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Although the idea of maintaining a work-life balance is often associated with Silicon Valley work culture, the reality is that tech culture is very demanding and often not the holistic, New Wave work environment that it purports to be.

The expectation to work long hours is part of Silicon Valley’s DNA. The drive, exhilaration, and intensity of the tech industry draws many people to this industry. However, this narrow focus on work ends up favoring the young and career-driven, and disadvantages those who want to raise a family.

Recent grads may be drawn to work for a tech company that offers a good work-life balance. However, the reality of working 50- or 60-hour weeks soon dawns on them. Furthermore, the prominence of the tech industry is such that many people feel simply working in such an exciting industry is a privilege.

The pressure to work long hours typically shows up in one of two ways. In one approach, management tells staff members they have to work long hours, or they don’t belong with the company. Or supervisors don’t expressly demand 10- to 14-hour days, but staff members who don’t work these hours are kept at arm’s length and deemed ‘bad cultural fits’, limiting the concept of a ‘someone who belongs in tech’ to someone who is young, has very personal obligations and/or who doesn’t know any better.

The Mythology of Hard Work

Tech industry lore is littered with stories of extreme devotion, such as the tale of Elon Musk sleeping next to his desk to get his first startup off the ground. Many say these stories harken back to the capitalist notion of ‘Protestant work ethic’ – that it’s a religious duty to toil day and night.

The philosophy has become so potent, it’s had a strong downstream impact on startups, the kinds of markets these businesses develop in, and even how tech companies advertise work to prospective employees and contractors. There’s this mythology around tech culture that not just honors burn-out, but essentially requires it. This appears to be the result of trying to pack a lifetime’s work into the timeline laid out by a venture fund.

Tech Industry Peer Pressure

While the mythologizing around long hours in the tech industry usually happens around icons like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, the pressure to give up personal time is experienced most acutely by workers, not executives. Pressure rolls downhill from the top, accelerating as it goes, with those at the bottom of the organization having to make good on unrealistic expectations.

In addition to these sacrifices from lower-level employees overwhelmingly, they’re also likely to be somewhat in vain in the grand scheme of things. For instance, the programmer that works for a 80 hours a week on a moonshot won’t get anywhere near the amount of compensation or recognition that top-level executive would get if the moonshot turns out to be a runaway success.

At SSI, we are acutely aware of tech industry attitudes around dedication and we partner with our clients to minimize burnout. If your organization is currently looking for a custom talent acquisition solution, please contact us today to find out how we can help.


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