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Your relationship with your job is toxic
ALSO: Four good hours work a day / Elizabeth Uviebinene urges us to reset
We met the character Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network, a dark satire on the state of the then media. Australian actor Peter Finch won the Oscar for his utterly memorable depiction of the crazed newscaster, Beale, who finds himself inadvertently saving his failing career by flipping out on screen. It was the furious mantra of Beale that has transcended the movie, “I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" It seemed to capture the impotent fury of people who found themselves befuddled with the nonsense that was reaching their screens.
I think we’ve heard a new mantra for our time this week. In the (approximate) words of Jonathan Frostick, ‘I’m not spending all day on Zoom anymore… I’m not putting up with any work shit again!’ Whether you met Jonathan Frostick on LinkedIn or on the pages of your newspaper this week you probably saw his story. Readers of the New York Times became acquainted with his familiar experience, but so too did people in India, Japan, Iceland and Brazil. If you missed it then here’s a brief synopsis for you. Frostick - a 45 year old IT contractor for HSBC in London was sitting down to work at 4pm on Sunday afternoon two weeks ago. He doesn’t officially work Sundays but it was very much his weekly habit to prepare for another busy week ahead. Pretty soon he found himself unable to breathe, his chest tightened, his ears popped. He was having a heart attack.
It was the candour with which Frostick dismantled his own instinctive response that made the post go viral. Faced with a grave risk to his immediate survival, his knee-jerk response was ‘I need to meet with my manager tomorrow. This isn’t convenient.’ Frostick told a Bloomberg interviewer that he believed his way of working during the pandemic was the cause, he’d been spending a ‘disproportionate amount of time on Zoom calls’ and was probably clocking up twelve hour days at his screen. Erm, tick..tick.
Frostick turned his experience into the following post (also here on LinkedIn if you want to read the guy who comments something along the lines of ‘Yeh, keep this for Facebook pls, mate. LinkedIn is for business’).
It resonated with a post I saw on TikTok the same day. Without the same virality a post by a user called @matthewstok - a British immigrant doing digital marketing in Sicily - hit the same notes. Answering the prompt ‘what was that flip of a switch moment that permanent changed your perspective on life?’ Matthew opined that he’d come to realise how much of our life is just playing out ‘internalised capitalism’. ‘And I thought nothing of this until the whole of life changed and the pandemic changed. This doesn’t go for all cultures but certainly in the Western world your self worth is derived from your career. Days in your life that you’re seen as being unproductive are seen as a bad thing. You should be achieving something every single day’. He observes that people look down at you when you’ve achieved nothing in a day. We feel bad taking a longer break than usual. ‘The world tells you that being busy equals happiness, whereas in fact being busy permanently equals burnout.’
As someone said recently on social media (not this tweet but along the same lines), the idea of The Simpsons when it was created 25 years ago was that this lazy dolt Homer could hold down a well-paid job and run a household while being hopeless. Now, he represents an unattainable dream for many. Because of the price of property, we’re all meant to feel like we’re collectively failing unless we’re finding a way to be more productive. It reminds me of Ben Goldacre’s letter to The Times.
As Frostick says in his post this near death has forced him to rethink how he’s working. But it begs the question, what’s it going to take you?
Thank you for the fabulous response to last week’s newsletter - where I shared robust evidence that male dominated firms were pushing against flexible working
This week I chat to Elizabeth Uviebinené, Financial Times columnist and the iconic author of Slay in Your Lane about her new book The Reset. With Slay (‘The Black Girl Bible’) she proved that she could sell huge amount of books to audiences who weren’t represented by mainstream publishing, but The Reset takes aim at work, society and a whole lot more… and it’s aimed at anyone. We have a fun and sparky discussion (including talking about the LinkedIn heart attack guy).
Listen again: Due to an incredible response to last week’s interview with Rutger Bregman I’ve added a transcript of the conversation to the website.
Nice anecdote that reached me this week that last year Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson commissioned some research to see how the people working for the government from home were doing in terms of their mental health and productivity. The aim was to release it when the time was right to encourage people to get back into city centre offices. Unfortunately, according to someone who’s seen it, it showed that (childcare chaos aside) workers felt more productive and happier than ever. Taxi for the researchers!
This is your brain on Zoom!
‘This is your brain on Zoom!’ Screamed the headlines alongside some fun looking charts of our brains on non-stop video calls this week. I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to understand it and I’m not sure what’s happening. I feel like that time I fell asleep in The Usual Suspects and had no effing clue who Kaiser Soze was and why everyone was gasping. ‘Yeh, I’m gonna see it again. So many levels,’ I told my partner. The article is worth reading - and there are some clearer charts about how our stress mounts during those back-to-backs. Well done for the pretty graphs though, that’s Sciencewang!
The founders of Basecamp certainly spend a lot of time preaching the good work that they have ‘solved’ work. With that in mind their attempt to ban political discourse in their communication tools seemed to be oppressive and controlling. The storm it created on social media (TL;DR white men saying ‘leave politics at home’) masks some of the other details in the post (abolishing ‘paternalistic benefits’ like gym memberships, getting rid of committees on inclusion, scrapping 360 appraisals) seem worthy of individual consideration. Yes, telling people you are paying for them to use the gym does seem paternalistic and should go, but abolishing DEI committees sounds like something that someone might do when the debate was inconvenient and too noisy for them. Overall seen with the next story it feels like an interesting trend…
Uber founder Travis Kalanick has made a pushback against cultural entitlement one of the core values of his new dark kitchens start-up - as much as he’s made lots of mistakes he’s an intriguing character in the culture space. Alongside the Basecamp story it feels like some firms are trying to differentiate by saying ‘we’ll draw the separation between homelife and worklife more clearly’
The LinkedIn post above about heart attacks made this post about ‘4 good hours of work a day’ seem to be an essential palate cleanser. Any time you explore the working practices of our most creative thinkers they tend to have something close to the same pattern of working, from Charles Darwin to Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf to Ingmar Bergman - Oliver Burkeman explains his take on it
Property watch: Real estate agents Savills released a report on commercial property demands (for the US) - 9% of firms plan to never return to the office, 47% will use less space… (40% will use the same)
There’s a real migration out of cities taking place in the US, will be intriguing to see if it has an echoes elsewhere around the world