Monday, July 04, 2005

Hard Labor

Tried to enjoy sleeping in this morning, as it's a federal holiday and I have a miraculous day off from work, but it was to no avail. The Demon in the apartment below me, taking the form today of a young Mexican girl, started loudly singing the Care Bears song to herself about an hour ago. I assume she's giving some sort of theatrical Care Bears musical performance, possibly at Carnegie Hall, in the next week, as she's practicing this theme song like it's the Rach 3.

Anyway, I've been up for a while, so I came across this interesting post on Atrios.

During my summers doing temp office work I was always astounded by the culture of "face time" - the need to be at your desk early and stay late even when there was no work to be done and doing so in no way furthered and company goals. Doing your work and doing it adequately was entirely secondary to looking like you were working hard as demonstrated by your desire to stay at work longer than strictly necessary.

It's a small, simple observation that has the benefit of being 100% true. At least, it was entirely true at the office where I used to work.

At my old post-production office, the ONLY way employees were evaluated was by their time clock. If you were occasionally 5 minutes late, or you liked to leave a minute or two before everyone else, well, I hope you didn't want a bonus this year.

This was regardless of the amount or quality of your work. The earlier you showed up, the later you stayed, the more valuable you were as an employee.

Now, this worked out great for the soulless wage slaves with no personal lives, who wanted nothing more out of a day than to churn $4 extra out of overtime, the better to feed their 500 cats. But for those of us who saw the job as a silly distraction from the real business of living life, as a neccessity for food and shelter but not much else, it meant you simply didn't get raises or promotions.

There was one guy, we'll call him Jeff. Because that was his name. Even though work tended to start at 9, Jeff liked to show up at 7 or 7:30. And he wouldn't leave until 6:30 or 7 at the earliest, even though everyone else left at 6.

Now, if Jeff really were, like, the super-busiest guy around, I wouldn't begrudge him his extra hours. I would think, "Wow, that really sucks for Jeff, to have such a busy job that he has to work 60 hour weeks." But Jeff was no more busy than anyone else. He'd spend the actual work day farting around at his desk. IMing his boyfriend, messing around with the settings on his computer, shopping at Anything but actually working.

And then he did the actual work during those early and late hours, so it always looked like he was really busy. This plan worked like a charm. He got repeatedly promoted above just about everyone else in the office.

So why does this work so well? What's the secret? Why do bosses just assume that longer hours = better employee. You would think that, considering the expense of paying employees overtime, they would realize an employee who could complete his duties within the 8 alotted hours of the day was a more valuable employee than the one who dicked around and took 10 hours.

I have a theory: the managers at my office were way lazy, possibly even more lazy than me.

So, if you're exceptionally lazy, and part of your job is evaluating the performance of 10 different employees, what are you going to do? You could contact the clients they work with an ask about their performance, look over their work from the past several months for accuracy and efficiency, even ask their fellow employees if they are having any problems with your work, if you feel it's a really important issue at the time.

Or, if you want to do it in five seconds, you could just look at their time sheet. I believe this is what happened.

"Wow, look at that! Jeff was here 65 hours last week! That guy is a dynamo!"

Our business work, particulary I've observed in entertainment, is obsessed with long hours. I guess you could say that the entertainment industry is somehow "busier" than every other industry, but I think this might be a causal relationship. Maybe much more is going on in the entertainment world because they are able to convince everyone who works in the industry that they need to work 60-70 hour weeks. And if insurance companies were glamorous enough to convince their employees to do the same, that would be one of those immensely busy, 24 hour a day businesses.

Every job interview I've ever had at an entertainment company repeatedly comes back to the "long hours" question. They're all proud of how hard they are on young interns, on how punishing your schedule is going to be. "Well, just so you know, this is a hard job. You'll be here all the time. Many people go insane."

Is that a way to get the best employees? I know these places think that they want to scare off all but the most committed people, but they're probably scaring off the smartest, most stable and most interesting people, because anyone with a life outside of working some lame low-level entertainment job is going to bolt for the door. Or not even show up for the interview in the first place.

It's really a way of perpetuating an old system, I guess, or of weeding out everyone who's not going to feed the massive egos of the people at the top.

I once had an interview at a talent agency. I know! What was I thinking? Me, working at a talent agency? Marijuana really does rot your brain!

Anyway, the guy who ran the place, at my third and final interview, kept me there for 90 minutes. He spent most of the time trying to scare me away from taking the job. Here's an example statement:

"I mean, let's say it's 6 at night, and we desperately need you to go get something from Orange County, but you've got tickets to a rock show that night. You're going to have to go to Orange County all the same."

That in and of itself is not so outrageous. Occasionally, working people need to sacrifice something fun to keep their job. I understand this.

But bringing up such a specific example at the interview? You just know that old bastard couldn't wait to spoil my evening, that the only part of the job he really enjoyed was bossing around his young lackeys and taking advantage of their burning, white-hot ambition and desire to work in his industry. He didn't even know if I enjoyed rock shows (I did and do) before he regaled me with his imagined "cancel the concert" scenario.

We have a name for that kind of treatment. It's called Indentured Servitude.

I don't know...Lots of people have entertainment jobs, and they work really hard, but they still seem to enjoy what they do. And that's great. I don't begrudge people who are willing to work extremely hard at some job to attain their goals. I just feel like our time on this planet is so limited, there's no way I can justify sitting in a cubicle for 12-14 hours a day receiving commands, even if some modicum of respect and a halfway decent paycheck comes at the end of the week.

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