When we started Adaptive Path, we set out to create the kind of services firm we wanted to work for. And much of this was in reaction to common practice in services firms. There are many things we reacted to, but this rant focuses on one thing – how employees are (mis)treated.
One of the things I’ve seen among many in the design profession is a willingness to put up with crappy jobs. Jobs where their talent and labor is exploited (this is doubtless true in other fields, but I suspect it’s especially true in ours) . The thing that cheeses me off most is overwork. It’s not uncommon for services firms to have their staff work 50+ hour weeks. I wouldn’t mind that if people were compensated accordingly. But most are simply compensated for “full-time” — there’s no over time. The thing is, I know their employer is billing out every one of those extra hours to the client. Which means that person is bringing a LOT of money into the firm, and not seeing it herself.
The thing I’m trying to understand is why so many put up with this. And the only thing I can think of is that folks in the design profession have low work-self-esteem. I think they feel so fortunate that they get to do something “fun” for their careers that their willing to put up with this mistreatment.
The companies that are worst offenders are often the services firms that get the “sexiest” projects, because many (most?) designers will put up with *anything* to work on sexy. (There’s one company in particular I’m thinking of here. And no, I’m not going to write their name here. But I’ll happily tell you over beers.)
So, yes, designers are definitely responsible for getting into these situations… When I get in these proselytizing moods, I want to shake these designers by their lapels (do designers wear lapels?) and say, “You’re being exploited! Don’t you care?!”
Apart from offending my sense of common decency, what upsets me is that this contributes to the marginalization and dimunition of the design profession, as such treatment demonstrates a lack of respect for the value designers bring to the project. It’s most upsetting because it comes from those who ought to be championing the role of design, the heads of these design firms. While their staff toils away over weekends to get deliverables ready for clients, the executives reap the benefits of those profits.
I suspect many folks working in services firms don’t fully grok the economics of the business, and assume that this just must be how it has to be.
So, to those working in services firms — challenge your employers about the conditions you’re working under. If you routinely work 50+ hour weeks, ask them when you’re going to see some of that extra scratch your earning for them (or, if you’d like a live/work balance, ask them why they can’t plan their projects so as not to burn out the staff). Make sure you know the rate you’re billing out at, figure out how much money you’re bringing into the company, and how much of that you are seeing. If you’re utilized more than 80% of the time (and that’s already probably too high…) ask about when you’re supposed to find the time to develop your skills, recharge your batteries, evolve. Find out what your company’s profit margin is, and what the company is doing with those profits. You don’t need to put up with bullshit in order to work on sexy projects — I know design firms that land great work AND treat their employees well. If you find yourself grousing about losing another weekend, start looking around — there are companies out there that deserve you.