I’ve been thinking about a couple of common patterns in the tech industry, and what they mean when we look at them on a larger scale.

The first is the behavior of a burned out worker or team. This has been discussed in many places. Faced with a too-big workload, too-high expectations, personal or external pressures, people push the limits of their productivity for too long and their work output begins to decline. They may not realize at first, or try not to, attempting to convince themselves it’s only temporary or no big deal. When the reality starts to sink in, they often hide their lack of output in shame. No one wants to be an under-performer or let the rest of the team down. In more dysfunctional environments, burnout will eventually effect the entire team, perhaps whole departments. In some areas, such as games production, the result of endless crunch time has become entirely normalized, the turnover anticipated.

Second, the high rate of women who leave the tech industry. When 41% of women leave by the 10-year mark in their careers, that’s a massive trend. The research we have on this shows a number of common complaints: lack of support from employers, lack of career opportunities, more overt kinds of harassment or discrimination. As many of my friends have commented, it’s one thing to read the statistics on this and it’s another to see it play out in your peer group. Every. Single. Day.

I once worked at a company where a large part of the staff quit within a couple of weeks of each other because of shared concerns. It’s funny to think that if we’d called it a strike, we might have gained certain legal protections.

When I say “strike” you may think of the thing that’s portrayed in the media, where people walk off the job en mass, forming a picket line, holding signs. But really, any strategic refusal to work at our full productive levels is a kind of strike. Slowdowns, deliberate inefficiencies or errors, as well as not showing up to work are all things that are used as labor actions, to pressure employers to improve working conditions.

I continue to think about something I talked about in my essay about burnout, the way we take personal responsibility for structural problems. There’s an important aspect of this: if we think that the reason we work slower is from our own inadequacies, or the reason we leave a job is because we couldn’t make it work, it isolates us from all the other people who are experiencing the same thing for the same reasons. It keeps us from seeing the value of refusing to work against our own needs, the value of protecting ourselves and our health.

We don’t talk very much about the people who leave tech companies or the tech industry once they’re gone, even if we’re one of them. Leaving makes us invisible, and there’s no professional association for ex-tech workers that I’m aware of (though there is the Tableflip Club). But maybe we should be looking closely at this pattern, and finding our peers. What would it be like to consider ourselves as part of a larger protest?

Posted 28 Oct 2015