The High-Tech Career Handbook
|A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch|
For the love of it all
December 31, 2004
** Listen to this column on your computer, iPod or other audio player **
Working at what you love can be an amazing
experience. It can bring a sense of fulfillment and joy that rivals the
best experiences of your life. There can be a dark side, though, in getting
every thing you want. Some cases involve subtle pressure to work harder,
longer, faster, something nearly everyone feels. In others, though, pressure
can turn into requirement, suggestions into orders, and your love for
your work can be used against you.
Without a life
Recently, EA Games was in the news due to lawsuits
filed by their employees. It seems that although the company allegedly
required mandatory 72 hour work weeks as it came time to complete a product,
they paid no overtime or comp time to their employees. Bubbling resentment
finally became too much for some employee’s spouses and they vented
their frustration via online forums and email. (See this Google News Search
for more information: http://tinyurl.com/4jw4b). These messages attracted
more and more stories, both from within EA Games and from a myriad of
other companies where similar policies exist.
These recent stories will surprise no one who
has worked in high-tech. While there are always emergencies that can force
you to work long hours, in too many companies, every day becomes an emergency,
a “crunch time”, a “one-time” deal. Even worse,
many employees will stay with such a company, long after it seems likely
it will ever change its ways. Fear of losing their job is one factor that
keeps employees around, but there is another.
How much is too much?
When I was still working in a corporate environment,
I learned one important lesson, among many. A company will take as much
as you are willing to give. If you are willing to pull all-nighters -
often – they’ll take it. If you are willing to work 80 hour
weeks – they’ll take it. If you forget you have a life outside
the office – they’ll take it. You give, they take. While a
company may ask for the extraordinary, only you, the employee, can give
This is where love for your work can actually
be a detriment. If you really love what you are doing, you are pre-disposed
to letting your work run away with your life. Like Br’er Rabbit,
you are asking to be thrown into the briar patch. “Stay here and
work until midnight? I would do that without being asked.” Such
a situation makes it too easy for work to take over your life. It happens
almost without noticing. This week it is 50 hours, 60 the next, 70 the
next. Before you know it, you have lost touch with friends, family, even
your spouse and every waking hour is dedicated to the work you love with
nothing left for the people you love.
Of course, once you are embedded in this cycle,
you might end up destroying the love you once felt for your work –
not to mention the love someone else once felt for you. It can take time,
but eventually you will come to resent the work, as it pulls you further
and further away from everyday life. Even though you might sense that
something is not right, it can often take a complete breakdown, either
mentally and physically, before you can really see the problem.
Can you blame such situations on a company? While they might encourage or even create the environment where it can exist, it is the individual – you – who holds the ultimate responsibility and the ultimate power. The programmers mentioned above would have been much better off finding a new job instead of letting their current one take over their lives. Was it their fear of losing a job strong enough to keep them there?
I think not. More likely, it is their own love for their work that keeps them trapped in an abusive arrangement. While some have complained, I would guess there are other workers who see no problem at all. Instead, they continue to put in the hours doing what they love. It can be difficult to open your eyes when they are glued to a computer monitor.