Two Reasons to Question Crunch Culture, with a side of Weber

I’m a bit of an outsider to the Industry, but consider the story of one of the founders of Facebook about what he regrets most about launching his business – specifically about how the productivity gains were by and large phantasms, and not borne out in practice. This supports the data that the employees of the games industry are killing themselves without making better games.

Or consider this data on what happens to your body and mind when you don’t take vacation. Again, the repeated mantra – the benefits we think we’re getting are not the benefits we’re actually getting.

So why do we think we’re doing it? Well, it’s actually the two things I spent my college years studying in great detail: culture and religion.

Or to put it pithily: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is the best management book I’ve ever read. You can go read it right now, if you want, but wikipedia has a good summary, if you ain’t got time for 90-year-old academia. There’s also this video from the School of Life that digests it (and Weber overall) quite well:

The tl;dr is this: in America, we think good people work hard, and hard workers are good people.

This is not logic. It is culture, it is religion. The idea that what makes you a worthy and respectable person is how hard you work is deeply ingrained in our society, regardless of your actual religious practices. It is morality. It is social structure. It is why your manager can’t tell you not to work overtime, why employees that never leave get promoted (or not fired), why you feel guilty about going home to sleep and see your family.

Changing this requires a change in values, a willingness to do the hard work of self-analysis. We must look at how our work adds to the profitability and quality of what we make, inclusive of what we make of our personal lives. That’s not easy, and it requires bucking the trend and going against established wisdom. The data is there, though – it is time to do away with the puritanical idea that being obsessively dedicated to your job is good. It is harmful to you, to your company, to  your peers, to your industry.


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