How Silicon Valley taught America to treat work as a religion

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At the opening of her four-day self-improvement seminar, Jennifer Spargifiore was held in isolation for hours till a screaming man broke the silence, yelling that the attendees have been “nothing.”

The degrading expertise “more and more resembled a cult initiation ritual as time went on,” reads a go well with filed final yr by Spargifiore, a former Panda Express cashier in Santa Clarita, Calif., towards the quick meals chain. By the third day, she was requested to strip down to her underwear. 

Spargifiore alleges that Panda Express “pushed” its staff to attend the 2019 applications, run by Alive Seminars, so as to be thought of for a promotion. She was making an $11.35-per-hour wage on the time, and stated she had to pay tons of of {dollars} out of pocket to attend.

Seminar leaders confiscated cellphones, eliminated all clocks, and blacked-out the home windows making it really feel to her like “the interrogation of terrorist suspects,” the lawsuit states. One seminar worker instructed Spargifiore, then 23, to think about herself on a sinking ship the place she may solely save 4 of her staff. They advised her to think about a shiny mild sucking out her “negative energy.”  

Panda Express co-founder Andrew Cherng, a fan of self-help bestsellers, saw his fast food chain sued by a former cashier for a self-improvement seminar that felt more like
Panda Express co-founder Andrew Cherng, a fan of self-help bestsellers, noticed his quick meals chain sued by a former cashier for a self-improvement seminar that felt extra like “a cult initiation ritual.”
Gina Ferazzi

The go well with, which is now in non-public arbitration, highlights the intense “work as religion” philosophy that has exploded within the final 40 years in America. Panda Express billionaire co-founder Andrew Cherng is well-known for lining his offices with self-help bestsellers, a favourite of his being “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” (Panda Express didn’t reply to requests for remark by press time.)

The seminar’s ways are rooted in a philosophy propagated by Silicon Valley tech corporations, which push the concept that “meaning is the new money,” in accordance to the brand new e-book “Work Pray Code” (Princeton University Press), out now.

Silicon Valley companies push a “techtopian” philosophy that “meaning is the new money,” author Carolyn Chen writes.
Silicon Valley corporations push a “techtopian” philosophy that “meaning is the new money,” creator Carolyn Chen writes.
SpVVK

Author and sociologist Carolyn Chen calls this philosophy “techtopia,” the place “people find their highest fulfillment in the utopian workplace.”

Chen spent seven years interviewing greater than 100 Silicon Valley engineers, entrepreneurs, enterprise capitalists and the service employees who “care” for them — everybody from non secular gurus to therapeutic massage therapists. She took their meditation lessons, attended their “dharma” trainings, labored out of their infrared sauna gyms and ate of their regionally sourced connoisseur food-filled cafeterias.

This infusion of that means makes it simpler — even fascinating — to work tougher, she writes.

Charismatic tech gurus, such as the late Steve Jobs (above), achieved godlike status in the industry.
Charismatic tech gurus, such as the late Steve Jobs (above), achieved godlike standing within the business.
Bloomberg

Instead of decreasing hours or workload, tech employees are guided to work on “self care,” which entails all the things from maintaining a healthy diet and discovering hobbies to “connecting with friends and ‘the Universe,’ ” writes Chen.

“Workers who are ‘well’ . . . are more productive, can work longer hours, and are more creative and resilient,” in accordance to inside analysis from one unnamed firm, which Chen cites within the e-book.

Or, as one human-resources skilled stated bluntly: “We can’t work them 24/7 unless we give them flexibility.”

This philosophy stems from the earliest days of Silicon Valley in the course of the Cold War, when machine know-how was seen as the evolutionary advance that will save mankind from itself, in accordance to historian Margaret O’Mara, creator of “The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America.” And it has grown as charismatic tech gurus, such as the late Steve Jobs, achieved godlike standing within the business.

Chen’s analysis topics are nearly all males, and most are white or Asian. Eighty p.c had moved from locations outdoors Silicon Valley, marooned there with out the assist buildings of household, associates or neighborhood. Chen describes them as “far from home, alone, young, impressionable.” Work is their solely outlet to fill within the “meaning” hole.

At one unnamed startup, Chen met workers who “sing at work. They stretch at work. They believe they are healthier at work.”
At one unnamed startup, Chen met employees who “sing at work. They stretch at work. They believe they are healthier at work.”
Noel Hendrickson

Jobs aren’t simply methods to receives a commission, they’re “journeys” or “paths,” writes Chen, particularly since working in startups does depend on a appreciable quantity of religion — 90% of them fail. People don’t essentially need to make more cash, they need to “make things” or “do good.” Colleagues are “family.” 

“Work conversions” are widespread. People who’ve been bullied, ignored or rejected their entire lives out of the blue discover a place to thrive and shine. One of the few girls Chen interviewed described the change: Once “quiet and lacking confidence,” now she instructions the room. She stated her ties to her “work family” are stronger than to her actual household. “I can say no [to my mother] just like that but cannot say no to my company because they have helped me become who I am today.”

Twenty-two percent of mid- to large-size American companies include some form of mindfulness practice in their companies, including Aetna and Nike.
Twenty-two p.c of mid- to large-size American corporations embody some type of mindfulness follow, together with Aetna and Nike.
Getty Images (2)

At one unnamed startup, whereas “breaking bread” with colleagues and selecting amongst six do-it-yourself flavors of natural ice cream, folks laughed in teams and listened to music. “They sing at work. They stretch at work. They believe they are healthier at work. One man told me that a professional workshop on communication saved his marriage. Another woman told me that because of work, ‘I learned to be me.’”

‘People are not ‘selling their souls’ at work. Rather, work is the place they discover their souls.’

“Work Pray Code” creator and sociologist Carolyn Chen

These are lofty sentiments from people who find themselves notoriously overworked, in fixed hazard of burnout and stress-related well being circumstances, the place job turnover is excessive and a few folks even dwell of their automobiles as a result of they will’t afford the sky-high rents in Palo Alto. Ninety-two p.c of the folks Chen interviewed labored 50 hours or extra a week — a third reported greater than 65 hours a week.

Walmart and Taco Bell have reportedly hired chaplains to deal with “spiritual issues.”
Walmart and Taco Bell have reportedly employed chaplains to cope with “spiritual issues.”
Getty Images (2)

Still, competitors for expertise is fierce. Companies know that it’s not sufficient to pay folks handsomely or provide free fancy meals — there wants to be a higher objective behind work, or “satori,” a life path. 

Tech corporations are totally conscious of the significance of meaning-making. Google sponsors work applications with names like, “Search Inside Yourself.” Salesforce, the cloud-based software program firm that owns Slack, invited monks to go to two annual gross sales conferences. Legal tech agency Euclid employed a Buddhist dharma trainer to “help people reconnect with themselves” and “liberate them to be fully alive” in a sequence of companywide applications.

Companies host retreats at the “Trailblazer Ranch” (above), where meetings happen in outdoor areas called “the Cathedral” and people can throw pebbles into an intention pond.
Companies host retreats on the “Trailblazer Ranch” (above), the place conferences occur in outside areas referred to as “the Cathedral” and folks can throw pebbles into an intention pond.
Instagram @1440multiversity

It seems that the bead-wearing non secular adviser who recommended machiavellian CEO Gavin Belson on the HBO satire “Silicon Valley” isn’t any joke. In the real-life Silicon Valley, there are precise positions referred to as “chief spiritual officers” who assist information “high-pos” (or excessive potential staff) to “be their best selves” or “tap into their authenticity.” Religious gurus are on website to assist folks tailor their so-called “cathedral stories,” or how they join to their larger functions. (In a cathedral story, the sad builder solely is aware of he’s lining up stone blocks; the joyful employee is aware of these blocks are constructing a cathedral.)

“People aren’t showing up to work asking, ‘How do I become a great manager,’” one director of human sources at a tech firm advised Chen, “but, ‘How do I become great person?’ ”

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff (above) is inviting all 10,000 of his employees to a retreat at the Trailblazer Ranch, where yoga classes take place in an old chapel.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff (above) is inviting all 10,000 of his staff to a retreat on the Trailblazer Ranch, the place yoga lessons happen in an outdated chapel.
Bloomberg

While Silicon Valley could be the epicenter of experimental self-improvement (simply try what number of tech workers fast or microdose psychedelics to obtain higher readability or productiveness), the “work as religion” philosophy has unfold throughout the nation. According to Chen, nearly each Fortune 500 firm has some form of religiosity baked into its company construction — from inspiring mission statements to charismatic leaders — and lots of corporations have actively gone “spiritual” to drive up the underside line.

For the previous 40 years, the office has efficiently unseated spiritual establishments as a major that means maker, proper after household, in accordance to a recent Pew survey. High-income staff work longer hours than ever and are much less probably to take into account themselves spiritual, writes Chen. People who don’t have any religion — “religious nones” — have tripled up to now quarter century. At the identical time, companies have modified their methods, utilizing new incentive buildings like acquire sharing and inventory choices to carry folks into the company “family.”

Author Carolyn Chen spent seven years interviewing more than 100 Silicon Valley engineers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and the service workers who “care” for them.
Author Carolyn Chen spent seven years interviewing greater than 100 Silicon Valley engineers, entrepreneurs, enterprise capitalists and the service employees who “care” for them.
Ella Sophie Bessette

“People are not ‘selling their souls’ at work. Rather, work is where they find their souls,” writes Chen.

Today, corporations take the soul much more actually than ever. Self-help books, retreats and self-improvement seminars are commonplace. Companies like Aetna and Nike have embraced mindfulness and meditation — in actual fact, 22% of mid- to large-size American corporations embody some type of mindfulness follow. Walmart and Taco Bell have reportedly employed chaplains to cope with “spiritual issues.” One mining company even encourages employees to place stickers on their laborious hats expressing psychological and non secular “love languages” as a type of appreciation for his or her colleagues.

During the pandemic, work grew to become one of many solely constant lifelines to the remainder of the world — in the meantime, a Pew analysis ballot confirmed that COVID decimated church attendance. “One manager said that her team is working even harder now,” writes Chen of work life throughout lockdown. “Without their daily commute, and with nowhere else to go, they are channeling even more of their energy into work.”

For the past 40 years, the workplace has successfully unseated religious institutions as a primary meaning maker, right after family, according to a recent survey.
For the previous 40 years, the office has efficiently unseated spiritual establishments as a major that means maker, proper after household, in accordance to a latest survey.
Kelvin Murray

Now, as folks return to their workplaces amidst the novel reshuffling identified as “The Great Resignation,” corporations are even additional incentivized to prioritize that means at work. Salesforce is already doubling down by inviting all 10,000 staff to an off-site retreat on the so-called “Trailblazer Ranch,” the place yoga lessons happen in an outdated chapel, conferences occur in outside areas referred to as “the Cathedral” and folks can throw pebbles into an intention pond.

But Chen says there’s a severe draw back to discovering our sense of spirituality and higher objective at work. Meaning, she explains, is just not a limitless useful resource. “There’s a meaning bank. When you’re drawing and giving devotion to one thing, then you’re taking that same devotion from something else.”

Work Pray Code

In different phrases, as we work increasingly, now we have much less time to have interaction in civic organizations, and fewer hours to spend with our households and family members.

Chen believes that is the largest hazard of the techtopia: “We lack those communal spaces, those sources of fulfillment that give us substantial meaning outside of work.”

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