on companies that plan on employee burnout01 Oct 2016
at the end of this piece are excerpts from two articles i’ve read in the last couple of months. they both point to a phenomenon whereby companies essentially plan on a particular employee burnout rate. i think that’s a shitty thing.
i first noticed this trend among my friends who left undergrad and went to work in finance (mostly at hedge funds) or management consulting (bcg, kpmg, mckinsey, etc.). almost everyone worked at their firm for two years and then moved on. the verbalized reasons were different for each of them, but i definitely noticed a consistency in the two year tenure. trends like this almost always point to deeper structural or systemic factors.
i don’t think there’s anything wrong with knowing at what rate people turnover from your company. i do think there’s something wrong when you plan on a particularly high churn rate. i also think it’s a problem when you know that rate, do nothing to lower it, and use it as a cornerstone of your business.
the problem with that is that it treats people like cogs. people are not cogs. industrialization and the mechanization of labor has created this myth and it’s still wreaking havoc today. mechanistic design for tools (bikes, factory machines, computers) has allowed humanity a massive number of quality of life improvements. however, applying that same thinking to people in organizations and societies i think is fundamentally wrong. a cog or spring in a watch is easily replaced, but a person in a role is unique. people bring their own experiences, knowledge, identity, and perspective to everything they do. building systems as if two people are able to do a particular task the same is not just wrong, it’s actually a sub-optimization.
more on that in the next post…
quotes that inspired this post:
- “I remember giving a talk at a prestigious investment bank several years ago. At the end a partner stood up and said, “Mr. Schwartz, this is all very interesting, but we have a thousand people knocking on the door who can’t wait to come in and replace the people we’ve burned out. Why should we worry about giving people time to renew? When they burn out, we just bring in a fresh new group of people, who are thrilled to get the jobs.” I’d argue that in knowledge work, you get more out of a person in the third or fifth or seventh year than out of the replacement you brought in because the first worker collapsed in year two. This is a broader issue that deserves attention. We can’t keep pushing people to their limits and expect them to produce at a sustainably high level of excellence. The companies that build true competitive advantage in the years ahead will be those that shift from seeking to get more out of people to investing in better meeting their needs.” - tony schwartz in the article being more productive, harvard business review
- “Driver turnover is a key metric. As long as there are lots of people willing to try working for the service, it is possible to treat drivers as a disposable commodity. But this is short-term thinking. What you want are drivers who love the job and are good at it, are paid well, and as a result, keep at it. Over the long term, I predict that Uber and Lyft will be engaged in as fierce a contest to attract and keep drivers as they are to attract and keep customers today. And that competition may well provide further evidence that higher wages can pay for themselves by improving productivity and driving greater consumer satisfaction.”
— tim o’reilly, to survive, the game of business needs to update its rules