A while back Jason Calacanis made a list of things to save money in a startup. One of his points was to fire people who aren’t workaholics. David from 37 Signals responded with a post saying that you should fire the people who are workaholics. Since then Jason has changed his position, but the idea of how much time you should expect employees to dedicate to their work is thought provoking.
Both of these posts are worth reading–even if you have no intention of starting a business yourself. Behind the work you do is a problem that needs solved. Your work solves this problem. Your paycheck reflects that somewhere in the value chain, someone is willing to pay for your ability to solve that problem. Since both posts were written there have been a lot of changes at Mahalo. I’m not sure where their current status is, but I think they have let most of their employees go. Still, the perspective is something worth considering when it comes to considering your own career and how your employer considers your contribution to their goals.
In the two articles I linked to above, both companies are dealing with very different problems. Jason’s company Mahalo basically collected the best links on a given subject and posts them to a web page. They paid editors $30 to $35k per year (from what I understand) to do this. Obviously the bar isn’t very high for this type of work. I’m not saying that the people that worked there weren’t talented, but the majority of their work wasn’t difficult intellectually. They are solved the type of problem that can be solved by throwing lots of time at it.
37 Signals is a bit different. Most of the types of problems they solve are a bit more involved. They have come up with some highly creative solutions in the web application space. I’m not saying that they are full of PhD level employees, but there is a level of creativity that goes well beyond trying to collect a bunch of links on a particular subject. The type of problem they are solving can’t be done just by throwing a lot of time at it.
I’m not trying to say that people at Mahalo weren’t bright or that the people at 37 Signals don’t work hard. I’m trying to point out that there is a significant difference between what is required to solve their particular problem. Mahalo preferred workaholics because they add value through their time. 37 Signals prefers non-workaholics because they are solving problems through creativity.
When you look at your own career it can be very helpful to reflect on what you are being paid for. Are you just selling your time to your employer or are you selling your creativity? Obviously there is some overlap, but in general your ability to sell your creativity instead of your time will give you better work life balance.