Working dumb vs. working smart then getting the hell out of the office

So far in my job searching, I’ve found that corporate Web sites often provide more amusement or frustration than enlightenment.  E-mail addresses that deliver text into black holes, submission forms that don’t submit, and — my favorite — Web sites that don’t even list a company’s actual physical mailing address.  Are they in Berkeley or Boise?  Who knows!

But — color me easily amused — last night I discovered a company’s HR pages listing among their full-time job benefits: “Paid vacation days.”  Several things came to mind:

  1. We’re talking days, not weeks here?  Notice the perk wasn’t listed as [x] amount of paid vacation.
  2. Are there any companies offering full time jobs without any paid vacation days?  What next, an HR page bragging about “use of office chairs” or “free use of office bathrooms!”?
  3. Do non-American firms similarly list the existence of vacation days as a perk?
  4. Will this blog entry get me blacklisted from certain companies?

Of course, you can probably guess the overall issue I’m getting at here: American companies are notoriously stingy about vacation days.  And forgive me for sounding lazy, but in my not so humble opinion, there’s something wrong with a culture in which it’s common to hear bragging about hours worked and vacation days NOT taken.  The whole quantity vs. quality thing.

I don’t know who is more to blame: American companies for typically granting new employees a stingy 10 days of vacation a year (compared to 20-30 in Europe), or Americans for taking pride in the fact that they’re so “hard working”… and not ashamed to “see” 5 countries in 10 days on their forced-whirlwind European vacation.

And the sad thing is… this sort of warped-work-ethic seems to be in place regardless of the economy.  In the boom times here in San Francisco, seemingly no one dared take even a day off of their Internet-paced job, since every minute counted towards and following that big IPO!

Now that the economy has cooled and headhunters have ceased calling folks like me every 3 days, employees are fearful not of losing opportunities, but losing their jobs if they appear to be less hard-working than the person in the cubicle next to them.

Worse yet, it seems that companies are increasingly valuing people who work longer rather than people who work smarter.  Similarly, our society seems to grant more ‘prestige’ upon careers that require greater time expenditures.  Note the stereotypically proud: “My son is a lawyer!” or surgeon or doctor and so on.  Conversely, I’ve heard lots of snickering directed towards my teacher friends who “have it easy, with their summers off and all.”

In a strange twist of logic and self-adjustment, then, I’ve noticed that several of my friends are actively staying at work longer even when there’s no more work to do… resulting in them filling up their time with IM’ing,
e-mailing, Web surfing, anything so long as they give ‘face time’ to their company and don’t appear to be slacking by “going home early.”

In contrast, at one of my last jobs I was lucky enough to have a smart set of colleagues in my department; we worked hard when we had deadlines and often worked late as needed, and then arrived into work late when there was less work to do.  When we had client meetings in the morning, we’d come in early to prep, and then go home early, and so on.  In other words, we worked efficiently, tailoring our schedule according to the needs of our colleagues, our clients, and yes, ourselves.  I still put in certainly more than 40 hours a week, but I believe I accomplished quite a bit more than some overworking-but-underachieving-colleagues who routinely burned the midnight oil.

So I ask… when will the rest of America’s companies and workers wise up to working smarter, not harder?  If we need any encouragement, let’s note the French, who have a mandated 35-hour work week, eat long and delicious meals, and still manage to stay beautiful and thin.

Although, hmm, they all smoke, too.  But I guess I digress, and this is stuff for another post 🙂



, ,




What do you think?