"Lab Rats: Why Modern Work Makes People Miserable," Dan Lyons, Hachette Books, 272 pages, $28.
The titans of technology have amassed great wealth but, like investment bankers before them, they have discovered that this does not bring them popularity. The past few years have witnessed a “techlash.”
Dan Lyons, a journalist who spent time working in the industry, has written an entertaining, if scattergun, attack on one aspect of technology’s influence — the effect it has had on everybody’s working lives.
He argues that the industry has reduced real wages, made workers feel dehumanized and exposed them to constant, stress-inducing change. Tellingly, the proportion of Americans who are happy with their jobs dropped from 61 percent in 1987 to 51 percent in 2016.
A particular target for his ire is the startup technology company. With their sweet-dispensers and pingpong tables, they may give the appearance of friendliness. But in the author’s experience, such firms are associated with very high staff turnover and especially in sales and marketing, marked by a brutal management style.
Worse still, they offer little job security because of the way they operate. Tech companies cover up their hard edges with a wide range of dubious management techniques.
Lyons cites examples from the alternative school of management that is built around treating people well, and thanking them for their efforts. Nurturing a reputation as a good place to work helps recruit better employees.
Instead of obsessing about unicorns (startups worth more than $1 billion), the author said he thinks the world should look for “zebras,” startups that can turn a profit and improve society at the same time. Many modern workers will agree.