Let’s Talk Turkey About Work

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! As we sit at home, digesting our weekend’s many heavy meals, I figure it’s a good time to talk about work and some of the issues facing the younger generation and their not-so young bosses.

For instance, the new owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, is under harsh criticism for his memo to Twitter employees stating that from now on he would expect not only in person attendance but also “hardcore” work. He asked that they sign a loyalty pledge committing to work long hours. Unwilling workers are asked to leave Twitter. As you can imagine, Musk’s request was treated poorly on Twitter and within the company itself. Hundreds of employees quit, while the twitterverse has been abuzz with hot takes on how awful, insensitive, and reckless (and worse!) Musk is.

To be sure, Musk’s memo is unconventional and perhaps not the most straightforward approach to building employee loyalty. But it does have the merit of both getting the message out and serving as an effective sorting mechanism. What exactly it sorts for, however, I am not entirely certain. Were I to receive such a memo from my boss, I would probably welcome it, as I think in any workplace the 80-20 rule applies: 20 percent of people do 80 percent of the work. That said, working harder is no guarantee of good results. Only time will tell what kinds of employees are left at Twitter.

It appears, though, that another significant upside to Musk’ memo is that he is actually saying out loud what many bosses think, but don’t dare say publicly. See for instance this Wall Street Journal article titled, “Is Elon Musk Your Boss’s Anger Translator?” A tidbit:

Your boss probably hasn’t demanded a loyalty pledge and almost certainly doesn’t own a rocket ship, but the person calling the shots at your company might be more like Elon Musk than you realize.

On the inside, anyway….

Managers who think the working world has gone soft in recent years, with all the talk of flexibility and work-life balance, say they envy Mr. Musk’s unfiltered style and share his craving for maximum effort—even if they wouldn’t act quite as forcefully as the world’s richest person….

To these frustrated executives, Mr. Musk is what the comedian Keegan-Michael Key was to former President Barack Obama: the anger translator. He delivers the unvarnished version of what the person in charge is truly thinking and feeling but can’t say out loud.

One question is why many bosses are so frustrated with their younger employees. Dealing with people is annoying. I often feel sorry for my bosses having to spend so much of their work time appeasing people’s hurt feelings and sensibilities, cleaning up after miscommunications, and other such problems. But today, something new seems to be going on. It’s as if between the quiet quitting and all the talk about work and life balance, some employees have forgotten that their employment is at-will and that their bosses are the ones assessing whether or not workers are contributing enough value to their employers to justify what these workers are paid.

I don’t have any answers and I wonder if readers have better theories than I. But I wonder whether this is just the beginning and a symptom of a much bigger problem. This piece by Fredrick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute called “Are College Classes too Hard for Today’s Students? Alarming Numbers Say ‘Yes’,” hints at some of the issues. Some soundbites:

On that point, a new survey of 1,000 four-year college students by Intelligent.com offers illumination. While these kinds of surveys should always be treated with appropriate caution, the results are provocative, especially against the backdrop of the NYU’s dust-up with professor Jones.

For starters, 87% answered that they’ve thought at least one class was too difficult and that the professor should have made it easier; 64% said this was the case with “a few” or “most” of their classes.

While the students said they tended to respond by studying more or asking for help, 8% reported that they had filed a complaint against the professor. When it comes to challenging classes, 18% said the instructor should “definitely” have been forced to make the class easier (48% said “maybe”).

The most eye-catching finding, though, was what the students reported about their work habits. Most said they’re making an effort in their studies, with 64% reporting that they put “a lot of effort” into school. But, remarkably, of the students who answered they’re putting in a lot of effort, a third said they devote fewer than five hours a week to studying and homework – and 70% said they spend no more than 10 hours a week on schoolwork.

He concludes, “Whether or not students have other interests or responsibilities, treating college as an expensive multiyear holiday isn’t good for students, colleges or the taxpayers who subsidize much of this activity.”

 


Veronique de Rugy is a Senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center and syndicated columnist at Creators.