Monday, November 9, 2015

Regional Work Ethic?

It often seems like themes emerge in my professional conversations.  I'll spend two months getting asked the same question by a dozen different people.  And then I write about it here and the next theme seems to emerge.  And staying true to that tradition, I've had the same conversation with several people at a variety of events over the last 3-4 months.  It seems that for better or worse there is a perception of regional work ethic.

After an article in came out about Amazon's lack of work life balance for its developers it became a hot topic around the tech world.  Should developers complain about a lack of work life balance when they make more money than doctors or lawyers - often with better perks?  Or are we pushing these human beings beyond their limits all in the name of productivity and greed?  I don't claim to have an answer to those questions, but am interested in a spin off from that initial conversation - are there regional differences in work ethic?  Does a developer in silicon valley work harder for their dollar than one in Austin or Atlanta?  Do the lawyers?
My first reaction was a knee jerk - no, absolutely not.  We work just as hard in Austin as those California guys do.

But when I truly reflect on my experience since moving here nine years ago, I have to question whether that's true or not.  I 'grew up' as a lawyer working for a tech company right after the dot com bust. We worked hard and long hours.  I remember having a conversation with my GC at the time as to why my hours in the office had dropped (to 60-65 hours per week).  I was studying for the Texas bar and had moved farther, so spent more time in traffic.  Which was no excuse, so I got a work issued laptop and started working from home in the evenings.  A new lawyer wasn't added until we had at least a regular 70+ hours of important work per week that wasn't getting done.  Less than that and we should figure out how to make it work.  And since we were a tech company, we were not even close to being the hardest working employees.  Our dev crew was always there when I walked in the door and most were there when I left for the evening.

Now contrast that with my experience at tech companies in Austin.  During the summer I get to work around 7:30-8am.  The office is empty.  I leave around 5:30, the office is empty.  I work evenings from home to finish up anything that didn't get done during the work day, and often have to wait until the next day for a response.  As I was trained, I keep an SLA of 24 hours for responses to my internal clients, with a goal of less than 2 weeks for turn around of the actual work product.  I find most legal teams here find that SLA too ambitious.  Even the "big law" lawyers here seem to have a semblance of 'work-life balance'.  And often, the lawyers are working harder than the devs.  So I'm beginning to see how a California entrepreneur may see a regional work ethic effect.

At first I chalked it up to generational differences, we all hear about the millennials demanding more balance from their employers.  But the big law guys aren't millennials.  And most of the devs I work with aren't either.  And then there is my interaction with other regions.  I've had the opportunity to work with devs and lawyers in Atlanta, Maryland, and Chicago in the last 18 months.  Chicago seems to be always on.  Maryland and Atlanta not so much.  They make my dev team look like workaholics.  So maybe there is something to this regional thing?  What do you say to an entrepreneur who says s/he can't get the same work ethic outside of the valley?