Sunday, January 24, 2016

The golden handcuffs from a Faustian bargain

If I described the working conditions like this:
people [work] so hard that they will not have time for such mundane things as buying lunch or popping to the dry-cleaners
And, if the workers considered taking a vacation, then the workplace seems to tell them, “take as little as possible, and as much as you dare.”

There is a fair chance that you would think those are not the best of working conditions.   If you are committed to anything left of the political center, you would be ready to launch into a tirade against those damn corporations that suck the life out of their workers--but you would be only half-right.  If you are coming to these issues from the other side of the political spectrum, you would shrug your shoulders and mutter that these are individual's choices and they can quit if they want to--you, too, would be half right ;)

Of course it is those damn corporations.  But, these are not any iron chains holding workers as slaves. Nope, these are "golden handcuffs" that chain tech workers to their desks or futons or whatever else:
Tech firms that offer lavish perks to their staff do not do so out of the goodness of their hearts. They offer them because they expect people to work so hard that they will not have time for such mundane things as buying lunch or popping to the dry-cleaners. As Gerald Ledford of the University of Southern California’s business school puts it, they are “golden handcuffs” to keep people at their desks. Some of the most extravagant perks are illusions: “take as much holiday as you like” may really mean “take as little as possible, and as much as you dare.” Some have vaguely sinister undertones: might the option for women to freeze their eggs end up becoming the expectation?
The only exciting thing for me in that excerpt?  University of Southern California--the university where I earned my graduate degrees ;)  Everything else there is worrisome.

It is not anything new.  I have blogged about this forever, it feels like.  When people are young, they seem to find the work world all too alluring and exciting.  Soon, the reality raises its ugly head:
A survey last year of 5,000 such workers at both tech and non-tech firms, by TINYPulse, a specialist in monitoring employee satisfaction, found that many of them feel alienated, trapped, underappreciated and otherwise discombobulated. Only 19% of tech employees said they were happy in their jobs and only 17% said they felt valued in their work. In many areas they were even more discontented than non-tech workers: 36% of techies felt they had a clear career path compared with 50% of workers in areas such as marketing and finance; 28% of techies said they understand their companies’ vision compared with 43% of non-techies; and 47% of techies said they had good relations with their work colleagues compared with 56% of non-techies.
All the money and the perks don't add up to much, if money and perks are not the most important things one wants out in life.

All that is in some twisted way an ironical mirror image of sorts of the tech factory workers in China, say, at Apple's contractors:
"Reality for workers at Pegatron is working 12-hour shifts, six days a week, forced to do overtime work and unpaid labor, with very short breaks for meals ..."
It is such a strange bargain that we seem to sign off on, while in iron chains or in golden handcuffs.   I am so darn lucky to have lived a life without the iron chains or the golden handcuffs. 

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