 hour/2080 hours part, in large corporate settings where IT is made up principally of contractors whose hours are purchased, I seen it where management pushed people out the… Read more »
Umphlove
Guest

Working in HR as a dirty liberal, I never give employees a hard time for coming in late or leaving a little early. Why? Because in the modern era they work way more than that fifteen minute difference on their phones and personal computers. Flexibility is the gift of modern tech, but older managers are loathe to supplant required office time with flexible out of office time.

Erik Dietrich
Guest

That’s extremely refreshing. Earlier in my career, I can think of nothing that would sour me on a company faster than them giving me a hard time about having some kind of service appointment one morning after I’d put in weeks of 10 hour days leading up to that point. I’d start to think, “okay, if you want to play it that way, you’ll get exactly 8 hours every day, by the book.”

Erik Dietrich
Guest
I have seen what you’re talking about in massive corporations with a history of chasing bottom dollar contracts. If I’m comparing that to Victoria’s employees (assuming she employs devs), I suppose it’s pick your poison. At Victoria’s company, pay is likely competitive and working conditions more free-wheeling and fun. Downside is Victoria and sucker culture. At GiantCo, you can bet you won’t have to work a whole ton of hours or work very hard, but the pay is commensurate with that and the environment soul-sucking. I think both situations suffer from failing to trust knowledge workers and treat align their… Read more »
Michael_Sw
Guest
I think this whole culture of prizing long hours of what appears to be hard work is extra ridiculous because so many white collar jobs are busywork or suffer from reduced effectiveness or productivity past a certain point. Maybe I suck as a software developer, but in my experience if I’m really in a coding marathon most of the code I write after hour seven or so will need to be rewritten within a week anyway. So even if some employer manages to railroad me into working a fifty, sixty, or seventy hour week the joke is on both of… Read more »
mandreko
Guest

This is true. When I was working crazy long hours, we had to keep going over and over logic trying to prevent the superman penny issue when distributing millions of dollars to insurance companies. At one point I was talking to my manager and fell asleep mid-sentence. They decided to let us go home at that point. I thought it was nice of them, but later got scared that I couldn’t stay awake for a sentence, but then operated a car.

Jerry Kindall
Guest

The reason Victoria works such long hours is that she is the founder of the company and therefore has an ownership stake. If you wish for your employees to work as though they had an ownership stake, the solution is simple: give them an ownership stake.

ash
Guest

Exactly.

Engage us, or give us a better piece of the pie. Not the fucking bread crumbs.

Simple as that.

Charlie
Guest

This whole article could have been summed in these two posts instead of this guy droning on and trying to tear Victoria down.

Marcus2012
Guest

Victoria is a shitty person and SHOULD feel bad for it, white knight.

Mohamad Atie
Guest

Totally agree

thekiyote
Guest

I would give Victoria the benefit of the doubt and call this a culture clash. Early startup workers have more risk, so more of a stake than those who come later, as they should. They work harder to minimize the risk. As time goes on, new employees have less risk, but nothing to incentivize them working beyond their work day. Nothing wrong with that either, but somebody from the first group can think someone from the second is “lazy.”

Brian Bulkowski
Guest

I have found this doesn’t work. Smart employees realize that whether _they_ get money ( a liquidation event ) has little do to with any activities they do, and more to do with upper management’s negotiations with investors and the markets, so employee ownership is seen as a crapshoot that motivates only the naive.

Erik Dietrich
Guest

Yeah, exactly. Though, I’d be idly curious to know what Victoria was using to incent them, since she did make reference to having some scheme to do so. Could be anything from random, token gift cards to stock options. Who knows?

Robert Kuhn
Guest

Well, that’s “a” solution. Another would be to start your own competing business, or any business. Feel some inertia about that risk? Then why expect someone else to hand every employee a piece of their ownership pie — or even the opportunity to earn that? Or look at it another way: if someone values having a particular opportunity to earn a salary for 40 hours a week of work, what is the actual worth of being able to KEEP that job?

pip010
Guest

I suggest the same and not to stop this mentality/culture after growing from a small startup to multi-million biz!

It works for me and is great way to leave one day with a decency and some shares left for my retirement. Don’t ever rely on public schemes but take control of your finances. Anything else seems too risky for me at least.

Dont ever be afraid to ask what you think you are worth. Worst case you get a cold shower, best case you get a rise 😛

kelseyh
Guest

Make sure that ownership is more than 0.0001% of the pie. Shares are almost always worth less than people anticipate. It’s usually better to be paid more for the work you do than to rely on shares carrying the burden.

Bryan Livingston
Guest

Seems like her argument should have been, “why are my employees slacking off most the time and not hustling and getting more done during their 8 hour day” instead of “why aren’t they pretending to work more hours.”

Blair Morris
Guest

It seems like that wasn’t her argument at all. She in no way implied that people were performing their jobs poorly, but that they simply weren’t working extra hours for free like she pretends to.

Erik Dietrich
Guest

The thing that was most surreal to me was that she offered no actual reason to want people to work more hours. No talk of deadlines being missed or anything like that at all. Just her wanting people to hang around the office longer.

Tim
Guest
Great read. Thanks for this. I’ve been saying this for 10 years or so since I started working professionally in an industry where everyone brags about how hard and long they work. (Agency work first, then elsewhere) Now, I’m a small business owner on my own, and I’d prefer it everyone worked hard during their time at the office, and then spent the rest of their free time learning new skills, or spending time with friends/family. Might mean we take longer to grow, but overall it’s better for the ‘culture’ of the office that we work hard while we’re here… Read more »
Erik Dietrich
Guest

Thanks for the kind words, and I find your attitude refreshing. I’ve mostly tried to avoid expanding my operation beyond just me as a freelancer, but if I were to take on employees, I’d do so with the same kind of attitude. I’ve always begged off, saying, “I don’t want employees — I want partners.”

The_greyhound
Guest

Perhaps you should pay your employees overtime, Victoria, you stupid bitch?

Dead_Andy_Breitbart
Guest

I’d add that it’s not just sucker culture, it’s crisis culture.

We can now be more productive than ever before. No waiting for the snail-mail, Faxes, courier service, no sending out for printouts, etc., etc., etc. My last full time gig was at a place where seriously, 90% of the time, there was an emergency, projects colliding into each other, reduced time lines, budgets, last minute requests. And because we could theoretically do all that stuff—emergency stuff—that became the new normal.
Just stay late and do it.

It’s poisonous.

Aaron Lawrence
Guest

TL;DR: Victoria gets something out of more hours, employees don’t.

Erik Dietrich
Guest

Sure, but that’s obvious on the surface. If I had to give it a one-line tl;dr (brevity not being my strong suit), it’d be “stop feeling guilty about avoiding work you don’t get anything out of.”

Michael Ross Havard
Guest
What I see in this is that Victoria wants her employees to be as invested in the company as she is but lacks any specific goals to encourage that investment. For her there’s some payoff to the long hours (i.e. pride in her business/product), to them there isn’t – it’s just a job. Corporations all over spend big bucks on employee engagement, surveys, and outreach trying to motivate employees to feel invested in a company. It usually falls flat. You have to have a hook that employees will connect with and at the end of the day that hook will… Read more »
Erik Dietrich
Guest
When I’ve held org chart responsibility in management roles that included worrying about retention, the biggest thing I always tried to establish was a narrative for the folks in question. What did they want out of life, and how could we unite their goals with the company’s? People want their lives to be stories with some kind of arc, whether it’s rising in the ranks of the company, saving to start their own business, having a family and a steady job… whatever. All of the surveys, outreach, and all of that other stuff doesn’t really get at that. Now, to… Read more »
obiwanginobli
Guest

the real problem is, that if you have to ask this question, you already can’t solve it.

jon
Guest

“When I started this company six years ago there was a lot more team spirit. Now I have to come up with incentives to get people to put in extra effort.

I haven’t threatened anyone or threatened to cut the bottom ten percent of the team or any of that but I did tell my managers that I want them to incorporate not only output but also effort into their performance review rankings.”

Basically: Work for free or be fired. Does Victoria realize what she is thinking?

Erik Dietrich
Guest

I honestly doubt it. If I had to guess what she’s thinking about, it’s a combination of how she perceives other companies and her own company in the past. She’s thinking, “I want a culture where everyone is enthusiastic and committed” and it’s just a blind spot for her that this means demanding (begging for) free labor.

title1ted
Guest
Great post. I married young and started working for a big mutual fund company in an entry level position right out of college. There was a lot of pressure to work overtime but we were salaried employees, so no overtime pay. I busted my ass and kept telling my wife it would all pay off down the road in a promotion and/or raise. A special assignment came up and they chose the top 2% of their employees to tackle the assignment, me being one of them. We were promised a 20% raise (we made shit money to begin with) if… Read more »
Erik Dietrich
Guest

That sounds like an infuriating deal, but the kind of thing that winds up being a valuable lesson years later, looking back. Sounds like it worked out for the best, anyway.

I personally never had quite as galling an experience directly. I became gradually disillusioned with the idea of corporate loyalty by discovering that staying marketable and job hopping swung pay up a lot faster than staying anywhere. And this was in spite of well-intentioned, smart managers that were doing everything they could to make staying attractive to the people they valued.

wtf2015lol
Guest

Companies love SALARY SLAVES. Pay them for 40 hours, demand extra work hours from them each week for free.

Blair Morris
Guest
As part of the “young SPOILED” generation, I don’t get how your last sentence even tied into your first two. Also, what exactly have we been spoiled with? It sure as hell isn’t the GDP, real wage, or the pensions and stock options they used to hand out for free to the old SPOILED generation for what would be entry-level positions today. Not to mention the cost of student loans (good luck getting a decent wage without a college degree these days), and to top it all off, the fact that we’re all paying into social security we’ll likely never… Read more »
Eric Boersma
Guest

I think the last sentence is supposed to be satire.

david
Guest

I agree !

John Didion
Guest
“Victoria” could just as easily have been replaced with “Academia,” and this post could just as easily have been called “The Beggar PI and Postdoc Culture.” But in industry, there are maybe a handful of people competing for each management position, whereas in academia there will be somewhere 20 to >100 graduate students to every available PI position (depending on the field). And there is a strong expectation of >40 hours per week (more like 50-80), for much lower pay than industry. But supposedly we’re going into it with our eyes open – we know how bad things are, and… Read more »
Erik Dietrich
Guest

An interesting point to raise, and something that hadn’t really occurred to me. Some years back, as I was wrapping up my MS degree, I contemplated a PhD. One of the main deciding factors, frankly, was that I figured I’d rather own my own intellectual property in the coming years and not be beholden to a system where I didn’t have a whole lot of chips.

I’m fortunate to be in a line of work where the PhD isn’t especially important, though.

David Hunt, PE
Guest

Very good post.
@mgkimsal:disqus yes – older workers want to spend time with their families. Not for nothing do I publically announce that MY priorities call me “Daddy”.

earld
Guest

If I’m new to an organization I’ll do almost anything once or for a short while. But when I’ve done enough and done it well I stop. I say ‘no’ more than I say ‘yes’ because when I say ‘yes’ I do it better than anyone else and it tires me. I give them (boss, coworkers) my word and keep it without trying to impress anyone. These are the things I’ve agreed to do and that I do them completely and without complaint is more than enough.

Matt
Guest

I didn’t read through all the comments so not sure if this was covered? The one item missed in this posting is rewarding innovation. If we had a really switched on person who was working fewer hours yet was driving new ideas and new business I wouldn’t worry about the amount of time they were putting in.
Conversely, can I get all the lost time our non-innovators spend in the bathroom on their phone or in front of the coffee machine added on to the back-end of the day in the form of actual productivity?

Erik Dietrich
Guest

I’m personally all in favor of finding ways to reward people for producing actual value instead of approximating it with “hours present at the office.”

terri
Guest

this is not new. I was in a culture like this in 1980 at P&G. It’s implied that if you make a salary you work until the work is done and of course it’s never done. It’s a bad model and thus the reason americans work harder than all other countries and have the highest productivity and rising. I also agree that CEOs and srleaders who expect extra work from “minions” to get to where they are are fooling themselves if they thing the next generation will make those same sacrifices.

treesntreesntrees
Guest

I worked at a company that had a textbook sucker culture. If you resist, you will be fired for “lacking passion for the company.”
A union would help everyone, but Tech/Engineering is full of narcissists who would rather shit on the less talented engineers beneath them for the ego boost than support them and enjoy the universal job security that would result from solidarity.
This thread is wonderful evidence of the mentality, reminds me of engineering school. So many warm, fuzzy, personalities.

Someguy
Guest

FYI, this is basic economics. You’re describing a competitive market for promotions and urging people to form a cartel (“price fixing”). If you are explicit about that it will work even better

Erik Dietrich
Guest

I’m not urging people as a collective to do anything. The audience of the post (and generally all of my posts) is the individual. I’m urging individuals only to recognize that putting in extra hours in the hopes of eventually “getting ahead” is (1) a bad deal economically and (2) not something that they should feel guilty for viewing skeptically.

Price fixing and cartel labor require a level of massive, coordinated effort that I’d wish anyone trying good luck with.

Daddy Dave
Guest

Great story and right on the money. I’m going to use some of the ideas in a response to another forum.

Some people (me) will give the job everything if the reward is a life worth living. If the end result is just more hours in front of a computer, forget it. It is important to Victoria because it is her company and her life that we are improving. I fought this battle for 4 years with my previous employer.

Erik Dietrich
Guest

Glad you found some value, and use away 🙂

I’m a lot like you, it sounds like. I’ve certainly had times in my career where I got wrapped up in what I was doing for the satisfaction or for the learning or what have you. But I try not to lose perspective — I won’t get wrapped up in things to help some mid level manager get a bonus.

Rye
Guest
I think part of the problem, more than anything, is we still have a generation of middle/upper management who believe the work harder paradigm. With technology at our fingertips, there’s a lot that can be done to work smarter, not harder. There are (and always will be) people who insist on doing things as manual as possible. Ignore learning an automated solution because, I suspect, they fear that the automation will replace them. Yes, there are some jobs that need to be replaced with automation, but if you’re in any middle-corporation operation, automation should free you up to be able… Read more »
Erik Dietrich
Guest
I see this quite frequently when I’m doing work on the more consultative end. There are a lot of folks out there in management positions who try to reason about code as if it were a commodity and who think that producing more output volume means better outcomes. One of the best ways I’ve found to jolt people out of that sort of thinking is to pose to them a question like, “do you think that if we paid for everyone here to take a typing class and increase their words per minute by 50% that you’d see a corresponding… Read more »
John
Guest

One of the best post I’ve read all year

Erik Dietrich
Guest

Thanks! Glad you liked.

Howard Wiener
Guest
Well observed, Erik. More enlightened companies realize that they pay people to accomplish things, not just to work. It is natural for the level of work to rise and fall and if people are expected to step up when things heat up, it’s only fair to let them slide during the lulls. No lulls? Constant fire drills? No opportunities for down time? You’re probably doing something wrong or attempting to do too much with too little. Many, many studies have shown that peoples’ productivity nosedives after their limits are reached and those limits kick in well before the 60-hour week… Read more »
pkemner
Guest

You nailed it with “Every hour Victoria puts in increases the worth of an asset of hers.”
Every hour you work for free just moves you an hour closer to your death.

People gripe about a culture of entitlement, but the ones at the top are often the worst. And after all that free work she’ll brag about being a self-made success.

sirlanse
Guest

The small “Cool” companies have “Stock Options”. Give those people a piece of the pie and they just might work more.

Dana
Guest

Don’t worry about this point, it will be moot as soon as they get enough Indians over here to take your job. They don’t mind working 60 hours a week and getting paid for 40.

Being an employer who grew up poor, ok, lower middle class, what I don’t get is not putting in extra hours when you are getting paid hourly. Especially when the alternative is simply playing on-line gaming even more. Oh, you millennials have such good quality of life metrics!

Erik Dietrich
Guest

Kids these days. When I was younger, I used to walk uphill both ways to school. Barefoot. In a blizzard. In the summer. Because if I didn’t, cheap overseas labor would.

An0nym0usC0ward
Guest

Using effort in evaluations is IMO plain stupid. It will punish the most productive people. Those people are productive not because they do overtime, get tired, and start to deliver bad quality, but because they work smart, know how to optimally invest effort and take care never to let themselves become so tired that they don’t think right anymore.

Based on this reasoning, at least in my field of activity (programming), it’s plain stupid to ask for overtime when in fact you should take great care to avoid overtime. Overtime is a late symptom of a project gone dangerously rotten.

Ilias G
Guest
Erik Dietrich
Guest

🙂

(I like the html tag trick in this comment, by the way)

Ilias G
Guest

???

SIEG_HEIL_BABY!
Guest

If you’re working for someone else, you’re being fucked in the ass.

Victoria will always ask her drones to slave away until death. That’s her job. Get wealthy sucking the marrow of every asshole who shows up to pull the plow.

Welcome to the states. Work for yourself, get your own slaves or shut the fuck up.

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