When I asked a generous colleague for management guidance, he (a bibliophile like myself) produced a copy of Peopleware, and I have been perusing its pages this week. There is quite a lot of substance to absorb, and I may need to re-read certain sections until the cement is cured and the ideas firmly imprinted. I find that the basic philosophy closely resembles my own, which is largely to recognize that while each person is different, the people who are a good fit in development like to collaborate with others, receive the recognition that their contributions are useful, want to have a little fun now and then, and have needs transcending the workplace that are legitimate, necessary and healthy.
Allowing people to have a life outside of work is a relatively new concept. As I have studied a bit of Western culture I have noticed the pattern that the lesser the position, the more work hours are required. Peasants have always tended to work longer hours than the elite, for example. The labor of a small farmer was largely expended to satisfy his obligations to a feudal leader, and production of the goods for his own family was relegated to the late hours of the day, as if to furtively attending to survival needs.
There may be some directed, albeit misguided, method to this madness too, according to this article discussing the consumer economy of the late Industrial Age. Some early twentieth-century industrialists embraced the concept of automation as a means to achieving a utopian ideal, in which the products necessary for a comfortable life might be produced in fewer hours, thereby reducing the workweek. But a larger number agreed with John E. Edgerton, then president of the National Association of Manufacturers, who is reported to have said:
Nothing breeds radicalism more than unhappiness unless it is leisure.
(And by the way, the article is fatally flawed in some respects, as it paints the Age of Consumerism in the hues of an American invention, which all who know a bit of Scandinavian history will quickly recognize as patently incorrect. But it’s still a good quote.)
Yes, things have improved dramatically. Had I managed a staff one hundred years ago, it is likely I would not be thinking about enabling a balance between home and work. Had I managed a staff four hundred years ago, I would be the one holding a whip. But just because things are better now does not make the standard corporate work environment comfortable, and it certainly doesn’t make it more productive.
In a sense, this is part of the reason why I tend to work many hours: I refuse to ask people to do things that I am not willing to do. While I may not be able to do their work as I have been out of the coding details for some time, I cannot in good conscience ask someone to work hard while I am sitting at my desk working on my screenplay, for example. That would be wrong.
But still, there is something wrong with this picture. I realize I am living Edgerton’s legacy after all, a victim of my own circular logic.
Workaholism is not a fatal disease, and it’s not even something that (in my case, at least) requires a 12-step program. Rather, it requires careful re-evaluation of my personal goals, and rescheduling at work to eliminate the flimsy, superfluous meetings and schedule time to focus individually, and time to collaborate with my colleagues.