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    1. 45

      See also “quiet quitting.” Why should anyone go above and beyond for an employer that has demonstrated its contempt for its employees? When you reward tenure with “raises” that are lower than inflation, when you track employees’ time and activities with spyware, and demand that they be back in the office weeks after their children are born, and demand that they be in a physical office at all, and remind them at every opportunity that they are employed at will, and don’t incentivize them to be better than mediocre, you shouldn’t be surprised when their performance is mediocre.

      1. 28

        My favourite bit of Peopleware says that most people want to take pride in their work and that your job as a manager isn’t to make them work, it’s to create an environment your employees are able and enthusiastic to do their best work. The book is now 35 years old and there’s absolutely no excuse for anyone under the age of 50 in a management position to not understand this principle, yet the kinds of things that you list are still common. It really is time for shareholders to start taking a good look at how bad senior management is at getting the maximum value out of their expensive employees and demand that boards replace the most inept.

      2. 21

        See also “quiet quitting.”

        It’s such utter BS, and it’s a sign of just how much businesses control when the idea that “my employee isn’t doing unpaid labour outside of their contract terms is disrespectful or ‘quitting’” is considered completely reasonable.

      3. 5

        Going above and beyond, giving the right solutions, is valuable for two reasons

        1. bonuses, career progression, “Yes I’d 100% work with that guy again”
        2. self improvement

        If you are quiet quitting (doing the bare minimum that’s contracted, instead of what was mutually expected when you were given the job) you are choosing to do your career progression and networking and self improvement outside of your work. You can do so. It’s a choice. Not one I’d make (I like making splashes, and making things better), but hey “The contract doesn’t SAY I have to be as brilliant as everybody knows I am.”

        1. 12

          doing the bare minimum that’s contracted, instead of what was mutually expected when you were given the job

          Why not put those mutually expected terms in a contract?

          1. 4

            Would you sign a contract that required you to be your best professional self 100% of the time?

            1. 10

              I might not, but others, like you, would?

              The reason I ask is that there’s an enormous amount of ambiguity about “going above and beyond”. It might be mutually acceptable at signing time, but what if management changes? What if your boss doesn’t like you? What if you’re expected to make up for management’s misprioritization with your own unpaid labor? What if your good work and energy simply isn’t communicated to your next employer, because your current employer is a dick or incompetent?

              1. 2

                Exactly. I’d not sign such a contract, but I’d go beyond my contractual obligation when I was able.

                Quiet quitting is “If it’s not in the contract, I’m not doing it.” That’s different from “acting your wage” or even “keep to your own job.” It’s perfectly legitimate to quiet quit, but probably self-sabotaging.

                1. 16

                  Quiet quitting is “If it’s not in the contract, I’m not doing it.”

                  That more like work-to-rule.

                  (Edit blech, the wiki article specifically mentions “quiet quitting” as a form of work-to-rule. I’d argue it’s strictly not as it’s an individual, not collective choice)

                  It’s telling that the US work culture and power disparity between employer and employee is such that simply doing the job that’s specified in your contract and working the hours agreed upon is seen as latent insubordination - or at least an unwelcome reminder of the potential power of labor.

                  It’s slightly different if you’re a professional (in the labor sense). But it’s still depressingly common for employers to blackmail employees into overwork - “work for free for us and we might give you a good reference at a less shitty place”.

    2. 18

      I don’t know but I like to work with professionals and people who give a damn.

      1. 8

        Sure, everybody does. It’s just that some of us figured that bosses almost never care about the same things.

        But for some reason, as soon as you stop being an expense (aka “employee”) and become an investment (aka “supplier”), bosses turn into clients and start behaving rather nice. It truly baffles me to no end.

        1. 5

          Get yourself a boss who does.

          Easier said than done… I don’t know really how to screen for this in an interview with your hiring manager.

      2. 6

        This. If I can choose I definitely will choose such a team/department/organisation over a group that doesn’t give a damn.

        1. 5

          That is a priviledged position. Many people are at jobs because they are the bread-winner for their family. If you are young and/or have no strings attached it is easy to switch and find teams/orgs/companies that care. A stable income irregardless how shitty the job is becomes more important the more dependencies (spouse, children, mortgage) you have.

          1. 9

            Did you notice the “if” in my reply?

          2. 2

            I think what is relevant here is this article from the other day about “dark matter” programmers.


        2. 2

          If I can choose I definitely will choose such a team/department/organisation over a group that doesn’t give a damn.

          Unless the person paying them also gives a damn, that’s a sure-fire path to burnout (caused by caring but not being able to) or eventual financial distress.

        3. 2

          The major factor here is from another article I read about the risk appetite of your manager.

          Managers without risk appetite will always be trying to hedge and cover their asses and they’re always running away from things. Managers with a large risk appetite are great to work for because they’ll take everything and do the right thing.

          I as a manager right now try to keep my caring about risk to an absolute minimum. I would not mind at all if I got fired with some severance, I’d probably enjoy it. Paradoxically this stance is what makes me unreasonably effective.

    3. 13

      In my experience, teams that lack incentives to perform well are teams that lack autonomy. That’s the biggest driver the “So you did a bunch of extra work for nothing then? You’re a chump.” mentality, and it’s 100% a valid viewpoint in those circumstances. It invalidates every incentive, from bonuses to professional pride.

      Unless you got hiring, onboarding and knowledge dissemination really wrong, the person closest to the code should generally be the one who has the clearest idea about how to solve a problem – not what “the right” solution is (there’s rarely one right solution) but about how the solution spectrum looks, the pros and cons of each solution, the risks they entail afterwards and so on.

      It’s not a one-way road. People don’t just dream up these things by looking at the code. It’s a decision they make based not only on immediate technical factors (i.e. the code they’re staring at) but also based on their understanding of how the module they’re working on ties into the wider software solution that it’s a part of, on their understanding of why that’s important for its users, for the company/project and so on. They may not be in the best position to choose a particular solution – sometimes you have to run things up the chain – but they’re the ones with the best and most detailed knowledge of the things that have to be ran up the chain.

      There are lots of companies out there, and even non-commercial and/or FOSS projects, that either fail to recognise the former, or just can’t disseminate the information to ensure the latter. So they end up with people who “work” on code but have very little autonomy about it.

      This takes many forms, from obsessive-compulsive micromanagement to over-agile “specifications” in the form of daily, incremental adjustments that are justified not in terms of how they meet specific objectives but in terms of it’s what the customer/product owner/designer/manager/whatever said in the latest stand-up. At some point people stop tracking the “why”, because they have zero visibility into it and it doesn’t help them anyway, and just focus on the “what”.

      Of course there’s zero incentive at that point, this is a circus: people who can’t code hire people who can code and then proceed to tell them how to code. That works exactly as well as it sounds.

      Since the entire point of daily activity in such an environment is not to write better software but to do the thing of the day, people just do the thing of the day, not because they’re lazy, but because that’s what their job is. They aren’t underperforming, they are, in fact, literally, top performers: the mismatch isn’t between employee performance and management expectations, the mismatch is between management expectations and management policy.

      1. 7

        In my experience, teams that lack incentives to perform well are teams that lack autonomy. That’s the biggest driver the “So you did a bunch of extra work for nothing then? You’re a chump.” mentality, and it’s 100% a valid viewpoint in those circumstances. It invalidates every incentive, from bonuses to professional pride.

        I dunno. I get the “you’re a chump” mentality, though I don’t really relate to the other people in the examples. I don’t see the point in going the extra mile for a company that’s not going to reward me materially.

        Why so mercenary? It’s not about autonomy. It’s not even really about incentives. It’s about not being for sale. “Having a work ethic” is just simping for a system that would swallow you whole and spit out your viscera the moment it was economically indicated. I think we should live our emotional lives wholly outside that system. These people aren’t your friends.

        1. 1

          I don’t see the point in going the extra mile for a company that’s not going to reward me materially.

          I’m definitely not advocating for that :-D. Throughout all that stuff above, I’m assuming that the company (if it’s a commercial venture or whatever) is rewarding you materially, and that they’re asking you to write software that’s on-par with that compensation and with nominal expectation, not to go the extra mile or whatever they’re calling working for free these days.

    4. 10

      They reason that they’ll be punished for fixing it by having to JIRA the issue, bring it into the sprint, discuss it in standup, and not be rewarded with any fraction of those savings financially.

      I pride myself on writing good code, on fixing bugs […] This group of people seem to have been like that at some point in time, and then turned to “misbehaving” in this manner.

      If someone demonstrates initiative and good criteria for pursuing the objectives of the company. Let. Them. Work. Let them get off the regular rails. Let them work as they like to work. Don’t burden them with chores designed for the general idea of an employee and not them specifically. If they know how to ride a bicycle, don’t force them to use the training wheels. Bend the system around them.

      If you can’t enable that for your employees, people will remain unmotivated, or look for motivation elsewhere.

      1. 7

        If someone demonstrates initiative and good criteria for pursuing the objectives of the company. Let. Them. Work.

        That’s assuming the objectives of the boss (or the boss’ boss) align with the objectives of the company.

        1. 4


          EDIT: Anyway, what matters in the topic is the boss’ perspective. If the boss’ objective is flawed, is another topic.

      2. 4

        It’s not that simple, unfortunately. There are often strategic considerations that have to be accommodated, there are team culture issues, etc.

    5. 8

      If you want to work less or whatever, fine. But stuff like this is just negligence and it causes harm. It sucks that software developers have absolutely zero concept of an ethical obligation to their users.

      1. 9

        Exactly. Slack off all you want when it comes to stuff that exclusively affects your employer but to intentionally cause harm to innocent users makes you a bad person, full stop.

        Depending on the context, clunky/inaccessible interfaces, bad security practices, bad support structure, downtime, and some bugs can have serious negative consequences to innocent people.

        Now another problem is a lot of software would be better off if it didn’t exist in the first place, but that’s a separate issue.

        1. 1

          I’m sorry, but this reads as corporate gas-lighting to me.

          As an employee, your legal relationship is with your employer.

          As a seller of software, your employer is in a legal relationship with the customer.

          Going out of your way to help customers by working extra for an employer that mistreats you is nonsensical. It’s not your responsibility.

          1. 2

            Legal relationships have little to do with moral culpability. If you are intentionally neglecting to prevent a consequence that only you know about, and you’re hiding it from everyone else, then you are morally responsible. If you’re intentionally sitting on a zero day, doesn’t matter if you’re the NSA, a black hat group, or a desk jockey who hates their job. If that zero day gets out and someone’s identity gets stolen, you might could hide from legal culpability, but not (partial) moral culpability.

    6. 7

      Curious to know what’s your (you, the reader of this comment) take on why it’s OK to not “misbehave” as the OP puts it. Ego? Hope that your good deeds will be rewarded?

      Because I certainly - like the OP - feel inclined to “behave,” but - also like the OP - I can’t really come up with a good argument for why one should do so. Certainly society teaches us that “behaving” is righteous and “misbehaving” is not, but I suppose I never took the time to question why we value good behavior.

      1. 8

        A sense of personal integrity. I’ve never intentionally done bad work, though I admit I’ve put in less effort that I could have at times when the company has been particularly dysfunctional.

        I feel good when I do something well. Maybe other people are wired differently, but I’m not convinced. My happiness and satisfaction is something I can have a huge influence on - why would I willingly do things that are less satisfying just as some form of… revenge?

        1. 3

          But sometimes the amount of effort to be able to “do something well” far outstrips the benefit you get, and risking your job by taking risks is also not something everyone can afford. Doing as your told is always safe and less effort, so it can be an easy pattern to fall into especially in dysfunctional situations such as you find at every large company

      2. 6

        Very hot take:

        I think in this situation it’s not just OK, but mandatory to misbehave - for the sake of the company. The more people misbehave, the more legible the outcome is. People with honor and pride muck everything up.

        It’s like how neural networks “want to work”, so you can make terrible bugs in your training and eval code and your network will adapt (badly). Or how Bing (GPT-4) will google a query, then ignore the result if it disagrees. To a certain extent, doing a bad thing if it’s implied by the system you are embedded in can lead to better outcomes, because it creates a more legible optimization signal.

        (For the same reason, homeowners who charge less rent than the market will bear are problematic rather than benevolent, because they distort and lengthen the feedback cycle between city regulations and city elections.)

        1. 4

          Interestingly, I came to this conclusion through a somewhat different route. In my case, the signal I needed to send was accomplished by obeying objectively awful policy and other management decisions which would cost productivity even while productivity targets were raised. The incentives for going above and beyond actually were quite good, but they weren’t enough for what the business appeared to expect, and a big part of that was that they didn’t seem to be aware of the costs of their other decisions.

          But it’s ultimately for the same reason - heroism is not a sustainable resource as a foundation for a business plan. Burning myself out by working out of hours to make up for time lost to boneheaded leadership choices is only a short-term viable way of meeting all the expectations put upon me as a worker, and if I did so while telling leadership why their decisions were wrong, then in their eyes I’d be self-evidently a liar.

          Ultimately, it’s best to confront organizations with the honest reality of the consequences of their decisions. You can’t just tell them verbally because you can’t talk to an organization, just your manager or someone else’s. The signal has to be sent on a channel the organization actually comprehends so it can respond accordingly with a policy change, contract renegotiation, or whatever is needed to align what it actually wants with what it’s doing.

        2. 2

          This fails the universalising maxim.

          1. 5

            I don’t think it does. The whole point is to universalize economic self-interest.

            A separate argument: a society where everybody is nice can work. A society where everybody is thoroughly self-interested can also work. But a society that mixes the two will unfairly distribute load onto nice people. So the problem is exactly a lack of universalization.

      3. 5

        My pet theory is that we have developed a deathly fear of being abandoned in those couple hundred thousand years we lived in packs. So we try to make others like us by being proactive and helping them. This obviously brutally backfires in a mostly transactional economy.

        In other words, it is your built-in sense of insecurity that drives the need to give your best. And capitalism does not reciprocate. The only meaningful way forward (without going insane) is to figure out how to help individuals (ideally those who tend to reciprocate) around you.

        That could have many forms. From “how to make sure we are not detected while silent quitting” to “how to make sure we are not woken up in the middle of night by a bug” to “how to start our own co-op and ditch the corp” and so on.

      4. 5

        I think some have already pointed this out, but personal professional development is a thing. What might not get you a bonus might give you experience for the future. And sometimes it just feels right, and you feel satisfied with yourself for doing the “right thing”.

        Now, I realize the OP is talking about a workplace that does not appreciate the extra effort of their employees, but that does not hold for all such positions. Sometimes you know your boss/leader can and will appreciate you efforts and will make sure you’re rewarded one way or another.

      5. 4

        Hope that your good deeds will be rewarded?

        Frankly, that tends to work for me. It’s not an immediate gain, but I do notice it years down the line.

        I remember a case when a co-worker was the “misbehaving” one. I was okay with him doing that – no incentives, no extra effort. I kept doing my job as I thought it should be done, and after a while, when my wage was raised, my co-worker’s wage was lowered (legally). I don’t think he held it against me (I don’t feel like I set him up or anything), but it stuck with me as an example of how “behaving” does occasionally get rewarded, while “misbehaving” is indeed being noticed.

        There’s been other cases like that too – me putting the effort in and another co worker “coasting” for years, and then between the lines of the conversation noticing that he gets paid a fraction of what I do, being noticeably unhappy about it, and yet I knew that I not only got decent raises whenever I asked, I’d get raises and bonuses even if I didn’t.

        I remember these examples, and with good old cynicism (and some naivety) I assume that if I work near the full extent of my abilities I’d get more money in the long run and get more leverage in negotiations than the other folks. So far it seems to be working.

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          Sounds like your coworkers would be more effective if the company were more forthright about compensation?

      6. 1

        I think one of the incentives is not getting fired. Specially when there are PIPs and curves that you get fit into. If you are just mediocre and doing bare minimum, there’s a high chance that you will be at the bottom of the curve.

        1. 8

          There’s an assumption in your last sentence that the company is capable of effectively judging performance. In my experience, they aren’t.

        2. 1

          I’d like to believe this too. Despite being assured I was meeting expectations at work, I still felt pressure from the voice in the back of my head to work harder so I wouldn’t be laid off. But I also believe this comment from olliej. And I anecdotally have seen a coworker or two do practically nothing (or - somehow - negatively contribute!) and not get fired because the people who should have fired them were too busy or ignorant or policy made it hard to let them go.

          But let’s say I weaken my comment. Maybe it’s a bit of a leap for me to go from goody two-shoes to Homer Simpson. What about the person OP wrote about who is not plugging a 100k/mo leak? They aren’t exactly “misbehaving” if it isn’t their problem directly. That said, if I saw and knew how to fix something like that, I would point it out. Do you think my inclination to do this is justifiable, knowing that at best I’ll likely get somewhere between a pat on the back and a percent of the /year savings and at worst I’ll perform worse because I’m encumbered by patching the leak?

          I feel like a lot of the stories I read growing up extolled this kind of greater… virtuosity? Like the lazy grasshopper dies when winter comes. I sort of hope that it’s just confirmation/survivor bias and these misbehavers are very uncommon - and like you suggest, the majority of them get fired quickly.

    7. 3

      This made me sad. I mean, to find out that I’m a chump.

      1. 2

        Chumps united! At least we’ll have good stories later.

    8. 3

      You shouldn’t “trick your employees into thinking what they’re working on is important”. Why on earth are you paying people to do something that’s not important in the first place?

      1. 9

        A lot of people do work that isn’t important to them, but is important to the owners of the company because it makes money.

        1. 10

          I think this is one of the most important things that you learn running an open source project: how to align incentives so that people want to work on things that you want them to work on. A lot of companies would benefit from hiring open source maintainers into management positions.

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            I don’t think most companies could pay open source maintainers enough to convince them to go into middle management XD

        2. 6

          There’s a lot of things that aren’t impactful to me personally but are still important in the grand scheme of things. Every adult knows this, and management needs to communicate why the work is important to the functioning of the company as a whole.

      2. 3

        There are a huge amount of projects that aren’t “important”, and certainly are not “important” to the people doing them. Being in customer service is not an “important” job, or a cashier, etc but that business does need them.

        There is a huge gulf between what is important to an employer and what is important to anyone else. The vast majority of jobs are not “important”: most jobs are not saving lives, changing the world, or whatever business bros try and sell employees. The goal is to make employees think that they are to get them to work longer hours for less pay. “We’re a family here” is purely to manipulate people into trying to help their employer like they help friends and family.

        The vast, vast majority of jobs are not “important” enough that people would sacrifice their time, money, family, etc. The goal of a business is to get people to accept less money, for more work, no matter the cost, and the way they do that is to try as much as possible to trick employees into believing that their work is more important than they are.

      3. 3

        It’s a simple conundrum. For starters, money can be exchanged for goods and services. And… well, I’d go on further but I’ll be bombed with flags so the rest is for your imagination :)

    9. 2

      Main point aside, the Google example in the Levitt video at the end of this article aged… astonishingly poorly. Like, hard-to-believe poorly. (Or astonishingly well if you look at the bit about a pandemic starting in rural China?)

    10. 2

      This logic seems bit weird to me. If the employee expects extra money for being useful for the company, does he also expect less money, if the project does not perform well or does he expect unpaid leave or a part-time job, if the company did not get a lucrative contract this month?

      It is all about the risk. Risk and profit are the two sides of the same coin. There obviously should be some incentives, but employer-employee relationship is mostly about having a long term stable income for varying performance – sometimes the employee is more useful, sometimes less, but he gets approximately same money each month (which matches his bills, that are also roughly constant each month).

      If you prefer risk, more unstable and performance-dependent income (which might be more profitable in the long term), you can be a freelancer, do ad-hoc jobs, external consultations or have a sequence of short term contracts or establish your own company.

    11. 1

      They’re right in that the incentive structure to perform well.. is missing if you think about it.

      The incentive structure to perform well is that you have a job. Enjoy layoffs I guess.

      Edit: OP, are you the owner of this blog?

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        Layoffs are rarely strongly correlated with performance, largely because performance management is hard and layoffs need to hit a large amount of people without too much delay.

      2. 19

        I think you missed the point of the article.

        The incentive structure to perform well is that you have a job.

        No, that is the incentive to be as it says “perfectly mediocre”, not to do better than your peers, to as much as possible not stick out. As anyone who has experienced mass layoffs, they’re pretty close to random in their targeting. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you work if your entire division is axed. It doesn’t matter how amazing or how average you work is if it’s not on something that gets trotted out for demos.

        As it says, if you find an issue you can suddenly acquire the work of fixing that issue. You won’t get rewarded for finding the issue, just fixing it will be added to your list of tasks to do. So having reported the issue you now have more work that needs to be done, you aren’t getting paid any more to fix it, and you still have everything else you were already doing. So now when perf review comes around you can be dinged for not fixing the issue you reported.

        Thus you have an incentive structure that creates a very rational reason for behaving like this.

        I don’t behave like this, and most people don’t, but as the article states that it seems like we’re the irrational ones.

        Note that this is the reason companies try so hard to claim “we’re a family” and similar bs.

        1. 7

          I discovered this during my last job where I was on “golden handcuffs”. Because nothing I did could meaningfully increase my comp, and my comp had a huge cliff in easy sight, I was strongly incentivized to keep my head down and stay invisible, then leave after the cliff.

        2. 3

          It doesn’t matter how amazing or how average you work is if it’s not on something that gets trotted out for demos.

          Sometimes even being trotted out for demos won’t save you.

      3. 17

        RE layoffs:

        Typically every C*O or EVP level get a x% reduction target and that is what will be done. It does not matter that one org may be full of highly efficient people and the other is not. You as the EVP have to bring your x% by such and such date to make the investors happy.

      4. 3

        I disagree. The people that are doing the kinds of things the author wants are the ones that will find it very easy to get a better-paid job elsewhere if they quit or are made redundant. The company is setting up incentives for the useless people to stay.

      5. 2

        No, I’m not.

        1. 0

          I was curious because the post about LSD was interesting to me. Thanks.

          1. 0

            The author seems to have some cognitive issues that he blames on one bad LSD trip. He might be right, he might not, but it’s definitely not general-case advice. LSD is definitely not for everybody.

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