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Question of the Day: Do YOU Hire Workaholics?

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By now you’ve all read some of the controversy over Jason Calacanis’ blog post on cost-savings for startups, in which he urged founders to “fire people who are not workaholics.” We posted Monday (‘Mahalo ‘for Tips on How to Save $$), before the firestorm was full-force. I said I didn’t think a punitive policy was the most effective management strategy, and suggested you try rewarding hard workers instead. Plenty of people took far greater umbrage:Calacanis Fires People Who Have A Life, and “running…your employees into the ground”. By now Calacanis’ real point —hire employees who are committed !–is being obfuscated. But bloggers love to provoke (even Calacanis!), so the debate rages: Instigator Ben supports Calacanis, Jon, at 37 Signals, says, Fire the workaholics!

I’m thinking, why debate it hypothetically? Why not find out if hiring workaholics “works?” So this is our Question of the Day:

Question of the Day:

1) Have you hired workaholics at your company ?

2) Was it good or bad ?

3) Would you hire workaholics again ?

Are you a workaholic? Do you have experience working with or for them? Share your wisdom with us here.

12 Responses to “Question of the Day: Do YOU Hire Workaholics?”

  1. I definitely I’d rather work with people who have a life outside of work, but the question is really what’s best for the company. But I think that question is overshadowed by a new one: in a depression, how do you sort the life-long workaholics from the people willing to put in extra hours until the storm blows over?

  2. For me, this issue breaks down to two separate questions: (a) what is good for the startup owner and (b) what is fair (and maybe whether those are two mutually exclusive questions). Looking to hire workaholics, of course, makes sense for a startup. Unless the team grinds their butts like crazy, it won’t work. Everyone has to pull otherwise those giving 110% begin to resent those giving only 89%. The question is what happens when you have a slacker in your midsts. I agree there must be a penalty of some sort otherwise the notion of fairness gets lost. The problem is if firing is the only penalty. Something like chopping the bonus or reduction in pay seems like a smart first move. It’s important that management response appear proportional to the other employees otherwise, again, you create a moral problem. On to question 2. Is it if fair to expect your employees to work their fingers to the bone as a condition of employment? I only agree with that strategy if there is a concrete plan in place to cut the early stage employees in on a piece of the pie. Otherwise, all you are doing is running a sweat shop for the sake of enriching the startup owners.

  3. The debate really is around the use of the word “workaholic” — which is why I thought it was a bit over the top. I didn’t quite agree with Jason, but I didn’t disagree either. I shrugged my shoulders at having such a venomous debate about a word.

    My main point was that you can’t hire workaholics alone, who don’t love what they do, because they’ll just be producing a lot of nothing. Working a lot doesn’t totally equate to producing value.

    At the same time, working at a startup requires a certain commitment that I believe is above and beyond what many would consider “normal” or “typical” because startups aren’t normal or typical.

  4. I agree with everyone and think that it is safe to conclude that the person MUST love their job cause if not, it is all just a waste of time and money. If someone loves there work, then they will have no problem working with stress or learning how to deal with stress.

  5. I’d rather have smart and creative people that work 9-10 hours per day than drones that work 16 hours a day. Of course everyone would prefer smart and creative people 16 hours a day but that never seems to be an option. Sustaining crazy hours for a long period of time will lead to burn out, especially if the company isn’t a runaway success.

    I do agree with Jason in his original post that either way you want to find people that love what they do. No matter how many hours you work, loving what you do can increase productivity exponentially.

  6. I agree with Kevin.
    And what if the workaholics ‘infect’ co-workers who feel obliged to work long hours too ? Sooner or later they notice that they can work less hours for the same wage somewhere else and quit their jobs.

    Besides: I’d rather work with someone who can handle stress that can be counted on when the shit hits the fan.
    I’ve seen brilliant people turn into a a pile of co-worker annoying jelly under even a tiny bit of stress. And what’s even worse in stressy situations than finding out you can’t count on someone is someone bothering (or even needing ‘moral support’ because they feel inadequate) you when you try to get their job done.

    But… I also believe you can learn to handle stress…

    I read a study once that people can work 60hours/week for a couple of weeks. Longer than that, or more hours and you get diminished returns because people start working slower and make more errors. And we all know that in the software industry, unexpected bugs and bug-hunting are the #1 unknown factor that cause projects to be late.

  7. Steve Terry

    Agree with Kevin. Workoholic can be someone who is very committed and puts in long hours….but often it’s someone who simply has inefficient work habits. I’d rather hire the smarter, more effective person. In sales, if I can close a deal sooner by working more effectively, I hit and blow through revenue targets quicker. And let’s face it, it’s not always about the technology—it’s about time-to-revenue.

    As an aside, I read somewhere once that a Captain always gave the laziest guy in his platoon the hard jobs. The lazy guy would always find a more efficient way to get the work done, which would then be adopted by the rest of the troops. I’m not advocating hiring only lazy people, just making a point that not all is as it seems.

  8. When I think of workaholics I think of people who always have their Treo/Crackberry at the ready, show up before the rest of the office, and leave after 90% of the office has already gone home. In my experience these are also the people with the least efficient work habits. They work hard, instead of smart and equate BIC-time (Butt In Chair) with commitment. I gotta side with 37 Signals on this one. I’d much rather work with people who are competent, efficient, and have a variety of non-work interests.

  9. Maybe we should define what counts as a workaholic first. Words like this mean vastly different things to different people.

    Someone who routinely works x hours or more a week? or is it more complex than that?