Sep 14, 2021Liked by Charlie Warzel

I think there's freedom in being able to sit back and say "it's not that deep". I was in a job prior to this one with an emotionally abusive boss, pulling 50 hour work weeks regularly, going way above and beyond to take on work that was out of scope... and looking back on it, I simply didn't need to. I wouldn't have been punished if I said "I don't know" more frequently, if I had told my boss it would take me longer to do this, if I had gone home at 5PM every day. They didn't give me a raise and promotion anyways. I left my job to find that.

My next job, people just didn't... care quite as much. It was truly just work. My boss made the assumption that it took me about 40% longer than it actually did for me to complete each project. I just kinda never corrected her. I took longer lunch breaks, I went on walks in the middle of the day, I spent time shooting the shit with my coworkers. I stopped work at 5PM at the latest every single day. And I got high praise, got paid like 50% more than I did in my previous job, and just spent way less time thinking about work in general.

That's my goal now - to spend less time thinking about, talking about, and doing work. No one is running around doling out gold stars to everyone. I think it's a totally reasonable arrangement that I give up 40 (okay, more like 30 with my "lunches") hours a week to my boss and I get a generous salary and benefits from it. What have I had to give up? The belief that my job has to be glamorous to be good. The belief that I need to work in the arts and culture sector to do anything meaningful. The belief that grinding and hustling makes me a morally superior person. Being able to step back and say "it's just not that deep" is totally liberating. I don't feel like I need to feel that strongly about work, and I don't feel like I need to do the whole "I do not dream of labor" schtick. I like having a job with nice people, where I can do work that flexes my brain a little, and that I can set down and return to the rest of my extremely fulfilling life at any given point in time. I'd challenge people who feel extremely passionately about their little capitalistic grind (or people that feel extremely passionately about how awful the capitalistic grind is) to do less, feel less, set yourself free.

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What if it's actually kind of liberating to have your job be a simple, transactional relationship? "But why, exactly, should our culture aspire to such a calculating and extractive means of employer/employee relations?" What else should an employer be providing, though?

In terms of wellbeing, many of us would argue the government should be providing the safety net. The corporate ecosystem of "bullshit jobs" (Graeber) is kind of like a de facto safety net today, providing insurance and means to many Americans. What if we offload that responsibility to the state? Then we can escape this idea that your job owes you something, freeing both parties to focus on a reasonable labor contract.

And what about meaning? The new workplace mantra of "do what you love" means employment also has to provide soul nourishment. That seems twisted, too. I'm not a religious person, but it does seem like religious practice used to fill this void and no longer does.

If health and spiritual happiness are being fulfilled by other institutions operating outside the market, jobs can be more utility-based (like your reader suggests). Maybe we don't need to "reimagine" what goes on inside the workplace, but more what goes on outside the workplace. Maybe we're thinking about work in the wrong way, hoping it will fill needs vacated by other atrophied institutions.

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Sep 14, 2021Liked by Charlie Warzel

I had to chuckle a bit at the Email of Rage, because my reaction to people who show up early, stay late, don't take lunch, and work weekends isn't: "You're so dedicated." It's: "Man. You're *really* inefficient."

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Sep 14, 2021Liked by Charlie Warzel

Charlie, Thank you for the follow up. I followed the comment chain on that post and sadly wasn’t surprised when it went south. IMO, Far too many young men (again, mostly men) of my generation (I am 62) were taught or simply believed that their only way to “matter” in this world is to make lots of money and buy lots of things. It became a way to “prove” your manhood.

I sometimes wonder if Oliver Stone helped or hurt when he made “Wall Street” in 1987 and Michael Douglas proclaimed to a generation that “greed is good”. It seems the actual message of the movie was lost on the majority of people.

The people who bought into that and then realized 20-30 years in that it didn’t pan out probably aren’t happy or contented. I imagine lashing out is their recourse.

Anyway, thanks for what you do. I enjoy the “thought paths” you travel.

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The irony of the "dispensible" email is that their definition of "mediocre" isn't that far from what leads to success. Show up at work the hours your boss wants you there, do exactly what they tell you, and don't ask too many questions, and you'll get a promotion. It was the times that I tried to be creative or do something more than what I was hired to do that I found myself knocked down.

Even for those who have found success in our work, it's come at the cost of meaning. Sitting at our desk all day on slow days, rushing lunch so our boss doesn't miss us at our desks, copying and pasting yet another PowerPoint deck. So much of what these jobs require is performative and empty that the burnout isn't from exhaustion, but hollowing yourself over the years only to be the one enforcing the system you hate.

The people who don't play the game are just getting it faster. I've made myself indispensable, learning my boss's schedule so they always see me in the office, taking on the extra projects, and proposing new ideas. I've just done more work to end up in the same place.

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Charlie, this is a great follow up and an interesting reflection on the variety of views, and especially how much different generations view "work"... My dad worked for the same company for 40 years, and even came out of retirement to consult for a division... He had a solid career, and made a good living selling newsprint. But I feel like the important part is his company saw him as an investment early on, and they basically "grew" together.

My first real job after business school was at Penske... They have a "trainee" program similar to most other rental companies. Basically, they hire people in, work them as much as possible for as little as possible, and then promote the people who survive the initial onlsaught to lower management. They do that again, and wash out the people who don't want to work 60 hour weeks, and promote those who do to middle management. They basically kept a revolving door of people itching to get into the 50-60k salary jobs, and then burned 80% of them out before they reach the 90k+ jobs... When the economy is humming along, they always had fresh meat. I know they were struggling to find new people recently.

It feels like modern corporate jobs are a huge pyramid scheme. You can always see the next level above you, but it's smaller, and moving up there requires you put in 60+ hours and then get lucky and find an opening... they definitely exploit the concept of work hard now, and you will get a promotion later.

I think the cogs are starting to become aware of the issues, and I wonder if larger companies are going to struggle to find new meat to process through their training programs... Maybe we will see a shift back to smaller companies, which would probably be good for everyone who isn't an upper level manager at a publicly traded company.

Saw this today and thought of this article... https://www.reddit.com/r/MaliciousCompliance/comments/pnxz3t/company_called_me_average_so_i_became_average/

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It strikes me how stuck in the past a lot of these ragers are. I can’t tell you how many crusty old lawyers I meet who worked their way through law school (because tuition was $2000/year), proceeded to vote to destroy higher education funding, and complain people are entitled when they won’t take jobs that can’t cover their payments on $250k in student loans.

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"These ‘you are free to leave and find a better job’ emails I got almost entirely came men who were late into their own careers" <-- This. I expect that most of these men were white and cis-gendered as well. Ahh, the luxury of living in a world where you are believed by default, given the benefit of the doubt, and praised for boldness. I am in my early 40's and don't consider myself a millennial (although technically I am on the cusp), mostly because I felt like My-So-Called-Life and Reality Bites were for me. But working in tech most of my colleagues are *firmly* in the millennial category. I have come not only to admire but to count on (for my own children's sake) the ways in which they insist on pushing the workplace forward. The demand for more time to do life things (e.g. taking a parent to surgery) without it having to count as leisure time, expecting an HR department to be adept and agile at identifying bias and that sees it as their obligation to educate the workforce about intersectionality, and assuming there will be safe, clean PRIVATE places to pump breast milk, as examples. In exchange I've seen these colleagues BRING IT in terms of the work and have real loyalty to their employers--it feels like a fair exchange and honestly it feels like being treated as a human. I had a manager in the last couple of years who told me directly that my priorities should be myself first, my family second, and my work last and we were explicit about how to get my work done within that framework. Just because one survived a period of society where they didn't enjoy that balance doesn't mean that everyone was equally able to thrive under its parameters. I am excited to see how workplace models like those in tech drift into other spaces and am hopeful that if these industries keep pushing things forward (even in ways that seem extreme and absurdly generous) that the average workplace will move in the right direction.

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It seems to me that if you believe that humans are born with all the dignity and humanity that they require for this earth, then you don't have to believe the myth that work gives you any of that. Once you peel those two things apart, it starts to really attack a lot of our existing power structures.

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I was an admitted job hopper, exiting toxic workplaces (often not quickly enough), taking advantage of opportunities that came my way, and seeking out more challenging employment. I actually spent 10 years with one company but held 5 different positions. I rose to a VP position and was suddenly, at age 54, terminated by a vindictive supervisor who methodically disassembled her predecessor's team, and the CEO did nothing. Well, the good news here is that over all those years, I learned a lot and built a great network. I have been a freelancer since 2002, am now 73, working remotely from the Caribbean and as busy as I want to be. One thing I have learned, for sure, is that the establishment always resists change, with varying levels of success. But that is not a recipe for long-term success. I think about all of the turmoil caused in the 90s and early 2000s by the Internet and the number of companies that chose to consider it a fad -- most are not here anymore. We are facing a sea change in the power structure between employers and employees. The companies that recognize that and make the necessary changes are more likely to be around in the future. Those that don't, well, they may end up in the dustbin of history. The very sad part is how divided our country is right now. It's not just politics. It's everything, as you point out, and the conned dig in. Let's hope more companies buy in to the vision of the future where there is work/life balance for everyone and toxic workplaces are not tolerated. The younger generation won't be as tolerant of these abuses as I unfortunately was ... it was a different time back then. But this is now and the tsunami wave is coming. Most companies are not really prepared.

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Fascinating discussion... perhaps the "rage" part of this stems from our failure to account for how recent all this transformation of "work" is. Digital technology has barely been around that long -- historically speaking. We could say it got started in 1994 when the Netscape Navigator web browser was first released. I remember. Fast-forward to today, and it's not too surprising to see how "work" has become this always-on, 24X7, remote, networked, geographically dispersed, and globally connected thing now.

If your job involves staring into a computer screen all day -- and you know that you are -- your work can be done from anywhere in the world. Your employer no longer needs to depend on sourcing workers like you from cities like Seattle or San Francisco or New York or London or Singapore.

We take it for granted that customer service for our bank accounts used to be a "real job" -- but it can now be performed from Estonia or Poland just as easily as the U.S.

Most of us have no clue just how much technology is running the operations of businesses today. Look under the hood of sales, marketing, accounting, finance, HR, customer service, logistics and supply chain management, and you will find stacks and stacks of software running on Amazon Web Services cloud infrastracture, maintained by just a handful of specialists.

Compare today's operations of Tesla or Amazon or Google with those of Kodak, GM, IBM, Xerox, -- the labor reduction is remarkable.

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I have a weird background (former political organizer, including for unions, ended up at a corporation to pay the bills, and ended up in management for a while before I left and went back to school to get out of a role I really didnt enjoy)

One thing from my years as a middle manager that has really stuck with me is a phenomenon I came to call "I had to"-ism. The company was large (Fortune 100 type) and always trying new things to improve their tedious onboarding process.

My personal background and instincts are as a fixer. I went through this process, I knew how it sucked and where it had missed, and I gladly embraced changes that would help new people avoid those pitfalls, or crafted my own solutions when the company didn't address them.

When the company would eliminate something pointless or time-wasting or ineffective, my employees would get -angry-. And always in the same way: "I had to do it, why should they get to skip it?" This is very clearly related to how people respond to work in general, and you address it above. But there's an element of it I think you missed that I want to hit on:

A lot of people convince themselves that the trials, difficulties, or abuses they suffer really did contribute to their success. They believe they wouldn't be where, or who, they are without those difficulties, and they believe that others who get to skip them will be 'less capable' because they didn't have to navigate the challenges.

There's a lot of people who internalize the concept of 'what doesn't kill me makes me stronger' to the extent that they want to inflict that same thing that didn't kill them on others, because if it's not necessary, then their maxim failed.

I eventually tied of that environment, as I was a bit out of place in it as a personality, and went back to school to get some more specialized skills that let me do something besides manage people.

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I must be one of the lucky few - I studied subjects I found interesting, I worked for most of my professional career in my areas of expertise, I lived beneath my means, I voluntarily left the workforce while I still had my wits and my legs, and now I volunteer for entities that focus on STEM education and economic empowerment. I have nothing to complain about. I just decided that due to family history and a chronic medical condition, I didn't want to stay chained to a 40 to 60 hour work week. I don't think that this makes me a slacker or burden to society. And while I like to work and would consider returning to the workforce, not many employers would take the risk of hiring someone in my position for anything other than as a greeter, cashier, or piece worker at minimum wage. Sorry, but I'll find a better use of my time.

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Look, I get the "100% dispensable" point of view. It's the naturalist/libertarian/pragmatic/transactional POV that more or less defines the American ethos, right?

America has a rich history of having the thinnest civil veneer laying atop the raw Darwinian reality of the laws of nature.

These cynics are right at a very fundamental level: In nature, you either outrun, outmaneuver, or outwit your predator, or you don't get to live another day. This scales up and down the natural world, including humans.

What modern civil society has done is to add a layer of "fairness" and "decency" to the natural order, which is lovely and quite productive for the advancement of our species. But it's just that - a layer. And no big surprise, how thick this layer of protective shielding we add on atop of nature is a big sticking point between those who have more empathy for humans than they do for non-domesticated animals.

What we should be discussing is the level of civility we want to have in our lives. If it's very thin, then we will live and die more like the animals. If it's thicker, we can elevate ourselves beyond the animal kingdom - at the expense of a lot of inefficiencies, people gaming the system, and not having a 1:1 ratio of investment in/value out.

You can't have it all! But what we can do as a society is to step back and agree on what we're debating. I don't think terms like "evil" and "immoral" and "unjust" do this debate any favors. These are judgements based on individual moral frameworks. We should step back from judgements where we can and stick to assessments with commonly-agreed-upon units of measure.

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My thoughts on work are captured here on this blog post: https://thoughtstation.com/post/150827074767/nobody-should-work-ever

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There are a countless number of people of all income groups who will react with anger or indignation at any suggestion that life for the poor or even middle classes should be made better solely becuase they don't think people deserve anything at all.

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