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Poor mental health at work 'widespread' (bbc.co.uk)
217 points by pmoriarty on Sept 11, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 219 comments



Here's a possible hot take: when will we start treating this as a systemic and structural issue? When will we stop privatizing the issue of mental health, treating it exclusively as basically chemical imbalances within individual bodies, and start recognizing that there must be something deeper, something perhaps cultural or political, at work here?


Not to trivialize people with genuine issues, but experiencing "stress, anxiety and low mood" is completely normal and natural. In fact not experiencing these kinds of emotions from time to time would indicate an issue! I do wonder whether the scope of what's deemed "mental illness" is being widened


This argument is the equivalent of a climate change denier stating "the climate is always changing".

Anecdotally the percentage of my friends who I would describe as unhappy has been increasing over time. In my early 20's at most 10% of my friends would be unhappy at any given moment, now in my 30's I feel like a solid 25% of my friends are noticeably unhappy and god knows how many are good at putting on a brave face. I don't know how much of this is just due to getting older or something specific to how our society is operating at this current point in history.

When I talk to people from my parents generation I get the feeling that on average every year of their life was better than the last up until about 40, whereas it feels like the opposite is true for people today.

I too am worried about the increasing scope of what determines a mental illness, but at the same time if your environment can cause you to get Pneumonia, it makes sense that your environment can cause you to experience clinical depression.


Being more stressed in your 30s than your early 20s is probably normal too.

You've got less time on the planet, I've got a wife and three kids to support now, career options are vastly more limited, incurred massive debt to buy a house. But hey, things are going comparatively well for me relative to many of my peers.

It seems really hard to compare between generations. Things are so different, but if mental health is towards the top of the pile of concerns now we should probably address it regardless of whether it's really a bigger issue than today than it was previously.


Normal in the context of how our society is structured, but far from ideal or unavoidable.

For instance, I can compare the experience of my cousin raising two young kids on the east coast of the US with my girlfriend's sister in the same situation in Italy.

In my cousin's case, she had to go back to work almost immediately in order to pay the high rents where she lives, and money's a constant stress because of the price of a decent daycare/preschool. Family's far away, so essentially all the childcare responsibilities fall on her and her husband.

In contrast, my girlfriend's sister had 9 months of paid maternity leave with which she could stay home with the baby without undue financial stress. When she returned to work part time, she didn't have to rely on commercial childcare because her large extended family is close by to share the burden. In general that makes her and her husband's life more relaxed, because if they want to go away for the odd weekend they can leave the kids with grandma.

If you ask me, the work culture is deeply pathological in places like the US and UK. With the rise in technology and automation there's no reason we couldn't live in societies which prioritize our human needs more highly.


Except for the long period of paid maternity leave, there's no reason someone in the US couldn't have what the Italian woman has. I know several parents that live close to their extended family and get help watching and raising their kids all the time.

It's one of the reasons why I haven't moved to Silicon Valley after all these years, because I don't want to leave my familial and friend support network behind. It's resulted in much lower income for me, but that's the trade off.

Although it doesn't have to be necessarily. For example in my case, I could possibly find a well-paying remote job. I'm already working remotely currently, albeit for a company that's local and doesn't pay anywhere near as well.


> I know several parents that live close to their extended family and get help watching and raising their kids all the time.

Anecdotal evidence is a fallacy.

It's equivalent to saying that "smoking a pack each day doesn't kill you because my grandfather smoked until he was 97." As ridiculous as that sounds compared to what you're saying, they are nonetheless equal in terms of evidence.


All I said was that it's possible, I'm not arguing that it happens all the time. I know plenty of people that don't live near their families too.

To say something is possible, all it takes is one result, in which an anecdote is fine. Someone providing an anecdote doesn't guarantee a fallacy in all cases.

It's a choice for people to move away from their safety nets (unless bad things happen to their families, and I certainly know some people who have grown up in broken homes. I dated a few people in that situation). It's not always a good choice, or the best choice, but it's still a choice.

The parent only provided a single anecdote to "show" how things worked in Italy as well. I was just showing how his anecdote wasn't enough evidence to prove his point that things work differently in Italy compared to the US.


Not everyone has the privilege of choosing where to live, or even the possibility of remote work. People go where they can find work, and this often forces someone away from their support network. The cost of having a national labor market is that you can't rely on locally available jobs to match the locally available labor force.

Some lucky person might get the local job that matches their skills, but the 10 other people looking for the same job will be forced to move.


As someone who works for a lot less money than I could be making and in an industry I am not excited about in the least (insurance...technically business process outsourcing but our clients are all insurance companies), I don't know about the word forced. I have been choosing a suboptimal career so I can be near my support network. It's hard sometimes, really hard, especially knowing I could easily be making $100k+ more than I'm making right now and working on something I care about at least a little bit more, but I am making that choice.

I realize it can be extra difficult in some markets. I'm at least near a metropolitan area, so there's some jobs (hardly any that excite me, but there are some). I've worked plenty of shitty jobs in my life and nowhere near the software dev world in order to stay in my hometown . Unless the job market completely dries up in your town, it's a choice that can be made.

It's similar to all the people who get majors in humanities or psychology or marketing and then end up working as a barista at Starbucks once they graduate. It's far from ideal, but sometimes people really don't want to move across the country for their jobs (or can't).

Again, I'm not saying it's a great choice, or the right choice to stay near your support network necessarily. I haven't lived away from them so I don't have any idea firsthand. But I think it's a bit myopic to think you are forced to always go wherever the maximum amount of jobs or money to be made is, support network be damned.


I don't think one is always forced, but I think there is always someone who is forced. As you said yourself, it could be even harder for someone else. If you take the barista job, someone else isn't going to get it. And is a barista job actually going to provide maternity benefits or pay enough to raise a child? "Maybe sometimes" doesn't make a good national policy.

Do you feel that the sacrifice you have made to stay near your support network is worth the value of your support network? By which I mean, if you had a child, is your support network wealthy enough to provide the resources to help you raise that child? For many people, their support network is itself getting squeezed. What do you do if your friends and relatives themselves have to work 60 hours a week and aren't available to help watch your baby while you work?


I don't currently have a child but in the next two or three years I am planning to have one. Other people in the family have had children recently, though, and I am seeing how they are being helped out and they're getting a lot of assistance, including free babysitting, which by itself is crazy expensive (can be more expensive than one person's income nowadays, which is why some people are becoming stay at home parents now).

I also don't know how I'd be able to afford buying a house if I moved to somewhere like Silicon Valley, whereas I've bought a home here, and I'd rather not go back to renting if I can help it.

Also, one of my professional hobbies is board game design and I have built up a pretty good local network for playtesting and have gotten to know several designers and publishers in the area (even got my first game signed), plus I am within driving distance of the two of the biggest game conventions in the US, where I can network even further, so that's another factor keeping me away from the west coast.

So there are other unrelated factors that are influencing the decision, it's not a total black and white affair. Although I was still making the decision to stick around even before these were a thing.

I do agree with you that people's support networks are probably getting squeezed more than in the past (income inequality is on the rise, tuition, health expenses, etc are skyrocketing, so everyone is getting squeezed). I did say it's not necessarily the best decision for someone to make. It might not even be the best decision for me to make. But I'm still doing it, and I see tons of people do it every day, especially once they have families. I also see tons of people choose to move away from their networks, and again that may be the best thing to do, I just don't think sticking around should be assumed to be the wrong decision in pretty much all cases for the country as a whole, which seemed to be the assumption that was made.


I think the problem is precisely that society is being squeezed to the point that many people's support networks are breaking down, forcing them into moving to keep up with labor demand, for the sake of keeping labor supply cheep and powerless in the market. We are being offered a perverse choice at the outset, and being resistant to that coercive influence is the form that privilege takes. For the modestly privileged it's a difficult choice, and for the very privileged it's an easy choice.

> Except for the long period of paid maternity leave, there's no reason someone in the US couldn't have what the Italian woman has. I know several parents that live close to their extended family and get help watching and raising their kids all the time.

This is the part about which we disagree. You are generalizing from several people you know to say there is no reason someone else can't do it. The reason is that not everyone is lucky enough to know the kind of people you do. When you say "someone" it sounds like you really mean just yourself.


Fair enough. I guess using the words 'no reason' went a bit too far. I didn't realize I had done that. Afterwards I repeatedly said that for some people it might not be the best decision for them to make, though, so for me to assert that, clearly there must be some reasons for those people to decide otherwise.


Yeah the maternity leave situation is more structural than the extended family situation for sure. However I'd argue that the fact that people in the US tend to move farther for work stems from the same societal values that result in the lack of political will to enact mandatory paid parental leave.


Well, considering the entirety of the landmass of Italy is approximately the same size as the state of California, it's not really a surprise that Americans tend to move farther away. If Italy was the same size as the US, its centers of industry would probably be much further spaced out as well, as it is in the US.


That would have been more of an argument before the EU. Europeans have freedom of movement within the EEA, so Italy vs US is not exactly an apples to apples comparison.


Of course it's not apples to apples, that's kind of my point. The parent was the one trying to compare Italy to the US.

But for the sake of argument, I don't know to what extent Italians move great distances compared to the US, but I would imagine that most people tend to want to stay stick within their culture if they can get away with it. At least their primary spoken language.

The US provides a large landmass full of pretty much the same culture, same language, etc, somewhat divided between rural vs urban or conservative vs liberal, whereas Italians wanting to speak Italian and live among mostly Italians are going to have fewer options in the EU to choose from.

And I have no idea where the centers of industry are in Europe in general or Italy in specific, so I could not venture a guess as to how far apart they are. But if someone in Italy wants to stay in Italy and work in Italy, they have to go somewhere. And the furthest they can go is about the same distance as the state of California.


I'll say I broadly agree that we should be moving towards a more evenly distributed system, and I'm a huge fan of the idea of basic income for the reason you outlined: giving people options.

The caveat IMO is that having children is an incredibly selfish decision, and that decision shouldn't be publicly subsidized. It should come out of your discretionary spending. If we each get $2000/month and a kid costs you $1000/month, then you have to live off $1000/month, which means not living in overpriced areas.

You can have anything you want in life, but you can't have everything.


Except if no one has kids, then our society collapses. So if society wants to keep its little engine moving, it's GDP going up up up every year, houses being bought, Social Security paid for, etc, it needs to at the very least not discourage the decision to have children so much that hardly anyone does it.

It also seems that government that invest in children tend to have future generations of better educated, better adjusted, and better contributing members of society, which I feel is worth at least some investment.


Truthfully, I think we should be discouraging having children. There's too many people working too late in life that my peer group struggles to find meaningful work.

A generation ago, people retired in their 50s and opened up jobs to the next generation, then died 10 years later and left family money to the next generation that could be used for housing.

I don't have a single friend in my peer group who can afford housing, let alone has the income to raise children, if they don't have family money. Upward mobility into the well paying jobs is non existent, with 20 years of people in between them and executive level careers.

People aren't going to stop having kids. It's too engrained in our society and genes. But with automation and an increasingly elderly workforce, job prospects are bad now and will continue to get worse for kids born in the last 10 years.


> Except if no one has kids, then our society collapses.

Ah, ha! The top 1% are already on it.. they're pumping fortunes into defeating mortality as we speak.

For those of us who can't afford it, I'm sure they'll be happy to extend our lives in return for some kind of "temporary" employment unto them, at least until we've repaid our debt...

/s


But is normal ok?


For a long time in many places, living in grinding poverty was and is "normal" and "natural" for most people. Living with all sorts of insecurity - food, physical safety, shelter - all normal. Evolution only selected for those of us who manage to reproduce individually and societally, not for those who tend to live to a ripe old age with a minimum of misery. I really don't get this formulation of "x miserable condition is perfectly natural!" when "natural" so often == "miserable".


Yes, but this is specifically about mental health.

I believe the increased level of physical activity, combined with greater in-person socialization/community of our forefathers allowed them greater mental health (and with it, greater resiliency) than people of today.


Perhaps, but what is the evidence that that was the case or that the causes you cite are the ones to credit?


Hardship and misery aren't the same thing.


Mental illnesses have psychological (eg issues from childhood), chemical (eg neurotransmitter balance) and yes social (communication and meaning) aspects.

It's easy to pay attention to only one (a definition shift would be social/communication), but all three matter.

These illnesses are failure modes at a mid level in the most complex information processing device in the universe. There's a lot going on - it's not so much definition shift, as this is complex, and yes it is a communal cry for help in part.


I want to add allergies to your list :) Personal experience: Ketogenic died made my depression go away almost over night


Diet plays a huge role in mood; and we normalize "comfort eating" way too much.

You cut out sugar from your diet and you will feel better. We consume an insane amount in western societies and it's not good physically or mentally.

You can't just focus on mental health without the physical health because they are so dependent. I feel like we're deeply missing that point today.


> Diet plays a huge role in mood.

I've seen many articles lately on the relationship between what's in our gut and our mental health. Their source escapes me at the moment, but here's a paper on the relationship between diet and mental health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4167107/


Notice the submitted article doesn't talk about "mental illness" but about "poor mental health".

I can have poor physical health without having a specific disease. I can have poor mental health without having a specific mental illness.


Pretty sure this study took normal mood fluctuations into consideration.

Poor mental health probably means poor mental health.


I think this article is eluding to the problem of sustained stress, anxiety and low mood, which lead to abnormal chemical imbalances that cannot easily be overcome. Once the imbalance becomes impossible to overcome without external support, it becomes a legitimate illness (mental, in this context) that requires treatment.


Chemical imbalance (as a cause of depression or anxiety) is just a hypothesis (one of many). It's heavily used for marketing, because people can easily imagine something behind it, that's easily corrected by what companies sell (more chemicals), but it's most probably nonsense.

Though your underlying point is observably valid. People can get into a state where it's hard for them to improve their well being without outside intervention.


As someone who had such a chemical imbalance that was corrected by medication, I can assure you it's definitely not nonsense (although I thought the same as you until I went through it myself).


I appreciate that you took pills and felt change. It, by itself, doesn't prove that there's a specific chemical imbalance in the brain, or that it causes depression or anxiety.


It doesn't, but all the science behind the pills does. They weren't created for no reason.


What science? Most of it is focused on whether the drug has effect compared to placebo/other pills, what unintended effects it has, and not on trying to understand how brain works.

Pill may have effect, yet the hypothesis may still be nonsense. Chemical imbalance hypothesis is really old, and doesn't account for a lot of new information since last 50-60 years.

It's in principle the same problem as when psychotherapists/clinicians try to develop a theory of mind. The result is that we have several major contradictory theories of mind/schools of psychotherapy, and all of them work/are helpful. Yet the usefulness can not be used to validate the underlying theories of mind the methods are based on, because that would mean that all of those theories are valid.


I mean human misery is also completely normal and natural, that doesn't mean we're not going to notice it and point it out when we get better tools for identifying it...


The lines of what is a mental illness are blurry. That doesn't mean we should stop paying attention when the "blurry blob" moves left or right on the chart.


Anecdotal evidence of one person close to me, saw the benefits in the use of anti depressants but what I didn't expect was that when the person came off them they laughed more, the anti-depressants might reduce the lows but they also dimmed the highs.


The point where negative emotions become homeostatic dysfunction is the point where they've become a legitimate health issue. Yeah, sometimes life hurts, but if you're getting hypertension because of work stress, fuck your job.


> I do wonder whether the scope of what's deemed "mental illness" is being widened

There are two questions here, I think.

One is whether we're confusing regular moods with larger conditions, and the answer is generally no. Conditions like anxiety have time thresholds of persistent symptoms to avoid this issue, and other conditions like panic disorders describe things that many people never experience.

The second is whether the scope of what's diagnosable is broadening on any axis. And there, we can say: yes, consciously so. The US standards for diagnosing mental illness (the DSM definitions) have been steadily moving away from attempts to determine who has a 'real' mental illness in favor of symptoms-based diagnoses. The standard for e.g. anxiety excludes anxiety from drugs (legal or not) and physical health problems, but says nothing about whether the long-term anxiety is 'justified' or a reasonable reaction to circumstances.

It's partly an acknowledgement that lots of appraisals are made quickly and on circumstantial evidence, so we might as well issue circumstantial decisions instead of assigning grand theories that might not apply. And it's partly about the fact that many treatments are circumstance-agnostic; absent other options, someone who's constantly anxious because they have high debt and a stressful job will see basically the same benefits from CBT or medications as someone without circumstantial issues.

But it's also a concession to just how little we understand a lot of mental illnesses. There's no particular sign that anxiety-the-disorder is anything but high activity from the system everyone has, and we're not sure why it seems to be so much more active in certain people, so there's no objective test to run. Which means either relying on a clinician's judgement about what's 'justified' anxiety, with all the cultural biases and doctor-shopping that invites, or admitting that it's an unclear question and bypassing it.

(This looks a bit different when we do understand the biological mechanisms of a disorder, or at least know that certain treatments are conditional. As an example, nicotine helps decrease the symptom intensity of schizophrenia, but doesn't for most other hallucinatory or delusional disorders. And other conditions like ASPD or ADHD have foggy partial understandings that leave them in the middle.)

One way of framing this is that we're pathologizing normal reactions. But another is that we have a system built to treat certain unpleasant conditions, and we're recognizing that it can operate on more pain than we'd previously realized. A lot of historical support mechanisms have ceased to support most people, both formal (priests running confessionals and doing relationship mediation) and informal (the death of the 'third place', fraternal organization membership, etc.) If the problem is "many people are sad and stressed by their work", assigning the care of those feelings to our sadness-and-stress support framework makes sense. Ideally we might change people's work circumstances instead, but this looks like at worst a return to the historical approach.


na internet done made us all crazy


The question in my mind is "who is we." Where we is "we the people," or somesuch acting through our medical establishments.. we get what we have. Medicalizing & treating as we do other ailments. The reason we use drugs instead of talk or behavioural therapies is because they are cheap or rather that recurring 1-on-1 therapy is very expensive.

What does treating this systemically mean? We are increasingly treating mental health as systemic/epidemic problems via the medical systems. However, this generally means doing more diagnosing and treating of mental health in the same way.

There isn't really an embodied "we" that makes decisions and takes actions at a cultural level. That is, no way of changing how people interact with eachother individuals doing it.

A religious society might have a church that could do this. A local cleric could (for example) try and relieve loneliness in her community.

I don't know of any body that could really affect how work culture works.

Some things just develop in societies and "we" just don't act as a non-metaphorical "we." Cultural change works this way, mostly.

If we're talking about a "we" that's me, you and a few other people, then we could definitely do a lot about mental health for some people.


I'm pretty certain cultural and social conditioning is a large, if not the entire, part of the problem with poor mental health (and not just poor mental health!). Take this line from Andrei Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time: "Modern mass culture, aimed at the 'consumer', the civilisation of prosthetics, is crippling people's souls, setting up barriers between man and the crucial questions of his existence, his consciousness of himself as a spiritual being." This is not something new. The severity of the problem has just heightened because of the information age.

But otherwise, since this topic interests me greatly, I would definitely love to hear why you might think poor mental health may be due to something like culture and politics? Possible solutions?


I am not an original thinker. My main reference for this topic has been the cultural theorist Mark Fisher. In Capitalist Realism he not only describes the privatization I mentioned previously, but also introduces two ideas that he ascribes to the neoliberal condition (based on anecdata of young people from his experiences as a professor):

* reflexive impotence, in which people know that things are bad and that they can't do anything about it, leading to a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy en masse

* depressive hedonia, in which people are depressed, but instead of being unable to seek pleasure, they basically can't do anything except seek pleasure (to consume more, faster, etc.)

He also has another book, Ghosts of My Life, in which he talks about how we're essentially collectively "haunted" by the possible futures that failed to materialize. I've yet to read it, but I've heard it's fascinating.


Ah, thank you for these two points and the book suggestions!

I too am not an original thinker and I often synthesize ideas on this matter incoherently. But how is it that it is not universally accepted that the structure of employment, even in its most compassionate incarnation, is a structure that is designed to humiliate and strip the dignity of the employee? And then we have the modern employment contract that explicitly forbids talent to be shared with other employers, or for allegiance to be enunciated in corporate culture slogans drummed to death as though attempting to wash away the employee's identity.

Maybe things are different in different cultures vis-a-vis the structure of employment. Japan for example where Salary Man choose to willingly marry his corporation for a lifetime.


I think about this a lot, too -- usually using (slightly-insane) poststructuralist thought as a starting point. For example Deleuze and Guattari have written a lot about basically what I'd like to cheekily call "structure as stricture" -- the idea that the structured systems in our society serve mainly to oppress us and repress our affects, Freud/Oedipus-style [1]. (I'm not an anarchist, but nevertheless this thought is a good starting point.)

Japan is an interesting place. I want to think of Japanese corporate employment as basically equivalent to citizenship in other countries. For example they have very little social insurance programs, instead relying on corporations to provide such benefits (社会保険). For better or for worse, in the neoliberal era, this idea of corporate employment as the new citizenship might be being exported overseas.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Oedipus


I mean the US also devolves a lot of social welfare handling to employers; most obviously insurance.



Yeah -- this is precisely why this idea of the privatization of mental health is so important, at least in my mind.


This is basically the left take.

https://jacobinmag.com/2018/08/mental-health-psychiatry-clas...

'The rise of psychiatry was funded by America’s Gilded Age industrialists. Their aim: to cast society’s ills as problems of individual "mental health."'


I like the perspective that the DSM-* is a collection of behaviors that don't fit the current societal norms and is the attempt to correct people who don't/can't subscribe/adhere to these norms through medicine.


Some people who don't fit in are labeled for sure, but other people are definitely ill.

A middle class teenager expected to focus on math and prepare for a desk job is inappropriately diagnosed with something, when they might have been a tallented athlete.

A clever, responsible man with a comfortable life suddenly hears voices that tell him his lifelong friends are poisoning him, and is incapable of seeing that this is a delusion, so he kills them.

The first doesn't preclude the other, and I don't think the second one is merely 'behaviors that don't fit the current societal norms'.

Sometimes brains go wrong. If you don't believe me, take a bunch of acid.


That's an... interesting.. take.. There's a slice of that which is probably accurate, or at least something we could have a legitimate discussion about. However there's a lot of very REAL mental illness that is extremely detrimental to the people suffering from it, and from those around them, that has nothing to do with societal norms (in the way you mean). I'd also point out that the DSM isn't just used by psychiatrists (who give medicine) but is used by courts, psychologists, therapists, etc... who are dealing with treatment and therapy outside of prescribing drugs...


The biggest issue is I think lack of sleep, and sometimes you need professional help to fix it or even realize you should


> treating it exclusively as basically chemical imbalances within individual bodies

Dunno where you live but over here we stopped doing that fucking years ago. This is why things like IAPT (Improved access to psychotherapy, a short course of normally cognitive behavioural therapy) has been the recommended frontline treatment for many mild to moderate mental ill health problems for years. In the UK psychologists are important members of multidisciplinary teams, and psychological therapies are strongly recommended in NICE guidance for a wide range of problems.


I think the parent was hinting at a culture that leads to depression, e.g. due to high pressure to show economic success.


I think you're trivializing it a bit in here. For many people it is indeed a chemical imbalance and no amount of wishful thinking would change anything, but regulating with chemicals (obviously) does.


Because your whole premise may not necessarily be true. First step is to evaluate it, not the other way around as you suggest.


Just curious -- what did you interpret my premise to be?

To clarify, I think that this issue is so obviously overdetermined that we need to tackle all of the causes, not just any one.


When our corporate oligarchs consider a path to greater ownership and control over society.


People have been trying for years to undo this damage, Deming, Ohno etc. nowadays it’s probably mostly the agile community leading the way but I feel the curve is trending downwards. Most people here hate agile especially the fluffy cultural bits, and crave the pressure of a Silicon Valley startup.


> Most people here hate agile especially the fluffy cultural bits, and crave the pressure of a Silicon Valley startup.

That last bit seems like you may be extrapolating from a very small sample size. Hating on some of the Agile culture, sure, but are there really that many people wanting more stress? Most of the Agile reaction I’ve seen seems like the opposite direction with people wanting to improve work-life balance, or drop the parts of consultant-driven Agile which are just adding ceremony without benefit.


A lot of the complaints on Agile are on its use as a system to micromanage. My experiences with Agile involve it being applied to a subset of the organization and in a limited fashion, for example only having standups and no planning meetings.


I think there’s also a good argument that much of what’s termed Agile, especially the annoying parts, really isn’t. For example, the importance of teams choosing how to work rather than having dogma forced on them:

https://martinfowler.com/articles/agile-aus-2018.html


My hot take: This is "patriarchy" at work in an unchecked fashion.

Studies of primate groups suggest male leaders protect the group from external threats, such as carnivores or war with other groups. Female leaders protect the group from internal threats.

As a woman who is probably some kind of alpha female, I couldn't find any role models that worked for me. I was a full time wife and mom for years and all our leadership models are male models that we expect women to somehow emulate and I could never make sense of it.

Reading up on the role of alpha females in primate groups helped me feel functional and not crazy or broken. It gave me a model I could relate to.

Women with careers tend to learn male -- or yang -- leadership models. YC claims it is so successful because Jessica was maternal and nurturing and they had sit down dinners like an extended family.

And I sometimes think that's what's lacking out in the world of work, that feminine influence that says you need to take care of your people to be successful and not just run them into the ground.

/things I expect to regret stupidly voicing


I agree that companies need more compassion for their coworkers, and a more constructive way of dealing with negative emotions. If people open up to each other, become a bit more vulnerable, and talk about what they feel vs argue that they are right and others are wrong—good things are bound to happen.

Maybe I misunderstood the notion about alphas, but personally I don’t like that phrase. It implies that there are betas (and possibly gammas), who evolutionarily had to yield to alphas whenever those demanded it.

Also, I perceive people who are labeled as alpha males mostly as fear-driven people who need to control other people so they themselves don’t get hurt or questioned. That seems not to be the case with alpha chimpanzees [1]—perhaps the alpha label is put on the wrong kind of character entirely.

1: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/alpha-male-a...


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frans_de_Waal

I read something by him. He's a primatologist.

One year, the "alpha" female of the group at the zoo died. For months, he couldn't figure out who took her place.

One day, there was an ugly conflict. He expected it to result in blood being spilled.

Then the quietest and meekest of the three older females began slowly walking towards the two fighting males. Behind her trailed a procession.

She sat down and began grooming one of the males. That was the end of the fight. No one dared start it back up and he finally knew who the new alpha female was.

You might enjoy some of his writing.


The social hierarchy based on alpha/beta individuals has never been observed in many species, including humans.


Yes, that’s what I read, too. IMO in humans there’s mostly idolizing and low self worth going on, causing feelings of inferiority/superiority towards others. „I am worth more/less than this person because XY“ is a very common thought pattern that we better do away with. Using a common denominator can be useful to realize that everybody is equal - like the fact that we all die, or that nobody has perfect knowledge of the world.


> Female leaders protect the group from internal threats.

> Women with careers tend to learn male -- or yang -- leadership models.

The thing is, in order to have a sense of 'internal' responsibility, employees need to be really sticky within an organization.

At-will employment really interferes with this: it's simpler (although not necessarily better) to simply burn employees out and replace them rather than invest in the long term that may not exist.


Would you mind sharing what you read about alpha females in primate groups? Sounds fascinating.


I wrote a snippet here:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17957612

I read at least one of the works by the author listed in that comment and the scene depicted was a big Aha! moment for me.

I have a history of being an important figure in various online forums, but I don't play a leadership role like a man and I'm not comfortable trying to do so. Attempts to operate like leading men in the same social groups inevitably backfire.

But people seem to very much want my approval, which was a thing that made me crazy. A lot of people like to try to demand my approval, like I owe them my approval and this has often been a point of friction for me socially.

I'm not willing to be socially manipulative. That doesn't sit well with my morals. And that scene in that book helped me figure out how to be me in an empowered way.

I like taking care of people and I tend to do things with an eye towards group cohesion. Male primates defend "the peace" against external threats -- against predators, war, invaders. Female primates typically defend the peace against internal threats -- against friction within the group that is threatening to splinter it. They help people get past their differences, put problems behind them, etc.

And that's a thing I tend towards, but in the US that is not respected as a position of power. There is an awful lot of talk these days about how women are expected to do "emotional labor" and we are expected to do it for free, it is an imposition on women and one of the ways we are victimized. This was also my experience for a long time -- I had experienced my tendency to be caring towards others as a source of being victimized.

And that snippet helped me see how it can be a source of power.

I don't act in a caring fashion towards others in order to have power over them. My desire to help is sincere.

But I also don't owe them anything. I don't have to agree to be anyone's bitch. Helping others doesn't mean I am obligated to keep "being nice" while they heap abuse upon me. I can stop doing nice things for them if they want to mistreat me.

My oldest son has a lot of personal challenges. He was a very difficult child and punishing him never worked.

Fortunately, I'm not big on punishment and he eventually came around because of how I handle things.

I liked doting on him, but when he was a horrible, horrible little shit, I would be less giving. If he wasn't horrible to me, he could wake me up at 3am and ask me to cook for him and I would, even if I was sick and short of sleep. I would tell him "Bring me a cola to help me wake up and turn the oven on so it preheats." And I would drag myself out of bed and cook for him.

But when he was a horrible little shit, I would tell him "I'm sleeping here. I don't feel well. Make yourself a peanut butter sandwich and let me sleep."

He has a serious medical condition that was diagnosed when he was 14. Well before he was diagnosed, it was clear to him that he really needed his mom to get up and cook for him at 3am when he asked and he eventually realized that it didn't really matter how tired I was. What mattered was how much of a little shit he was.

He didn't need to be a good kid. I liked doting on him. He just needed to not be a little shit 24/7 and I would happily do all kinds of stuff for him.

I have something of value to offer. I'm good at certain things. But I don't owe anyone those things. I've made my peace with trying to demonstrate what I have to offer, then withdrawing it if it is met with shitty behavior.

An awful lot of people don't like me withdrawing my "aid". So that becomes a source of power because if you want my aid, then you play by my rules, which are more civilized than the rules most people have been taught.

No one has to play by my rules. I make no effort to force anyone to play by my rules. But I'm also no one's bitch and if you want the value of the things I can bring to the table, then you find some way to respect me and be good to me or I cut you off.

And I'm okay with that being influential in group settings. It sets the example. No one is required to follow the example, but many people will because it's better than the way they had.

And I don't need to worry about what anyone else is doing. I just need to worry about what I'm doing and other people can decide to emulate me or not, as they see fit.

So I'm comfortable with myself these days and I'm comfortable with how that interacts with groups dynamics and I have figured out how to be me in an empowered way and play to my strengths. I no longer feel crippled by the fact that I am not comfortable trying to lead in the same way men lead and it also is never accepted by the group when I use male tactics. I'm me and I'm not a doormat and it's all good.


I wish one day I report to a female boss.


I have a female boss now and its the worst job I've ever had. None of this is because she's female, just to point out that it's probably got more to it than just male/female.


I don't know that gender per se fixes it. Historically, men were in charge of certain kinds of work, the kind that is now paid, and women were in charge of other kinds. These complemented each other.

As we move away from traditional family and tribe or community based social organization towards more paid work, our male leadership patterns seem to have become more dominant and we have lost that balance. Women with serious careers are frequently socialized to lead like men and they are sometimes harsher than the men as if to "prove" themselves or out of bitterness.

I'm not sure how to fix this, but the Jessica Livingston story seems to be the exception, not the rule. From what I gather, she and Paul started the company together as equal partners and he soon roped his previous business partners into it. But it was initially the two of them.

When you have a male dominated organization and women rise through the ranks, they seem to typically be broken of such feminine leadership styles. They typically have to lead like a man to get promoted.

I'm not sure how we get there because currently the default expectation is that women learn to lead like men to get leadership roles.


>As we move away from traditional family and tribe or community based social organization towards more paid work, our male leadership patterns seem to have become more dominant and we have lost that balance. Women with serious careers are frequently socialized to lead like men and they are sometimes harsher than the men as if to "prove" themselves or out of bitterness.

I'm glad you took the risk in your initial post, as you've very well articulated something that I've noticed for a while - but couldn't capture as well. I'm highlighting this bit, because I think it's particularly balanced and insightful. In recent years, we've read about how broken many men are - how they're emotionally shut off and how depressed it makes them in the long run, but when discussing the ills of patriarchy, there's still a large group that attributes it to whining feminists, failing to realize that it hurts us all. Imbalance will always have negative effects - politically, socially, economically, spiritually, etc..


Thank you.

I think that's a really key point and it gets missed because most recorded history is male history. Men operated in the public sphere and most history is about that public sphere. It's really hard to find records at all about what went on in the private sphere. So our written records wind up de facto being an ode to male power and male tactics and we completely miss the fact that there was this whole other thing going on privately and it was a very big part of the world, but there is very little record of it.

So we wind up discounting it entirely and not even recognizing that it existed. It's a huge blind spot.

There's an interesting book about the history of technology for doing housework called "More Work for Mother." It details how in the past 300 years or so, we have very much reframed work in order to divide up domestic responsibilities and paid work. With the rise of money, we needed to free up male labor from the domestic sphere in order to empower men to bring home a bigger paycheck so everyone was better off.

Historically, men beat the rugs. Then we invented vacuum cleaners and vacuuming was "women's work." Historically, men took grain to the mill to be ground into flour. Now you can buy flour at the grocery store.

There were countless ways in which men were involved in running the household that got handed off to women so men could do paid labor. And now women are also doing paid labor and there's all these problems. And people fail to see the connection in part because they don't know how labor was divided up 300 or so years ago. They think the way it was done in the 1950s was always the norm and this is absolutely not true.

So there's a huge piece missing and we don't even see that it is missing and we wonder why in the hell things aren't working smoothly.


> they are sometimes harsher than the men as if to "prove" themselves or out of bitterness

Not out of bitterness, but rather because you are often assumed to be weak, emotional, and incompetent as a women and you need to overcome that negative bias. There's no such negative bias towards men in the role.


1950 are not representative for whole history and upper classes livestyle was rarely representative of how majority of people lived. Don't use 1950 middle class utopia as representation of how genders historically acted.

Also, those women are not "acting like men" nor doing something against nature. They are acting like people in lead positions, full stop. Just because it used to be only men being in that position in the past does not mean that women in same position should be expected to do something else.

It is not male behavior, it is leader behavior. The "feminine" style is largely adaptation to different situation - the one where you don't have much direct power and where you depend a lot on how people feel about you. It is normal and healthy to adapt to changing circumstances.


> They are acting like people in lead positions, full stop.

No. There are core differences that push individuals towards different leadership styles.

E.g.: "Replicating previous findings, women reported higher Big Five Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism scores than men." -https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3149680/


[flagged]


You said "They are acting like people in lead positions, full stop."

"Full stop" here would mean that there are no other variables at play.

My answer was "here is a study that shows there are variables at play."

I fail to see why this anger you.

There's more to the article than the headline. Reading through, you see this part:

"Neuroticism describes the tendency to experience negative emotion and related processes in response to perceived threat and punishment; these include anxiety, depression, anger, self-consciousness, and emotional lability. Women have been found to score higher than men on Neuroticism [...] The one facet of Neuroticism in which women do not always exhibit higher scores than men is Anger, or Angry Hostility".


That study does not prove those women "act like men". They still act like women normally act without anything unnatural in play, despite your misuse of statistics. It is perfectly within normal female behavior. They also act like pepole in leadership position because that is what is effective. Really.

So no. Neuroticism is as unrelated as a guy on spectrum throwing autistic temper tamtrum, because both types are failures at getting into leaderahip position, politics and anything where you make decisions under pressure.


I remember the quote "There are two types: women and people. When a woman acts like a person, she is accused of wanting to be a man". Who wrote that? I forget


A) You said: "There are no more variables".

B) I answered: "Here are some variables".

That's all. I did not write anything else. You are building your own straw man, having a fight with it and ending up angry.


I'm not sure I follow. The above poster claimed that women's and men's leadership styles are often different - not that one is any better than the other or that all men are distinct from all women. I fail to see how pointing out mental differences between women and men disproves this statement. If anything, it reinforces this statement about average differences between genders.


I said nothing about the 1950s. Please revisit my first comment where I spoke of my personal struggles to make sense of my life and find a path forward for me personally.

If you would like to back way, way off of your outright dismissive position, we can try to bridge the communication gap here. But if not, I don't see any point in continuing the discussion.


You largely described 1950 middle class ideal in gender roles.

The kind of work women did in the past periods is paid now too. Households were making own candles, cloth, raised animals for food, killed them, bed sheets, soap and so on and so forth. A lot of stuff you buy now would be crafted by women. Outside of 1950 homemaker or rich people, women in the past could not afford to be only nice and gentle. Women sold on local markets (based on local museums) while men went to sell away. Nannies and servants were paid (poorly). Women even worked in mines based on mining museum - they were separating rocks which is not as hard as mining (they were paid less then men obviously). Kids worked too. Also, still in mining areas, male miners tensed to die young while women and kids continued to live and continued to need money. Which practically meant, making things and selling them.

Same after wars. Men died, at periods a lot, women continued to live and needed to feed themselves and rest of family. That is the thing about male protectors and conquerors stereotype - they die or get disabled and remaining men can't replace them so easily.

There was patriarchy but also a very real need to negotiate well on market. A lot of those expectations is rich upper class thing - behavior you can afford only when you are rich enough not to be economically productive.


You largely described 1950 middle class ideal in gender roles.

My first comment was about primate research, specifically bonobos. You are projecting an awful lot that is in none of my comments here.


From comments above:

> Historically, men were in charge of certain kinds of work, the kind that is now paid, and women were in charge of other kinds. These complemented each other.

Seems pretty similar to idealized nuclear families of the mid 20th century

> As we move away from traditional family and tribe or community based social organization towards more paid work, our male leadership patterns seem to have become more dominant and we have lost that balance.

Now we're even talking about "traditional family" organization.

I'm not making any statement about whether this view is right or wrong, and I know plenty of families in traditional roles that lead fulfilling and financially stable lives - my parents among them. That said, these comments absolutely do describe "traditional" families where men and women's work are largely segregated. The above commenter is absolutely not "projecting an awful lot".


Currently I've got a good female boss, with which I appreciate working a lot. But I don't find that she works differently from the other good male bosses I've had the privilege of working with.

Note that I am in France so I think that leadership model here are different from America.


Maybe I'm projecting, but what this translates for me is "many people hate their jobs". And of course they often try to hide it, because they need the money. Or the reputation, acknowledgment, or whatever.

I've never done well at work that I don't enjoy. Indeed, at work that doesn't show up for me as play. So much so that I've been homeless (or very close to it) at times.

But for stuff that I do enjoy, I've tended to get obsessive and driven. Because it's been so much fun, and/or so much of a challenge, and such a rush when things worked out. In other words, I tend to be a workaholic.

But otherwise, if it wasn't (or was no longer) fun, I've found myself focusing on something else that was fun. And in many cases, that became my next career. At least four times.

For example, I spent several years working as a data geek. But how that started was managing snailmail lists for community groups. In Reflex, an early semi-relational database in DOS. And over a few years, I migrated through Access and eventually SQL Server, and was doing basically forensic accounting on enterprise-scale data. At home ;)

My point is that I've been lucky. But many seem to get stuck doing stuff that they can barely stand. Because they're constrained by obligations to family or whatever. And in any case, there are lots of jobs that need done, which too few people would really consider fun.


> And of course they often try to hide it, because they need the money

I suspect this is behind at least some of it, there's an expectation that we pretend to love our jobs and pretend everything is great, lest we be branded "not a team player". It's an extra mental tax with no benefit every day of work.


I quit my software engineering job last May because of extreme burnout. I took 5 months off and just started working again and feel really good. Something is seriously wrong in this industry


The fact that you can quit your job and not starve to death is a sign that something is seriously right about the software industry. Poor peasants living hand-to-mouth don’t have the luxury of burnout or sabbaticals. They work every day or their family dies.

Being more generous, I think a work patten more like a tour of duty in war may be desirable to encourage. Work hard in a high stress job for a period of time at the metaphorical frontline and then rest and recuperate.


"Listen kid, just be glad you aren't a peasant."


Having worked as a farmworker in the past every day I am thankful that I have a cushy office job. I live better than the kings of 200 years ago lived let alone my poor ancestors.


Exactly. Spend a summer nailing shingles to roofs in 100F weather all day, and then complain to me about how awful an open office is (with air conditioning and a comfortable chair to sit on). I’m grateful every day that my old man pressured me to get a technology education so I didn’t have to destroy my body daily doing construction like he did.


>Exactly. Spend a summer nailing shingles to roofs in 100F weather all day, and then complain to me about how awful an open office is

Both can be awful.

Just because physical labour is physically tiring, it does not follow that mental labour might not be even more stressful.

I worked farm labour in my 20s and those were some of the best jobs I ever had.

Every meal was a banquet and I slept like a log. Potatoes tasted so good, it was as if I was eating ambrosia.

I also believe that the body and the mind need to be worked together.

The disembodied work typically done in offices is unbalanced, and can be very taxing.


Kings 200 years ago didn't have to spend most of their lives working.


Are you sure about that? From the but of history I know, monarchs had extremely busy schedules and high demands on their "free" time, and I don't expect that all of that was particularly fun.


Especially having to go around "curing" scrofula by the laying on of hands [0].

0. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_touch


statecraft is a job. It's a popular fiction that historical monarchs spent all their time indulging their hedonistic impulses, but it is fictional.


There's a big difference between "be glad you aren't a peasant" and "be glad you have the luxury of not working for 5 months". One of those things is a luxury 99%+ (WAG) of folks in the US cannot afford.


It is healthy to have a proportional sense of gratefulness for the good things you have. Even if someone else has more.

When you live an easier life than 99% of humans, that's worth being grateful for.

Interestingly given the context of this thread, I think the attitude of always needing to be angry, always focusing on negatives, always demanding more, always blaming others and obsessing over grand injustices can itself tip some people into mental illness.

It's a memeplex thing, though. Constant rage at injustice is a great way for a memeplex to turn people into highly-motivated ideological soldiers. It's a technique used by demagogues from Stalin to Hitler to Castro and Kim, and which you see today as well. But the need to always emphasize that rage and injustice and resentment can definitely push some people over the edge. Gratefulness is a good antidote, in proportion with a balanced and contextualized understanding of the problems of the world.


I'd be more sympathetic to this view if injustice wasn't so glaringly common, and often the things you're grateful for only started to exist because of said injustice being fixed, so it seems backwards to complain about people bringing it to light.


I dunno. I'm grateful for simple things like sunlight and a good sandwich. None of these are related to "injustice". I even stopped intentionally following the news because the whole concept of worrying about injustice seems so draining and almost pointless.


Interestingly given the context of this thread, I think the attitude of always needing to be angry, always focusing on negatives, always demanding more, always blaming others and obsessing over grand injustices can itself tip some people into mental illness.

Absolutely, and social media only amplifies these “oppression Olympics”.


> When you live an easier life than 99% of humans, that's worth being grateful for.

There is nothing "easier" in feeling unhappy or angry. Mental illness is widespread across billionaires despite their wealth. It's also well known that mental illness is less common in traditional, less developed societies.

> ... I think the attitude of always needing to be angry ... can itself tip some people into mental illness.

No. People cannot artificially create mental illness in themselves by simply thinking "negatively". There is no simple self-destruct button in our mind: people need to go through (untreated) trauma, pressure, abuse from external sources or diseases or serious genetic conditions.


People can abuse and mistreat themselves as much as they can be abused and mistreated by others. Negative self-talk, for example, can cause real issues. So can suppressing emotions.


This is a classic "Appeal to worse problems" logical fallacy. Because other situations could be worse then your problem is irrelevant. It goes all the way back to your parents telling you that your problems are irrelevant because there are starving children in Africa.

Here's a wiki on it. https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Not_as_bad_as

It's one of the purest most common logical fallacies used.


It would be if I was actual using the “appeal to worse” fallacy. I didn’t say that the OP’s problems were irrelevant, only pointed out that the software industry is doing something right (high pay for one) if it allows people to quit because they feel burnt out.


You absolutely did if you look at your comment. But whatever helps you sleep at night sir.


You realise war generally leaves soldiers a wreck of a human right? You probably need to deconstruct that fantasy a bit.


> Poor peasants living hand-to-mouth don’t have the luxury of burnout or sabbaticals. They work every day or their family dies.

There is plenty of historical evidence that shows otherwise.

In most subsistence societies people, including farmers, worked far less than now and with less pressure, lived in a more social environment and had a lot of holidays (especially in the middle ages).


Are you seriously arguing that the average peasant had the luxury to not work because they were feeling burnt out?

Not that it matters too much, but a holiday in the Middle Ages didn't mean the peasants didn't work, it just meant that they didn't eat meat. Otherwise it was work sun-up to sun-down 6 days a week for barely enough food to keep your family alive - that is provided there was not a harvest failure two years in a row.


Or, you know, build an industry that doesn't burn through people...


Businesses don’t generally burn through people for fun, it is a function of the competitive nature of industry that results in pushing people to their limits (and sometimes beyond).

You are more than welcome to start your own business with a more relaxed environment, but don’t be surprised when a company with a lower work/life balance puts you out of business.


You're outlining the problem but presenting it like an inevitability.

That's why we're in this mess. We see these things as inevitabilities.

You know what that means? We don't control them. So we're going to create a bad situation for ourselves because businesses cannot pull out of a basic game theoretical problem? You think this is OK and not worth looking at? What is even your endgame here?


You are attributing to me approval when all I am doing is describing the problem.

I don't have a good solution given the current economic system.


> You are more than welcome to start your own business with a more relaxed environment, but don’t be surprised when a company with a lower work/life balance puts you out of business.

This quote from your earlier comment comes after you finish "describing the problem".

Taken together, the rhetorical effect is an expression of fatalism. Your formulation accepts the currently destructive state of affairs. It's disingenuous to say "all I am doing is describing the system".

You're describing the system and then subtly suggesting any attempt to improve matters is folly.

EDIT: Fix number agreement in first sentence.


I am not accepting the current state of affairs, I just don’t have a good solution to change it. Neither does the GP, nor anyone else here.


Germany somehow manages to be an economic powerhouse while still having strong employee rights and generous work-life balance as the norm.


Yes, overall work-life balance is certainly better than in other places, but mental health is still an issue here. 13 % of all days absent due to illness are attributed to mental health problems[0]. Especially in jobs, where you have lots of responsibility and pressure for very little material reward -- nurses, geriatric workers, teachers.

[0]: https://www.deutsche-depressionshilfe.de/depression-infos-un...


I would say at least people feel free to take time off for mental health reasons. I worked in the US, and I think people don’t think of stress and mental health as legitimate reasons to miss work. They still take time off for those reasons, but much later when they start to manifest themselves in more physical ways.


It wasn't always like this, so it doesn't always need to be like this. It's just like this now. Assuming it can never be changed or saying that someone "is free to solve it" isn't super helpful. People can recognise things are problems without having the immediate capacity to alter reality to suit the solution.


We sit at a desk writing code. Air conditioning, comfortable chairs, often free snacks and high pay. I realize burnout is real, but until you’ve worked as a refinery worker, on a road crew or a police officer, it’s hard to say that something is wrong with “this” industry. Every single profession has burnout. Every single profession has stress. Most people should be so lucky to have the opportunity to get burned out in one of the highest paying professions. If our industry has a problem, it’s that its practitioners don’t really know what actual suffering on the job is all about. The luxury of taking 5 months off is something unheard of for most typical middle or working class people.

Not to diminish burnout, but claiming that the industry has a problem is just incorrect. Some employers might have a problem — but employers in all industries have problems. The best industry in the world has shitty employers and the worst industry in the world has great employers.

Any normal working class person would laugh at this. It’s like first class travelers complaining about quality of the champagne at the airport lounge. We are immensely lucky to get to do this job. I get close to burnout from time to time, but then I remember what it was like before I got into this industry when I got evicted and slept in my car while DJing at dirty strip clubs just to be able to afford food. I would have given anything for the chance to burnout sitting in an Aeron working with all this incredible technology.

Perspective.


Telling yourself that you have it better than 99% of the world is only a temporary and ineffective remedy to career dissatisfaction. The answer is introspection, finding out what is missing, and the life-long pursuit of self-actualization and eventually transcendence.


Question: have you experienced burnout?

From what I've seen, people have a limited... chain...? Regardless of how "good" their situation is. Some people shoot for "luxury" jobs because they know they won't survive otherwise. It doesn't really make their situation "good", and I see absolutely nothing gained from "it could be worse".

Do we all want to be like refinery workers?

If a person burnt out at an office job ends up committing suicide, while the refiner worker is just mad at life, it raises questions.


So what do you think about Doctors, whose pay is even higher than software, but whose discontent is even more widespread?

Doctors really are committing suicide, but it’s still better than landscaping, so do you just laugh?


I've worked in other industries, especially borderline minimum wage jobs. I've worked just about everywhere at a fast food restaurant, as a clerk for a retail store, unloading freight for another retail store, inspecting, sorting, and transporting parts for a factory, as a server for a restaurant, and stuffing envelopes/packing boxes for a distribution company, as a guy who had about seven reponsibilities at once for a video game publisher (video editor, qa overseer, build tester, pitch evaluator, producer, designer, asset creator) and watch in desperation as our games failed to find an audience to the point where the company eventually closed down.

I've had to deal with vindictive bosses, black fridays, rush hours, sweltering buildings, running all over the factories and buildings, jerk customers, bad press, and all sorts of other crap I've long since forgotten about.

But I've never had anywhere near as much stress in any of those as I have as I have as a software engineer. When you have 10+ different people hounding you to do different things, have tasks in 6 different programs this iteration while having to juggle tasks by other developers, when an architect thought something would take 8 hours but neglected to take into account five different complicating factors and it ends up taking you a full week with increased pressure placed on you to get the damn thing working, when there's a totally esoteric error that you and everyone else in the company or on the internet has no idea how to identify, let alone fix, but you're expected to figure it out anyway. Or figuring out how to get 12+ different technologies (frameworks/languages/platforms) to play nice together all at once, etc.

I'm sure there are other industries that have similar issues, but, software engineering is a more unique than most, because you can work around the fuzziness of people in just about every other industry. With computers if you don't get the incantation exactly right, the computer will not work with you, period. It just won't work, until you eventually find a way that it does.

I still enjoy the logic puzzle to a certain extent, but the shine of the industry is starting to go away and I'm tired of being stressed out all the time, to the point where I pretty much have to take three months off in between jobs just to feel sane again. I've been working my current job for the past three years and I'm pretty much fried. Every day I have to fight the urge to quit, remind myself I can't afford to do that right now.


You are comparing high paid jobs to minimum salary jobs. Apples and oranges. There are other careers out there that pay similarly without any of the issues our industry face. There's nothing special or "lucky" about STEM. You can be lucky if you are someone who is not affected by those issues, but that's all the luck there is to it.


You’re absolutely right and you’re getting silently down-voted by cowards who find it uncomfortable to take an honest look at their lives and realize how great they have it compared to 99% of the rest of the labor force in the world.

I’ve done manual labor and dead-end fast food service work, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I currently find myself gainfully employed in a comfortable office.


While programmers definitely experience burnout, the causes described in the article (fear of losing your job etc) are probably not characteristic for our industry.


The news article (and hence the headline problem description figures) are to market the charity's new site which brings together resources for helping with mental health at work.

https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/

It looks useful - stuff for line managers, policy stuff, stuff specifically about alcohol etc.

Mind are a well respected charity in the UK.


People certainly seem to be unhappy on incredibly large scales these days. I read an interesting piece in what I think was the Atlantic 6-ish months ago, and it basically boiled down to: We're not broken, our culture is.

I wish I could find it again, but I haven't been able to, because it expresses perfectly ideas that I had been meaning to write, for some time.


A theory I've heard on this topic is that until recently, evolutionarily speaking, it was realistically possible to be the "best X" that you and your compatriots were aware of, in some field, for some X. The best musician, basket weaver, mechanic, farmer, carpenter, parent, what have you - because the maximum number of people you could realistically compare yourself to was probably in the four figure range, tops, and likely closer to the low hundreds for most of human history.

Now, with global awareness being exposed to the best of billions of people, it is not realistic to aspire to be the "best" of anything. I don't think we're close to understanding the full impact of the removal of this particular incentive.


I would assume that most people have been unhappy for as long as there have been people.


    In the beginning the Universe was created.
    This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely 
    regarded as a bad move.

    - Douglas Adams


Exactly. It seems the better our lives get the more focused people become on trivia. When you are struggling to earn enough money to keep your family alive then concerns like having a fulfilling job are not at the top of your concerns.


It looks to me (really little more than a hunch) more like we've bettered our lives immensely in most physical ways (removing disease, hunger, cold, etc.) but pulled the rug out from under our feet on the social/fulfillment end of things. We've taken an axe to most forms of community (to some extent family as well) and sucked all the necessary social interactions out of every day tasks.

It could just be me idealizing a past I didn't have to actually live through, I'm not old enough to have experienced anything else, but it seems like that is where a lot of human happiness and fulfillment comes from.


We tend to idealise the past like it is some sort of costume drama - in reality the community of the past was very restricting. You did whatever your father did if you were a man and raised a dozen kids (most of whom died) if you were a woman. Forget about choice or living the life you wanted.

One thing I think many are missing today from our lives is some sort of painful rite of passage struggle to give us perspective. When nothing has gone seriously wrong in your life it is all too easy to focus on the trivial.


It certainly was restricting, we didn't tear down those institutions for no reason, but how do we go about assigning relative importance to them? If I had a strong community but no choice in my occupation (especially if I had been raised that way from birth) would I be happier? I instinctively want to say no, I really really like freedom, but I don't think I have any real idea. It's also not to say we can't have both, perhaps we've traded one unhappiness (lack of freedom and harsh conditions) for another (lack of community and meaning through directly helping people you care about) and our eventual destination is finding some happy medium between the two.


My experience in life is people’s happiness level seems to be fairly independent of what happens in their life. The happy are happy and the unhappy unhappy.


There's a named phenomenon to describe what you're talking about: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tocqueville_effect


I have a simpler theory: people have always been miserable, the causes have not been fixed, but we have started measuring them. So we're slowly realizing how bad things actually are.

Peoples' lives get better in the context of what we're aware of, but core problems have never been addressed.

The core problem being that your life is largely not yours.


We're all certainly products of our culture (if you want a quick illustration of this spend some time in a distant culture).


You'd probably enjoy Lost Connections by Johann Hari. I recommend the audiobook.


It must be said the influx of mis-information, now over-inflated egoes, greed and terrible mental health of the masses creates a society that is mentally sickening towards others.

Every time someone with clarity and genuine intent points that out, society points a finger back, saying nothing is wrong with society. Something is wrong with your attitude. Therein lies the reason for this degrading mental health of the masses.


I can recommend Erich Fromm's "The Pathology of Normalcy" - he's a well-known psychotherapist and author of the 20th century. He argues that we have a systematic problem and that treating mental health problems on an individual level is not going to solve the root problem. Basically, the structures we live in make us sick mentally.

This book is a great read and shows ways to solve this problem.


I used to read articles like this and feel like it gave me some excuse for feeling terrible myself. But then I realized that, nah, I have to just take responsibility for this on my own. Exersize and good (carb limited) diet and a good amount of sleep (and all the necessary vitamins), that was the key to me (not thinking my way out of it). (As well as avoiding toxic people and spending most of my evenings reading[1]. I rarely code on my spare time. That comes with career tradeoffs, but I'm ok with making them.) Sure it sucks that it's widespread, and maybe it aught to have been a call to action for me to fix the situation on a larger scale (create a company to tackle mental health), but those thoughts can prematurely add burden on you while you could've much more quickly solved the problem by simply ignoring all the world and its mental health problems and focus on improving your own life.

[1] If you feel like "books are boring" then that's a sign you're not following your bliss. Put down that boring book. There are plenty to go around. You'll read at most maybe 1000 books in your life, and there are without a doubt a thousand books that all make you feel like you can't put it down. If the book you're reading isn't that, eject as soon as possible (before you've sunk even more cost into it) and go out searching for one you think will tickle the interest nodules in your brain to an ecstatic degree.


I think you got it backwards. It's good that this worked for you, but this kind of thinking leads to a race to the bottom where the original cause is continually increased until individuals who can get out of it basically cease to exist.

What's important is not whether some individuals can pull out. What's important is the overall effect.


I totally agree that it's a systemic problem and that society shouldn't ignore it. I'm not trying to shift blame from institution to individuals, it's just that I myself have noticed that thinking too much about how this was a problem in the bigger picture put unnecessary friction in a project that was already challenging enough (going from an unhealthy state to a healthy state).

Just because I'm talking about this in public doesn't mean this is how I think the public think about it. Imagine my original comment as advice given in a dimly lit intimate one-on-one conversation, not something I'm shouting from a stage.

I want institutions and policymakers to think of it as a systemic problem, but I want individuals to know that the most efficient strategy for they themselves is to ignore all the worlds ills and focus on using their limited energy in a way that is least likely to fail.


This article makes me think of the time I spent several hours discussing with my grandparents, on how they survived in the 50s, 60s in the UK.

At first I was shocked about how my grandfather could finish up his work as a joiner, and then spend another week going around shipyards, factories and other places looking for work.

When my granny had my mum she only took two weeks off to look after her. Then started working part time as a seamstress.

I asked them if they ever felt sad or depressed and they flat out said no. They said they didn't have the time to be like that.

I wonder if I would have been the same if I time travelled back to that era.


I've heard this line of reasoning before, and it glosses over a lot of the traditional downsides of this lifestyle - things like extremely heavy drinking and public or domestic violence. You got a "tighter" community at the expense of extreme conformism socially enforced.


This is a very good point.

I think another factor is the type of Jobs. Joiner and Seamstress are jobs which create something useful.

Many jobs today do not create such obvious value, people see numbers on a system change and are in constant competition with their peers - opposed to "enough work for everyone.

I write code for a college and manage their MIS - there are days that are great where I see the value I am providing and problem solving.

Then there are days where I feel so powerless and trapped by the system and I can do nothing about the issues I have with this job (lazy co-workers, managers not including target audience in the development, no technical specs/generic wire frames I need to fill out to an entire project, project manager having 0 technical proficiency) all because this place is a minefield of regulation over performance.


Indeed. This is part of the whole "bullshit jobs" line of inquiry; also "emotional labour".

> trapped by the system and I can do nothing about the issues I have with this job

You've been given just enough autonomy to take psychological responsibility for how the thing turns out, but not enough autonomy to actually make it happen. A common route to misery and self-blame.


If you'd grown up in that environment, then yes, of course you would be the same as them back then. Genetics certainly hasn't changed much in two generations.



I don't think memetics is applicable in this case since the idea assumed he was born and raised back when his grandparents were. (Same sperm and egg, different culture.) Maybe you're right about epigenetics though, I don't know enough about that.


It's poorly understood and not a given in the sense that we don't know that it would be different.


"Only half of people talk to their employer about health and MH issues"

Well there might be something systemic there.. like the culture of a lot of companies to "manage out" what they see as "troublesome" employees -- union reps and members, the unhealthy... Things like the rampant misuse of Bradford Factor Scoring (which the University of Bradford School of Business disowned some years ago) basically guarantee that taking sick leave or asking for help will result in a dismissal.


I wonder if there's any historical data back to the late 90s, and how much might be driven by anticipation of future economic conditions.

I know at my work there's a sense of---not quite despair, but---waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even though the recession is officially over, the whole system still seems fragile.

I'm sure there's other factors at play too, but I feel like at a macro scale the economy is towards the base of a society's pyramid of needs. It's a proxy for availability to food, shelter, etc. James Carville said it best: "it's the economy, stupid". Looking at the CCI[1], although it's recovered a bit since 2008, it's below historical levels.

IMO, while there's plenty of other issues, it makes sense to address the more fundamental ones first. But I don't have any solutions---just my two cents.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_confidence_index#/m...


I've been contemplating this problem since I first met Greg Baugues at UIUC, when he was giving a talk[1]. The thing is, I feel employers actual would / do care about mental health (generally); at least to a point. We're all humans... It's just an uncomfortable topic for pretty much everyone involved.

As an employer how do you approach the problem? Ideally, you could identify improvement methods, and implement them. This would make employees happier and work harder; while at the same time make employees have a better life (win-win). This makes me think it has likely more to do with the interaction between the people/employees or the lack of long-term strategy of a business.

[1] https://www.greaterthancode.com/2017/05/17/episode-033-menta...


This is what happens when you make the definition of mental illness so loose that almost everyone is captured. While it might help those with an axe to grind or a vested interest in ramping the numbers, it doesn’t help those with serious mental illness problems.


That's a useful perspective, I think. I mean, isn't it useful to distinguish between "poor fit for job" and "mental health issues"? Would we expect mentally healthy people to do well, and be happy with, any arbitrary sort of job?


The supposed aim of all this trivialization of mental illness appears to be to destigmatize mental illness, but in practice it just prevent us from helping those who really need help. When 75% of the population is labeled as having a mental illness then we can’t find those who really need help - the finding a needle in a pile of needles problem.

The reality is most people are unhappy with their lives (at times) and always have been and only a small percentage are seriously unwell.


> The reality is most people are unhappy with their lives (at times) and always have been and only a small percentage are seriously unwell.

If you ask me most people being unhappy with their lives is a problem.


Isn't that rather a symptom of modern society? As others have noted.

Still, it's certainly not that modern society is horrible. Far more people (especially in "developed" countries) live far better lives (materially, anyway) than at any time before. But maybe what's missing is meaning. Family and other social connections. Like "Why am I doing this?"

Maybe it's just an unavoidable consequence of the extreme specialization of labor in modern society. And that there are many important jobs that just aren't much fun. Or at least, aren't acknowledged or rewarded well enough. Don't come with enough status.


Why would this be a modern phenomenon? Nothing I've read of history leads me to believe this is a modern phenomenon. People in the modern world just have more of a voice.


I guess. So have people always hated their jobs? Maybe so. Even hunter-gatherers probably complain about needing to hunt and gather all the time.


In the UK the definitions have a fair amount of consensus and the loss of productivity is one of the motivations for a range of employers organisations to support this initiative.

The UK's Mental Health Foundation gives these figures:

   >  1. Mixed anxiety & depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain,
   >      with 7.8% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis.
   >  2. 4-10% of people in England will experience depression in their lifetime.
   >  3. Common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are distributed 
   >       according to a gradient of economic disadvantage across society. The poorer 
   >       and more disadvantaged are disproprotionately[sic] affected by common mental health 
   >       problems and their adverse consequences.
   >  4. Mixed anxiety and depression has been estimated to cause one 
   >      fifth of days lost from work in Britain.
   >  5. One adult in six had a common mental disorder.
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/fundamental-fac... [pdf]


I wonder how much of a contribution is made by 'having to work' in order to survive. I suspect that most people would happily never work again if that was an option, and if that is the case then most people are spending a large percentage of their time doing something they don't want to do. At that point, issues with mental health are no surprise.


Well, considering that "work" as it's commonly defined means "tasks done at the orders of a superior", it can hardly help but be mentally harmful. Any task done under the control and for the profit of another is in some sense abuse.


Many of the comments here align very closely with ideas presented in the unabomber manifesto.


The survey is done by a charity that accepts money from corporate sponsors. Dubious source at best, paid shills at worst.


This forum is owned by a corporation and functions as their main marketing tool.


Yes and I don't accept Y Combinator's word as empirical science either.


Are you suggesting that there are corporations paying 'shills' to say that workplaces are bad? Why would they do that?


The very charity that conducted the survey that concludes that "half" of employees have mental health issues, also happens to be a charity to help address mental health issues.

Also, they need more money! https://www.mind.org.uk

> We won't give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.

In a perfect future where everyone with mental health problems got support and respect, I'm certain this charity would re-define mental health to a more broad definition, so that they could demand to continue funding, rather than voluntarily shutting down after having met their original goals.


It'd be terrible if we got scammed in to creating a perfect future. That'd be awful.

:)


Well you're joking, but it happens. Not the perfect future, but people being drawn and duped into following "gurus" or "schools" that promise exactly that, only to be slowly bled of all their money and sanity. And in the field of psychology or mental healing, it's probably more prevalent than elsewhere.

But that's just an aside.


There is lots wrong with this article, including what you mention, but also, they fail to define what they mean by the terms they use such as: "experienced problems with stress, anxiety or low mood". That can pretty much cover a lot, if not well defined.


It's a PR article to get you on their website, not a scientific study. ;) There you'll probably find more indepth info.

Though, I didn't last long on their website. I don't have patience for video/audio, and I couldn't quickly find content on "what is mental health," to them.


YC community at its best :)


I'm extremely sympathetic to mental health issues, but this article is based on a survey by a mental health charity. This is junk science.


In Europe specialist jobs are highly taxed. Knowing that every month you have to give away almost 40% of your earnings, how much you had to sacrifice, you start to question whether it all makes sense. Way out is to take anti depressants and pretend everything is fine or ask for a raise so that you get your net pay and what you have been paying in taxes and then try to ignore even more tax you have to pay.


It differs depending on where in Europe you live of course, my perspective is from the Nordics. I see it, instead of "they take x % of my pay", as that we collectively decided to fund these healthcare, paid vacation, maternity and paternity leave, education, child care, social security so that everyone has a fair chance and are taken care of.


I suspect this kind of mentality only works in a fairly homogeneous society, where everyone enjoys the collective benefits fairly uniformly.


Yeah, I'm from western EU and share that same idea. I don't mind paying the taxes because they are put to good (imo) use.

Which is interesting - my wife has a quite different background (North America) and sees the socialism as a waste of money, as it mostly helps the poor and disadvantages the 'less poor'.

Personally, my view is that right now my family has it well, but it might not be like that forever and _maybe_ the system will repay itself and maybe it won't, but I'm happy knowing that it's there just in case.

(On a related note, she also thinks it's silly that over here we have a lot of insurances)


I'm a software engineer working in Sweden, a country I chose because of its strong welfare society among other things. With a good salary, I'm paying more tax than the majority of Swedes, my marginal tax rate is over 50%, and in the election last weekend I voted to increase one of the taxes in favour of healthcare spending. My point is that paying a lot in tax doesn't necessarily make you less happy, let alone depressed. The way I view it, I'm contributing to a system that ensures affordable education/healthcare for everyone, and extra social assistance for those in need, things I believe really help the society as a whole.


you're not contributing to that system freely though - the mechanism of the state takes away your agency to freely help others in this way. You can rationalise it that you're contributing to the welfare of others, but the reality is that your money is being taken from you and put into a bucket marked "welfare" that will go to welfare but also be inefficiently wasted, spent in ways you don't agree with, and so on. At least under private charity you can engage in effective altruism (or at the very least claim altruism).


I have nothing against private charities but see them only as a complement to state-run programs. The social improvement that comes from people having healthcare/education/etc requires that the vast majority of people have it, not some, and not even a simple majority.

I view it somewhat similarly to herd immunity through vaccination. When you have a 95% vaccinated population, diseases can be eliminated. When you have a 50% vaccinated population, it's of course good for those 50%, but doesn't provide the same global benefits.

Is some of the welfare money wasted due to inefficiency? Yes, of course. But for a task of this scale, which has to provide benefits to everyone in the country, I only trust the state with it, and not a private entity.

Can I opt out of the system? No, but freedom isn't a single variable you can straightforwardly optimize for. In this case, I believe the infringement on individual freedom through taxation results in considerably higher total freedom when considering all individuals in the society.


see, I don't think the state is very good at dealing with issues like this because from such a high viewpoint, the state can either apply a one-size-fits-all policy, or provide a localised but drastically oversimplified strategy for specific regions that will require more overhead for managing the many regional subdivisions. Providing for social healthcare is a good thing (at least within the context of how our nation states currently operate), but I think it should be devolved down to local authorities with perhaps a state-level overseer to monitor their performance.

I'm of the strong belief that central management at scale is unilaterally inferior to decentralised and devolved decision-making that can more effectively take local variables into account.

> But for a task of this scale, which has to provide benefits to everyone in the country, I only trust the state with it, and not a private entity.

Trusting the nation state and trusting a private (presumably either commercial or charitable) entity are not the only two options. The charity and taxation options can both occur at a local authority, or a community, level.


Too much centralization is definitely bad (for an extreme example see the Soviet economy that was centralized to a ridiculous extent). But government doesn't have to mean centralized, to take the Swedish system once again, the healthcare is handled at a regional level, within the national legal framework. This does take local variables into account, which is important - different parts of Sweden can actually have significant differences in the medical situation.

It's still state-run in the important sense that the legal mandate comes from the state. This is a major advantage over private initiatives in my opinion. To take a simple example, say there's a legal requirement that people who cannot use their legs are entitled to receive a wheelchair. When that's the law, it means the government (regional, local, whatever applies) has to make it happen, even when it's inconvenient or expensive. When it's a charity or a private initiative, it might not have enough money/incentive/commercial interest/insert reason here to cover everyone.

Admittedly my views on centralized vs. regional governance aren't sophisticated due to my background. I live in a country of 10 million, which isn't too big globally, and I moved here from a very centralized country of 2 million where devolved decision making only makes sense in truly local issues.


that seems reasonable to me. To recontextualise it in software terms, the requirement comes from the state but the solution comes from the local level. As long as the requirement isn't overly prescriptive (e.g. "people who can't use their legs are entitled to a wheelchair" vs "local authorities must invest 50M SKR in departments X, Y and Z") that's a good solution. My aversion to the idea of a central state (though I don't have a proposed solution to this) is that because there is no antagonist to push back on poorly thought out requirements, states trend towards centralised prescriptive solutionising which I believe to be the root cause of the problem with centralisation. A classic example was the Soviets as you mentioned earlier, with their economic planning committee (Gosplan) explicitly telling factories how much steel to produce and who to send it to. It's one of those problems that pops up in different areas like software development and management practices too.

Markets are good at preventing this because they separate the requirements (the customers) from the solution (the producers) and provide a Darwinian process to optimise for the best performers, but markets have their own problems and inefficiencies that make them a poor fit (like markets' tendency to ignore customers with unique or rare requirements, meaning people with rare diseases or multiple problems get rejected or priced out by medical markets). There are market-oriented solutions that libertarians propose, such as evening out costs through medical insurance, but markets will always leave cracks people can fall though (such as those who cannot afford insurance, or immigrants with pre-existing health conditions) and introducing state mandates into the market often fundamentally break the market itself (see: US health insurance market). State legislation leaves cracks too when written badly, so neither is a perfect solution in practice. I don't have a solution to these problems because I think they're rooted in patterns of thinking rather than systemic design, but they're interesting to think about.


Ideally, the "requirements" (laws) that the state creates are kept reasonable by the "producers" (population) through democratic mechanisms. Or, put it more simply, if the government passes stupid laws, the elected officials can be voted out and replaced. This is a check that only exists in a democratic system - in the case of Soviet economic planning, there existed no democratic mechanism to change the system.

I was amazed by the concept of free markets when first learning about it, and it seemed like letting market forces play out should result in an optimal situation for consumers, though now I am more cynical and mostly expect bad consequences like monopolists putting effort into not allowing competition.

So due to the different nature of efficiencies and inefficencies of state and private actors, I currently prefer a system where the government is very involved in key areas of human rights, social welfare and basic needs (so education, healthcare, welfare payments, management of physical/mental disabilities, the justice system), and the private sector is mostly handling technical innovation, consumer goods, manufacturing, most services, etc.

Hopefully we've not yet reached the global optimum of these systems and can see both government and markets evolve positively.


lmao if you think people are taking antidepressants because of a 40% tax rate


Jobs are taxed equally, but the people who earn more also contribute more. There is no shame in that, it allows most Europeans to actually live in a society worth contributing to.


You keep telling yourself that while tons of engineers, doctors, and scientists keeps leaving to the states or Canada.

It's easy being happy about the taxation regime when you do 35 hours a week. It's not uncommon for a doctor to do closer to 60h and up to 70h.

And quality of life isn't even that great. Crumbling infrastructure, long wait for public hospitals, dirty streets etc.


I've lived in France and the US. Until your friends have taken the bus in a major US city (or a suburb thereof) in a non-tourist area they have no idea how good their quality of life is. And I was in Paris where, yes, most side alleys smell awful and most areas with anything resembling nightlife have at least one poor soul passed out on some porch in their own fluids by 1am. Still doesn't compare to the look on the faces of the (mostly black and Hispanic) legions of America's glad-to-be-working class.

The US has in some ways a fascinating culture. People there, especially in the middle class, can be driven and open in ways that are usually outside of the imagination of even middle-class eighteen-year-olds in Europe, well-educated or traveled though they may be. But in America some of them start out having already lost, and they know it, and they truly in their hearts believe it's their fault. And it's heartbreaking.

I paid taxes in the US, you know? And it was the worst. Because I was still paying those 20% or whatever it really was, but I couldn't see where they were going. It could have been the court system I guess. Every other block had some kind of sign with something prohibited and "violators will be prosecuted" written on it. The roads were nice.


I don't know the statistics of how many leave, so you might be right.

I don't "do" 35 hours per week, so I'm not sure where you are going with this.

The last bit is (almost) laughably wrong and tells me you have no idea what you're talking about. Even if that was all true, the US has tent cities of vagrants that keep being kicked to another city to be their problem, people that freeze to death in the streets with literally nowhere to go. Let me wait 6 months or however long it is in your fantasy universe. Anything to prevent contributing to a society that treats people like the worst of the meat industry treats it's cattle.


In the UK, once you reach £100k they tax you at the 40% rate plus begin removing the tax-free allowance. Giving you an effective tax rate of 60% up to about £121k. That's on top of the 20% VAT and 20% corporation tax paid out by the company. And employer's/employee's national insurance. And the VAT on any goods you buy with the earned money and fuel duty if it's petrol.

I'm a contractor so I can choose to stop earning at that point - and I do. If other people are taking the same philosophy I'd imagine they're losing quite a lot of money.


You can't sum the marginal rate to get the 'effective rate'.

The effective rate of income tax in the UK is closer 37%, not 60%, at an income of £121k. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Percentage_IT_and_NI_and_...


Ugh. I meant marginal.


That's the feedback I have been getting constantly from my friends (young couples most of the time) who are now doctors (cardiologist, gynecologist, etc.). It really sucks for them, I do not envy their situation one bit. It's in France btw.


Didn't like the sentence 'Poor mental health affects half of all employees', as if employers were responsible.


In the context of stress at work, who would be responsible if it's not the employer?

For the majority of people their employer wants to pay them as little as possible and get as much effort back as they can, with rigid and bureaucratic rules in place because there's basically no trust in the business. That's stressful. I think the majority of us here on HN are very fortunate in the sense that we either work for an employer who's invested in making sure we're not overly stressed (startups and tech companies are way better than most businesses), or we are the employer and we get to choose how much stress we take on.

For the majority of healthy people, especially without kids, work and their employer is their primary source of stress.


In my opinion, a lot of is going to boil down the social issues we've collectively headed towards. Before getting there you really have to consider how much vastly better the work situation is for most Americans today than practically ever before.

Today the average American only works 1,765 hours a year. [1] That is less than practically any time in our history. And real compensation is also higher than it's ever been. [2] You'll find the sensationalistic articles constantly reference only real median wages. That misses the great increase in compensation - bonuses, matched retirement/investment plans, insurance, profit-sharing/equity plans, paid time off, paid sick leave days, etc. Only considering the hourly wage by itself, and median at that, is not informative and even disingenuous.

The point is we work less and we get more. If you transplanted these conditions back to previous eras, it'd be like imposing a utopia on people! But what else has changed? Now literally the majority of Americans remaining single. And there are also more people living alone than ever before. And when there are married households most have both husband and wife away at work each day.

I don't really understand how people manage to live like this, and it seems to me the answer is that they aren't really managing to! A wife is somebody you can rely on, and you somebody they can rely on, in a way far different than a friend or fling. It'd sound metaphorical but perhaps it's quite accurate to say you both literally keep each other sane! Countless studies have shown greater mental health and even greater life expectancy among married couples. We've gone from a hardworking childbearing married nation, to a nation of single childless households working fewer hours than ever before. And this has been, at least in part, precipitated by a variety of social changes we have mostly supported. In any case, not something I'm going to blame on employers.

[1] - https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/AVHWPEUSA065NRUG

[2] - https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/COMPRNFB


It should be blamed on employers, though (and the systemic, if you will, but employers have more power here and I believe blaming the higher power entities is more appropriate than lower power entities). Employers are why more people have to work. A lot of what you're referring to relies on a chunk of people not working, and that has been eliminated, you just didn't notice because a lot of this work was not called work.

> Today the average American only works 1,765 hours a year. That is less than practically any time in our history.

For one, you're forgetting a certain half of all workers that just was conveniently never counted.

For another, it's a question of scale. It's like, going from 100% to 90%. It will always look good, but it's not that big of a difference in practice. You have to evaluate it objectively. And, objectively, it just sucks.


This is almost a tautology; of course not working, not doing anything at all would be less stressful.

But work is way less stressful today than, say, two generations ago, yet people are falling like flies. I don't deny the problem but the problem is elsewhere.


not doing anything at all would be less stressful

On the contrary, people who are out of work find the loneliness, isolation and lack of feeling like a productive person incredibly stressful.


Two generations ago one income was enough for a family and work-work and family-work were split among a couple. Today people are expected to just do both.


One income is still enough. It’s a question of priorities and lifestyle expectations.


Not if you want to stay middle class.


'Work culture' is an unnatural form of menticide that has increasingly encroached into our lives.

Many employers try to hold it back but the general trend has been to select for self sacrificing drones, despite the effects on mental health.

The labor strikes have been glossed over in history but they happened for very good reason. IMO they'll happen again.




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