David Lowenthal | Career Advice for Women is Gaslighting | Slow Productivity | Opening Up The Office | It’s Manufactured Fear, Not Inflation
Quote of the Moment
Nostalgia tells it like it wasn't.
| David Lowenthal, The Imagined Past: History and Nostalgia
I’m sure in a few years some people will be nostalgic for the tech explosion of the past ten years. But the 100s of 1000s being laid off in the past few months may have more negative feelings.
From The Archive
All career advice for women is a form of gaslighting | Ephrat Livni (2018) tears into the double and triple binds that suffocate women in the workplace:
If you’re a working woman, you’ve likely been inundated with advice about how to ensure that gender double standards don’t impede your brilliant career. Assert yourself boldly at meetings in an appropriately low tone of voice, yet purr pleasingly when negotiating salary. Be smart but never superior, a team player though not a pushover, ever-effective yet not intimidatingly intellectual. Calibrate ambition correctly, so that none are offended by your sense of self-worth, but all seek to reward your value. Dress the part.
Inevitably, even in the most allegedly enlightened workplaces, women contend with subtle biases. And so the fairer sex gets the message that we can’t just work. We must also contort and twist and try not to seem bitchy as we lean in.
But the obstacles that come with working in a sexist culture are beyond any individual’s control. And so advocating a do-it-yourself approach to on-the-job equality may actually be a kind of gaslighting—just one more way for institutions to deflect blame and make women question themselves and doubt their sanity. It’s the society we operate in that needs fixing, not how we ask for money, the tone of our voices, or our outfits.
In It’s Time to Embrace Slow Productivity, Cal Newport (2022) sets the context for ‘quiet quitting’ before it appeared as a meme:
The major distinction between the typical worker in 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act standardized the American workweek, and the typical burnt-out office worker of today is autonomy. If you labored as a Depression-era clerk, you had little control over what you did during your shift: you clocked in, you executed (or not) your assigned tasks, you clocked out. In a twenty-first-century office role, the situation is reversed. You now have almost total control of how you fill each minute. No one is asking you to clock in and clock out. They instead demand, in some ill-defined yet urgent sense, that you’re responsive and get things done. This autonomy has allowed modern knowledge work to evolve haphazardly toward an increasingly unsustainable configuration. The issue in this evolution is not how many hours you’re now asked to work but the *volume* of work you’re assigned at any one time.
By volume, I’m referring to the total number of obligations that you’re committed to complete—from answering a minor question to finishing a major project. As this volume increases past a certain threshold, the weight of these efforts can become unbearably stressful. Humans are uniquely adept at crafting long-term strategic plans for accomplishing objectives. Our facility with planning, however, falters when confronting an in-box stuffed with hundreds of messages and a task list that fills multiple pages. When there’s too much for us to imagine actually completing, we short-circuit our executive functioning mechanisms, resulting in a feeling of anxious unease.
And he closes:
We must ultimately brace ourselves for the larger challenge of slowing down the pace of the workday itself.
Opening Up The Office
In How the Corporate Cafeteria Is Changing, Kim Severson writes about how businesses are changing their cafeterias, part of a trend I’ve been watching for a long time: breaking the division between office buildings and the cities that host them.
Developers are building restaurants that function like subsidized corporate cafeterias but are open to the public.
They’re merging the 'office' with the 'city', but making these restaurants a ‘third place’ where office workers can potentially interact with people from outside the company. Breaking down barriers, and countering the negative economics of cafeterias:
Company downsizing and hybrid work hours prompted the idea, but cities — particularly on the West Coast — that are pushing companies to stop providing abundant free food helped it along, said Alison Harper, a Bon Appétit district manager. Huge corporate cafeterias, the reasoning goes, keep workers from patronizing local food businesses, and offer nothing for the neighborhood.
Moving toward civic mutualism, not parasitism.
“The pandemic speeded up what I consider a paradigm shift that was already happening in the Bay Area and beyond,” she said. “Cities were saying we don’t want big, closed cafeterias that don’t benefit the community anymore.”
Some businesses have abandoned cafeterias altogether in favor of subsidizing food delivery. An app called Relish by ezCater aggregates a variety of restaurant orders from employees and delivers them all at the same time, in uniform packaging, so everyone can eat together. It uses a network of more than 104,000 restaurants in every state, selected based on their ability to reliably feed large groups.
I recall prepandemic restaurants in San Francisco couldn’t recruit line chefs because the big tech firms were paying better for shorter hours. I’m not in favor of restaurant workers being paid less, but this move is likely to decrease the inequality inherent in the old approach to cafeterias.
It’s Manufactured Fear, Not Inflation
The great Anne Helen Petersen dropped a new issue that goes on at some length making the case that Kelsey McKinney makes in a single tweet:
After referencing research that show that layoffs are very demotivating to the un-layed-off survivors (‘Post-layoff underperformance’), Petersen goes on to say,
And yet, some companies really do seem to believe that layoffs goad remaining workers to grind harder or whatever ridiculous phrase we’re using for working all the damn time — and yes, for employees with the potential to lose everything (like, say, their employment Visa) if they lost a job, that can happen. But those desperately grinding employees will eventually burn out, and you’ll either lose them to another company… or their skills (precision, creativity, ability to collaborate) will diminish.