Unfriending Facebook

Close up of friends using smart phones.Facebook is a poster child of our postmodern economy. It is one of those “fun” companies that breaks all the rules, smashes traditional hierarchies and lets its employees exercise their creativity without all the restrictions of times past. And it seems to work fabulously.

With interns reportedly earning as much $74,000 a year and many other positions taking home six figure salaries, Facebook can take the pick of the best of the best graduates out of the nation’s top colleges. Employees enjoy plenty of perks, prestige and stock options. Everyone literally gets a free lunch at the company’s gourmet cafeterias. It is no wonder that Facebook is voted among the world’s best places to work with plenty of people clicking on the “would like [to work]” button.

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It would seem that the success of Facebook invalidates the claims of those who criticize the firm as an example of what I call the “frenetic intemperance” of modern economy. Facebook’s celebrated freewheeling style, dramatic growth and $100 billion bottom line say frenetic intemperance pays off just fine.

But, like the personal Facebook pages it hosts, appearances can be deceiving. Behind the optimistic images posted all over the media, there is a disturbing reality that is not often seen. Not everyone is happy about working in the firm’s supposedly idyllic climate.

On the question-and-answer website Quora, former employees expressed discontent with Facebook. The frank discussion especially focused on the frantic pace of work and the exhausting psychological consequences of working under pressure. An article in the Daily Telegraph reporting on the discussion also drew hundreds of comments echoing an astonishing disenchantment with Facebook.

What do these former employees complain about? Curiously, precisely those “fun” things that are heralded as cutting edge in the new postmodern workplace: the lack of organization, focus and rules.

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Working for Facebook can be exhausting since this is not your normal 9-to-5 job that plays by the old rules. Everything goes. Employees can be subjected to long 12-14 hour workdays under stressful conditions. Engineers complained of being on call 24/7 for weeks at a time to keep service up and running. Employees are absorbed by the fast pace and intensity of their work.

The no-walls free-flow atmosphere that is supposed to foster creativity is also stressful to workers who complain of a complete lack of privacy whatsoever at the social media giant.

“At most companies, you put up a wall between a work personality and a personal one, which ends up with a professional workspace,” wrote one former employee. “This wall does not exist at Facebook which can lead to some uncomfortable situations.”

Yet another popular complaint was the laid-back attitude that left everything undefined and unfocused. Employees sensed a lack of infrastructure to provide guidance or support. There are constant guessing games where workers are expected to intuit what is happening in their departments and what is expected of them. The result is a “lack of professionalism” and “stability” where instructions are not clear and organization is lacking, which leads, in turn to stressful situations.

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These and other complaints underscore the importance of human relationships and leadership in the workplace. It is not surprising that, despite high wages, perks and the prestige of being part of an over-hyped company, there are those who opt out of working in a pressure cooker. People are not made to live in an atmosphere where a reckless spirit of unrestraint and instant gratification dominates. They need guidance, infrastructure and leadership to give them support. As a result, frenetic intemperance takes its toll upon the psyche causing burnout and disillusionment.

Facebook needs to face the fact that life is not a Facebook page consisting of superficial posts of fun and games. Until the social media giant learns this important lesson, it can expect to see itself increasingly “unliked” and “unfriended” by its disillusioned employees.

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