Dan Lyons — the formerly famous ‘Fake Steve Jobs’ on Twitter — took a job at Hubspot in 2012, and reports on a recent round of layoffs there in the NY Times. Much of it is the predictable recitation of the downsides of living in the postnormal, precarious world of work, although with the unique snark Lyons is known for:
Dan Lyons, Congratulations! You’ve Been Fired
I joined the company in 2013 after spending 25 years in journalism and getting laid off from a top position at Newsweek. I thought working at a start-up would be great. The perks! The cool offices!
It turned out I’d joined a digital sweatshop, where people were packed into huge rooms, side by side, at long tables. Instead of hunching over sewing machines, they stared into laptops or barked into headsets, selling software.
Tech workers have no job security. You’re serving a “tour of duty” that might last a year or two, according to the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, who is the co-author of a book espousing his ideas, “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.” Companies burn you out and churn you out when someone better, or cheaper, becomes available. “Your company is not your family,” is another line from Mr. Hoffman’s book.
His ideas trace back to a “culture code” that Netflix published in 2009, declaring, “We’re a team, not a family.” Netflix views itself as a sports team, always looking to have “stars in every position.” In this new model of work, employees are expected to feel complete devotion and loyalty to their companies, even while the boss feels no such obligation in return.
Lyons has jumbled together a tangle of references, and condemns some good ideas without actually explaining very much.
‘Tours of duty’ is a new work compact that moves past the façade of hypothetical lifetime (or even long-term) employment in an on-demand gig economy, and creates a degree of stability in a fluid world.
For example, Reid Hoffman’s idea of ‘tours of duty’ is intended as a counter to the current US convention of employment-at-will, which means that most people can be fired at any moment without cause, and likewise, our model is that employees can quit at will as well.
Hoffman laid out a framework where the company and worker agree to a term of service, for two or so years — long enough for a particular project, or time enough to make a real contribution in developing a new service — and during that period the company and the worker would be able to better rely on the other without the fear of an arbitrary parting. (I wrote about this a few years ago.)
Nearing some point in that time, with maybe a year to go, the two parties would reassess whether another term of service in place makes sense, or whether the worker might want to work elsewhere in the company, or outside it.
Hoffman stresses that this requires the company management to make a deep commitment to slow firing, and to building a network of former employees (‘alumni’), partner companies, and so on, to assist those moving on to find a new situation. As they put it, ‘tours of duty’ is a new work compact that moves past the façade of hypothetical lifetime (or even long-term) employment in an on-demand gig economy, and creates a degree of stability in a fluid world.
I lay this out at length to make the point that Lyons is doing a disservice to the ‘tours of duty’ concept by juxtaposing it, unexplained, next to the line ‘tech workers have no job security’. In the US, all of us working without a contract have no job security. However, Hoffman’s goal is to create a new sort of job security, not to jettison workers like scrap.
I could make a similar case for the line ‘We’re a team, not a family’, which is taken out of context by Lyons in a similar fashion. It’s obvious that companies are not families, but Lyons appear to be suggesting that they should be more like families, which I think is an error. Or perhaps he means that we should go back to a supposed time when companies seemed more paternalistic. At any rate, this dig at Netflix seems arbitrary, and off target.
Lyons does better when he dissects the mumbo-jumbo jargon of HubSpot and others, the smooshing together of new-age, self-realization nonsense like ‘super powers’ and ‘delightion’. He should stick with his in-the-trenches observations of what happened to him and his coworkers in the psychic prison of HubSpot, rather than attempting guilt-by-association with Hoffman and Netflix’s Reed Hastings, who had nothing to do with HubSpot.