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Good intentions are not enough
and sometimes is just employer branding
More and more companies are offering so-called work-life balance initiatives: 4-days workweek, no meeting Tuesday, Mental Health breaks, and probably more silly employer branding labels that i am just not aware of.
It’s kind of bad form to criticize those initiatives, who is so crazy to be against mental health? Or more work/life balance??
But I’d argue that all those initiatives, even if well intentioned, are trying to fix the damage and not the root cause.
It’s the same as the paracetamol obsession of the dutch healthcare system, is much easier to justify to the insurance why i need to be cured than justify why preventive medicine is better in the long run.
So what is the disease we need to prevent?
Us, white collar knowledge workers, are fairly privileged if compared with folks in factories or horeca (hospitality, restaurants, cafes), even more if compared with gig workers or emergency services.
But we also struggle to get our own job hazards to be recognized for what they are:
The first and foremost enemy of the knowledge workers is the curse of the backlog. That is, our job is never done.
We also suffer the curse of uncertainty, what lean and agile tried to solve. The difficulty for much of our professions to reduce complexity and uncertainty. The result of this curse is the amount of synchronization and team work required to get something done, this is not universal but general enough.
Last but not least, we suffer the absence of trust between companies and workers. Until a few decades ago workers were expected to be trained for their jobs when they started, and in exchange they’ll stick around to a company for a while. In today’s job market this social contract has disappeared, people are expected to join a company and perform on the job with little onboarding and absent training even if that is unreasonable. And the workers themselves expect to be promoted often, to be fulfilled, and to matter more than they used to.
All of the above is a hell of a pressure to sustain, because even dream jobs suck sometimes, life is hard, work cannot be all fun or you won’t be paid for it.
In this context, some companies are trying to ease the pressure by mandating relax.
Something that sounds silly when you think about it, like a robotic voice shouting “please relax please relax please relax”.
The 4-days workweek is like unlimited vacation
If our work is never done, how is working 4 days gonna fix that? Short answer, it doesn’t. It just pushes more work to the rest of the workweek. Also why 4 days? Why not 3? If 5 days work is just a construct, why 4 is better?
No meetings Tuesday and other fantastic beasts
Too much synchronization means too many meetings, so we just stop doing meetings on Tuesday so we can get something done right?
Well, i can’t decide if that is more silly or more patronizing.
Instead of fixing your culture and your processes, you just mandate a day without meeting to protect the poor floor workers that can’t manage their calendar.
And as a result, increase the meetings the other days.
Mental health breaks and other spot vacations
Life has been very hard recently, especially for younger folks and parents. Life is never easy though and an healthy culture is what should prevent people from burning out, not an extra day of vacation to recover from a toxic workplace full of politics.
Ok, enough ranting, is there anyone doing this well?
Oh yes there is!
The folks at Stedi for example make a point of having an async culture and reduce meetings to the bare minimum.
Even if you are not a minimalist like Zack there is a lot you can learn from other resources like Gitlab’s remote work handbook.
Some companies allow employees to work on national holidays so that they can use those days off on other occasions (for example the muslim employees that want to celebrate Eid).
I also wrote a post on remote work and how flexible working hours and locations are the key to the future. I personally did a workation this winter and it absolutely re-energized me.
Tie it all together
I guess that the overall point is that more flexibility is what helps people, not less.
Try to mandate less, less synchronous work, less fixed working hours, less fixed working location.
And try to fire more, fire more underperforming managers in particular.
I think it will make everyone happier in the long run.