Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Work Hard-Play Hard vs. Work-Life Balance

Oh! The price I'm now paying for having done no work over vacation! *Sips tea in preparation for another late night*

Mini-Microsoft writes:

For folks just out of college, my only insight is: if you're unattached and unencumbered by responsibilities the last thing you need to do is go work for a large, slow moving corporation in the 'burbs. Take risks and live the crazy big city life and blow your youthful energy laying down effort on the big pay-off opportunities. You will learn more and do more than you can possibly imagine, especially compared to being placed as a new shiny cog in the corporate machine (where all you can say during your first review is, "And what does this 3.0 mean?"). Then come knocking on the door of the corporate beast in the idyllic, moist, family friendly Pacific Northwest.

This statement bothers me... because there's some truth to it. Microsoft is slower moving than a startup or a couple of gearheads in a garage. Microsoft is not a risky place to work. Microsoft generally doesn't present big pay-off opportunities. Microsoft is generally not characterized by "youthful energy" (something Mini's post doesn't help, btw).

After school, I considered not going to work for Microsoft. Actually, I considered not going to work for anyone, and just building something on my own in my (parents') garage. I didn't even want to interview with Microsoft. A friend convinced me to do it on a bus and I said yes just to get him off my back.

Anyhow, despite all of the aforementioned things that Microsoft is not, I've still learned more here in the last 6 months than I did in 6 months of college, or in 6 months at a startup (I took 2 years off from school to work for a startup in the SF Bay Area).

My biggest concern is what I'll learn in the next 6 months, or in the next year, or two years. Will the learning curve level off? Will things slow down? I've seen Dare mention on his blog several times that he plans to leave Microsoft for reasons I can certainly relate to. And the downsides Mini mentions about being young and working at Microsoft are very real problems. A startup is faster, riskier, has more youthful energy, and bigger pay-off opportunities than a 60,000 person company. Is it more fun to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

I've realized there are two types of people who work at Microsoft. There are the WLBs (Work-Life Balances), and there are the WHPHs (Work Hard-Play Hards).

During my New Employee Orientation, I was bombarded by information about how Microsoft promotes "Work-Life Balance". And it does. And I didn't really care to hear about it. And 95% of the hundreds of people in my New Employee Orientation were older than I, many probably have partners and children, and many probably care about Work-Life Balance more than I do. They're the WLBs, and they the make up most of the company.

Then there's me. I'm a WHPH. I'll sit in front of the computer and forget to eat or drink if I'm engaged. While the WLB might come to work for 8 hours and work 7 of them + 2 more at home with the kids, I might come to work for 14 hours but spend 5 reading blogs and eating/drinking/chatting with coworkers. We both get the same amount of work done... I guess. But for me, I'm much more engaged working with other WHPHs than WLBs. And don't get me wrong, I respect the WLBs as much as I do the WHPHs -- WLBs are usually much much more experienced than WHPHs. My team is about 80% WLB and 20% WHPH. Unfortunately, this leaves the hallway lonely and quiet after 8pm at night, so I go home too... because it's no fun to stick around.

I think that one of Microsoft's biggest challenges is recruiting and retaining the WHPHs. Often, these are people who are less concerned with stability, great benefit packages, etc. These are people who are in it to have fun and take risks, and are also probably looking for big pay-offs for taking big risks and putting in longer hours than the average bear. I would also conjecture that these are the type of people who are jumping ship to Google and/or startups. Hmm. Hey Mark, someday I'd love to hear/read about why you decided to leave Microsoft, if that's a story you're up for telling!

Microsoft, and other large companies, need to spend more time studying WHPHs, and strategizing around recruiting and retaining them for the long term.

Now, back to work for me. ;-)

4 comments:

Sam said...

There might well be more WLB than WHPH since more often a WHPH changes, and becomes a WLB than the other way round.

markjen said...

Hey Adam - I know exactly what you mean about WLBs and WHPHs. I thought Google would have more WHPHs, but after the IPO... well, let's just say a few million bucks will turn many a WHPH into a WLB ;)

Now, you want to see a bunch of WHPHs? Come on over to Plaxo, we've got 35 of 'em

Anonymous said...

> I might come to work for 14 hours
> but spend 5 reading blogs and
> eating/drinking/chatting with
> coworkers.

That's WHPH? Hrumph. No offense, but that's the biggest misnomer I've ever seen. That should be called DAWLL (Diddle Around, Work Late Later).

And hey, there's nothing wrong with that. I've done it myself. It's a nice way to bond with co-workers and such. But it sure as hell has nothing to do with either working hard or playing hard.

You wanna know what WHPH really is? It's called getting your ass to the office at a reasonable time. Taking a decent break and lunch to recharge mentally and physically and/or going for a mid-day jog to get the brain going. Finishing up the work you need to do at 6pm'ish so you can actually PLAY HARD with friends or a loved one and not just go home and flop (and I mean flop) into bed.

And -- I know this is heresy -- WHPH should actually mean finishing up your work at the end of the work week (you know, that thing that is supposed to end on Friday) so you can -- you guessed it -- actually spend your weekend PLAYING HARD. Raquetball, rafting, running, traveling, exploring, etc.

That's WHPH. In contrast, suggesting that diddling around so that one's time at work basically stretches to fill most of one's waking hours is "WHPH" is simply ludicrous.

chris said...

I agree with the last post. And this where I see a difference between the American and European attitude. In Europe, WHPH looks like WLB. People do work really hard during normal hours. They do need those break. They work hard with having to constantly repeat and convince themselves and others they work hard..... In the Us, it looks good to come early and leave late. But how many of these informal talks in the hall? not meetings, just the social pseudo-brainstorming talk??? a lot.

So yeah, WHPH is not about the hours, it's about an attitude. And I can't agree more with the anomymous comment:

You wanna know what WHPH really is? It's called getting your ass to the office at a reasonable time. Taking a decent break and lunch to recharge mentally and physically and/or going for a mid-day jog to get the brain going. Finishing up the work you need to do at 6pm'ish so you can actually PLAY HARD with friends or a loved one and not just go home and flop (and I mean flop) into bed.

Chris