At the Rainbow’s End: On the Phantom Boss

At The Rainbow’s End.

A few days ago, I took an evening hike to Hunter’s Point at the end of Rainbow Road in Cupertino, California. It’s one of the trails just outside of the city, where you can encounter couples on dates, mountain lions, and deers, and where in just a few minutes, you can get to the point where you get an overview of the whole valley.

It was a beautiful evening. I sat down on the bench at the top of the hill and observed the whole Silicon Valley falling asleep in the distance. And yet, something didn’t let me fully enjoy the moment. It was a Sunday evening and something on my stomach was making me feel anxious and insecure about the upcoming week. What’s up, Nat? — I was asking myself. — You are a free person, so what’s your problem?

The Phantom Boss.

It’s been over five years since my contract at the university expired. After that, for the next two years, I mind wandered and tried multiple routes. For the subsequent three years, I was developing my own little business. For all these years, I was a free bird, not watched nor supervised by anyone. I could work any time, from anywhere.

And yet, after all these years, I still feel some weird sort of anxiety on Sunday evenings. On Sundays, I feel like some big unknown is coming, even though technically, Mondays are quite similar to Sundays in my agenda. I just can’t help it… Even though no one expects my progress reports or presentations anymore, I feel as if a phantom boss of sorts was watching me.

Who knows, perhaps it happens because I am conscious that on Monday mornings, when all employees are back in their offices, they will start mailing and calling, and my mailbox will get stuffed with tons of unnecessary correspondence.

Perhaps it’s because I know that working on the weekend — when no one expects you to do so anyway — is way more peaceful and relaxing than working on the working days, when you are expected to stay on the phone. In other words, it is all about other people’s expectations.

Or perhaps, it’s because after decades of education and working in a regular weekly mode, we are conditioned to naturally fear Mondays — even if we enjoy our jobs. Every coming Monday puts us in a state of alert and vigilance as if our bodies were preparing for a fight.

The History of the 40-Hour Workweek.

Who came up with the idea of organizing a workweek into five daily blocks in the first place? The worldwide trend to normalize labor to an eight-hour working day kicked off in 1866 when the National Labor Union was formed to protect the interests of labor in the US.

It was the peak of the industrial revolution. Millions of factory workers were exploited and worked in inhuman conditions. On August 20, 1866, the Union asked Congress to pass a law mandating the eight-hour workday. The law was rejected but inspired Americans to pay more attention to labor rights.

Illinois was the first American state to formally adopt the eight-hour workday. Despite massive protests among the employers, the law mandating the eight-hour workday was passed on May 1, 1867. This day was written in American history as “May Day.” That inspired Americans around the country to organize massive protests on behalf of an eight-hour working day every May for another twenty years.

On May 19, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant issued a proclamation that guaranteed an eight-hour workday to all civil servants in the US and encouraged private companies to introduce the same working scheme.

In 1890. The American government researched workers’ hours. It turned out that the average workweek for full-time manufacturing employees was over 100 hours (!).

On September 3, 1916, Congress passed the Adamson Act, a federal law that established an eight-hour workday for interstate railroad workers — engineers, firemen, brakemen, and conductors — and additional pay for overtime work.

On June 25, 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limited the workweek to 44 hours, nationwide. Two years later, on June 26, 1940, the Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to the final 40 hours. Nothing changed ever since, which means that the 40-hour workweek is a remnant of the Industrial Revolution.

Today, officially, a 40-hour workweek is still in place. However, as a result of the corona crisis and the Great Resignation that came with it, many employers now offer a 4-days workweek to attract talent and stay competitive as employers. At the same time, in many working cultures such as the consultancy industry, employees take pride in the fact that they work over 40 hours a week.

The attitude to work also differs from one region of the work to another. The American view of work-life balance is very different from Europeans. While Europeans tend to glorify the work-life balance, play it cool, and pretend they work less than they do, Americans tend to glorify hard work and pretend to work more than in reality.

But, how much should we work in fact?

How To Deal With a Phantom Boss? On Natural Working Patterns and Homeostasis.

To my mind, any fixed workweek is suboptimal. Of course, there are facilities such as hospitals where you can’t just give employees full freedom in terms of working hours. But in the vast majority of jobs, a certain degree of freedom should be the norm.

Similar to individual sleeping patterns, people have individual working patterns that keep their bodies in homeostasis.

For some people, it is 8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, and 8 hours of sleep 5 days a week.

For some people, it is 12 hours of work, 4 hours of rest, and 8 hours of sleep 6 days a week.

For some people, it is 16 hours of work, 3 hours of rest, and 5 hours of sleep 7 days a week.

And for some people, it is 4 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, and 12 hours of sleep 4 days a week.

There are no “right” or “wrong” rhythms, similar as you cannot say that being a morning lark or a night owl is right or wrong.

This is also why I am a fan of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs). In a DAO, everyone has equal status and an equal contribution to decision-making. Everyone assigns tasks that they prefer, is paid either per hour or per task, and works according to their personal schedule — in harmony with their own homeostasis.

The Phantom Boss Network.

After my little hike toward Hunter’s Point, I started talking to my entrepreneurial friends about the phantom boss problem. It soon turned out that most of them experienced similar problems to a certain degree.

This is why I decided to start gatherings on Mondays, dedicated to entrepreneurs and freelancers — with the purpose to work hand in hand, get to know more people, chat and party, and start our Mondays together and on a good note. I believe Mondays don’t need to be scary if you feel supported and you have the right people around you. The first meeting of the Phantom Boss Network will kick off here in the Valley, and the next ones — back in the Netherlands. Let’s see where it takes us.

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A neuroscientist helping professionals in finding their dream career paths at ontologyofvalue.com Privately, enthusiast of tech with affinity to blockchains.

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Natalia Bielczyk, PhD

Natalia Bielczyk, PhD

A neuroscientist helping professionals in finding their dream career paths at ontologyofvalue.com Privately, enthusiast of tech with affinity to blockchains.