For more than a decade, creative start-ups have been positioning themselves in job listings as places that are so much fun you won’t know you’re working! Most of us have learned to read through the euphemisms, the way we know that “quaint” in a house listing means “no updates since 1930.”
But today a listing stopped me cold. It started in the usual way:
DESIRED SKILLS & EXPERIENCE:
- Minimum 4 years of copywriting experience at a branding agency, advertising agency, or with a consumer or technology brand
- Energetic, communicative attitude
- Ability to manage workflow efficiently and take responsibility for timing and delivery
- Ability to write in multiple voices and styles
- Bachelor’s degree in marketing, public relations, journalism, advertising or similar field
- Exposure to start-up environment (nice to have)
Then came the sell for Job Nirvana:
- Top Salary
- Flexible Hours
- Casual Dress Code
- Stock Options
- Free Lunch Catering Every Day
- Nerf Gun Armory
- Medical, Dental, and Vision Benefits
- Fully Stocked Fridge and Snacks
- Ping Pong, Foosball, and Pool
- Mental and Spiritual Fulfillment
I get it. We’re all about substance AND sizzle! We work hard and play even harder! (And compared to some of its contemporaries, this place sounds almost dull.) Still, that last bulletpoint… “Mental and Spiritual Fulfillment” from a job writing digital marketing copy? What quality of mind are we talking about? What spiritual altar are we kneeling at?
Okay, okay. Maybe they were being hyperbolic in an ironical sort of creativity-saturated, surf-wax, Silicon Beach kinda way. This is California, after all. But I’d find that disavowal even more cynical: If you can’t get it from this awesome job, you don’t really need it.
Don’t get me wrong. A job that’s creatively challenging and rewarding is a very good thing. Maybe this company really delivers. So why layer on the delusion that it’s not just a job but practically a way of life? Does the shadow of the Googleplex loom that large?
A “Top Salary” and stock options are flattering (because I’m that good). Fully-stocked fridge and foosball? Dorm life with regular visits from mom. Casual dress? I’m in. It’s all code for Do What You Love, that absurd mantra that makes creatives feel good while messing with our ideas about how work should be valued. It feels good while the long (but so flexible) hours mount up, and you’re encouraged to take out your client frustrations in the Nerf Gun Armory.
There are many reasons to work for a company, but the bottom line in business is business. HR, creative teams—there are a lot of people who will pitch the Play/Fun = Creative = Fulfillment equation. But go sit with the CFO. Try to get answers about the company’s exit strategy, CEO compensation and spending priorities. I guarantee you, there’s no line item for your fulfillment.
Several times I’ve gone head first into the vortex of Live to Work. Being a founder or sharing a founder’s passion can be intoxicating. Working hard and believing in a new idea isn’t a mistake. The danger, especially when you’re in a business like advertising, is where belief blends into a level of zeal that disconnects from the essential reality that you are always, at some level, building a money machine. You are not saving the world. You are not changing any game. You are not shifting any paradigms. If you’re making good money, those are the things you want to believe because you’re not that shallow—because it’s not just about the money. And if you’re not making much money, those are the things you need to believe to comfort yourself over a small paycheck—because it’s not just about the money.
In an optimism-fueled creative work culture, it’s easy to confuse pride in performance, fun and (some) money with the idea that life is now complete. Perhaps the most honest part of WE PROVIDE (or was it a Freudian slip?) was that “mental and spiritual fulfillment” was last on the list. And that “free lunch”? Don’t make me say it.