I don’t particularly enjoy giving such an uncharitable take extra oxygen, but in this case, I think talking about it is instructive. It is a near perfect representation of an antique, paternalistic mindset toward employee/employer relationships and work culture. Reading it, I immediately recognized the tone because it is the very voice that has been drilled inside my head since my first job as a teenager. It is a voice and an argument that I’ve heard repeated by my bosses, family members, teachers, and even some friends throughout my life. It has taken me years to stop listening to this voice. Even now, in odd moments, I find myself feeling guilty for trying to resist it.

The voice says: You are free to choose your job. But once you’ve done that, it’s time to fall in line. It argues that you should be extra grateful for what your company provides you — a salary, purpose, any auxiliary benefits — and not to think as much about what you provide to your company. After all, you agreed to take this job. You signed the contract. And, most importantly, you have options. If you don’t like it, leave.

These are the words of a bully. This line of argument is designed to make those speaking up feel as if they’re being ungrateful, unreasonable and hysterical. [ . . .] Who do these people think they are?

Charlie Warzel on work culture.

Remember kids: definitionally, if you got more out of your company then they got out of you, they wouldn’t be hiring you.

2021-09-21T08:11:52+10:0025th September, 2021|Tags: |

The cruelty.

That’s the system that’s being created in industrial (and not just industrial) labor today: not careers but gigs, with better pay and benefits than the worst jobs, but also even less room for advancement or scrutiny on how and where you’re hired. The assumption is that low-level employees will cycle out, even if serious injuries, chronic humiliations, or (unlikely, but) a global pandemic forces you out of the workforce sooner than expected.

This high rate of churn is somewhat paradoxically considered, from a top executive’s perspective, a good thing: the lost costs paid for worker acquisition and training are more than made up for by making it difficult for long-term workers to socialize, build up relationships with each other, and organize (formally or informally) to transform the job.

Or, as Vox’s Jason Del Rey writes in another story this week, “Amazon corporate managers have goals for “unregretted attrition” — basically a percentage of their staff that should leave the company each year, either voluntarily or by being forced out.” It’s just like Adam Serwer put it in a different context: the cruelty is the point.

Tim Carmody on new labor.

2021-09-17T07:13:16+10:0021st September, 2021|Tags: |

Times three and up the units.

Project Management, the Roleplaying Game.

Very tempting to buy a copy of this for all the consultants in our company, except for the fact it might be considered some kind of workplace violence.

2021-08-20T07:11:07+10:0022nd August, 2021|Tags: |


But it’s not just the number of hours, or the pay, or the free meals. It’s the way that these companies conceive of their ideal worker. Finance and consulting want quick, competitive, ruthless employees who will sublimate their entire selves to their work. That’s certainly true of some tech companies as well. But others [. . .] are seeking a different sort of worker altogether, one who’s innovative, creative, empathetic, endlessly collaborative and experimental.

These workers are highly sought after, but unlike the straight-A business school student, they cannot be reverse engineered or built or even trained. They are a naturally occurring personality resource — but a fragile one. In fact, part of the reason this type worker is so in demand is the nature of the contemporary work itself: all of these now favored characteristics are the ones that have been destroyed by rites of passage. Once gone, they are often incredibly difficult to reproduce.

Anne Helen Petersen on worklife.

2021-07-27T08:51:19+10:0031st July, 2021|Tags: , |

On a scale of one to ten…

Experience surveys, net promoter scores (NPS), and related tools basically exist to erode workers’ rights for customer service workers.

The particular gotcha here is almost always the NPS; if you had a shitty service experience but it was because of The Company and not the employee, giving top marks for every other question and still giving a low NPS will, 99% of the time, still result in the person you interacted with getting reprimanded. Remember that the goal of The Company is never to accept structural blame; it will always, always blame the worker, because the sorts of workers that are subjected to these surveys are almost always (in the eyes of The Company) infinitely replaceable . . .1

  1. This is what, incidentally, process frameworks like ITIL and its non-IT cousins are all about. It gets couched in the language of “business continuity” but underneath that it’s really focused on making sure no worker gets enough autonomy or expertise that they can then start making demands about pay and conditions. []
2021-06-29T07:22:54+10:0010th July, 2021|Tags: , |

Creative capitalism.

Maybe this is where part of the problem lies. At least that is how I experience it. If you love your job so much and you would do it for free, why should I pay you? There is this thing with work and getting paid. I know other people love their work as well, but I feel there is a general idea that work is not fun but you do it to get paid. At least that is how I was raised. In school, you have to do stuff you don’t want (and don’t need) so you get a reward: a diploma. That diploma gives you access to do more stuff you don’t want to earn money to buy stuff you don’t really need. With art and design this feels different. There isn’t a kid I know that doesn’t like to draw or build stuff. Kids draw and build without the prospect of a reward. Maybe a compliment here and there but they are intrinsically motivated to do the work it takes to produce a drawing or a Lego city. They can spend hours and hours. The way I see designers is that they are people who never lost this. They still like to spend hours and hours creating for the sake of creating. At least to me, design never feels like work in the sense of having to do stuff I don’t want to do for some reward. The work itself is the reward. It has purpose in itself. There is no sacrifice. And in a world where work is sacrifice that gets rewarded, design doesn’t feel like work.

And that causes problems when it comes to paying designers I think. If it’s not really work, why should you pay designers? If I like design so much that I would do it for free, why should I mind if I don’t get paid enough?

Dennis Hambeukers on motivation.

2021-06-21T20:50:51+10:0030th June, 2021|Tags: , , , |


Apparently, in 1997, David Bowie issued what were basically stocks in himself as an artist, giving the owners of said “Bowie Bonds” a percentage of his year-on-year royalties. They were initially bought by and endorsed by actual, legitimate investment firms, raising a craptonne of cash for Bowie and eventually losing their purchasers an additional craptonne when online piracy caused the bottom to drop out of the music market a few years later. Bowie, who was not an idiot–and, as those of you who are Old™ may recall, was Extremely Online in the internet’s early years and thus obviously could see which way the Napster was blowing–saw this coming and was thus able to comfortably ride out the post-internet music age and go on to make weird, non-mainstream experimental stuff for, I guess, funsies.1

Bowie turned out to be a more prescient futurist than most actual professional futurists, and ISAs–or “income sharing agreements”–are the Hot New Thing in white collar indentured servitude. They’re probably not as great an idea for the rest of us as they were for the Thin White Duke, hey.

  1. See also: Trent Reznor, another early leverager of being already famous when the Internet Era hit. []
2021-06-15T08:28:46+10:0017th June, 2021|Tags: , , |

Someone who needs it.

That’s the backdrop against which we normalize the maintenance of productivity during a pandemic, a mass shooting, police brutality, racist violence, a massive weeklong power outage, or an insurrection. Productivity maintenance becomes a means to prove your fitness for the future, and, as such, your value as an employee: you have the skills, the fortitude, and the control over your immediate environment to work through the inevitable catastrophes and demands of the market. Whatever shit the world throws at you, the work endures. It’s not that you want to be a heartless robot; it’s that the market is hostile to those who aren’t, no matter what your manager assures you. The manager’s crisis refrain of “feel free to take some time, if you need it” is fundamentally a sorting question: are you someone who needs it or are you someone who can ignore that you do?

Anne Helen Petersen on sorting questions.

2021-06-03T06:58:08+10:009th June, 2021|Tags: , |

The burn (out).

This is the dystopian reality of productivity culture. Its mandate is never “You figured out how to do my tasks more efficiently, so you get to spend less time working.” It is always: “You figured out how to do your tasks more efficiency, so you must now do more tasks.” Sometimes, if you’re a Wall Street investment banker, you can complete infinitely more tasks until you have so much money that you don’t even need it anymore — you’re productive for the thrill of it, but also because you don’t know how else to gauge your own self-worth.

But the people who help that banker in his quest, whether his explicit support staff (assistants) or his implicit one (office cleaners, house cleaners, food delivery people) often have a very different relationship to productivity. It’s not pleasurable or addictive. It’s just denying the most human parts of yourself in order to survive the economic moment.

At this point, we’ve embraced so many new technologies, with so many accompanying mandates to increase our work load — but with so little attention to why, and to what end. To contribute to a stock price that benefits a select few? To check the boxes on our to do list? To spend so much time at our computers that our bodies physically ache?

Anne Helen on hustle and role.

Once upon a time I got demoted to a level two service desk job, from a level three position, basically for the crime of being a woman.1 The work was criminally easy; mostly just helping people retrieve deleted emails from their email inboxes, with the occasional optional SOP writing for the level one team to try and help them stop sending us such nonsense jobs. Our queue was constantly empty because of me; my boss at the time made the mistake of actually letting me see the team’s metrics and I was resolving two orders of magnitude2 more tickets than anyone else on either the first, second, or third level teams.

But doing all of that took up, maybe, two hours of my workday, max. Three if I wanted to document a process or mentor some of the level one staff. So I spent most of the rest of it reading books or messing around online. If reading that sentence made you cringe then you have correctly guessed the end of this story; I got disciplined for “not doing enough work.” Even though I was the reason our team literally had no work to do.

I learnt an important lesson, from that little experience. I doubt it was the lesson my then-bosses wanted me to learn.3

  1. There were two women, both of us twenty-somethings, in the old level two-three combined team when it got split. Guess which two staff were the only ones to be sent to the newly formed level two team? No, guess. They even had the temerity to tell us they sent us instead of the literally-more-junior-but-male staff members because they “needed the experience” on the lower-tier team. []
  2. Yes, really. []
  3. She wanted me to “add value” by “finding additional improvements” but, firstly, I was literally already doing that and, secondly, being demoted for no reason—gods I loved that level two-three job—pretty much killed any hope I had that working hard would get me anywhere I wanted to go. That boss knew she fucked up, too; she loathed me, in a way that in retrospect was projecting her own guilt for being the one to execute her boss’s sexist nonsense. I left not long after, to a boss everyone warned me was difficult to deal with. We got on great and some of the work I did for him I still occasionally get people coming up to me with “wow that was you?” sort of comments. []
2021-03-22T09:00:28+11:003rd April, 2021|Tags: , |
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