On workaholism

As we all know, Twitter is a terrible place to argue intelligently. So I thought writing something a tad longer here would be the smart thing to do.

History: I bumped into a coworker when in the city center on a Saturday. Nothing unusual, except that his answer to "What are you up to?" was "Going back to work". As is oft my way I went on to rant on Twitter, which triggered counter-ranting.

My original point is that self-inflicted crunching, week-end work, long hours, and general workaholism are toxic. My arguments would be similar to John Walker's regarding working for free:

  • You are devaluating your work, by not being paid for it.
  • You create expectations, both by your employer and newcomers in the industry. Your employer will expect more of you than your contract states, and newcomers will think they have to put in more than is reasonnable to fit in.

It was rightfully pointed out that this only applies if overtime is unpaid. This is, sadly, a very widespread rule in the game industry. If you put in work that is unpaid, you're harming yourself and those that will come after you. Read John Walker's post, he put it much better than I ever could. If you do get paid for your overtime, I'd be very surprised if your company lets you put in as many hours as you want :)

Now, shouldn't you just let people do whatever they want? Sure, but not in the context of their job. Your contract is an exchange of services for money or other perks. It is not a pass to do whatever you feel like with your company's tools and office space: anything on work hours should be work-related, breaks aside, and anything work-related should be on work hours. If you enjoy your job, that's awesome. Hell, I mostly enjoy mine. That does not mean I don't look forward to going home and doing something else. If you have nothing else but your job... no offense, but it might be time to reconsider a thing or two.

Another point brought up was the fine line between learning for yourself and learning on company time. I do not have a good answer. But I think you should not be using your company's tools, codebase or anything else outside working hours. Fiddle all you want, but make sure it's yours. I know US law can make this messy.

The impact of unpaid, self-inflicted overtime on company culture can be pretty bad. There are the aforementioned issues of devaluating your work and creating expectations. But there are also problems akin to what mandatory crunch can create. Very tight bonds can be created outside the normal hours, and then you don't belong unless you join in. The game industry can already suffer from boys' club or clique effects, and this compounds it, even more so when self-inflicted. Most workaholics also happen to be men...

Quick side-note on belonging: if you feel like you belong, hey, great for you! But don't dismiss someone's concerns around that as being grumpy, complaining, being emotional, overreacting, needing to cheer up. If all that sounds like gaslighting and textbook sexism, well, maybe it's for a reason...? Look inwards first before answering that no, really, Everything is Awesome.

Anyhow, that's about what I have to say on the topic. I do think people who have nothing in their life except their job should seek help of some form (entrepreneurs being a possible exception). I am a firm believer that all overtime should be paid, and that as a consequence studios would kick their employees out once the hours have been put in. Any unpaid overtime, especially voluntary, is Wrong in the grand scheme of things, and harmful to those who come next.

Did I mention we need unions? :)

Addendum: Someone else on Twitter rightfully pointed out something else. If you are prevented by your contract to use your skills for personal projects, then your only outlet for what you likely love doing is, indeed, your work. This is a very good, and sad point: in my opinion such clauses should not exist, but we're not in a perfect world. This does not change anything about getting paid for the work you do, though.