08 March 2008

Work ethics – the 80-hour week.

There has been an interesting conversation of late regarding work ethics. The discussion began as a post by Jason Calacanis, viciously attacked by multiple bloggers, and defended Saturday by TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington. Specifically, what defines a work commitment? Is it by time spent - the number of hours at the office?

It has me thinking about how I spend time.

My father once told me, "if I could not do my job in 40 - 50 hours a week, then I was probably doing it wrong." I think he was right.

As a boss (in a start-up) I was a staunch advocate for having a life. I think we constantly draw on our outside lives during work ours for inspiration and for energy and motivation. I encourage employees to not only have a life and enjoy it, but to guard against the 80+ hour design workweek standard.

In the four years since leaving my company, I split time my time between various consulting projects and a full time graduate class and research schedule. I was doing just what I advised against… working well over 80, often over 100 hours a week.

I am now gainfully employed in the corporate sector. But if I think about my weekly routine, I am easily an 80-hour a week professional. But I think there is a difference. I spent a tremendous amount of time reading about design or business, writing about design and business, and discussing design and business. While I do lots of stuff, what I do for a living is such a huge component of my life I not only don’t mind… I love it. I keep my ‘productive’ time – that which is focused on projects for my employer, to under 50 hours a week. The rest is fun, and a great investment in my profession and my career. Does my employer benefit from that extra time spent? Absolutely. But I would be doing this stuff regardless.

For me, slightly separating my job (that 40 or so hour a week thing) and my profession (where I generate passion and a sense of accomplishment) helps. One generates the needed income. The other generates a tremendous amount of energy and momentum.

I think that passion and professional commitment are the gages that Calacanis and Arrington should really be thinking in terms of. Are those start-up employees working as a labor of love and passion? Are they committed to doing better than the best job they can? Or, are they putting in the time and logging the hours and counting the paychecks. If the later is true, then maybe they should be working in a lame corporation or better yet get a government job. Entrepreneurs, like charities and political movements, need passion and commitment from their work force... ‘cause the cause is the thing.