Tag: Work

Work Culture is expectations

In the most recent Culture Study, Anne Helen Petersen shares a talk she gave called The Librarians Are Not Okay. This talk sums up where we are as working adults. None of this is new and none of it has started with the pandemic. But it’s been exacerbated by it. It’s twisted the dials up to 11 as the machine that eats up people and spits out shareholder value continues to consume.

While this piece is focused on lLbrarians and by extension people who do care and passion work, it can be applied to anyone working today.

The librarians are not okay. The nurses are not okay. The teachers are not okay. The journalists are not okay, the clergy are not okay, the social workers are not okay. And we can’t start the long-term work of recovering from the burnout and demoralization of the last year until we acknowledgment as much.

The Librarians Are Not Okay

Though women, who are paid less because the of the circular logic of feminizing low-paid work to justify its low pay have to reckon with not being valued professionally while also performing the majority of the care work in their own lives and families.

The same is true, of course, for care workers, for educators, for nurses, and for so many people working in the non-profit sphere, and it’s such a convoluted logic that keeps it in place: the work is feminized, so it’s low-paid; the work is low-paid, so it’s feminized.

The part I’ve seen in my professional life most is picking up the work of more and more people. When I worked as a government contractor this was rampant through the government itself as positions would be cut and fewer people were left to do the important work.

The same thing happened in the IT space. Contractors are a staffed by companies bidding the lowest amount to get the same work done. So it’s going to lead a race to the bottom of pay and benefits and stability.

I talk about systemic problems with burnout, and exploitation, and overloaded jobs, I heard from a lot of librarians — people who really have absorbed responsibilities that were previously the work of three FTEs, if not more, and how they’re expected to just….have a better attitude about it?

I worked in one position for a little over three years. In that time, I was employed by no fewer than five separate companies. The final three were because they were generating shareholder value and would spin off, buy up, and generally screw every employee by saying “we can’t offer raises or reviews because we’re a new company” every single year.

Guardrails can be though of a “Work Culture.” That thing your company may be touting as the reason to return to the office amidst a pandemic.

Guardrails are things like: we don’t email when we’re off, and if you do send an email when you’re off, you’ll actually be taken aside to talk about why that’s not part of our culture here. Guardrails are: even if you, yourself, work really well at 11 pm at night, any communication you craft at that hour should be delay-sent to correspond with the start of others’ workday, so they don’t feel the need to be responding to work at that hour as well.

Guardrails are being very clear about levels of urgency: an email is not a five-alarm fire, and you shouldn’t train yourself to react as if it was, because that sort of vigilance is not sustainable.

This is the work culture that matters. How is time off treated? Is it something to be approved or acknowledged? When you’re off, are you really off or just working from a more fun location.

Culture can be devious. It may not be stated in the orientation or the handbook but as an expectation. Are you expected to be available all the time? Are you expected to be on call even if you’re not compensate for it or its stated as part of your job description?

Understanding the culture of where you work is looking at the unwritten expectations on your time, attention and life.

It’s a lot to put on a cabin

Work has always been frantic. The pandemic kicked everything into hyper speed. I spent all of 2020 keeping my head above water. Tracking Zoom changes as it grew and changed by the second. Webex plodded along but even they kicked things into gear eventually.

It was a frantic year. Trying to manager web conferencing platform integrations and starting a brand new job all at once. I came out of that year exhausted.

2021 wasn’t much better. The priorities changed. We had sunk into a new march forward. Ever forward. But it felt familiar. There were moments of hope. Like sunlight kissing a branch during golden hour before plunging once against into darkness until the new morning.

That’s a dark stage set for how my brain has been working. It’s full. My RAM is full and I’m having to use swap space. It’s slowing everything down.

Keep it all in memory

I don't really know how to describe this so it makes sense. But here goes…

I look at problems holistically. I look at the problem and not only the way forward. But as many ways forward as I can see that aren’t immediate dead ends. I look at those branching choices and look for threats and road blocks and wolves along my forest path.

I try to think not only of the next problem and how to solve it but the next problem and solution pairing after that. I don’t want to walk into a peaceful mountain pass instead of climbing over if there’s an army waiting for me in the pass. I’d rather pick the harder route at first than deal with an insurmountable problem around the next turn.

Because this is how my brain works, taking on a big project is like loading all of this up into my head. I’m looking at the problem and all the ways it can go wrong and trying to find the best path toward.

There will never be a perfect path. But one that doesn’t lead to immediate failure or insurmountable problems because we leapt before we looked.

This is fine when I’m able to focus on the problem at hand and map out a way forward and what other decisions need to be made. What other people I need to consult and what decisions we need to make now, or at least consider, before racing forward.

But this is not how the world works. Nor is it how work is done. Work is an ever-increasing set of context shifts and priority sliding. Walking the well-lit path becomes shifting sands of uncertainty when there’s a sudden detour thrown in the way.

When instead of working the plan I’ve made, it’s time to put that away and run in a new, unmapped direction. It’s exhausting. I can’t just turn off my brain and run into the unknown hoping for the best.

Before I move forward, I need a path. I’m going to pick the best path but I still want answers for what we find up ahead. During the day, I’m very happy to live in my project and work on the many, many many moving parts and looking ahead at decision points and who needs to be involved.

But that’s rarely how my days go.

Many days it’s Big Project work.
Then fire fighting.
Back to Big Proj—- FIRE!
Meeting.
Meeting.
Reviewing notes from the meetings.
Surprise Meeting!
Email.
Instant Messages AHOY!
invent time travel because it can’t possibly be only 11:30am

At the end of the work day, it’s hard to clear the cache I’ve loaded into my head. I find it challenging to turn my thoughts to other things. To let go of the problems I’ve loaded up and been thinking through.

Relaxing is hard.

Unwinding is hard.

Even when I do eat properly and take breaks away from my desk, by the end of the day I feel exhausted. I don’t know how to be a person outside of work. All I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep for a month.

I know I am burned out. The Pandemic is about to start its junior year. I know I powered through all of 2020 and most of 2021 and I am rightly paying for that now. I know why I feel the way I do. I don’t know how to, not even fix it, because this isn’t fixable with a long weekend. But how do I start to mend? How do I nurse my sore legs and aching feet when I’m still running on the treadmill? How do I find space for self-care? If I’m too exhausted to think about how to take care of myself… how do I start to find ways to feel better?

I fantasize about going to a cabin in the woods with a pile of books for a month. Then emerging as some sort of human being. My wife’s response when I said that stays with me: “that’s a lot of pressure to put on a cabin.”

Bug hunting day

This is how my days go sometimes when I need to go bug hunting with multiple devices connected to webinars.

This may have also been the moment I uttered the words. “There’s a chance I have too many computers.”

How our System Revenges Rest

Our days have accumulated tasks and responsibilities that behave like invasive plants: if you neglect their maintenance, even for a day, they threaten to pull the entire enterprise asunder. The less societal privilege you have, the more true this feels. People with good credit, power and seniority within their organizations, and an emergency fund can afford to (momentarily) fall behind. Their apologies for a delayed email, a late bill, a late kid will be accepted. For everyone else, drop one ball and risk catastrophe: lost hours, lost jobs, lost credit, lost cars, lost homes.

How Our System Revenges Rest – by Anne Helen Petersen

Anne Helen Petersen is one of my favorite writers and her newsletter is a must-read for me. Even if it does take me some weeks to get to it.

It hits to how I feel work has always been through my entire adult life. Keep going. Keep running. Always work. Always push. Keep the plates spinning.

One misstep will lead to disaster. And I’m one of the privileged ones.

Work. Family. Scene. Pick Two.

Work, family, scene. Pick two.


Work—that is your creative output.

Family—that’s a spouse, kids, or any close personal relationships.

Scene—that’s the fun stuff that comes along with success. Parties. Fancy dinners. Important friends. This is the stuff that looks good on Instagram, that you can brag about, that falls into your lap like a wonderful surprise. Offers, invitations, perks.

Work, Family, Scene: You Can Only Pick Two – Ryan Holiday

I love this advice from Austin Klein, via Ryan Holiday. You can’t have it all. You burnout. You’re miserable. You’re robbing someone of time or attention or love or presence.

The two you pick can change as your life does. Your balance may shift from work to family or scene to work. As they all feed each other.

Picking two is important as remembering you can switch the two at any time. It’s not a lifelong choice.

I’ve always found family and work (as its meant here) to be the most rewarding. Sure the scene can be fun. But that’s the part I most readily give up. That’s what works for you. You follow your path and find what works for you.