The Bay way

On a business trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, I found myself both refreshed and surprised after meeting new acquaintances from an extended network. Taking advantage of the balmy weather, I ended up hiking in the Sonoma region, at the Jack London State Park, scheduled to be permanently closed as of next July. 2008 might have hit harder than I thought after all. Beyond the foreclosures and other subprime scandals, some people, American, expatriates or not, have had it, and their behaviour towards the job they have (when they do) has drastically shifted.

Through my various meetings, I got to discuss what their motivations have become since 2008. The budgets in some companies have shrunk and their engagement to their employer has tagged along. The equation almost seems too simple, and sadly coherent. Where some decisions have eliminated some critical positions (critical in chaotic times when wanting to keep up with the competition), or when these very decisions were not matching what sounded logical to some, these employees have quit. Plain and simple, with the idea that “if it does not work today, in spite of my input, I am out of here.”

Pretty straight forward, and absolute. Psychologists could analyse this deeper and see the relationship with the generation these “quitters” belong to. Well, digging into their initiative to leave what does not fit them anymore revealed quite the opposite of the concept of quitting for the sake of it. Instead it is more about taking advantage of the present and reconnecting with the freedom they had only tasted for two full weeks over the past… four or five years.

I ran into other employees, probably more conservative and dedicated to the long term investment they are in, and have been in for many years now. Although some of them were encouraged to speak up before decisions were to be made, 2008 has changed the scenario. Now speaking up, when invited to do so, has a sour taste and is often seen as a confrontation (this seems to happen more and more, regardless of the environment). As a result, they are switching gear and keep their thoughts to themselves, when they are not completely shutting down, considering their suggestions will categorise them as troublemakers, which could lead to the end of their career growth. So, they are not quitting their job, per se, they are muting themselves until the next manager, hopefully more social and realistic, gets to replace the current one.

I have met happy employees too, whether they work in the Silicon Valley or not: they just love their job, and that is it. The Bay Area just rules a bit differently from the rest of the country, and locals who agreed to share their thoughts with me confirmed that the 2008 crisis was subtle to the public eye (for the middle to upper social class, at least). Maybe the Bay mentality incites people to live in the present, living and defining their own work/life balance: to stay foolish.