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Highly motivated employees are true assets to any organization. They're productive, energetic, eager to take on additional responsibilities, and pleasant to be with and work with. Furthermore, they spread their enthusiasm and work ethic to others.
But every organization, no matter what the industry or what the size, also inevitably has non-performing, unmotivated, burning out — or burnt-out — employees as well. Therefore, to increase success, every business owner needs to deal with this obstacle by identifying unmotivated employees and "turning them around." But turning them around isn't as easy at it may seem, especially because as the employer you can't really "make" anyone be motivated! Remember the old adage, "You can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink"? That, in a nutshell, is true with people as well. You can't motivate them if they don't want to be motivated. But you're the boss, so what can you do? First, you need to identify the signs of a person on the verge of burnout. Then you must create the atmosphere that encourages these non-performing employees to refresh and motivate themselves.
Identifying the signs of burnout
What are the signs of a lack of motivation or burnout? One of the key red flag symptoms is a decrease in performance or productivity. This is especially obvious when comparing an individual's past performance with current performance. Absent any serious reasons to explain away the change, de-motivation is usually the culprit. This leads us to the next red flag: an increase in the number of days missed. If you're in the midst of the flu season and a number of other employees call in sick, then ignore this absence. However, if someone who's rarely sick starts to miss work, then the likelihood is that de-motivation is the germ.
Here are more signals you need to be looking for and must begin to address:
- Attitude changes. The employee is usually upbeat, but now appears quiet, somber, sullen, disagreeable or even moody. Or the reverse — the employee becomes far more outgoing, energized or talkative than normal, typical or acceptable.
- Comments from co-workers that "something is wrong."
- Stress reactions. The job isn't being completed as well as in the past; the employee is jittery, short-tempered or difficult to get along with.
- Tardiness. The employee is arriving late in the morning and leaving early or at the exact end of the workday or shift.
- Change in lunch and coffee breaks. The employee takes more time than usual or doesn't take them at all.
- Decrease in positive interaction with other employees. He "just doesn't get along" as well with others anymore.
- Increase in errors.
- Decrease in productivity. There's an increase in time spent on projects without a subsequent increase in quality or productivity.
OK, you've now seen eight symptoms of burning out or unmotivated behavior and attitudes. Observation is the first step. So what else can you do to move the employee along and assist him or her in the process of self-motivation? The first thing you should do is gather information from previous performance reviews and from other managers or supervisors. Determine if this situation is a trend or just a blip in performance. In either case, you need to intervene as follows:
- Meet with the individual. Begin by asking the employee his or her perception of their performance or productivity. Then based on your data and observations, share your specific views of the change in productivity and attitude.
- Identify previous motivators (the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior). Determine which factors are no longer present and/or determine which ones no longer work as motivators.
- Identify new motivators. Frederick Herzberg, who's writings of workplace psychology in the 1950s and 60s is still heavily relied upon today, offers the following most commonly used and effective motivators:
First, identify areas where the individual can experience a sense of achievement, such as accomplishing a task, finishing a report, meeting with colleagues or creating new ideas. Next, be certain to recognize and reward the individual for a job well done or work in progress. This form of positive feedback usually encourages increased performance and therefore the individual receives even greater recognition or comment from you, the boss.
Provide opportunities for personal or professional growth on the job. This can be accomplished through attendance at seminars or workshops or by observing other employees in other jobs. In addition, by creating a concrete career pathway (a plan for future career growth), you can motivate this person to strive toward the next job or position in your organization.
Ensure that you're providing appropriate amounts of guidance and supervision so the employee knows exactly what's expected. Also, ensure the communication between the two of you is frequent enough, appropriate and adequate to ensure the employee knows exactly what the road to success looks like. You might discover that the current job is too challenging or perhaps not challenging enough to maintain the person's interest and productivity. Try rotating or exchanging the job responsibilities between several employees. This form of cross-training injects fresh, new energy and challenges into the daily job performance. And finally, try expanding the breadth and depth of responsibilities. This too can energize the individual who is not feeling challenged.
Basically, all of these proven techniques serve to assist you and the employee in evaluating how well they fit into a current role. This is an easy and extremely effective way to increase employee motivation, job satisfaction and productivity. After all, isn't this what you want from your employees?
David G. Javitch, Ph.D., is Entrepreneur'com's "Employee Management" columnist and an organizational psychologist and president of Javitch Associates, an organizational consulting firm in Newton, Massachusetts. With more than 20 years of experience working with executives in various industries, he's an internationally recognized author, keynote speaker and consultant on key management and leadership issues.Copyright © 2005 Entrepreneur.com, Inc.
Let's start with the neurotics. They have an intrinsic tendency to blame themselves. When something goes wrong at work, regardless of where the problem occurred, they are likely to feel a strong sense of responsibility -- and they will generally work hard to try to fix the problem. Neurotics personalize the failures of the organization and are likely to work extra hours, pick up additional responsibilities, and rattle the cages of those less motivated. Walk through your office some evening at 7 p.m. and reflect on the personalities of the people still at work. My guess is that most late-nighters in your organization will fit this description to a tee.
The opposite of the neurotic is the not-my-problem-otic. When something goes wrong at their company, they are able to quickly justify how the problem is someone else's, and they will cheerfully punch out at 5 p.m. and drive home with a clear conscience. The trouble with these folks is that they don't take much responsibility for anything. Instead, they narrowly define their roles in ways that exempt them from the messy, gray areas that are key to winning in business.
Think of the salesman who defines his job strictly as "bringing in the order" and who refuses to be responsible for matching what he sells to the firm's capabilities, capacity limitations, or profitability targets. Or take the manufacturing leader who so restricts the order process that he makes it impossible for his team to lose -- and in doing so makes it impossible for the company to win.
WHICH CRAZY IS BETTER?
I probably sound like I prefer neurotics to not-my-problem-otics, and I do. When I look back over my management career, I realize that I have unconsciously sought to hire as many neurotics as possible. That's because it's easier to get a neurotic to back off a bit than it is to get a not-my-problem-otic to care more. In the words of one of my early, Texas-born mentors, "I'd rather say 'whoa' than 'giddy-up' any day."
With neurotics, I always have to say things like "When are you going to take some vacation time?" or "Your intensity is driving people crazy; you need to back off a bit." And if you don't watch your neurotics closely, they may drive their colleagues to drink. Heaven help you if you have two strong neurotics at key levels in the organization. They may spend so much energy trying to out-work and out-martyr each other that team spirit suffers as a result.
That said, give me a neurotic any day. I just like the way they tend to throw themselves at things so passionately. Sure, I spend a lot of time smoothing the feathers they ruffle, but I prefer that to constantly trying to build the fire of commitment under those not-my-problem-otics.
Perhaps only a few of us can be cleanly categorized into one of these two categories, but in my experience most people have a tendency toward one or the other. My personal preference for neurotics aside, I must admit that both styles bring to the workplace something of value. The not-my-problem-otics bring an appreciation for boundaries and the realization that they simply cannot take responsibility for everything. The neurotics bring a no-excuses mentality to their work, one that prompts them to take responsibility for making things better regardless of where a problem falls on the organizational chart.
Of course, a company full of neurotics would probably be a disaster [like my six-year-old's soccer team, with every player crowded around the ball], but for me it's fun to think about the possibility. Who knows, maybe I could even go home at 5 p.m. once in a while.Copyright © 2005 The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. All rights reserved.
AUGUST 01, 2005
(COMPUTERWORLD) -Thirty-five years ago, my former boss Alvin Toffler coined the term future shock to describe the shattering stress and disorientation experienced by individuals when they are subjected to too much change in too short a time. While working on a multiyear project examining the future of IT work, researchers at the IT Leadership Academy discovered a related concept -- "job shock," the vocational vertigo IT professionals are just now beginning to experience as their careers and developmental aspirations slam full throttle into a radically changed and rapidly transforming world of IT work.
The first thing the research revealed is that IT work and IT jobs aren't synonyms. The work of IT is increasing -- more bits are being moved, manipulated, transformed, stored, personalized and protected. They are sent to more places, to more people and for more purposes than ever before. This fact hasn't made it into public consciousness. There is more work to do. But there may not be more jobs to handle that work.
Any B-school professor can recount hundreds of stories about why students are in class and not in the workforce. It's not unusual to hear things like, "Four years ago, I was making $180,000 designing Web sites. That work is now being done in India." Truth be told, that work is probably being done by users themselves with the aid of smart machines. One of the major transformations taking place in the IT industry is automation. IT work that used to have IT jobs attached to it is now being automated and done by the end user.
Laura Tyson, former dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, is always quick to remind the "antimachine" people among us that the invention of the automobile eliminated thousands of jobs in the buggy industry but created even more jobs in the fledgling auto industry.
That's historically true, and Jeremy Rifkin, author of The End of Work, agrees that "the Information Age will create many new products and services." But, he adds, "unlike the past, however, when mass labor was required to produce these goods, in the future, they will be churned out in nearly workerless factories and be marketed by nearly virtual companies." This is a very real worry.
Serious-minded and very smart future-thinkers are pondering the questions: What if paid IT employment was to steadily disappear? What would become of the men and women for whom such employment, especially good jobs, was a central organizing element in their lives?
If you wanted to continue to feed yourself, you'd need to do three things:
- Network with the people in your local economy who best understand the trends and current economic "rents" associated with a given set of skills -- the IT staffing firms. They have great data and would love to talk to you.
- Understand the next three strategic steps your organization is going to make, and build deep personal relationships with the executive platoons that are going to drive those initiatives.
- Get yourself trained and educated.
You will face pressure from machines getting smarter, similar-skilled global labor alternatives getting cheaper and executives paying less attention (if that is possible). Knowledge and networking will help you through the trauma of job shock.
Thornton A. May is a longtime industry observer, management consultant and commentator. Contact him at email@example.com.
At Henry Chinaski's job at a magazine publishers' distributing house, he notices that "the work was easy and dull but the clerks were in a constant state of turmoil."
"Look," I said, "these books aren't worth reading let alone arguing about."
"All right," one of the women said, "we know you think you're too good for this job."
"Yes, your attitude. You think we didn't notice it?"
That's when I first learned that it wasn't enough to just do your job, you had to have an interest in it, even a passion for it.
This is from Charles Bukowski's best novel, Factotum (Black Sparrow Press, 1975).
You won't find Bukowski on most English professors' reading lists, because Bukowski writes too clearly. It isn't possible to fudge his message to make bourgeois life look all right, after all.
Chinaski shows utter disrespect for the work ethic. During and after WWII, he moves from job to job around the country but mainly in Los Angeles--some twenty odd jobs, not one lasting for long. He doesn't worry about taking his jobs seriously, or getting fired. He has understood the sham that is modern work, and responds in the only way that makes sense to him: refusal to work. Even when he gets a "good" job, he refuses to work.
This book is a radical statement about modern work, far outstripping the merely liberal concern about making work better--pleading for fewer hours, better wages, more benefits, greater respect. These all turn out to be delusions in the end.
Are improvements in working conditions supposed to strengthen capitalism, so that in the end it may come up with more efficient ways to suck the life out of the worker? Is it possible to bridge the inherent alienation between the worker and his work in the capitalist system?
The only answer that makes sense is Chinaski's unbending disrespect for the whole system of production: refusal to work, under any conditions, even when organizations appear to be catering to workers' desire to belong.
Not long ago, Barbara Ehrenreich went famously slumming, and wrote about it in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (Metropolitan Books, 2001). She wanted to prove that at the lower end of the wage scale, it is barely possible to survive. These jobs try hard to make you feel you belong: Wal-Mart inculcates the work ethic by calling you an "associate." You're supposed to work overtime without being paid; your life belongs to your employer. Ehrenreich took jobs as waitress, maid, Wal-Mart clerk, and other situations where the overwhelming number of those who didn't participate in the "new economy" actually held jobs. Of course, now the new economy has been shown to be a mirage, but Ehrenreich wanted to reveal how the other half lived even during the so-called boom years. At all her jobs, she had a hard time meeting basic expenses like food and shelter.
Ehrenreich's critique is fine as far as it goes, and she writes movingly of the impossibility of surviving under the current wage bargain for the non-elite, but the denunciation of work itself isn't there. She would want what? A living wage? An end to degrading rituals like mandatory training (propaganda) sessions, and ubiquitous aptitude (and attitude) testing?
Ben Cheever, a more resigned type, went slumming too during the boom years. He writes about his jobs as computer huckster, auto salesman, sandwich artist, and security guard in Selling Ben Cheever: Back to Square One in a Service Economy (Bloomsbury, 2001). As the title suggests, the way to get and keep a job in America today is by constantly selling yourself; as Chinaski was told, keeping a good attitude. Cheever too notes how annihilation of any sense of self apart from work has become standard practice in even the least challenging of jobs: the illusion that you're being weeded out from the real morons by rigorous testing and questioning; the constant surveillance to make sure that you don't have thoughts unrelated to organizational dominance at any moment of your (voluntarily donated) slave time. Cheever does his sincere best to speed things up, to work as well as his more committed co-workers. Cheever has no real complaints; he accepts his fate sweetly, and does what he can to please his employers.
Back to Chinaski for some real insight into the humiliating rituals of work:
Even during World War II when there was supposed to be a manpower shortage there were four or five applicants for each job. (At least for the menial jobs.) We waited with our application forms filled out. Born? Single? Married? Draft status? Last job? Last jobs? Why did you leave? I had filled out so many job forms that long ago I had memorized the right answers.
When this employer asks him what he does, Chinaski reveals that he is a "writer" but then appeases the interrogator by saying that the title of his novel is "The Leaky Faucet of My Doom." This soothes the interrogator. Chinaski says that he wants to work in a ladies' dress shop because he's "always liked ladies in ladies' dresses."
The interrogation rituals, which are not limited to hiring but extend indefinitely until you're fired, are a not inconsequential part of the degradation.
Chinaski knows that capitalism is a vast machinery to keep us busy, never let us have time to think about why the rulers should have the right to rule us:
The problem, as it was in those days during the war, was overtime . . .You gave the boss eight hours, and he always asked for more. He never sent you home after six hours, for example. You might have time to think.
Juliet Schor, in The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (Basic Books, 1991), has made much of how Americans have been working more and more hours (more than any others in Western democracies) since the gains of the labor movement in the early twentieth century. Despite popular misconception, we now work harder than we did in the ruthless nineteenth century. Employees are so fatigued after (over)work that they have no time to think for themselves; mindless entertainment is about all they can muster energy for.
Schor notes that incentive structures in capitalism ensure longer working hours. The eighty-hour work week in the nineteenth century was terrible (although we're now returning to something like it) but this is the worst standard against which to measure current working conditions. The worker in the middle ages spent considerably less time working: "Steady employment, for fifty-two weeks a year is a modern invention. Before the nineteenth--and, in many cases, the twentieth--century, labor patterns were seasonal, intermittent, and irregular."
But here is the flaw in Schor's thinking: "Work, too, can be pleasurable; and leisure may or may not be." No, work under capitalism (when you sell your labor to an employer) is by definition degrading; it can't be joyful. And the very term "leisure" implies, to the Puritan mind, a negative quality of slacking off, not pulling one's weight.
One reason why Schor thinks we feel overworked is the plethora of consumer choices; we try hard to keep up with others, never getting off the treadmill. Schor talks about capitalism's "squirrel cage," the work-and-spend middle-class affliction instilled by capitalism, but in the end she doubts whether this cycle can be radically disrupted. That's because of the "social nature" of work-and-spend: individuals alone, if they make the choice not to participate in the upscale consumer market, can't do it. Schor mentions in passing the "'Zen' path to happiness," keeping desire low to limit work hours.
The problem with liberal critics of capitalism (if that's what they are criticizing) is that they don't want to mess with the foundations of the system. Maybe a bit of tinkering at the edges, but that's all. So having established that present work conditions are worse than in the middle ages and getting close to those in the abysmal nineteenth-century, Schor offers only the following changes: "altering employers' incentives; improving wages for the lowest-paid; creating gender equality; pre-empting the automatic spiraling of consumption; and throughout, establishing time's value independent of its price, so that it can no longer be readily substituted for money."
It is a given in liberal circles that the more dire the diagnosis, the more pallid the prescription. In Schor's framework, there is no need to give up ambition to get ahead in the capitalist world. You need only "balance" your work and private needs. In Schor's analysis, if you work a little less, would this be to maintain the psychological balance necessary to be a more efficient machine? Chinaski drinks and fucks without any sense of balance; it is his implicit answer to those "reformers" who would want more space for the worker to express his unique self--in measured quantities, of course. "Overwork" suggests that it's the "over" that's the problem, not work itself.
Like Schor, Robert Reich also sees no real way out of the bind. In The Future of Success (Knopf, 2001), he glorifies the new economy, calling it "The Age of the Terrific Deal," and handles the ever-expanding encroachment into workers' leisure time as only a matter of striking the right balance. Reich says that we "are benefiting mightily from the new economy, "reaping the gains of its new inventions, its lower prices, its fierce competition." None of this is worth giving up, regardless of what "neo-Luddites . . . isolationsits and xenophobes" might say. The price of the terrific deal, the new bounty of choices, is that we feel overworked and insecure. The age of permanent employment has ended, and loyalty doesn't matter. If we're smart, we'll know how to conduct the "sale of the self" to the highest bidder at any given time. There are only two tracks, the fast and the slow. Since we can't be expected to give up our appetite for goods, the best we can hope for is some cushioning against the worst economic shocks, and mitigating the worst effects of capitalism's efficient "sorting out" of those on the fast and slow tracks. Reich makes no suggestion that work itself might be the problem.
It is no accident that Factotum was published in 1975. In the early seventies, Americans openly expressed dissatisfaction with work. Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello's Common Sense for Hard Times (South End Press, 1976) has as its thesis the unjustified control of capitalists over "the time of our lives." Nineteenth century workers were more rebellious; they clearly saw "working for a daily wage" as "equivalent to slavery." Only in the twentieth century have Americans become habituated to the concept that they should spend the major part of their lives working for someone else. But the "work stoppages, sitdowns, and wildcat strikes" proposed by Brecher and Costello can only return a little control for a time to workers. Besides, even this type of resistance has mostly disappeared after the seventies.
Lloyd Zimpel's Man Against Work (Eerdmans, 1974) presents practical strategies to increase worker "satisfaction," anticipating Schor and Reich's approach. The essays collected in Zimpel's work suggest that different forms of alienation can be overcome by methods of job enrichment. The work ethic itself is not under attack; more participation can effectively challenge authoritarian means of management. But Brecher and Costello have shown how worker participation is yet another divide and rule tactic to enhance employer control.
Harry Braverman, in Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (Monthly Review Press, 1974), comprehends more clearly how capitalism works. Scientific management controls workers by withholding from them knowledge of different steps in the labor process--deskilling them, in other words. The worker deludes himself if he thinks that he can sharply separate work and free time. The marketplace extends into all areas of life, including leisure time, and institutions like schools and hospitals that we think function in a spirit of community exist only to clear out all but the most productive from the marketplace.
Freedom won't come from marginal changes. Chinaski is wise to this:
Bums and indolents, all of us working there [at a bicycle warehouse] realized our days were numbered. So we relaxed and waited for them to find out how inept we were. Meanwhile, we lived with the system, gave them a few honest hours, and drank together at night.
Is it really that Chinaski and his fellow workers are inept? Or is that you can never measure up to capitalism's standards? So why not one-up the system in the only way possible, by actually acting ineptly, by being irresponsible? Moreover, if you're really "dumb" in the capitalist system, that means you're not in on the take. You're only making as much as the "rules" of the "free-market economy" say you should. Why not radically distance yourself from the crooks, present in every capitalist enterprise, by being dumb? At least that way you can't be charged with being a thief in addition to being a slave. Hired as a janitor at the Times Building, Chinaski sleeps most of the time on the "sofas and chairs" in the "ladies crapper."
Unlike Ehrenreich, Cheever, Schor, and Reich, Chinaski offers the radical alternative of being against capitalist ambition itself. Here's how he calmly accepts being fired from the bicycle warehouse (just as he refuses to protest after every sacking):
"Chinaski," he [Mr. Hansen, the manager] barked. I knew the sound: it was over for me.
. . ."Yes?" I asked.
"I'm going to have to let you go."
"You're a damned good clerk but I'm going to have to let you go."
I was embarrassed for him.
"You've been showing up for work at 10:30 for 5 or 6 days now. How do you think the other workers feel about this? They work an eight hour day."
"Its all right. Relax."
"Listen, when I was a kid I was a tough guy too. I used to show up for work with a black eye three or four times a month. But I made it into the job every day. On time. I worked my way up."
I didn't answer.
Chinaski makes us feel sorry for the capitalist class and its minions, even though he's the one being put out of work. In the above episode, Chinaski is the dignified one, trying to lend humanity to the employer. And yet, wasn't he the one showing up late to work every day? This stubbornness lets others equally enslaved feel superior. This is Chinaski's act of mercy.
When Chinaski gets a job at an auto parts warehouse, he gets into the habit of playing the horses, rushing off from work a little before 5 p.m. to make it to Hollywood Park in time to place the bets. At work, he starts doing "less and less." This is what happens at the inevitable firing scene:
"You knew we were going to let you go?"
"Bosses are never hard to fathom."
"Chinaski, you haven't been pulling your weight for a month and you know it."
"A guy busts his damned ass and you don't appreciate it."
"You haven't been busting your ass, Chinaski."
I stared down at my shoes for some time. I didn't know what to say. Then I looked at him. "I've given you my time. It's all I've got to give--it's all any man has. And for a pitiful buck and a quarter an hour."
"Remember you begged for this job. You said your job was your second home."
" . . .my time so that you can live in your big house on the hill and have all the things that go with it. If anybody has lost anything on this deal, on this arrangement . . .I've been the loser. Do you understand?"
He's right. Your time is the only thing worth having. Why should any system that demands a worthless bargain, where you give up most of your time, your most precious (your only) possession, for the right to be able to eat and sleep under a roof, be worth defending? It's slow death, and we accept it. After getting fired from this job, Chinaski demands unemployment: we need to be paid not to work, now that the link between labor and value has been broken in the post-scarcity era.
Does serious protest lend any kind of dignity to the worker? If all work under capitalism is demeaning, why not perform poorly, even though you're smart enough to do the job well? Is any other response rational, dignified?
In capitalism, we're all "extra ball-bearings." We're all "faceless, sexless, sacrificial," despite the fancy propaganda. How long can you make the next job last? And if you can make it last a long time, is that the ultimate defeat?
Refusal of work means that you have given up the deceptive fight to ameliorate its conditions. The Fordist model--mechanization of work--is no longer limited to the industrial proletariat. The work ethic itself is the problem. In Marcuse's terms, Chinaski is overturning the "performance principle" through which the current system of domination works. Nothing less will do.
Anis Shivani studied economics at Harvard, and is the author of two novels, The Age of Critics and Memoirs of a Terrorist. He welcomes comments at: Anis_Shivani_ab92@post.harvard.edu
In just a few short days classes will start back up for the Winter Quarter and I will be neck deep in programming, 3D modeling, writing game reviews and the holiday season. I love San Francisco this time of year, the way the clouds linger desperately in the mid-day and the wind rips ferociously at all new students, tourists and fresh faces. Like the industry I find myself entwined in, I have come to believe that this city eats people alive and never spits them out. I often wonder if some people come here and just can't cut it, simply falling apart at the seams. I wonder if it is a smaller scale reproduction of what's going on in our industry.
The game industry has moved beyond its golden years and has graduated into a cash cow. The Alfred Hitchcock's and the Tim Burton's of old are few and far between, the ones who are left are retiring or making way for the Michael Bay's and Spielberg's of the industry. We are beginning to see the game industry's focus shift from the game to the harvest, so to speak. I could sit here and lament the days of old, how graphics don't make a game, or how it's the concept, not the 15 different points of audio that make the experience, but frankly, that's a lie today. We have adapted to the current conception of the video game just as a person who drives a BMW for ten years can't drive a Geo Metro without going insane.
If you haven't heard by now Vivendi Universal Games is being sued by Neil Aitken for violation of overtime laws in California. In a recent article published in the Computer Gaming World November 2004 issue regarding the lawsuit (pg.29), Steve Meister of Bethesda Software was quoted as saying "If you don't like the way you're treated at work, try to find work at a company that has more reasonable expectations of its employees." Several other unnamed developers felt that Aitken should not have filed the suit and should have just found another job altogether.
Folks, it is at this point that I have to take a step back and resist the urge to slap people Zsa-Zsa style. When has it ever been okay to rip people off? When has it ever been okay to step on the little guy? When has it ever been okay to take advantage of someone just because you have the ability to? Hey, just because you can doesn't make it right. California and Federal law give us protection against this kind of behavior and just because someone stood up to it doesn't give you the right to come down on him. This industry is in a dangerous state and it's not going to get better any time soon. As it stands, one way or another Federal and/or State intervention seems imminent and with companies like Rockstar Games and Running with Scissors bearding the lion, how much longer will it take before we're seeing some sort of heavy-handed regulation? Couple this with the fact that we are seeing a major shift in development cycles, development house closures, poor accounting practices, bad games and the ever-present, ever-growing piracy issue, where are we headed?
Last quarter I had a class called "Data Structures and Concepts" and it was taught by a talented young man who was working at LucasArts on an unspecified project. One night in the middle of the quarter, during the middle of class he got a phone call that he had been laid off. Mind you, it's 8pm on a Tuesday night and he's getting a phone call informing him that he's coming in to a pink slip in the morning. Needless to say, he left the class and drove to LA where he was hired on at EALA for work on another game. He had to quit teaching in the middle of the quarter and leave.
The behavior of this industry is abhorrent, and it's going downhill fast. We've modeled ourselves after corporations like Microsoft and Enron. We idolize the Hollywood ideal and the people who head the major publishing houses have little to no interest in games what-so-ever, except whatever it can profit them now. Unless you're a Jon Carmack or a Cliffy B of the industry, you're meat, you're forced into working unpaid overtime, you're looked down upon and if you don't like it you should look for another job. Are we set to implode or is everything going to be shipped overseas to $2/hour programmers and non-English speaking tech support? More importantly, is there any hope for people like me who just want to create a game that's more than a fancy physics engine and some shiny water effects?
Gaming is becoming like film and music, you have to show exceptional talent or know someone on the inside to even hope to get a shot. I remember the first day of my Data Structures class, the instructor was asking each person to give a brief introduction and then tell everyone what they wanted to do upon graduation. I will never forget how the majority of students wanted to work for someone else for lots of money and bags full of success. One student even went so far as to brazenly declare that he "hated coding" and he just wanted to be a producer, the "idea man" behind the game. I still don't understand why he's majoring in programming. Regardless, when it came my turn, I realized that these individuals wanted success without forging a path, and this is what feeds the industry, the machine if you will.
As long as there are people with ideas and the burning desire to create them then there will always be great games, just fewer and far between, and sometimes with crummier graphics. However, as long as the majority of new industry recruits are content to just "work for someone" else and hope to make their "millions" doing the grunt work of others, then companies like EA, Microsoft, Vivendi Universal, and a host of other money-centric profit machines will continue to churn through developers like America does Prozac. Face it, there are enough brilliant 17 year old programmers and 3D modelers on the up and up right now who are willing to work for minimum wage that the time has come for people like Neil Aitken to stand up and call these corporations on their poor treatment of employees. More importantly, shame on you Mr. Meister for not having your fellow developer's back and telling him to find a new job even though the company he is working for is violating State and Federal laws, way to be a part of the problem and not the solution.
2004-11-11 21:41 (link)
I also followed onto this post from ea_spouse.
I believe you're right that the industry has changed its focus, but only to some degree. Most of the people who are working in the trenches still do it for the love of creating great games. The artists, programmers, sound, and even QA testers endure horrible working conditions because they love video games.
I was talking about this with my girlfriend today. She likened this situation to early Hollywood, before the formation of the Screen Actors Guild and other unionization.
We have graduated from a small cottage industry into a powerhouse segment of entertainment. That progression has attracted a certian unwelcome element of manager who is primarily concerned with the company's bottom line with little regard for the immesurable costs. They are unwittingly cannibalizing themselves, preying on the young and naive developers to fuel the high churning machine.
Like Hollywood, I don't think we have much other choice but to unionize. Especially the artists and programmers who "easily" can be replaced by the bright-eyed and eager youth. I really wish we lived in a world where everyone respected everyone else, but reality doesn't mesh. And history isn't on our side.
Also, like Hollywood, there are great creative forces still at work today. Some of them even make truly original, entertaining, and profitable pictures. There are just as many "cash machine" operations. There is room for both in the video game industry as well.
2004-11-13 05:24 (link)
Don't see how anyone couldn't.
hello fish (http://fish.zapto.org) here, again, I followed your comment from a certain other blog;)
I'm currently on an (non-games related) internship from my course, BSc Hons Computer Games Technology, at Abertay in Scotland, and once I've got my degree, I want to do something with it, so I can see where you're coming from with the quotes about your classmates, there's more than a few of those in mine too:/ unfortunately people don't really have as much choice as they'd like.
One friend, very clever guy, managed to secure a place at EA in the UK, without a formal interview(thats another story though), 15 years he's been dreaming of getting into the industry, after 1 year at EA, he's thinking of leaving. The industry. yeah.
Ideally he'd start a devco, as would I(:)), but our guess is that you'd need GBP£2,000,000 to start up and have a decent chance at succeeding and surviving. It's tough out there.
I've kind of forgotten what my point was now...
Something along the lines of I wouldn't work for EA if you paid me (coincidentallyit looks like they wouldn't). Or I would, but only to try to topple them from the inside*, I'd have no problem losing a job from them.
"If you don't like the way you're treated at work, try to find work at a company that has more reasonable expectations of its employees."
I've previously never heard of Mr Meister, but I doubt I want to know any more about him after that.
*reach for the stars and you might get to the top of the trees.
On February 14, 2005, Electronic Arts employee Leander Hasty filed a class action lawsuit against the company—the second such suit aiming to obtain past due and future overtime, as well as statutory penalties. Both cases are now pending certification for class status.
The brouhaha is no surprise to gaming insiders. Ironically, in an industry noted for its long hours, the developers who create products for play have become the most visible victims of extreme overwork.
Though complaints have been bubbling through the industry for years, the boiling point occurred on November 10, 2004, with an explosive Live Journal entry by an anonymous “disgruntled spouse” of an Electronic Arts game programmer, claiming that her husband and other employees were regularly required to work 80-hour weeks for months on end. Recalling the company’s new corporate catchphrase, “Challenge Everything,” the blogger writes, “To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: How about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?”
Widely read and circulated, “EA: The Human Story” garnered thousands of fervent responses, many by developers echoing similar exploitation at EA and other game development companies. Galvanizing the labor base, the blog entry was even nominated for Joel Spolsky’s Best Software Essays of 2004.
In Search of Quality of Life
The 5,800-employee company seems to be paying attention, however. Just weeks after the blog was published, Electronic Arts Executive Vice President of Human Resources Rusty Rueff released a company memo that tacitly admitted the problem, and claimed that Electronic Arts is investigating ways to “lessen the number of late-in-the-project changes, crunches and fire drills.” And on March 8, 2005, acknowledging the pressure from employees, the company reclassified some salaried employees as hourly wage earners to allow for overtime pay, to begin next month.
Previously subterranean grumbles have emerged into the light of media attention, now codified into scheduled conference topics. In early March, executives and workers attended an all-day “Quality of Life Summit” at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco to discuss the industry’s workplace issues and possible remedies, including legislation and unionization.
“Disgruntled spouse” remains unconvinced, and is in the process of creating Gamewatch, a “non-corporate-sponsored watchdog organization specifically devoted to monitoring quality of life in the game industry.” Gamewatch aims to “hold up and reward those companies that operate ethically, the better to ensure that top talent can seek out employment where they will be respected and best provided with the resources to do their jobs: namely, family time, sleep and sanity.”
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