[Update 10 March, 1030 AEDT: I've written a follow-up article which, while bound to piss off a few people, explains precisely why I'm so concerned about this issue. There's also my first follow-up, written on the weekend.]
“Chalk and cheese” is how I’d describe two approaches to staff management I stumbled across this week. One treats staff as trusted contributors to a shared enterprise, the other as disposable work-droids from which you squeeze every last effort.
Jason Calacanis (pictured) has started various firms, including Mahalo, a “human-powered search engine”. (Don’t worry, I’d never heard of it either.) In How to save money running a startup (17 really good tips) there are some good tips — like outsourcing accounting and worrying more about good chairs than tables. But to paraphrase the bad ones:
- Hold meetings at lunchtime so people never get a mental break from work.
- Don’t provide phones so staff have to use their own.
- If someone shows signs of working hard, buy them a computer for home so they end up working nights and weekends too.
- Buy a good coffee machine — not because you’d like to give your employees good coffee, but to prevent them “wasting time” getting it from a nearby barista.
But that’s not the worst…
The worst one for me, and this is the precise quote:
- “Fire people who are not workaholics… come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. go work at the post office or stabucks [sic] if you want balance in your life. For realz.”
Can you imagine what it’d be like working for this guy? Do you think you’d get much loyalty in return for being a wage-slave?
As Duncan Riley says in TechCrunch, “Expect to check your family at the door if you want to go work for JCal. Up to 18 hours a day for $30-35,000 (what I’ve heard is the going rate for base Mahalo employees), you’re never allowed to go outside during this time or have a proper break.”
Here’s the 3 workplace experiments they’ve just implemented:
- A 4-day working week. “People should enjoy the weather in the summer. We found that just about the same amount of work gets done in four days vs five days… Three-day weekends mean people come back extra refreshed on Monday. Three-day weekends mean people come back happier on Monday. Three-day weekends mean people actually work harder and more efficiently during the four-day work week.”
- They fund people’s passions. “We want our people to experience new things, discover new hobbies, and generally be interesting people. For example, Mark has recently taken up flight lessons. 37signals is helping him pay for those. If someone wants to take cooking lessons, we’ll help pay for those… Part of the deal is that if 37signals helps you pay, you have to share what you’ve learned with everyone. Not just everyone at 37signals, but everyone who reads our blog.”
- A corporate credit card for everyone, for whatever they want. “If you want a book or some software or you want to go to a conference, it’s on us. We just ask people to be reasonable with their spending. If there’s a problem, we’ll let the person know. We’d rather trust people to make reasonable spending decisions than assume people will abuse the privilege by default.”
37signals have responded to Calacanis’ post:
Fire the people who are workaholics! Here’s five reasons why:
- Workaholics may well say that they enjoy those 14-hour days week after week, but despite their claims, working like that all month, all the time is not going to be sustainable. When the burnout crash comes, and it will, it’ll hit all the harder and according to Murphy at the least convenient time.
- People who are workaholics are likely to attempt to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at the problem. If you’re dealing with people working with anything creatively that’s a deadbeat way to get great work done.
- People who always work late makes the people who don’t feel inadequate for merely working reasonable hours. That’ll lead to guilt, misery, and poor morale. Worse, it’ll lead to ass-in-seat mentality where people will “stay late” out of obligation, but not really be productive.
- If all you do is work, your value judgements are unlikely to be sound. Making good calls on “is it worth it?” is absolutely critical to great work. Missing out on life in general to put more hours in at the office screams “misguided values”.
- Working with interesting people is more interesting than just working. If all you got going for your life is work, work, work, the good team-gelling lunches are going to be some pretty boring straight shop talk. Yawn. I’d much rather hear more about your whittling project, your last trek, how your garden is doing, or when you’ll get your flight certificate.
If your start-up can only succeed by being a sweatshop, your idea is simply not good enough. Go back to the drawing board and come up with something better that can be implemented by whole people, not cogs.
Precisely. Innovation is creative work. Happy employees are loyal employees — and they’ll put in those extra hours voluntarily when they’re really needed.
Mr Calacanis may have generated more dollars in a shorter time than 37signals — or maybe he hasn’t, I don’t know. But I know who I’d rather sit next to on a long flight. And I know who I’d invite to dinner or to share a beer.