The organization man of the new millennium

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Recently I read about a company which has three full-timers whose only job is to make employee life fun. They plan outings, parties, raffles, all reportedly in an effort to “stave off headhunters” and to keep engineers working “12- 15 hours days.” Here is a little note to the hundreds of employees at this company:

HELLO OUT THERE? Are you people morons? Why are you at a company that consumes all your free time with work and then, as a bonus, sucks up the only hours you have left to sleep and shower? This is not an office with perks. This is serfdom. This is paternalism. This is the organization man of the new millennium.

If you're at a company like this one, you need to get a life. The only people who are willing to work at this kind of place have no life outside of work. If you have friends who are not at the company, they are probably no longer your friends. If you have a family and you work at a company like this, you will get what you deserve: Kids who have no relationship with you.

And do not, I repeat, do not tell me that you have to work at a place like this because of the incredible projects you get to work on. People who are truly talented do not have to suffer draconian hours and insulting “perks” in order to get on good projects. In fact, you can bet that the people who are amazing at their job, are smart enough to live a life outside of their job.

So check this out: You are surrounded by sub-par workers when you work at a place that does not respect employees' personal lives because only sub-par workers put up with that.

Here's another thing some of you will tell me: You have to “pay dues” in your profession. But you know what? That's an excuse you use for having someone else take care of your career path. Sure, you can play the law firm or consulting firm game, and put in huge number of hours just because the rule is that you put in huge number of hours to get to the next level. But you don't need to do that.

You can make your own path, which is not so far fetched if you are good at what you do. You can freelance, you can work at a small firm, you can intern for someone who will mentor you, or you can become an entrepreneur. The demographic starting businesses at the fastest rate is 18-34. Now you know why.

My brother, Erik, is at an investment banking firm at the grunt level. He has been working twenty-hour days without anyone batting an eye. When he looks above himself in the ranks, it doesn't seem to get better. People don't have a lot of control over their workloads, or the timing of their work, and people don't seem particularly happy. So he's leaving the bank for a smaller firm where people have lives.

And this is why: Because the smartest people in the world are in a position where they have control over their work and room to grow a personal life. It's a fact. You might say, “But they paid their dues.” To this I say, Who cares? It's a new world out there, and there's no reason for you to have to pay dues just because the generations before you were not creative or independent enough when they thought about their careers.

And wait. Everyone who is about to send mail to me about how “young people need to learn to work hard” think about this: There are many ways to work hard. Thinking rigorously, and putting one's heart into a job are different than working long hours. In fact, I'd say of those three ways to work hard, long hours is the biggest cop-out.

So work with your heart and your mind, and make sure you have time to use both of those in your personal life, too.

5 replies
  1. lnielsenvb
    lnielsenvb says:

    The flaw in your argument is that people have a life and/or have a purpose in life. Many don’t. That’s why they need excuses to have their work take up their life, or keep them away from their life. I recently met up with an old college flame and asked, “What do you do for fun in your free time outside of work?” He couldn’t answer. Many people need this kind of company. You don’t.

    You are lucky.

  2. Maureen Sharib
    Maureen Sharib says:

    Though I believe in theory what you say is true I also believe that once you have found what you love to do, you go to it with alacrity – and the long hours fade into moments of pleasure. Wild horses can not keep me from what I do.

    I’ve had enough “fun” in my lifetime – I’ve finally found what true fun is. I would guess to say most entrepreneurs feel this way and many of them “while away” 60 – 100 hours a week “at work”. “100?” you ask with surprise. Yeah, 100.

  3. Colin Kingsbury
    Colin Kingsbury says:

    Maureen’s point about entrepreneurs is apposite. Since starting my company I’ve come to believe that a lot of the people who fail do so in large part because they lack the necessary degree of obsession it takes to get something far enough off the ground that you can afford to back off.

    If I spent every waking hour of the day chiseling away at a block of stone or dabbing paint on a canvas, I suspect you’d be in less of a rush to decide that I ‘lack purpose in life.’ A lot of people, perhaps most would find the software that I build boring. Fine by me; it’s not rock and roll but for me it’s all a beautiful game of chess.

    Besides, once you add in the number of hours a lot of people spend commuting and watching television, it’s pretty easy to work 12-16 hour days and still find time for friends, family, and other pursuits.

  4. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Maureen and Colin – I’ve been in that position you talk about, where the company is so fun and exciting that it doesn’t feel like work to be working nonstop.

    However there is a huge amount of research to show that work (of any type) doesn’t make us happy in nearly as significant a way as relationships with family and friends do.

    And Colin, when you write that “it’s pretty easy to work 12-16 hour days and still find time for friends, family and other pursuits.” My math tells me that if you get 7 hours of sleep each night, you have very, very little time for those things, especially if you have kids. And in fact, at 16 hours a day, you have time for nothign but work and sleep.

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