From Manels To Missing Vowels, These Business Ideas Must Die
This week we’re looking at business ideas that must die. Presented in no particular order:
Open Office Plans
Your intrepid correspondent is writing this article from a completely open office. I have no control over the temperature, the hip-in-2013 exposed ducts overhead, or what sounds like Coldplay playing in the background.
Ironically, I had a much more private work office (one officemate who would look at me accusingly when I drank Coca-Cola, the Forbidden Fruit of all Utahns, clearly) in my first job out of college. Ever since, it’s been hunching over Lenovo Thinkpads or Macbook Airs surrounded by people I either don’t know or don’t interact with, with my actual colleagues only accessible over chat.
Who likes this system? Basically, corporations who don’t have to give laptop jockeys any privacy—except in the claustrophobic phone booths that make my Zoom meetings look like I’m a kidnapping victim.
The only place you should trust “unlimited” is at the Disney FastPass line (and even that was replaced by the frankly creepy sounding Genie+ product which is basically worse in every way).
Anywhere else, you’re getting played. Nowhere more so than when a startup announces unlimited PTO.
“It’s great to not have to pay out [accrued vacation] when people leave,” said Maggie Grover, a partner at Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP in an interview with website HRDive. “Because people are so connected and working even when they’re technically off, they tend to take fewer full vacation days. So even if you cap a vacation bank at 1.5 or 2 times the annual accrual amount, the payout at the end of the employment relationship can still be significant.”
How do you think this went since she gave that interview in February 2019?
The workday was lengthened by an hour in the United States, 80% of employers didn’t update their vacation policies due to COVID, and despite there being federal incentives to provide paid leave, a small minority of employers take up the offer.
Brilliant. I’ll be sure to frantically seek a hotspot connection the next time I’m “enjoying” the splendor of the autumn leaves in the Rockies.
My late mother sent me this Stuff White People Like (mom, all my internships paid at least $10 an hour! Think of the exposure!) article back in 2008, so this form of modern day indentured servitude is by no means new.
However, it wasn’t always this way—and if you’re a business owner, pay your dang interns!
Back in my mom’s generation, only 17% of the class of ‘92 reported doing an unpaid internship.
We don’t live in the Middle Ages and your sexy startup is not a guild that needs to kidnap an apprentice and make him pay back his labor. You are not Miranda Priestley—and even the psychological terror Andy Sachs endured while working for her at least came with a paycheck.
Unpaid internships are a driver of economic inequality, and Gen Z is finally starting to fight back. The average hourly wage for paid interns in 2021 is $20.76.
Get your bread, kiddos!
The portmanteau “manel,” (a man panel, if you will) started popping up in dictionaries around 2017. The #MeToo movement around male sexual predators facing consequences for their actions also spurred women and their allies to put other practices under the lens that aren’t illegal but can vary from anywhere from annoying (mansplaining) to unethical (salary gaps for the same job between a male and female candidate).
All-male panels are one of those things that everyone has experienced, and should probably go the way of the New Zealand moa unless it’s a testimonial about ways to detect and treat prostate cancer.
Not only does it open your institution up to ridicule on Twitter—as this math manel at my alma mater did in 2018—it obviously excludes the voices of women:
The Financial Times’ Michael Skapinker addresses the critique that you’d be scraping the bottom of the barrel for a diversity hire:
Impressive women can be found all over, with no question of diluting standards (and plenty of dull male speakers can be found at every conference).
Women As The Office Mom
In business school, having to bring doughnuts for the entire cohort of 52 students (four men for every one woman) was definitely a threat. It was a punishment for having broken some class rule.
Even though I had told my advisors I absolutely refused to attend any networking conference that required a blazer, I did internalize the idea that I should be focusing my professional energy on high-value tasks, not sourcing baked goods or (shudder) planning some near-stranger’s birthday party.
Your colleagues are not your mom—and is this 1800s Italy? Do you expect a nonna to walk around behind you with a broom, half-Cinderella, half-maid? Wash the last dish you used in the breakroom. Have a designated note taker for meetings and pay them for that as part of their job, or rotate the responsibility, or make the meeting an email.
And if you treat your own wife as your work-from-home “office mom”? That’s like business formal dress codes—not even going to touch that.
Reading about a (female) CEO’s employees going on strike after she published a paean to the olden days of her underlings doing her dirty work for no money or recognition was a chef’s kiss moment.
Strtps Wtht Vwls
Today, I received an email with this mysterious sign-off:
“Good to … get back?” After a Google search, I believe the email sender was signaling his unavailability for further communiques at that time: “Got to go, bye!” I don’t think I’ve seen this initialism, and it has a strong Nokia flip phone from 2004 vibe.
But GTGB also could very well be the name of a wine delivery app (Get The Grenache, Boy?), a wellness blog (they just liked the letters), or an homage to BCBG for a new fashion line.
We’d like to buy some vowels, Pat, because startups spent a decade hoarding them, like a precious non-renewable resource.
This Medium post examines the history of brand names, including the linguistic factors that make rounded vowels and liquid sounds fit with different objects—and therefore different brands—compared to the sharper sounds of unrounded vowels and stops. Kik, TikTok, and Lyft all sound more “jagged” than brand names like Google, Alibaba, or Uber.
The author proposes that brands often drppd vwls to snag domain names. Blessedly, as more alternatives to .com have been released, this trend seems to be waning.
If you want to launch GTGB.com, though, it is parked by GoDaddy. (A curious branding choice, that.)
Transparency is the new black when it comes to salaries.
Making a distinction between different scenarios when it comes to being open about pay transparency is important. It could mean any of the following things: that employees feel free to say how much money they make (legal everywhere, but culturally taboo for some); that companies take steps to ensure that employees are earning equal pay for equal work; or in a more novel application, that the the job posting has a salary posted publicly.
Colorado, my current state of residence, recently passed a law mandating that last point, and it has already had notable shifts in the market.
Colorado's law has terrified employers, and a trade group sued the state in an unsuccessful bid to block it. Their concerns boil down to two issues. First, job postings are visible to everyone. That makes it easier for competitors to poach their employees. It also reveals any pay disparities to their employees, who could use the information to demand the same salaries being offered to new hires. That, of course, is the primary point of the law in the first place: to promote equal pay for equal work.
—Aki Ito, Insider.com
The article includes the following chart about salary disclosure in different states:
Michael Moynhian’s incredulous guffaw in this video when asked if he would reveal what he makes through his work at Vice (he has a lot of other balls in the air, including as a cohost on various libertarian-leaning podcasts) demonstrates that this norm will be more slowly adopted in some industries, online media being no exception.
According to Glassdoor, staff writers at Vice Media make a median salary of $61,884, mostly in NYC, compared to the Molly Moon’s pastry chef who disclosed her salary as $75,000, which really makes you rethink unpaid media internships fOR tHe eXPosUre compared to scooping ice cream as a side job in your college years.
Your Job Title Is Your Identity
Up in the Air is a brilliant film about a middle-aged dude (who somehow looks like George Clooney despite never once going to the gym, that we see) who makes his living firing people. He’s really good at what he does. He has elevated his no-strings-attached personal life to his raison d’être, and the film shows us, through terrible late-aughts business formal (again, just say no), that he might well be missing out on some of the texture that makes life worth living.
Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, frequently posts this food for thought:
George Clooney’s character works as a corporate restructuring specialist. He is more than that, however.
The trend towards wrapping up our self-image in job titles seems to have accelerated as the economic gap between the have and have-nots picked up steam. It makes sense, logically: in a world where your access to health care, shelter, and quality education hinge on climbing certain corporate ladders, obsessive rumination about where we fit on the org chart starts to seem sane.
Perhaps actors would be especially attuned to the way that our identities shift with the changing seasons of our lives. In an interview with GQ, Clooney himself reflected on the Gestalt shift that marriage and fatherhood prompted in him:
Clooney will tell you about [his wife] Amal unprompted and then return to the subject again without ever having been asked. “I was like, ‘I'm never getting married. I'm not gonna have kids,’ ” he says. Clooney, whose 1993 divorce and subsequent bachelor years were objects of great and enduring tabloid fascination, says he was content with his life—more than content, even. Work was enough; it was more than enough. He'd decided: “I'm gonna work, I've got great friends, my life is full, I'm doing well. And I didn't know how un-full it was until I met Amal. And then everything changed. And I was like, ‘Oh, actually, this has been a huge empty space.’ ” Marriage changed him in the simplest way, he says, “because I'd never been in the position where someone else's life was infinitely more important to me than my own. You know? And then tack on two more individuals, who are small and have to be fed...
As all of us have spent more time in the past year and a half in a new relationship with work, and whether we’re bachelorettes or semi-retired actors, we have a unique opportunity to examine business ideas we’ve swallowed wholesale, and scrap the ones that aren’t working.
I’m looking at you, itchy blazers and uncomfortable heels.
(Design by Allora Rameson) (Edited by Rachel Swan)