Sunshine Recorder

Link: Why I Don't Do Unpaid Overtime and Neither Should You

As a programmer in the U.S. for 30 years now I have spent some of that time working more than 40 hours in a week, which is not all that common in this industry, and when I was salaried I rarely if ever got more pay.

No more, I now find the whole idea nauseating.

I am not talking about running your own business, or working at a startup or other business entity where working more hours might get you a big payout. I ran two small software companies from the mid 80’s to 90’s and we did work a lot of hours; but all of us shared in whatever we made and in the second company worked under contract so the more we worked the more we got. But that’s not the point of this post.

If I worked at some big technology company and agreed to some salary, my expectation is that I am being paid to do my best for a standard work week, which is generally considered (at least in the U.S.) to be 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. If they told me I have to work 70 hours a week, or some manager expected the team to show up 7 days a week, I would refuse today. Why?

When we agree to work for money, the assumption is that the primary reason we work is in exchange for that which we need to pay bills, buy stuff, etc. The employer’s expectation is that they will receive value for the the money paid. The problem, especially in the US and in Asia, is that the employer’s concept for value is often very different than the employee’s. Many companies expect that a salary is a fixed amount but that the work to be done for them to receive value is variable. The employer assumes they can increase the value they are receiving from the employee by expecting, assuming or demanding more work to be done; in this way they can essentially reduce the cost of the labor by simply getting more hours out of each salary.

What does this mean for the employee? If you agree to this you are essentially agreeing to work for less. You could even calculate it as working for free. What benefit do you as the employee gain for this free work? At most large employers you get — nothing. Maybe if you are a manager you might get a promotion but as a programmer there are generally few ways to advance without becoming a manager. If you bust your butt for 80 hours a week writing code for months at a time the reward is generally the same as if you worked hard 40 hours a week.

In some industries like AAA gaming studios crunch time can be a hellish experience trying to ship a big game. Then you read a lot of stories where people worked enormous hours only to be laid off soon after the ship date. Sure, now you can rest, but at what cost and with what benefit?

Now imagine yourself as a contractor (which I am at the moment). If you are asked to work more than the agreed upon time the company is billed and the contractor paid. Maybe nothing extra but it’s not less than normal. Now you are actually getting value for your work. The odd thing about this is that companies are of course paying way more for your time than what you are getting so sometimes they won’t allow a contractor to work overtime. Why should they if they can simply demand an employee to do it for nothing? Or even have the employee volunteer.

American workers generally get an average of 10 days paid vacation a year, sometimes with a few extra sick days; but a full time American worker averages taking only 5-7 days a year. In most parts of the world, and especially in Europe the government mandates 20-30 days per year, and in most cases people take most of their time. In many countries working overtime is unusual and unpaid overtime is rare or may even be illegal. People value having a life outside of work and the thought of slaving away for their employer for nothing is unimaginably stupid to them. Yet we in the US (and in many parts of Asia as well) often think nothing of it.

I once had a friend who’s boss expected her to have her Blackberry on and respond to any request 24x7 as soon as possible. After a year of this one day she refused and quit. Her boss was livid that she wouldn’t do it anymore. Yet in all that time she got no additional pay of any kind. Why do we do this?

Link: Get A Job: The Craigslist Experiment

We’re familiar with the art of the job search: day after day, scanning the classifieds, Monster, Indeed, Craigslist, etc. for open positions; forever touching up résumés to appeal to specific job requirements; writing endless cover letters that never seem to sound quite right; applying to dozens, maybe hundreds of jobs per week; staring vacuously at the familiar monitor glow at 3 a.m.; drinking gallons of coffee/alcohol to endure the monotony of it all; going days, weeks, months, seasons without a single response; yelling violently at the cat and punching the wall in frustration; discovering ennui and permanently bathing in it.

After repeating the aforementioned process for a while, I began to wonder if all of my efforts were purely futile or if I was actually making any dents (no matter how minute). I grew thoughtful, curious, worrisome, and thoroughly impatient — all in that order. I also knew many others in my position who had suffered similar fates.

I had to find out more on where I stood in this uncertain job market. I thought that if I could figure at least a piece of that out, then maybe I could improve my job hunting techniques, and, maybe then — just maybe — an employer would actually call me back.

So I conducted an experiment: I invented a job and posted it to Craigslist.

Sure, the job didn’t exist, and you might protest, “But Eric, how cruel of you to lead all these people on!” Then I thought of the mountain range of jobs to which I had applied in the last few weeks, followed by the complete lack of correspondence from these potential employers, and then I didn’t feel so bad. I assumed that those who had applied to this non-existent position would most likely shake the experience off as just another stone in the quarry of disappointment. (If, gentle Reader, you are one of those unfortunate applicants, then I offer my sincere apologies.)

I thought of sites where I regularly search for jobs, and settled on Craigslist for this experiment, since positions are uploaded there more frequently than on any other site I usually visit. I thought of the major cities where I’ve been applying to jobs, and settled on New York, since… well, it’s New York; it’s the place to be.

I wanted to create a very basic ad: a full-time job with decent starting pay and health benefits included. I wanted to study a broad spectrum of job seekers, so I did not require any specific educational background or related experience for the position. The entirety of the ad was created using what I had seen in my own job searches: the most common job, the most common job duties, the most common pay, in the most advertised district on all of NYC’s Craigslist.

In the end, I produced this ad:

Administrative Assistant needed for busy Midtown office. Hours are Monday through Friday, nine to five. Job duties include: filing, copying, answering phones, sending e-mails, greeting clients, scheduling appointments. Previous experience in an office setting preferred, but will train the right candidate. This is a full-time position with health benefits. Please e-mail résumé if interested. Compensation: $12-$13 per hour.

I created a fake e-mail address to receive all of the applications. Before I published the ad, I hypothesized that I would receive a lot of résumés, and I didn’t want applicants usurping my personal inbox, especially for a non-existent position.

“A lot of résumés” is an egregious understatement.

I published the ad at exactly 2:41P.M. on Thursday. The first response came in at 2:45—just four minutes later. Ten minutes later, there were 10 responses. Twenty minutes later, there were 56. An hour later: 164. Six hours: 431.

At 2:41P.M. on Friday — exactly 24 hours after I posted the ad — there were 653 responses in my brand new inbox. Not wanting to face any more after that, I promptly removed the ad from Craigslist.

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to gain a full perspective of who my generalized workforce competition was.

As if 653 responses in one day wasn’t enough already to knock me down the proverbial flight of stairs, I decided to sift through each and every application and record some basic statistical data — just to see what I was up against. I collected general information in two basic areas: Experience and Educational Background.

Link: Quite Likely the Worst Job Ever

In 19th century London “toshers” roamed the sewers, searching for items of value. Biggest danger was not disease or death by suffocation but attacks by sewer rats.

To live in any large city during the 19th century, at a time when the state provided little in the way of a safety net, was to witness poverty and want on a scale unimaginable in most Western countries today. In London, for example, the combination of low wages, appalling housing, a fast-rising population and miserable health care resulted in the sharp division of one city into two. An affluent minority of aristocrats and professionals lived comfortably in the good parts of town, cossetted by servants and conveyed about in carriages, while the great majority struggled desperately for existence in stinking slums where no gentleman or lady ever trod, and which most of the privileged had no idea even existed. It was a situation accurately and memorably skewered by Dickens, who in Oliver Twist introduced his horrified readers to Bill Sikes’s lair in the very real and noisome Jacob’s Island, and who has Mr. Podsnap, in Our Mutual Friend, insist: “I don’t want to know about it; I don’t choose to discuss it; I don’t admit it!”

Out of sight and all too often out of mind, the working people of the British capital nonetheless managed to conjure livings for themselves in extraordinary ways. Our guide to the enduring oddity of many mid-Victorian occupations is Henry Mayhew, whose monumental four-volume study of London Labour and the London Poor remains one of the classics of working-class history. Mayhew–whom we last met a year ago, describing the lives of London peddlers of this period–was a pioneering journalist-cum-sociologist who interviewed representatives of hundreds of eye-openingly odd trades, jotting down every detail of their lives in their own words to compile a vivid, panoramic overview of everyday life in the mid-Victorian city.

Among Mayhew’s more memorable meetings were encounters with the “bone grubber,” the “Hindoo tract seller,” an eight-year-old girl watercress-seller and the “pure finder,” whose surprisingly sought-after job was picking up dog mess and selling it to tanners, who then used it to cure leather. None of his subjects, though, aroused more fascination–or greater disgust–among his readers than the men who made it their living by forcing entry into London’s sewers at low tide and wandering through them, sometimes for miles, searching out and collecting the miscellaneous scraps washed down from the streets above: bones, fragments of rope, miscellaneous bits of metal, silver cutlery and–if they were lucky–coins dropped in the streets above and swept into the gutters.

Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work

"Your external world predicts only 10% of your long-term happiness; the other 90% is predicted by how your brain processes the world. And job success is predicted only 25% by IQ and 75% by optimism, social support, and seeing stress as a challenge instead of as a threat."

Link: Japan’s “National Disease”

In Japan, in the 1980s, the term “kar­ôshi”, or “death from overwork”, was coined to describe cases where people have essentially worked themselves to death. In the late 1990s, when Japanese began to see suicide rates skyrocket, another term emerged in the media as a national concern. This was “karô jisatsu”, or “overwork suicide”, that refers to the suicide of people who are driven to take their own lives by excessive overwork. Concern with this problem became more pronounced since the Supreme Court ordered Dentsû, Inc., Japan’s biggest advertising agency, to pay to the family of a deceased employee Ichirô Ôshima the highest amount ever to be paid for a worker’s death in Japan. The Supreme Court determined that the cause of Ichirô’s suicide was clinical depression, and that his depression had been caused by chronic overwork, which was, according to the plaintiff, twice the amount of regular working hours for several months leading up to his death. Alarmed by the suicide rates and legal disputes, the government established in 1999 new guidelines for measuring psychological stress at work, and began to encourage overworked employees to seek out medical care. In 2006, the government further implemented the Basic Measures for Suicide Prevention Law, pledging to reduce suicide rates within a decade by twenty percent. It is only arguably now, after depression has emerged as a “national disease,” that psychiatric care is being offered to the Japanese as a cure for a society in distress.

The rise of psychiatric discourse about depression and suicide in Japan is intriguing for three reasons. First, despite the official institutionalization of psychiatry in the 1880s, psychiatry in Japan has, until recently, long been stigmatized as an apparatus of oppression, whose expansion into the realm of everyday distress was strongly resisted by lay people. Psychotherapy, introduced to Japan in 1912, was met with deep skepticism, and the fact that it only minimally took root in Japan was described by some social commentators as a sign of the good health of individuals and the Japanese social order.

Second, suicide in particular, has long been a site of conceptual struggle for psychiatrists, who have encountered resistance from lay Japanese holding on to the cultural notion of suicide as a morally positive act of self-determination, carried out at times as a protest against social injustice. The persistence of this cultural notion was demonstrated, for instance, in 1999 when literary giant Etô Jun killed himself after leaving a note: “I’ve decided to do away with what remains of me.” Admiration from fellow intellectuals flourished in the media, where they lauded his act as “embodying first-class aesthetics.” The voices of a few psychiatrists, who dared to suggest that his suicide might have been caused by depression, went largely ignored. Indeed, psychiatrists who have explicitly linked suicide with depression have at times been criticized for pathologizing free will and trivializing the existential and social meanings of suicide.

Finally, depression had been assumed by psychiatrists themselves to be “rare” among Japanese. Some prominent psychiatrists had even attributed this supposed rarity to a cultural difference whereby Japanese—unlike “Westerners,” who pathologize depression—maintain high tolerance for, and even find aesthetic dimensions of, depressive experiences. This assumption has been so firm that until recently psychiatrists advised drug company Eli Lilly & Co. against promoting and selling Prozac in Japan for the lack of a potential market. Thus, the fact that psychiatrists are now beginning to persuade the Japanese to regard their everyday distress in terms of depression, and even to think of suicide as a product of depression, signals a profound shift in thinking about mental distress, the nature of free will, and the extent to which society should take responsibility for individual suffering.

Link: The Overjustification Effect

Money, fame, and prestige – they dangle just outside your reach it seems, encouraging you to lean farther and farther over the edge, to study longer and longer, to work harder and harder. When someone reminds you that acquiring currency while ignoring all else shouldn’t be your primary goal in life, it feels good. You retweet it. You post it on your wall. You forward it, and then you go back to work. If only science had something concrete to say about the whole thing, you know? All these living greeting cards dispensing wisdom are great and all, but what about really putting money to the test? Does money buy happiness? In 2010, scientists published the results of a study looking into that very question. 

The research by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed the lives and incomes of nearly half-a-million randomly selected U.S. citizens. They dug through the subjects’ lives searching for indicators of something psychologists call “emotional well being,” a clinical term for how often you feel peaks and valleys like “joy, stress, sadness, anger and affection” and to what degree you feel those things daily. In other words, they measured how happy or sad people were over time compared to how much cash they brought home. They did this by checking if the subjects were consistently able to experience the richness of existence, by whether they were tasting the poetic marrow of life. 

The researchers discovered money is indeed a major factor in day-to-day happiness. No surprise there. You need to make a certain amount, on average, to be able to afford food, shelter, clothing, entertainment and the occasional Apple product, but what spun top hats around the country was their finding that beyond a certain point your happiness levels off. The happiness money offers doesn’t keep getting more and more potent – it plateaus. The research showed that a lack of money brings unhappiness, but an overabundance does not have the opposite effect. According to the research, in modern America the average income required to be happy day-to-day, to experience “emotional well being” is about $75,000 a year.

According to the researchers, past that point adding more to your income “does nothing for happiness, enjoyment, sadness, or stress.” A person who makes, on average, $250,000 a year has no greater emotional well-being, no extra day-to-day happiness, than a person making $75,000 a year. In Mississippi it is a bit less, in Chicago a bit more, but the point is there is evidence for the existence of a financiohappiness ceiling. The super-wealthy may believe they are happier, and you may agree, but you both share a delusion.