Re: Motivation For Overtime?

Subject: Re: Motivation For Overtime?
From: "Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- netcom -dot- com>
To: tonymar -at- hotmail -dot- com
Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999 10:19:04 -0700 (PDT)

Anthony Markatos writes:

> Question for all salaried Technical Writers:
> How are you motivated to work overtime?
> [...]
> In many of the software development organizations that I have been exposed
> to (especially smaller companies), salaried staff puts in much more than 40
> hours per week.

I had a conversation similar to this a few months ago, in a
coffeeshop in Los Angeles (the Equator in Oldtown Pasadena, if
there're any angelenos here). A fairly young guy (mid to late 20s)
noticed me reading _Linux Journal_ and asked me about it. Turned out
he's the CEO of a (relatively) small DVD mass-production company - the
kid of guys you call when you have your DVD minted and you want to run
off 10,000 copies. After a while, he got around to asking me a
question he'd obviously been mulling over: how do you keep technically
talented workers from leaving your company?

I mulled over his question and we talked a little bit about
different issues; he brought up casual dress codes, offices instead of
cubicles, free soda and munchies, so-called "living-room" workplace
environments, bonuses, stock options, etc. I allowed as all of these
could be helpful in keeping your hackers happy, but they were not
sufficient in and of themselves.

I find a lot in common between his question and this question of
motivation for unpaid overtime. The answers all seemed to have an
underlying theme, to the point where I begin to think the answers are
all addressing the symptoms, not the cause. The cause is, simply,
respect. All of the items mentioned above are somewhat significant in
and of themselves, but I know of plenty of cases of technically
talented folks who are loyal in spite of various problems with the
work environment and compensation. The root issue is whether the
employer respects the employee.

This is true for most people, I think (but it's particularly
pronounced - and hence visible - in technical folks for various
reasons of character and social history :-). If you have money and
you give some of it to me, certainly it helps motivate me, but I know
of far too many small, poor companies with underpaid, highly
motivated, loyal employees. Money always *helps*, of course, and if
you have *no* money at all, well, they still have to pay the rent.
But the issue not simply that you give me more money. The issue is
the ratio - that you demonstrate respect for me, and for my skills and
what I do, by paying me in an appropriate ratio to how you pay your
other employees.

If you're paying your rank & file employees one third of what
you're paying your managers, well, don't expect the programmers to have
any loyalty. Dont expect them to feel respected and valued. Don't
expect them to feel any sense of esprit de corp when their boss asks
them to sacrifice their weekend for the good of the company. If you're
asking them to put in long hours and work hard to meet the deadline, but
at the same time requiring them to wear monkey suits, work in
veal-fattening stalls, and jump through bureaucratic hoops on a daily
basis just to do their jobs, don't expect a high level of committment.

Steven J. Owens
puff -at- netcom -dot- com

P.S. There's a fairly interesting article in the third quarter 1999
(issue 16) _Strategy & Business_ magazine, titled "The Hunter-Gatherers
of the Knowledge Economy". I don't entirely agree with many of the
author's opinions, but I do think he had a lot to say about the changing
culture of work, particularly in high-tech arenas where tight teamwork
and high motivation are becoming essential to meet shrinking
time-to-market deadlines.

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