Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Joel wants you... want to do the dishes.

It's a reference to the trailer for a movie with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaugh, and it has been receiving its fair share of ridicule and incredulity on forums netwide. Joel, on the other hand, is an owner of a software development company, and something important in the IT blog community. And today's article recycles one of Joel's old points, that is: your employees should want to do a good job.

Now, part of Joel's point I agree with. It's ridiculous to use some sort of metrics to determine performance, because yes, people will either learn to cheat the system, or resent it and leave. Hell, I'm a technical writer, and mine is one of the hardest jobs in IT to measure (cf. old Dilbert comic about Tina the Tech Writer being told her performance review is based on lines of text: "Welcome to Tina's hourly newsletter, where I compare our products to various types of wood...").

However, no less ridiculous is the expectation that your employees will do a good job because they want to do a good job. This is one of those fundamental differences between Americans and Europeans that cannot be breached; it is things like this that make every Brit with enough experience to form an opinion to whole-heartedly declare that they'd be perfectly happy living in Estonia but would never for the life of them move to the States. And damn the language barrier.

The puritan roots of American mentality have grown into a work ethic where labour is its own reward. Joel may be a good employer by US standards - health insurance, benefits, good working conditions, good wages - but he still seems to think in the back of his mind that employment comes down to giving somebody enough money so that they don't get distracted by the vagaries of life from that which forms the essense of their existence: programming.

I'm sorry, but no. You are not defined by your job. Your job is something that you do for eight hours every weekday so that you can spend the rest of your time doing something you like. Now, eight hours every weekday is still a lot of time, so it makes sense to pick something you're good at and don't mind doing. But not more than that.

As a freelance translator and journalist, I have had to develop a fairly strict code of ethics. An employment contract is an agreement by two sides to take certain actions which are useful for the other party. As such, I will honour my commitment and as long as I am treated professionally by the employer, I will behave professionally towards them. (Incidentally, if I am not treated professionally, I feel no obligation whatsoever towards the employer; it's a necessary attitude as translators suffer some of the worst abuse in white-collar industries.) The company I work for is entitled to my professionalism, but not to my loyalty. They don't pay me nearly enough to get my loyalty.

And if I am asked, or volunteer, to go above and beyond that which is required of me by contract, so that the company may benefit, I fully expect to be appreciated. If I've spent a week working nights to get a feature ready for the next release, you're goddamn right I want a bonus.

The one, single, undiluted reason I spend fourty hours a week at the office is so that I can receive enough money to pay my expenses and have enough left over for an extra gig of RAM, a trip to Stockholm and a few pints with my friends. Now, my professionalism allows me to feel satisfaction for doing a good job, but if I were to win the Scandinavian lottery, I'd be out of here in a heartbeat, and I would not write a manual ever again.

Just as Jennifer wants Vince to want to do the dishes, so does Joel want you to want to work hard. Uh-huh, and in that case I want Joel to want to give me a large bag of money and a purple unicorn. Or, to quote Philo Janus commenting on Ms. Aniston's line: "Well, I want you to want to swallow!"

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