As various pictures of previous Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Days popped up in my Timehop over the last couple of days, I wondered how the event was handled during the pandemic. (Answer: I don’t know what people did last year, but this year they went virtual.)
My kids are grown now, so Take Kids to Work days are pretty much off my radar screen. However, there was a long period of my working life when it was a big deal. Before I had my own kids, I drove 30 miles to pick up my niece for the day. Once I had kids, it was even more important to me to [puts on very intentional and well-meaning voice here] show them what work was all about.
Work is different now
I read an article on Friday that asserted, “our relationship to work is broken.” Even though the article was about our relationship to work, my mind kept reading it as “work is broken.”
Work certainly has its issues in our country (and our world) right now, but I don’t see it as wholesale “broken.”
The author profiled Gumroad, a platform that facilitates creators selling their work. Gumroad’s CEO believes work should be purely “transactional,” free of emotion. Gumroad also eschews:
- full-time employment (everyone is paid hourly)
CEO Sahil Lavingia says the approach is about “freedom at all costs,” rather than sacrificing everything for growth.
Lavingia has paid his share of dues (the company lost everything in 2016 and he had to start over). He’s back up to 25 people (not full-time employees, though (see above)).
Why can’t I just say, “OK Sal Lavingia believes one thing and I believe another”? And am I turning into the tail-end Baby Boomer that I am, wanting this generation to “pay their dues” and invest themselves at work with loyalty?
Let’s take each of those bullets and break it down a bit.
This is probably a bad one to start with, because it may be the area where I agree the most with Gumroad. We do have too many meetings. When I think back on my 20 years at Healthy Kids, I think we arguably could have cut our meetings down by 50% and gotten the same thing done. Now that workplaces have productivity apps such as Slack, there’s even more argument for asking if a meeting is really needed. I suspect the solution falls somewhere between Gumroad’s “no meetings” plan and an organizational lean toward meeting for the sake of meeting. Because I’m a fully remote worker, I value quite a few of my meetings because it gives me an opportunity to interact with my colleagues.
No full-time employment
This one is really interesting to me. I suspect Gumroad has high expectations of its 25 hourly workers. And I don’t believe “butts in seats” is an effective way to manage people. I feel I have the best of both worlds being a full-time worker at an organization that has a pretty specific outline of when I’m expected to be at my desk yet also trusts me to get my work done when and how I want to. I wonder how Gumroad sorts out who gets paid what, though. For me, I’m happier being a full-time, salaried employee. Maybe it works for Gumroad and others, but it’s not for me.
“There are no meetings or deadlines — just broad product goals to work toward. Projects happen iteratively and take as long as they take,” says Charlie Warzel’s article. I guess this is possible with ultra-motivated individuals. I also work at an organization with specific deadlines for its publications every day, which skews my reading on this. At my organization, there are projects that I suppose could be put in the “no deadline/be iterative, take as long as you need” category. This one stretches my brain. One of the reasons my current job is such a good fit for me IS the specific deadlines. I struggled in 20 years or project-based work to space out the small tasks in a way that didn’t completely stress me out on the way to completing the big tasks.
I realize our world is changing rapidly. It’s getting harder and harder to get a position with a suite of benefits. After four years of freelancing, I was ecstatic to get back to a position with paid time off, health benefits (even though I currently use my husband’s) and a consistent paycheck. Until we figure out a way to make health care equitable for everyone, a slide toward a world with less benefits is a disservice to everyone.
Warzel says Lavingia has, since the restart in 2016, “purposefully destroyed Gumroad’s corporate culture.” Lavingia prides himself on not having a culture. If Lavingia and an employee aren’t talking about Gumroad business, they don’t need to be talking. I understand why it’s problematic to apply a “we’re a family” lens to work, but I don’t buy the “no culture” idea. To me, it’s a bit like a sin of omission rather than a sin of commission. “No culture” IS a decision about culture. I struggle sometimes to not be an overly-involved, pollyanna, cheerleader at work. I do truly love it that much and deeply respect my colleagues. Most of them are people I would want to hang out with outside of work. It’s a balancing act, and I personally want a little emotion with my work, not a solely transactional vibe.
Does work need to be fixed?
I have learned a lot by starting a new (to me) career at mid-life. I worked for the same place for almost 20 years, then had a four-year hiatus while I took care of my father-in-law, then landed at a place with a hybrid (some in-office, some virtual) workforce where you had to reserve a phone room to have a phone call (which was foreign to me). THEN my company was purchased by a company based in the UK, so I got introduced to new wrinkles in the 21st-century global workforce.
I’m not sure what I was trying to convince my niece, my daughter and my son of during all those years when I enthusiastically included them in Take Kids to Work Day and helped plan the event at my office. I think one piece of it had to do with seeing work as an adventure in some way, not as a grind. For me, the path to experiencing work as an adventure winds directly through organizational culture. I would be hard-pressed to enjoy it if there was not one (culture).
I’m linking up with Kat Bouska’s blog for this prompt: Throwback Thursday: Choose a photo or blog post from a previous April…how have things changed?
I’m also submitting this to Five Minute Friday, for the prompt “broken.” I did not stay to the five-minute limit.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.