Please stop claiming a normal balance between work and non-work is nonsense

The tone of Carmen Sample’s piece, charmingly entitled Please stop “work shaming” me with your work/life balance nonsense, seems snarkily upfront and entrepreneurial: ‘If you didn’t want to work 80 hours a week and every weekend, why did you accept a job with me? That’s the job! I work that hard, and I expect everyone else to do so too!’

Except of course Ms. Sample, the self-described #girlboss (isn’t that a bit old school sexist?) is the owner of her businesses, and as a result she gains a huge reward in the future in the increase in value of her businesses from sweating her employees like rented mules, and then telling them that they should thank her for the opportunity.

Does she pay her workers overtime? Or does she go along with the fiction that everyone working for her is ‘management’ and not eligible? Do her employees participate in a meaningful stock option plan? Somehow, I bet not. But even if they do, what she asks for is unfair and self-serving.

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This mule couldn’t say not, either

But more importantly, can they simply say no, and opt for something like the contemporary norm in working hours? If not, she’s running a sweatshop.

This isn’t entrepreneurialism, it’s neo-feudalism, the highest level of workism, where overwork isn’t just a cult that people can choose to join but a condition of employment.

Sample sidesteps the questions of overwork: what about raising children? Caring for the elderly and ill? Part-time education or training? Pursuit of other interests? I guess people who have families, or who cannot dedicate more than the average working hours to their job for whatever reason, just will have to find work elsewhere. But what if all employers decided that Sample’s rules were theirs too? If all employers were free to make these demands and did so then the children and the ill would suffer, and workers couldn’t pursue educational plans.

So, Sample fails the philosophic and utilitarian test: if her approach was universally adopted, a majority of those impacted by it (which has to include the children, the ill, and not just the workers) would be disadvantaged. So, what she is holding up as a libertarian, ‘entrepreneurial’ ideal is, at its core, deeply immoral.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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