Young peo­ple re­ally love work — or love to pre­tend they do

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - By Erin Grif­fith

Never once at the start of my work­week — not in my cof­fee shop line, not on my crowded sub­way ride, not as I be­gin my bot­tom­less in-box slog — have I paused, looked to the heav­ens and whis­pered: #ThankGodIt’sMon­day.

Ap­par­ently, that makes me a traitor to my gen­er­a­tion. I learned this dur­ing a series of re­cent vis­its to WeWork lo­ca­tions in New York, where the throw pil­lows im­plore busy ten­ants to “Do what you love.” Neon signs de­mand they “Hus­tle harder,” and mu­rals spread the gospel of TGIM. Even the cu­cum­bers in WeWork’s wa­ter cool­ers have an agenda. “Don’t stop when you’re tired,” some­one re­cently carved into the float­ing veg­eta­bles’ flesh. “Stop when you are done.” Kool-Aid drink­ing metaphors are rarely this lit­eral.

Wel­come to hus­tle cul­ture. It is ob­sessed with striv­ing, re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive, de­void of hu­mor and, once you no­tice it, im­pos­si­ble to es­cape. “Rise and Grind” is both the theme of a Nike ad cam­paign and the ti­tle of a book by a “Shark Tank” shark. New-me­dia up­starts like the Hus­tle, which pro­duces a pop­u­lar busi­ness news­let­ter and con­fer­ence series, and One37pm, a con­tent com­pany cre­ated by

the pa­tron saint of hus­tling, Gary Vayn­er­chuk, glo­rify am­bi­tion not as a means to an end but as a lifestyle.

Ryan Har­wood, the CEO of One37pm’s par­ent com­pany, said the site’s con­tent is aimed at younger peo­ple who are seek­ing per­mis­sion to fol­low their dreams. “They want to know how to own their mo­ment, at any given mo­ment.”

“Own­ing one’s mo­ment” is a clever way to re­brand “sur­viv­ing the rat race.” In the new work cul­ture, en­dur­ing or even merely lik­ing one’s job is not enough. Work­ers should love what they do and then pro­mote that love on so­cial me­dia, thus fus­ing their iden­ti­ties to that of their em­ploy­ers. Why else would LinkedIn build its own ver­sion of Snapchat Sto­ries?

This is toil glam­our, and it is go­ing main­stream. Most vis­i­bly, WeWork, which in­vestors re­cently val­ued at $47 bil­lion, is on its way to be­com­ing the Star­bucks of of­fice cul­ture. It has ex­ported its brand of per­for­ma­tive worka­holism to 27 coun­tries, with 400,000 ten­ants, in­clud­ing work­ers from 30 per­cent of the Global For­tune 500.

It’s not dif­fi­cult to view hus­tle cul­ture as a swin­dle. Af­ter all, per­suad­ing a gen­er­a­tion of work­ers to beaver away is con­ve­nient for those at the top.

“The vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple beat­ing the drums of hus­tle­ma­nia are not the peo­ple do­ing the ac­tual work,” said David Heine­meier Hans­son, the co­founder of Base­camp, a soft­ware com­pany. “They’re the man­agers, fi­nanciers and own­ers.” We spoke in Oc­to­ber, as he was pro­mot­ing his new book, “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work,” about cre­at­ing healthy com­pany cul­tures.

Heine­meier Hans­son said that de­spite data show­ing long hours im­prove nei­ther pro­duc­tiv­ity nor creativ­ity, myths about over­work per­sist be­cause they jus­tify the ex­treme wealth cre­ated for a small group of elite techies. “It’s grim and ex­ploita­tive,” he said.

Elon Musk, who stands to reap stock com­pen­sa­tion up­ward of $50 bil­lion if his com­pany, Tesla, meets cer­tain per­for­mance lev­els, is a prime ex­am­ple of ex­tolling work by the many that will pri­mar­ily ben­e­fit him. He tweeted in Novem­ber that there are eas­ier places to work than Tesla, “but no­body ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.”

Musk, who has more than 24 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers, fur­ther noted that if you love what you do, “it (mostly) doesn’t feel like work.” Even he had to soften the lie of TGIM with a par­en­thet­i­cal.

Jonathan Craw­ford, a San Fran­cisco en­tre­pre­neur, told me that he sac­ri­ficed his re­la­tion­ships and gained more than 40 pounds while work­ing on Storenvy, his e-com­merce startup. If he so­cial­ized, it was at a net­work­ing event. If he read, it was a busi­ness book.

Craw­ford changed his lifestyle af­ter he re­al­ized it made him mis­er­able. Now, as an en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence at 500 Star­tups, an in­vest­ment firm, he tells fel­low founders to seek out non-work-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties like read­ing fic­tion, watch­ing movies or play­ing games. “It’s oddly eye-open­ing to them be­cause they didn’t re­al­ize they saw them­selves as a re­source to be ex­pended,” Craw­ford said.

In­ter­net com­pa­nies may have mis­cal­cu­lated in en­cour­ag­ing em­ploy­ees to equate their work with their in­trin­sic value as hu­man be­ings. Af­ter a long era of bask­ing in pos­i­tive es­teem, the tech in­dus­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a back­lash both broad and fierce, on sub­jects from mo­nop­o­lis­tic be­hav­ior to spread­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion and in­cit­ing racial vi­o­lence. And work­ers are dis­cov­er­ing how much power they wield. In Novem­ber, some 20,000 Googlers par­tic­i­pated in a walk­out protest­ing the com­pany’s han­dling of sex­ual abusers. Other com­pany em­ploy­ees shut down an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence con­tract with the Pen­tagon that could have helped mil­i­tary drones be­come more lethal.

Heine­meier Hans­son cited the em­ployee protests as ev­i­dence that Mil­len­nial work­ers would even­tu­ally re­volt against the cul­ture of over­work. “Peo­ple aren’t go­ing to stand for this,” he said, us­ing an ex­ple­tive, “or buy the pro­pa­ganda that eternal bliss lies at mon­i­tor­ing your own bath­room breaks.” He was re­fer­ring to an in­ter­view that Marissa Mayer, the for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ya­hoo, gave in 2016, in which she said that work­ing 130 hours a week was pos­si­ble “if you’re strate­gic about when you sleep, when you shower and how of­ten you go to the bath­room.”

Mayer’s com­ments were widely panned on so­cial me­dia when the in­ter­view ran, but since then, Quora users have ea­gerly shared their own strate­gies for mim­ick­ing her sched­ule. Like­wise, Musk’s “pain level” tweets drew plenty of crit­i­cal takes, but they also gar­nered just as many ac­co­lades and re­quests for jobs.

The grim re­al­ity of 2019 is that beg­ging a bil­lion­aire for em­ploy­ment via Twit­ter is not con­sid­ered em­bar­rass­ing but a per­fectly plau­si­ble way to get ahead. On some level, you have to re­spect the hustlers who see a dis­mal sys­tem and un­der­stand that suc­cess in it re­quires to­tal, shame­less buy-in. If we’re doomed to toil away un­til we die, we may as well pre­tend to like it. Even on Mondays.

Tay­lor Callery / New York Times

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