🔗 Swings and Slides


First published: .

Startups—and really any company related to the high-tech world—work extremely hard to maintain a façade of being really really, incredibly fun places to work for. They rent offices in shiny high-rises that claim to have been awarded the title of "the best building to work in" (really an award purchased from some nameless company at an auction) and where a dedicated barista is making sure you get a good supply of high quality caffeine. They put up colorful slides and swings, turn one of the offices into a "game room" with a video game console, purchase "working treadmills", buy a "company of the year" award they can put up a PR on, and maintain a constant supply of fun activities for employees: happy hours, fancy spreads, beers, donuts, pizzas, game nights, karaoke, parties, all of which are meticulously documented on the company's LinkedIn profile.

You see, startups have to spend all the money they raise from investors. They have to show that the money was needed, otherwise they'll face issues with future funding series and valuations. A good way to spend money is to recruit more employees. And since the competition is incredibly strong, attracting people is hard, so candidates are given a show of just how fun and fancy it would be to work for the companyfamily.

This behavior, coupled with the large amount of available spending money, creates companies with a bloated workforce that can be split into to categories: those who take the brunt of the company's actual work, and those who mostly sit on their asses (I like to call them seat fillers). Startups grow so rapidly, they have to invent creative titles for their recruits.

Next time you're running to the kitchen area because HR got everybody boxes of Cinnabon, take a look at who isn't there. Who stayed at their desk and continued to work? It's usually the same people, those who hardly skip a day of work, those who work the longest hours and have the largest emotional attachment to the job. They're also usually—but not always—the startup's earliest recruits (which does make sense, they're the ones who are most likely to gain a lot of money from the company's success).

I'm not trying to paint any of these groups in a positive or negative lights. I am trying to point out that this is an unhealthy situation of two extremes. The hard-workers suffer from a terrible work-life balance, become angrier as time goes by, find themselves dealing with anxiety, and eventually resent the company. The seat fillers are cheated out of practicing their craft and growing in their fields. The luxurious façade breeds new generations of lazy, incompetent employees who believe they deserve being paid exorbitant sums of money, because they keep being chased by "headhunters" on LinkedIn who need to fill positions for that startup that just finished another series of funding.

In Israel, we call those play areas malls have for little kids—so that parents can shop in peace—"Jimborees", a distortion of the English word "jamboree", both in meaning and pronunciation. And it occurred to me today, that for all those seat filler employees, that's what work is. They don't get up in the morning to go to work, they get up in the morning to go to an adult jimboree, or an adult playground if you will.

Now, I know this is how business is done. I understand that this is the reality of this space and for a startup to succeed, this is the game it has to play. But in no way do I believe that this is right or that this is how it should be.