“I rarely get to see my kids. That’s a risk you have to take,” read an ad for the Apple Reality show Planet of the Apps. The ad, which has since been pulled due to Twitter backlash, reveals how deeply rooted the ethos of workaholism in the start-up, tech-centric hub that is Silicon Valley, as Dan Lyons writes in a recent piece for the New York Times.
Lyons, author of Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble, writes about a variety of instances glorifying workaholism, from Apples’ ad misadventure to popular books espousing the importance of giving up everything to “make it” to “Hustle Con,” a conference where people dish on their best overwork practices. All of these point to a pervasive problem in Silicon Valley, one centered on the creed of “hustling.” And the problem doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon: “every year thousands of fresh recruits flood into San Francisco, hoping to be baptized into the religion of the hustle,” Lyons writes.
We’re all for ambition, but as my colleague Drake Baer wrote about in his piece on Apple’s Planet of the Apps ad, if you choose to work yourself into the ground and brag about it, that’s a problem. Lyons writes that Silicon Valley is “branding workaholism as a desirable lifestyle choice,” where many believe that working smarter—i.e. working for shorter amounts of time, and taking adequate rest, to do work that’s actually productive—is akin to laziness, Lyons writes.
While we’d hope that Silicon Valley would be convinced by the growing body of research showing that actually taking care of yourself leads to better productivity and profit, increased inspiration and overall well-being (not to mention leaving time for things that matter like, you know, your children), the problem persists.
At least one tech company is proving it’s possible to be a person and an employee at the same time though: at Basecamp, which employs 56 people and is based in Chicago, “the workweek is capped at 40 hours and gets pared back to 32 in the summer,” Lyons writes. Co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson told Lyons that the reaction they get when they tell people in Silicon Valley how they run their company is “incredulous gasps.” “People tell us we’re not ambitious enough,” Hansson told Lyons.
The good news is that mounting criticism is at least calling attention to the problem. But to end the idolization of burning out to “make it,” sacrificing health and happiness along the way, there needs to be a larger shift around what success means in the first place.
Read Lyons’ piece here.