It’s Five O’Clock Sometimes: or, the Trick of the Cultural Ethos of Startups

from the United States National Archives, between 1942-43

from the United States National Archives, between 1942-43

We’ve all seen listicles about the Best Places to Work — a lot of creative types in hoodies huddled around laptops with endless snacks and soft seating options (come to think of it, this environment is not unlike that of the new Chase Dining Hall). There is a level of comfort and Silicon Valley cool carefully curated and maintained at these companies.

What they have in common is an attempt to maintain the cultural ethos of the startup.

Startups, especially those in media and tech, are alike in that much hard work is required to get it off the group. Creative industries already require a great deal of flexibility and constantly being “on,” and to combine this with a big idea and limited funds is a challenge. Yet these ideas pop out of garages across America all the time, and introduce innovations we begin relying on.

What we get from those articles is a vague sense of satisfaction. The culture of young creative workers predicates a “cool,” a workstyle that the cubicle-bound are thought to envy.

But what of leaving work behind? The five o’clock whistle allows a metaphorical hanging of the hat. Perhaps an opportunity for happy hour, or outside activities. These could even be enjoyed with co-workers, but it provides a venue for engagement outside of talking shop (see scene of the Grimley Colliery Brass Band from Brassed Off).

from Brassed Off (1997). Play OUTSIDE of work.

from Brassed Off (1997). Play OUTSIDE of work.

The problem with socializing comes from, as Hesmondhalgh and Baker say, “the issue of working hours.” (117) Flexibility is required when it comes to a startup to get things off the ground, but often enough this mode of operation gets taken with a company even as they grow more successful and could ostensibly “normalize” their working day. This is often rationalized by the spaces and the culture of the workplaces — if it’s so great, so Creative…why wouldn’t workers want to be there working? Don’t they love their work?

What creative workers are led to believe is that they’re free to decide. Hesmondhalgh and Baker reference “‘Pleasure in work’…closely linked to self-exploitation.” (117) Autonomy comes with the risk of toting your briefcase everywhere, even outside of that fantastic office. Absenteeism is not the name of the game here. It’s unheard of. The word is presenteeism. Its main definition is being at work even when one is unhealthy, but in Ruth Simpson’s Presenteeism, Power and Organizational Change: Long Hours as a Career Barrier and the Impact on the Working Lives of Women Managers, she posits that it’s “the tendency to stay at work beyond the time needed for effective performance on the job.” (S37)

Everyone views effective performance differently. In the high standards of the creatives industries, that might not always be “good work.” (which really is subjective) But maybe leaving and five and going to happy hour, even thought that can feel like Sticking It to the Man, could be a good thing. And trying to avoid trading screenplay pitches.

Sources

Hesmondhalgh, David, and Sarah Baker. Creative Labour: Media Work in Three Cultural Industries. London: Routledge, 2011. Print.

Simpson, Ruth. “Presenteeism, Power and Organizational Change: Long Hours as a Career Barrier and the Impact on the Working Lives of Women Managers.” British Journal of Management Br J Management 9.S1 (1998): 37-50. Web.

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