Issue of the Year: High-Tech Burnout

Tech workers are beginning to object to the grueling hours and outsize expectations that are characteristic of start-up companies... really?

Discord is brewing in California’s Silicon Valley, said Evelyn M. Rusli in The New York Times. Life at a tech start-up can be notoriously stressful, but frustrated workers at Zynga, maker of uber-popular Web games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars (who held their IPO last week), say the long hours, relentless pressure, and outsize expectations have pushed them to the breaking point. With CEO Mark Pincus, a “professed data obsessive,” running the show, teams are constantly measured and forced to meet aggressive deadlines. That makes goings-on at the company feel like “a messy and ruthless war,” feeding a frustration that could “jeopardize the company’s ability to retain top talent.”

Michael Arrington has three words for these frustrated folks, said Connor Simpson in TheAtlanticWire.com: Suck it up. The influential blogger and tech entrepreneur says he’s sick and tired of hearing young Valley talent whine about how they have “to work so darn hard.” If you’re in the tech sector and feel that way, he says, “find a job somewhere else that will cater to your needs.” Working at a start-up is grueling, and it always has been. People in Silicon Valley have been sleeping under desks, passing out from exhaustion, and crying themselves to sleep for years. They stay because the rewards are great, and because they want to “make a dent in the universe.” So “work hard,” Arrington says. “Cry less. And realize you’re part of history.”

It’s a mistake to dismiss the depression that is stalking start-ups, said Foster Kamer in The New York Observer. The tech community has been quietly mourning last month’s suicide of 22-year-old Ilya Zhitomirskiy, the co-founder of social network Diaspora. The circumstances around his death aren’t known, but it’s sparked a debate over the culture’s punishing pressure. “I’d be really surprised if you could find a [tech] founder who hasn’t been through depression,” says one entrepreneur. You keep pushing yourself to work more hours and meet more deadlines, he says, because that’s what’s expected.

That grind is no longer limited to start-up companies, said Rebecca J. Rosen in TheAtlantic.com. It’s now “a feature of the American economy.” Worker productivity has soared as the number of jobs stagnates. Hardly anyone is immune from the pressure to work longer and harder. The Great Speedup may affect tech entrepreneurs more acutely, and perhaps they do have a shot at making history. But more likely, they—and the rest of us—are just part of “a broken American economy.”

- As seen in The Week
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