Millennials call it “grinding.” Older generations said they were “jamming.” Workers in the videogame industry call it “crunching.” Others refer to it as a “sprint.” Whatever the term, the practice of logging long hours of work over consecutive days without overtime pay is common across a variety of industries, mostly notable those driven by creativity or innovation.
But that kind of schedule can be grueling and, if not managed properly, can create all sorts of talent issues for leaders. In some instances, such as in digital media and videogaming, workers have formed unions to seek better labor conditions from management. In others, workers have taken to Glassdoor and other employer review sites to criticize their organizations, potentially impacting talent recruitment and retention efforts. More commonly, it leads to disengagement and demotivation, which can be a bigger and more insidious issue for leaders to manage.
According to Kathy Vrabeck, senior client partner with Korn Ferry, the reason this kind of work environment persists in creative and innovation driven industries is often a reflection on the firm’s talent base and scheduling. “Deadlines don’t change, and any non-adherence to the scheduling during the early parts of production ends up having to be made up for on the back end,” says Vrabeck, who is intimately familiar with videogame production schedules as a former executive of Activision and Electronic Arts.
Think about a movie production, for example. Directors can take as long as they need to shoot and reshoot and edit a movie, but the release date doesn’t change. So the longer it takes the get the film into post-production, the tighter it becomes for the next line of workers to meet their deadline, and so on and so on.
Vrabeck says the scheduling issue is compounded by the lack of skill sets in many specialized industries. “Often, creative or innovation-driven industries can’t ramp up the talent or outsource it to another party,” Vrabeck says. Amazon, she notes, can hire as many truck drivers as it needs to meet holiday delivery deadlines, but it is not as easy for a software developer to staff up on employees to meet a deadline.
While this problem is particularly acute in creative industries like entertainment or innovation-driven ones like technology — where product performance is often dictated by first weekend sales — it is by no means exclusive to them. Investment banks are infamous for their 100-hour work weeks, for instance. Moreover, as organizations become more agile and more responsive to shifting consumer behaviors and digital advances, a deadline-driven schedule featuring periods of hyper activity and downtime is likely to become more common.
There is no easy answer to keeping talent engaged and motivated, of course. But as product cycles shorten and the need to innovate in real time increases, Vrabeck has a simple piece of advice for leaders: "Start adhering better to the early part of the production cycle."