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Dealing With Workaholism On Web Teams

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Workaholism is often confused with hard work. Some people who work on the Web seem not only to disregard its dangers, but to actively promote it. They see it as a badge of honor—but is it really? On the contrary, it’s a serious issue that can damage Web teams.

Before we get started, let’s make one thing clear: A “workaholic” is someone who is addicted to work, someone who is out of balance and out of control. Their addiction can make them work for 12, 14 or even more hours a day, every day. No weekends, no vacations, just work. Soon, they neglect their family, friends, health, sometimes damaging them all irrevocably.

In contrast, people who simply “work hard” do not expose themselves to such dangers. Putting in a few extra hours to meet a critical deadline doesn’t usually result in workaholism, provided that those sprints are rare and justified.

On Good Web Teams

Running a modern Web business can be demanding. As a result, some business owners stretch their employees as far as they can. What they fail to realize is that working 40 hours per week is enough. Any more and both the employees and the business could be harmed, startups included.

Productivity depends not only on working hours, but on intensity of work. Here’s a magic equation:

work accomplished = time spent × intensity of focus

Pushing people to work more hours is a superficial solution, not a viable one.

Good teams, winning teams, are fragile ecosystems. Members communicate with each other through different media (face to face, instant messages, email, project management software), and the communication is often asynchronous (thus, accommodating both early birds and night owls, as well as people in other time zones). Once a team finds its pace, that rhythm must be protected.

Members of this fragile ecosystem are connected by invisible bonds of respect and care. Teams are made up of humans. You can see this in action on a sports team: When an opponent attacks a member of the team, the rest rush to protect their teammate. That’s team spirit.

Workaholics have a much more extreme approach to work. They work far more than 40 hours per week, they disrupt the rhythm of the team, and they disregard the invisible bonds of care and respect. Just one of them is enough to damage the health of a good team.

How Does Someone Become A Workaholic?

Think of the movies that feature a lonely computer programmer, coding non-stop day and night. The character is familiar. But can computers themselves stimulate workaholism? They are, after all, absorbing and entertaining at once. Losing control seems to be a greater danger for us than for other professionals. However, a job can’t turn someone into a workaholic. Workaholics tend to be rigid, perfectionist and born achievers.

“He would waste no hour.” (Image: Iana Peralta)

Workaholics have a characteristic that distinguishes them from people who just love their work: personal insecurity. Personal insecurity is associated with neuroticism, another inherent characteristic of workaholics, according to the study “Personality Correlates of Workaholism” (PDF). Peter E. Mudrack, in his chapter “Understanding Workaholism: The Case for Behavioral Tendencies” for the book Research Companion to Working Time and Work Addiction, connects workaholism to feelings of low self-worth and insecurity.

Insecurity comes in many guises: low self-esteem, antagonism, authoritarianism, severe fear of failure, perfectionism. The actions of workaholics express an urgent need to prove to themselves and to others that they’re better than everyone else in the room. Deep down, they hurt. Some feel like a failure in their personal life and use their job to escape from a bad relationship or to make up for an absence in their personal life.

Sometimes people become workaholics for less complicated reasons. A big loan or a personal debt are tangible problems. If someone is in desperate need of money, they’ll work as much as they can to get it. Supporting a large family is also a huge burden. Such situations are oppressive and make some people abandon their principles and become workaholics.

In some ways, workaholism is a symptom of modern society. We live in a culture where productivity is paramount and the boundaries between leisure and work are no longer clear. We’re raising a generation of people who not only love their work but put it at the center of their lives. The entrepreneurial lifestyle is held up as the model of how to work on the Web. Slowly, gradually, we are changing our fundamental values and criteria for success.

Are You a Workaholic?

Most workaholics wouldn’t admit that they’re one to themselves, let alone to anyone else. If you’re worried that you might be one, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • “Do I work far more than 40 hours per week?”
  • “Do I feel a continual urge to prove that I’m the best among my colleagues?”
  • “Do I recognize signs of intense insecurity in myself about work?”
  • “Are my personal and work lives balanced?”

There’s even an online quiz that could help you. It’s simple and short.

You could bury your head in the sand and pretend that everything is OK. But if you suspect that you’re a workaholic, then doing something about it is critical. And if you still think workaholism is cool, please keep on reading.

The Attractiveness Of Workaholics

Yes, some employers love workaholics. But why are workaholics so appealing?

  • They work longer hours than the rest of the team.
  • They don’t mind taking work home.
  • Outworking everyone else makes them seem like they care. Always taking on responsibility and being at work all of the time make them look valuable. And carrying on under any circumstance makes them a fighter.

They know what employers want, and they’re eager to give it.

Let’s take a look at two archetypal workaholics.

1. The Committed Lead Programmer

Upon conducting extensive research, an experienced lead programmer comes up with a number of different database implementations to apply to a Web project. He decides to test each one thoroughly to find the best one. This doesn’t impinge on anyone’s time except his own. He decides to take the job home and works day and night to accomplish the task. He knows it won’t be easy, but he’s committed. All he wants is to be appreciated for his dedication and work.

Pretty compelling, right? A meticulous Web worker who sacrifices his personal time to advance the project.

2. The Project Manager With Mettle

In a casual company meeting, a project manager promises stakeholders a sophisticated implementation of a service on an incredibly tight schedule. He’s not afraid to take responsibility for the project, and he promises to check every single aspect of it personally. If that requires him to push the team as far as he can, then so be it.

Stakeholders leave the meeting impressed by his loyalty and determination. At last, they have found someone they can count on.

The characters above are just a couple of the types of workaholics in our industry. There are many: the superstar designer who’s willing to present multiple design directions; the perfectionist developer who insists on flawless code, even sacrificing his summer vacations. The list goes on.

Such people look much more attractive than their coworkers who stick to eight-hour workdays. They have charisma, they work hard, and they should be praised, if not promoted.

“Office hours” are sometimes relative. (Image: Florian Boyd)

The Fake Glow Of Workaholism

The glow of this perfectionism is false. These practices are only temporarily fruitful, and they can eventually result in disaster. The reason is that workaholism is a shortsighted strategy, one that encourages people to express the worst parts of their personality.

Why is it shortsighted? Because the committed programmer cited above is unconsciously hurting his team’s spirit. As Scott Berkun notes:

“Simply outworking other people can have a negative effect on others: that 5× improvement may create a -2× impact on everyone else: if the star demoralizes others and goes out of his way to embarrasses them with his talent, morale and productivity are sure to drop.”

Furthermore, even the most productive employees can’t keep working with such intensity for long. They will eventually wear out, as will their ability to think clearly. They will no longer be able to contribute to the team or make sound decisions. A successful team needs steady performance from its members more than heroic efforts. A member who temporarily outworks the rest of the team soon becomes an obstacle because they can’t work as part of the team, despite their best intentions.

And why does workaholism lead people to show the dark side of their personality? Let’s return to our second character type. The project manager who would do anything to keep his promise will end up creating too much tension by pushing the team members to their limit. Even if he pushes himself more, he will not inspire anyone; he will merely be a foolish dictator — not a member of the team, but an opponent.

When a team struggles to cope with an impossible project and infighting occurs, the incredible pressure will reduce the overall quality of the work. In such an environment, the manager could very easily get someone out of their way by derailing them, as Shanley explains:

“Any disagreement or critique is transformed into a symptom of pathology on the part of the dissenter. Managers may imply that the individual is unstable, emotionally disturbed, or has a mental disorder. Commonly, this includes overtly stating or implying that the dissenter is “too emotional,” should “take some time off,” “has an anger problem,” is “hostile,” is “overly aggressive,” “takes things too seriously/personally” or “has a problem with authority.””

In the best case scenario, the workaholic will end up exhausted, needing weeks or even months to recover. In the worst case scenario, the team will derail and the members will be dispirited.

Workaholic Companies

Too many workaholic companies are out there, and it’s pretty easy for an employer to create one. All the employer has to do is push people to work beyond their limit and punish the ones who don’t. Big companies such as McKinsey have have sought out such people, according to CNN.

Workaholic companies are machines that burn people out. They don’t care about creating teams. They exploit the enthusiasm of young people and dry them up. One indicator of a workaholic company is that its contractors rarely stay with it for more than a few years.

There are other ways to identify workaholic companies. A few people proudly call themselves workaholics, but most people don’t boast about it, and spotting one from the outside can be hard. However, they can be identified. Before entering a new work environment, search for the “local heroes” — the people who urge everyone else to work more, who can’t have a good laugh during working hours or who constantly talk about “the good of the company.” Can you find the individuals who, beyond a doubt, elicit unpleasant feelings from the rest of the team? They are the ones to watch out for.

Go on. Don’t be afraid to ask straight questions of potential employers during interviews. They may respond vaguely, but try to get crystal clear answers. Some employers expect you to be as dedicated as them, to put yourself in their shoes. Or they will tell you that the company is now your home and that you should do whatever it takes to make it thrive. If you hear these words, run away!

Remember that you work for money, but money alone is not enough. A job is also about being satisfied, which comes from an effective management style, good use of the team’s various skills and a pleasant atmosphere. A workaholic company needs you more than you need it. You deserve better.

Working With Workaholics
Workaholics tend to lose track of time — voluntarily or involuntarily. (Image credit: “Microaggression and Management“.)

Working With Workaholics

An environment where workaholism is the norm soon gets frustrating. You will quickly find yourself with two choices: follow the others or stand your ground and work according to your own conscience.

The first option is an admission of defeat. You’re saying, “I won’t try to change the situation here because, if I do so, my job will be at risk.” While no one would blame you for taking this route, you will wither day by day, dying a slow death.

The second option brings its own problems. You must be prepared to fight for your right to work normally. Remain calm, patient and diligent, while questioning everything. You could raise the following questions:

  • How is performance measured?
  • Why are deadlines so harsh?
  • Who is ultimately responsible, and what happens when things go wrong?
  • What are the procedures for making complaints?
  • What is the past and future of the company?

If you do find yourself in a workaholic company, the first thing to do is keep sane and keep working. Try to find out why things have gone wrong. Ask questions in front of others so that they feel empowered to ask questions, too. Workaholism affects everyone, but not everyone feels free to speak up. If you never talk about it, no one will help you.

If the culture of the company as a whole promotes workaholism, then your employer might not be happy with you for pointing it out. Your employer might think that someone who works eight hours a day doesn’t work enough and will tempt others to work less. It’s not going to be easy, but it is worth the effort. If you can demonstrate that workaholism is destructive, then you’ll gradually change the culture of the company, a huge win.

Fighting Workaholism

Modern businesses need strong teams, not overworked individuals. They need healthy environments, with people who care as much for their teammates as they do for their products.

Fighting workaholism is not easy, but it can be done. How?

  • Be eager to reject workaholism. Every. Single. Day.
  • Learn to recognize workaholics.
  • Avoid workaholic companies. You won’t regret it.
  • If you are at a workaholic company now, end your workday at a reasonable time, or suffer the consequences.
  • Spread the word.

Employers are responsible for workaholism, but if Web workers reject workaholic companies, then those employers would have to change their ways.

Perhaps you’re saying, “What if I’m the employer?”

It’s simple, really. By now, you must have realized that promoting workaholism won’t take you far. So, stand up, leave your desk and see if any workaholics are destroying your fragile ecosystem. Help them to bring balance back to their life. And if that doesn’t work, then do as the smart folks say: fire the workaholic!

(al, il)

© Yiannis Konstantakopoulos for Smashing Magazine, 2014.

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3812 days ago
I've met a few of these...
Seattle, Washington
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GitHub Security Bug Bounty · GitHub

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Comments: "GitHub Security Bug Bounty · GitHub"

URL: https://github.com/blog/1770-github-security-bug-bounty

Our users' trust is something we never take for granted here at GitHub. In order to earn and keep that trust we are always working to improve the security of our services. Some vulnerabilities, however, can be very hard to track down and it never hurts to have more eyes.

We are excited to launch the GitHub Bug Bounty to better engage with security researchers. The idea is simple: hackers and security researchers (like you) find and report vulnerabilities through our responsible disclosure process. Then, to recognize the significant effort that these researchers often put forth when hunting down bugs, we reward them with some cold hard cash.

Bounties typically range from $100 up to $5000 and are determined at our discretion based on actual risk and potential impact to our users. For example, if you find a reflected XSS that is only possible in Opera, which is < 2% of our traffic, then the severity and reward will be lower. But a persistent XSS that works in Chrome, which accounts for > 60% of our traffic, will earn a much larger reward.

Right now our bug bounty program is open for a subset of our products and services (full list is on the site), but we are already planning on expanding the scope as the things warm up.

Check out the GitHub Bug Bounty site for full details, and happy hunting!

Need help or found a bug? Contact us.

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3814 days ago
This is a really great idea, GitHub.
Seattle, Washington
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This is What it's Like to Be a Woman at a Bitcoin Meetup | Arianna Simpson

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Comments: "This is What it's Like to Be a Woman at a Bitcoin Meetup | Arianna Simpson"

URL: http://ariannasimpson.com/post/74400025051/this-is-what-its-like-to-be-a-woman-at-a-bitcoin

The other night my good friend & fellow cryptoenthusiast Ryan Shea suggested we head to a new Bitcoin meetup neither of us had been to before. I agreed to meet him there, and though the conversation was stimulating, much of the experience was pretty demeaning.  

I walk in and a group of people are already sitting at a long table. I say hi and hover for a second, determining where to sit. Entirely uninvited, and before I even have a chance to react, one guy proceeds to grab me by the waist and pull me into an awkward, grope-y side hug next to him on the bench. To reiterate, I’ve never met this man in my life. I try giving him the benefit of the doubt and make some quip about his being a friendly sort, but it gets uncomfortable pretty quickly when he puts his hand on my leg and leaves it there until I squirm uncomfortably

Unsurprisingly, this type of treatment wasn’t specially reserved for me. The person who actually suggested the event to Ryan was another young woman (the only other woman at the event), a VC who was in town from San Francisco and was interested in checking it out for the first time. The aforementioned groper knew Ryan vaguely from other Bitcoin events, and greeted their arrival with a warm “Oh, nice to see you! I see you brought your girlfriend this time.” When the two of them try to point out that a) they are not together and b) she was actually the one who had brought him, they are cut off with a swift “Sure, sure, I just wanted to see what the dynamic was between you two.” Apparently that’s code for “checking if you’re ok with my hitting on her,” as that’s exactly what he proceeds to do.

The guy sitting on the other side of me turns and introduces himself. Turns out, he’s the organizer and leader of the meetup. He follows with a swift, “So, how did you find out about this?” I’m honestly not sure if he means the meet up group or Bitcoin in general, so I go with the latter and tell him I’ve been interested (ok, obsessed—my friend Sam Smith may or may not have nicknamed me Cryptoqueen) since around mid 2013, which is when I started buying some.

He then starts to look at me like I’ve suddenly morphed into a unicorn. Literally: bulging eyes, mouth slightly agape, the whole nine yards. Apparently the expected response would have been that I was Ryan’s  friend/girlfriend/sister who had somehow accidentally ended up there. “Seriously? You mean you actually own bitcoins? You don’t look like someone who would even know about Bitcoin!”

Err…thanks? It’s not a reaction I’m unfamiliar with (I usually get the same one when people hear I have a motorcycle-and no, it’s not a vespa) so I just smile it off and start explaining my interest in the international implications of widespread bitcoin adoption, especially in countries where currency manipulation by corrupt governments has caused rampant hyperinflation and a host of other economic woes. I conclude the thought, and he (again, staring like I’m some sort of extraterrestrial creature), goes, “Wow. Women don’t usually say that type of things”.

I mean, what do you even respond to that?

Undeterred, I try to sidestep it and go on with my argument, concluding that what I am describing is “much more effective and efficient” than the current system. “Well,” he says looking at me knowingly, “Women don’t usually think in terms of efficiency and effectiveness”. 

A few minutes later he starts describing an app he is working on to someone else at the table. “You see, women don’t care about crypto currencies, so we don’t have to design for them”. When I tell him he’s wrong, he smartly replies, completely in earnest, “Oh ok cool, so if we start dating I can use the app with you!” 

The irony here is that he actually meant these things as compliments. But what he was implying that the bar for women is so low that my entirely unremarkable comments put me lightyears ahead of the “average woman” (whatever that even means).

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I’m pretty thick skinned. My self esteem remained intact throughout the exchange; if anything, it made me more determined to learn. I was not even made to feel unwelcome; these fellows were clearly thrilled at the presence of two women at the event. The problem lies in the conditions under which our company was desired. We were not treated as peers or individuals who might be able to contribute intelligently to the discussion. We were ogled and clearly assumed to be someone’s girlfriend, or someone’s potential future girlfriend.

Was either of us mistreated? Technically, no. But the conditions under which our presence was accepted were such that from the moment we entered the room, the other attendees’s preconceptions were at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps this would be a good time to recall Warren Buffet’s comment that one of the reasons for his great success was that he was only competing with half of the population. We can view it as an opportunity. Being underestimated can be a surprisingly effective tool in the appropriate context, but perhaps that’s just me being overly optimistic. I know many women, many of whom are far smarter than I am, who would have felt seriously out of place there. Would they go back to the next meet up? I doubt it.  If the organizer of the meetup makes people feel so unwelcome, it sets the tone for the rest of the conversation.

I’m not bringing these comments up because my feelings were hurt, and the last thing I need is sympathy. I’m also not concerned that one particular guy thinks women couldn’t possibly know about Bitcoin, or that another grabbed at me, but unfortunately this is representative of a larger trend. The current generation of hackathon organizers (largely led by the singular efforts of Dave Fontenot —hellllllyeah) is making a concerted effort to encourage the participation of women at their events, and while I’ve still gotten my share of off-color comments, the situation is gradually improving. Since Bitcoin is still so new, we have the rare opportunity to get onboard before the ship has sailed, becoming knowledgeable before a vast majority of people have ever even heard of it. Learning about it now, instead of trying to play catch-up as it often seems like we are in terms of women in STEM fields, programming, or traditional finance, will surely reap great benefits. 

I think my experience at the meetup is worth sharing because Bitcoin lies at the heart of both finance and tech, two industries that carry tremendous weight and which have traditionally struggled to attract women. Given the events of the other night, this is hardly surprising. I am undeterred and if anything will be even more proactive about attending these events. In my mind, it’s a little preposterous that if I want to do so, however, I have to be ok with being felt up and indirectly insulted. If women fail to take an active interest in Bitcoin now, when it is still in its infancy and its potential is largely untapped, we will have yet another sector in which the gender is underrepresented and trailing. Bitcoin as a currency has the ability to revolutionize the banking and financial system, but the implication of Bitcoin as a protocol extend much further than that. I’ll write a post of my own on that soon, but in the meantime I recommend you check out Mark Andreessen’s excellent post on why Bitcoin matters.  

Anyways ladies, ignore the naysayers and get out to those Bitcoin meetups! If you want to attend a meetup or chat crypto anytime, shoot me a line on Twitter.

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3821 days ago
Yet another example of tech boys behaving badly.
Seattle, Washington
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