Nathan Pensky wrote an excellent piece for PandoDaily examining the fallacy that long hours are a requirement for success in the tech startup world mythology. As he illustrates, most tech workers wear the lifestyle of “[l]ong hours, bad food, poor job security” like a badge of honor. The truth is that startup culture is really just rolling back nearly a century of cultural progress and trying to justify it with company-sponsored beer pong tournaments and free sushi.
The nearly 2-hour long Google commercial known as The Internship (which I have not yet watched) and before that, The Social Network, helped bring the Silicon Valley corporate culture to the forefront. It seems like a dream come true—like working at Disneyland, perhaps—with the foosball tables, video games, funky interior designs, not to mention all the free food and booze one could hope for. Of course the real reason people long to work for these companies is the same thing that motivates people to come to Las Vegas: Striking it rich in IPO bingo.
The real reason that tech companies (both the established ones and startups) offer all these perks, though, is to make employees never want to leave.
Technology is supposed to make life easier
The invention of the wheel is important because it gave humans the ability to achieve more from less. Move more and heavier things, but use less energy.
So why are the very companies that deliver new technologies going back to pre-industrial revolution practices? Pensky’s analysis is spot on:
Something that tech founders might not know, or maybe have forgotten, is that the 8-hour workday was once an important social reform issue for laborers. The right to work a set amount of hours per day was never granted to workers out of the goodness of their employers’ hearts, but because labor reformers organized and fought for it. Pioneering industrial workers obviously had it way harder than tech founders. But even so, they fought to change industrial working conditions so that the middle class that sprang up around the manufacturing industry would not resemble the laborers’ wasteland modern tech workers seem to wear as a badge of honor…
And yet our tech-obsessed, culturally engorged society is where we live. One of the great fallacies of the #firstworldproblems meme is the idea that solving first world problems and those in the developing world are somehow mutually exclusive. Making reasonable improvements of the everyday work experience for tech workers is both an acknowledgement of the groundwork set by Industrial-era labor reformers and an act of solidarity with social justice causes everywhere, including those much direr than this one.
The issue is especially relevant when one considers the operating alternative, being to create a culture where workers are expected to spend ungodly hours at the office, while palliating them with playroom-style campuses, where endless perks rain from the heavens — like those widely reported on at such companies as Facebook, Zynga, and Google – as if enjoying a nice cafeteria were any kind of substitute for getting to spend time off.
Speaking of which, I’ve put in enough hours today. Time to go hang out with my kids!