August 18, 2015

Choosing The Simple Life… and Accepting the Consequences

This weekend, with Adam‘s help, I went back to the simple life. We spent Friday night at the baseball game downtown, where my company hosts an annual event with amazing field-level seats.

How amazing is this event space? The pitchers were warming up literally ten feet away from us… awesome.

And then on Saturday, we planned literally nothing all day long, slept late, and got errands done. I now have a new stainless steel dishwasher! (The old one broke, which means I am officially replacing my kitchen appliances one at a time until everything is stainless.) Adam installed the dishwasher for me while I tackled learning how to reupholster the chairs of my new (to me) dining set that I got on Craigslist. I only got one chair done in about ninety minutes, but at least now I know the technique, figured out the tools I need, and got them at Home Depot so I’m ready to go when I resume reupholstering. As my mom always taught me, having the right tools for the job is half the battle!

Saturday night, Adam and I hosted a game night for a bunch of my friends, which was so much fun. For dinner, I did a make-your-own baked potato bar with tons of different toppings. It was really quick and easy to set up (well, outside the long time needed to bake the potatoes… but at least that was hands-off), and my friends loved it! I highly recommend this for your next party.

My creation: queso, chili, scallions, and sour cream. Yum! We also had gravy, three kinds of cheese, bacon, and a bunch of herbs/spices.

Finally, Adam and I had originally planned to go hiking on Sunday, but instead bagged that for a day of lying around, watching HGTV, checking out the new taphouse that opened down the street (which has 40 taps and the most amazing french fries ever!), cooking dinner together, and then going for a walk around my neighborhood before a little more HGTV and bed. So simple, so relaxing!

On the trails that ring the outside of my neighborhood. I love these views, and it was really special to get to share them with Adam 🙂

It was an amazing weekend, but you’ll notice that I did not mention work anywhere in there. In fact, Saturday I literally didn’t look at my laptop once all day! I honestly think it’s been more than five years since I could say that – usually I have a bit of computer time every single day. When I realized that I had somehow forgotten to check email Saturday, I was a little in awe, since that is so not me… and I thought perhaps I should spend more Saturdays unplugged. Maybe even unplug every Saturday, like the Greatist article I recently read?

Unfortunately, by Sunday the reality had set in of why I can’t do this more frequently – I was so behind! I literally worked from 6am to 8pm on Monday in order to catch up on what I had missed. So much for unplugging – I’d prefer to put in a few hours over the weekend rather than have such an intense start to my week.

On a slightly related note, this morning I finally read the NYT Amazon expose that everyone is talking about… and I have to say, now that I’ve read it, I’m a little surprised by all the backlash. I didn’t think there was all that much in that article that was appalling, and in fact, hearing how upfront Amazon is and the challenging standards that they set made me want to work there myself! To me, it would be bizarre that you would not check your email when you leave the office, and as I referenced above, working on nights and weekends is something with which I’m very familiar. Yes, those practices are bad if they’re your everyday life and causing you stress, but as a lot of the rebuttals pointed out, the authors actually took a lot of one-off examples and tried to pass them off as daily life. Meanwhile, I appreciate that Amazon sets such a high bar for its workers and gives them so much personal responsibility – it explains a lot about how Amazon is able to accomplish so much, and it sounds like a really fulfilling place to work with coworkers whose own work motivates you to give your best effort.

Overall, I think that it all comes down to personal choices. I can see how those practices might be appalling if we were talking about hourly workers who weren’t being paid for anything they were doing outside the office, but I have to guess that these are salaried workers who are doing pretty darn well. Even in the article itself, they admit that Amazon pays very competitively.

So, that’s your tradeoff: work nights/weekends and work with the best and brightest and be paid handsomely, or take a basic 9-5 job and get paid a lot less. (Of course, that is a very broad generalization – but I have to guess that many of the thousands of commenters earn much less than the well-paid Amazon engineers on which the article focuses. Hey, I wouldn’t want those kind of demands for $40k a year either!) There are certainly 9-5 jobs that pay well and offer a challenge, and demanding jobs that don’t, but that’s why we have a free market economy: so you can choose wisely and move on if the job stops working for you and your desired lifestyle. I know plenty of people who have chosen each option, and there isn’t a universal right or wrong – it’s what’s right or wrong for your values and the lifestyle you want, and those might change over time. Hooray for living in an era where you don’t have to stay at the same company for your whole career!

If anything, I really appreciated that Amazon was incredibly honest about what they are looking for in an employee, and that it isn’t the right fit for everyone. I think it’s a great trend in talent that employers are emphasizing fit with the culture and lifestyle, and being transparent about what those truly are. With the cost of turnover estimated between 90-200% of an employee’s salary, it’s beneficial to both the worker and the company to be honest about what they’re looking for and whether it truly is a good fit. Every decision in life has a tradeoff, and you can only make good choices about those tradeoffs if you’re fully aware of what they are.

Right now, I am still working to find the balance of what works for me. This weekend was far too little work; other weekends, I fully admit that I’ve been more of a workaholic than perhaps I need to be. But I am happy that over the last few years, I am coming closer and closer to getting the balance just right.


17 thoughts on “Choosing The Simple Life… and Accepting the Consequences”

  1. Interesting post– thanks for sharing! I agree with you re: the Amazon article. What I find bothersome is that this article garnered so much attention and outrage, but similar articles highlighting difficult working conditions for lower-rung employees are ignored. What about the working conditions for employees in Amazon’s warehouses? They certainly aren’t getting extended bereavement or maternity leave. I’m not saying that it’s ok, just that those workers endure tough office policies without the added benefits of compensation or the prestigious line on their resume. I felt similarly about the recent buzz around Netflix’s “unlimited” maternity leave. Sounds great on paper (I understand actually utilizing it is different), but most reports ignored the fact that it only applies to the top echelon of workers– definitely not to those in call centers or other lower positions.

    The questions about worker protections are important ones, and I’m glad these articles are getting folks talking about these issues. But the focus on how tough it is for the “one percent” (or even 5%) isn’t telling the full story.

    1. I think it’s still a great step in the right direction because generally, women and men are closer to 50/50 in the lower tiers, and it’s in the upper tiers where the proportions shift. By creating better maternity leave, it’s likely we’ll see more women stay in the promotion line and end up in the management tier, which can often lead to more female-friendly policies down the line. More women at the top helps not because men have some nefarious plans with their employee policies, but just because women typically have a better understanding of the issues women have in the workplace. (An example being at my firm when they went to glass offices, women had to bring up that the desks needed covers so that you couldn’t see up someone’s skirt. The men didn’t even think of that. Or at least, one hopes they didn’t…)

    2. WOW, I wouldn’t have even thought of that about needing covers for desks! I have always gotten annoyed when my desk had a cover though, so maybe I’m in the minority 🙂

    3. I wonder if part of that is just that working conditions for the lower-rung employees are talked about so much already? This was one of the first times I’ve seen an article about how bad working conditions are for the “one percent”.

  2. I think what people were objecting to were things like employees being told they were off-track and would be fired if their performance didn’t improve in the wake of miscarriages, cancer treatment, etc. That kind of callous disregard of an employee’s personal life shouldn’t be acceptable no matter how much they’re paid.

    1. It does sound REALLY harsh. But, to play devil’s advocate, how much sympathy/down time can a competitive employer be expected to provide? Laura commented folks have choices if a job stops working for you, you have the freedom to move on. If a family change makes that type of intense work environment unrealistic or unwanted… you can leave. And employees from the top ranks at Amazon will have a nest egg to provide cushion (assuming they were fiscally responsible) and the resume to make such a switch possible.

      I’m definitely not saying this is ideal! I just enjoy these policy discussions 🙂

      And I do appreciate your points about women in top positions, because women still do disproportionately shoulder more of the challenges of balancing family/work.

    2. Stephanie, I think your (devil’s advocate) point is mostly what I believe… but then I get swayed by the strong benefits of having diversity of thought, and how important it is to ensure that your organization has that diversity. To me, THAT is the business case for why you need to make exceptions and allow for various lifestyles.

      Of course, I need to add that not everything is all about business and human compassion plays a role… but when you look at a large corporation, I think you have to make sure that policies have benefits to the top/bottom lines.

  3. The whole conversation is fascinating. On the one hand you have Amazon…. Now the world’s largest retailer surpassing Walmart the other day. They have a high performance Jack Welsh / GE up or out mentality that a lot of people bristle at but a few really thrive in. On the other you have the 80% of non hyper-competitive companies that treat their employees well but at the same time don’t have the same performance or results of Amazon. I mean, Amazon didn’t become the biggest retailer in the world for not trying.

    I feel like a lot of people are willing to make the sacrifices required to work at a place like Amazon for a while – until they’re not. Some other life priority presents itself (having kids is the easiest example, but there are LOTS of others) and a decision needs to be made. Either you burn the candle at both ends and make it work, you switch jobs, or you try to balance both and get resentful because your high-stress job is no longer “accommodating”. It seems like a lot of people just aren’t willing to make the life decision that they can’t have 3 “top” priorities. Eventually you have to choose.

    1. Completely agree with your point about being willing to make the sacrifices until you’re not. Choices are critical, and I think too many people think that the “right” choice isn’t going to have any downside… but it really is all about tradeoffs.

  4. Disclaimer: I’ve not yet read the Amazon article (it’s open and I’m getting to it)

    …..But, having worked for the same company you are (albeit, in a different role) they were also very upfront about expectations. The expectation being you are on call 24/7 and may have to sell your soul (I possibly didn’t leave on the best terms….). That being said, it’s clear from the get-go that you’re expected to work hard, be on call, and learn a lot. It made my career, honestly. I’ve moved to a different company where it’s more balanced and it was I need(ed). I may be paid somewhat less and may not have the same high level career had I stayed, but we all need to decide what’s right for me. Is it money and prestige (not for me) or a more balanced lifestyle where we can blog and have hobbies.

    1. Haha!!! I love hearing your perspective on the firm 🙂 I think today some people have that expectation, and some don’t. I think it’s critical for managers to tell their staff what the expectation is, since it can really vary from project to project. Right now, I’ve been lucky to find projects where I’m able to get that balance and so it’s working for me!

  5. Having worked for two other large retailers in this country, I do sympathize with the Amazon article but don’t find the findings to be that groundbreaking. ALL corporate retail offices operate much the same and personally I think it is up to the potential employee to do their due diligence in networking with current employees to understand the office culture prior to accepting a position. That being said, I do think it is sad when people don’t feel like they can take a weekend break from work without the consequence of piled up workload. I’m still a firm believer that life should be enjoyed and the most important thing ISN’T corporate wealth. While some people do want to commit their lives to work/fortune, others do not and the tendency to burn out is high and can have devastating consequences on an individual. It is really just all up to personal preferences, like you said, and it is important that we all decide what is important to us and stick with it (if we can).

    1. In fairness, my two big projects are wrapping up this week, so it’s not just any old weekend that I was trying not to check my email 🙂

      I completely agree with your point though that wealth isn’t the most important thing – at least to me. I have friends who feel otherwise, and I respect those choices! But if someone told me that wealth was their biggest driver and THEN they were complaining about work-life balance, or someone told me flexibility was most important but then was complaining about money… nope. You can’t have your cake and eat it too! I think with either choice, there will be times where it’s not quite working out, but that means it’s then time to re-evaluate and see if that’s a one-time thing or a broader trend and that your priorities have shifted.

  6. The two thing that I didn’t like about the description of working at Amazon were the way that people who suffered a personal issue (cancer or a miscarriage) were essentially pushed out, and the description that at some point, the employee had seen nearly everyone at work cry. I personally want to work at a place where people with true personal tragedies are supported rather than pushed out, and I think there are ways to be honest without making people cry…

    In terms of the long hours, I have to say that I had an attitude much like yours before kids… Without kids, working through dinner and going into work on the weekends weren’t a big deal. But, we decided to have kids because we want to raise them, not someone else, so that means that I need to go home and dedicate time to them, and not to my work. Of course, I check email, but I don’t put in much effort at night (and no, you won’t get a response from me after about 8:30 at night). There are times that I have to work late, or go on business trips, but these evenings and trips have to be important (I just returned at 10 pm last night from a trip across the country). Kids made me more efficient and changed my attitude towards work. Before I had kids, it didn’t really matter how long it took to get stuff done. As a result, I would eat lunch out with colleagues and work at a leisurely pace, maybe run an occasional errand during the day. Now, I can count on one hand the number of times a year I eat lunch out, and I would never consider running an errand or exercising in the middle of the day. I work from 7 am to 4:45 unless there is a real reason that I need to stay late, and I exercise at 4:30 am everyday, so I get to spend as much time with my kids as possible. So though I don’t technically “work” as many hours, I get more done than I ever got before being a working mom.

    1. I completely agree that my perspective may change completely when I have kids – and in fact, my job (in which travel is required four days a week every week) may or may not be feasible at that time. I love your points though about becoming more efficient in order to help bridge the time shortage though!

    2. That’s exactly it… “I personally want to work at a place.” Everyone makes their own decisions and it’s about weighing the pros/cons (assuming you’re well-off enough to have the luxury to decide between multiple jobs or career paths). Other folks might be willing to endure the tough environment because it works with their lifestyle and the compensation or other benefits makes it worth it. The federal government sets a floor for working standards (that I agree should be higher), but after that companies and employees make their own choices.

      Also love the comments about efficiency. In my old job, the culture was to take a longer lunch and stay late… but there was a lot of “wasted” time during the day, like getting coffee as a team or chatting in the hallways. At my current job, most employees work through lunch and are more focused, but we usually leave by 5-5:30 every day.

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