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Why tech talent is in the process of abandoning Austin

(AUSTIN TECH) There is no single reason Austin tech talent is packing their bags, but a handful of factors have collided to create a tenuous situation.

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“Nothing’s keeping me here” is a phrase we keep hearing around town. Being in the center of the tech space, we’ve been able to keep my finger on the pulse, and what we thought was primarily housing that is driving folks out of town turns out to be far more insurmountable than we could have ever imagined.

A perfect storm is brewing as the housing market collides with a dramatically transformed workforce that has become accustomed to working remotely and shifted priorities.

Last time Austin was bleeding talent, the year was 2011 and most investments were focused on early stage startups and there weren’t enough open roles that were senior level, so we started losing people to competitive markets. In response, we built a massive employment hub (the Austin Digital Jobs Group (ADJ)) and volunteered hundreds of hours to help make Austin a magnet for high quality employers.

This time around, we expressed to the Group of over 55K members that we were frustrated that people were confiding in us that they were leaving (or considering it). Some are even people that we all imagined to be part of the very fabric of Austin tech. We feel helpless this time.

Many of these talented people said that the soaring housing prices in Austin had them eyeballing smaller towns in Texas, or worse, their hometowns outside of the state. There are only so many times you can try to buy a house, get rejected, or get outbid on 22 homes before you start looking at other places. Only so many people will accept a billion percent rent increase at renewal time before thinking that going back home to Louisiana’s lookin’ pretty good.

This week, Austin CultureMap reported that Austin now ranks number two among the most overvalued home markets in America.

Tesla is getting ready to open their Gigafactory, Oracle is moving their headquarters to Austin, and Samsung is currently trying to get buy-in from city officials in Taylor so they can build their mega plant near Austin. Home investors and firms from all over are salivating.

It all feels both exciting, yet overwhelming when you’re going to buy a house here, only to get outbid by $150K over asking price from an investor in California. It’s been demoralizing for so many.

Because we also own a massive real estate publication, we’re firmly in touch with that sector, and brokers in Austin are telling us that the summer was out of control and overheated, but they’re already seeing that hyper-activity slow a bit.

Housing alone isn’t enough of a reason for an entire sector to be packing up or dreaming of leaving. So what gives?

At last count, a thread in ADJ on this topic is at 806 comments, and I personally received several hundred more via direct message with people in tech explaining why they’re leaving or considering leaving.

There are challenges within the city limits of Austin that have bubbled over like crime and separately, the contentious issue of houselessness – it’s an ongoing and very serious issue that has people leaving downtown, but not necessarily leaving the surrounding areas.

So if housing isn’t the exclusive driving force, how has that problem combined with the employment market shifts? How has the job market changed in such a way that talent is ready to hit the eject button on this town? It boils down to a changing talent pool, fractures in the hiring process, a shift in priorities, and a lingering brokenness in the entire process that is exacerbating all other conditions.

Let’s dig into that further.

Because of the global pandemic, remote work has become a staple in the tech industry, teams adjusted and realized the office is more of a luxury than a requirement, and many large brands swear that they’ll never require their employees to come into the office again.

For that reason, tech workers’ expectations have been forever changed. Fully remote options will drive the market for years to come, and hybrid options or flex work hours will also be how large tech firms attract and retain talent – ping pong tables and chill vibes will be less of an appealing sales pitch.

The pandemic has also shifted the talent pool to include everyone in America – if all workers are remote, employers no longer have to look just to the local workforce. This talent pool expansion is a double-edged sword – if an Austin tech company can look to Nebraska for workers, then remote workers can look outside of Austin to other budding tech hubs, potentially shifting the entire environment. That’s the main driver for Austin brands continuing to hire in Austin, lest the entire ecosystem fail.

All that said, a disconnect in the job market in Austin tech remains. Holdouts from attitudes and old systems of the past linger on.

A theme we continue to hear from high quality candidates is that employers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. You already know the stereotype of job listings that say they’re entry level but require a decade of work experience. But as budgets tightened in the face of uncertainty, Austin tech companies are becoming phenomenally great at hiring someone to do three jobs that pay less than one. One of our Group members asserted that employers are looking for turnkey employees. It used to be that employer job descriptions were a realistic wish list and that if you hit over 60% of them, you might get an interview. Now people believe that the requirements are becoming unrealistic and if you meet less than 100% of them, there is zero chance of an interview. Many have complained that hiring managers and recruiters continue to not be aligned, slowing the process repeatedly.

The timing of the acceleration of unrealistic expectations has locals feeling like the pandemic created conditions that allowed for employers to take advantage of job seekers who must be desperate since the world is upside down. I don’t personally believe this has anything to do with the pandemic, rather it is a continuation of an ongoing trend.

If you think this is an exaggeration, just this week a job seeker let me know that a recruiter sent them a job description that required the “ability to code in any language.” WTF. The recruiter was serious. Try telling me this isn’t out of control and I will laugh right in your face, friend.

Another serious point of contention in Austin is that salary levels are not increasing anywhere near the skyrocketing living expenses.

Many believe the salary levels are a decade old and simply can’t keep up with the market conditions in Austin and while we’ll leave the “you are a remote worker, you shouldn’t earn as much since you moved to a less expensive locale” debate to another day, we will firmly assert that this problem will hold back the tech innovation and the overall economy in Austin.

In that massive thread in our Group, one member asked, “So I guess a question is: do we accept the idea that Austin is now only for those making 6 figures??”

What is so disheartening about the salary conditions is that changing this couldn’t possibly be done overnight – it requires time and structural changes, and the bigger a company is, the slower it is to turn the proverbial ship.

Meanwhile, numerous people retired early during the pandemic, or began freelancing or consulting full time. Many of these people aren’t likely to return to the workforce under current conditions, and they feel like they have less roots in Austin – they can live anywhere now. See how remote work has caused a ripple effect?

Do you remember when some tech executives in Austin reluctantly sent employees home as the pandemic hit, flippantly warning that it wouldn’t be a coronacation!? Bad behaviors like this and other employee treatment during the pandemic haven’t and will not be forgotten – the memories will remain as fresh as the time you got shoved by that bully in elementary school. You may have forgiven, but you’ll never forget. Trust has been broken.

Trust was also broken during the pandemic when people lost what they believed to be stable jobs. It has created a certain trepidation in the marketplace.

The pandemic has forever altered all of our lives as individuals. Thousands died from COVID-19, and those of us left behind lost loved ones. We were all sent home with no job security. Many of us became homeschool teachers and somehow also had to keep up with our careers. We were forced to share spaces with our partners, our children, our parents, our family.

Some would think all of this is a recipe for resentment, but in the majority of cases, what has happened is a serious shift in priorities to favor the family, to appreciate quality time, to find solace in more quiet time and a less full calendar.

People tell us they don’t intend on going out for drinks after work when they’re called back into the office – it turns out we actually like our kids or partners now that we’ve gotten to know them, or that we value our newfound connection to old hobbies. The priorities aren’t fleeting – this pandemic has changed us.

Because of this fundamental change in who we are, ongoing problems in the employment market are now magnified.

“Isms” still plague the hiring process. Ageism continues to be a very serious problem in Austin tech, for example. People tell us that they’re still experiencing sexism, racism, ableism, and every other sort of discrimination. In 2021. It’s unbelievable. You can say all of that is simply perception, but in this scenario, perception truly is reality. And because our priorities have shifted, our giveashitters are pretty low when it comes to tolerating bad actors.

That same shift has also lowered tolerance levels for burnout. One member in the Group pointed out that after the market crash in 2008, resource levels were depleted – and here we are in 2021, they haven’t been restored. People were burned out before the pandemic, and now they’re moving to the country to work remotely and begin healing this burnout that is coming to a head.

It’s difficult to deal with ghosting (be it computer-aided or overworked recruiters) when you’re already burned out and thinking you’re the only one. It’s giving this sector a terrible reputation that is spreading.

Resources aren’t the only factor here that is stuck in 2008. Companies were so used to getting a flood of applications for every single job listing, their ATS (applicant tracking system) filters were implemented accordingly. The volume of applications has dropped, yet the filters remain overly restrictive. They put their ATS on auto-pilot once upon a time, and it remains that way, yet they continue to reach out to us in confusion, asking us where all the applicants are.

In the eyes of tech talent, the hiring process has deteriorated. Simultaneously, in the eyes of companies hiring, the process has been improved. Enhanced.

The disconnect here is not in the unrealistic expectations previously outlined, or the rising opacity in salaries, but in the actual mechanics of the hiring process. Even smaller companies have added additional rounds of interviews and ridiculous red tape in what is an effort in vain to compete with the Googles of the world. There’s a lot of what I would call “playing office” going on, with non-technical hiring managers hiring for technical roles, or unrelated staff being roped into panel interviews to weigh in on whether or not someone is a “culture fit.”

The process has become lengthy and demanding with endless personality tests, whiteboard tests, Zoom calls, questionnaires, more phone and video calls, aptitude tests, and so forth. Most people have come to accept these as hoops to jump through, but the practice of having job seekers do extensive unpaid projects as part of their job application is creating deep resentment and a growing resistance. No one expects to shake a hand and get a job today, but doing a 12 hour assignment that is due in 24 hours is unreasonable, especially unpaid and with no promise of their intellectual property being protected.

It started off as a way to aide candidates into demonstrating their true skills and it was simple. But over time, the practice has “evolved.” It feels to some like every Austin tech recruiter and hiring manager went to some evil underground conference a few years ago and were brainwashed into thinking that if they ALL assign abusive tasks, no one in the sector will notice because they’ll just accept that it’s “how things are done now.” But that’s not happening and the overly complicated process combined with other market factors is driving seriously qualified tech talent out of Austin.

The hiring process has continued to degrade and for no good reason. We actually built ADJ in a way that would directly connect hiring manager and job seeker, promoting the concept of simplifying the hiring process. Yet here we are.

The final nail in the coffin is that candidates and employers are blaming each other for a power imbalance, and thinking that their situation is unique. A feeling of isolation is growing due to peoples’ inability to openly discuss this process – both hiring folks and job seekers.

The bottom line is that numerous market conditions have converged to create a scenario where people are tired and simply won’t settle anymore. Expectations have changed. And we have changed as people.

We will inevitably get hate mail because of this editorial and folks will say that the very publication of this piece will push people out of town, but we would argue that if no one makes an effort to diagnose the growing illness, it will metastasize.

This editorial was first published here on September 09, 2021.

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83 Comments

83 Comments

  1. JJ

    September 9, 2021 at 9:32 pm

    You nailed it. Spot on

    • Michele

      September 11, 2021 at 8:57 am

      Brilliant! The hiring process has become pretend-play: lots of nothing! Long, exhaustive, expensive, and in many cases, downright thievery, the hiring committee consists of superficial players, seeking individuals to fit in and/or when unfit, steal others’ intellectual property.

      Whatever happened to 1:1? In whose “one” culture is “one” to fit? Talking about systemic.

      Housing? How about the roads in Austin , its infrastructure? Poor signage? Schools and what they are taught or not taught? C’mon.

      It is ridiculous to have to submit résumés and cover letters for entry minimum wage levels, don’t you think?

  2. Robert Walker

    September 9, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    Elon is gonna screw Austin for years to come…so sad, Austin is another POS San Francisco. I won’t go back and don’t tell people where I live. I hope all you liberals choke on taxes ?

  3. David bortfeld

    September 9, 2021 at 11:12 pm

    Moved to Austin in 2012 from Orange County, California. Moved back to California in 2018. Why? High property taxes, my wife took a 50% pay cut at a job she hated, stagnated career progress for me, traffic far worse than anything I’ve experienced in Orange County, weather doesn’t hold a candle to California. I could go on. But why?

    • Chris

      September 10, 2021 at 3:34 pm

      These are all great reasons for y’all to get the he!! Out of Austin. No one asked you to come here. Please leave so I can have my city back. I here California needs you back

      • Anders

        September 10, 2021 at 10:05 pm

        Yes, please go back to California or wherever. Austin was once one of the greatest cities in north America, now it’s a s**thole

      • Ieee

        September 11, 2021 at 2:11 am

        Oh hush, you probably don’t even know the true history of Austin, you don’t anything.

  4. Zena Mitchell

    September 9, 2021 at 11:16 pm

    I thought your article was spot in, even leaving a few items out, like “Do we really need Indeed ” what do they actually do? Another layer of screening. Trying to get hired with the COA has been the most defeating because of thr supplemental questions. and I know the City hires people with very little experience because I have sat through some college presentations in the Small Business Workshops they offer. when you do finally get an interview and there is no call. one way or another after my time and investment. I realize I don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t respect my time. I am grateful you are writing about the hiring process, because it really isn’t working for those of us who have healthy work boundaries and understand our skills have value!.

  5. Melvin

    September 9, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    I am a tech ceo of a company that generates a few million and has raised around $10M. After 7 years in Austin, I moved. It didn’t have to do with hiring. It had to do with the fact that Austin for all of its rallying cries of being a blueberry in a cherry pie, did not care much about people of color. After a while it became clear that I needed to move to a place where I felt safer.

  6. Donna

    September 10, 2021 at 12:37 am

    I agree incompletely. Companies have been expecting far to much from Employees without true compensation & job protections. It has failed a they aren’t waking up to the reality
    of it. People are fed up…. Life is to short.

  7. Katy Washburn

    September 10, 2021 at 1:36 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! For being brave and saying exactly what’s happening. My heart breaks because of the greed that is allowed to exacerbate the housing industry, mainly for my son’s and their future. The very core of what we all need, to have a place to nurture ourselves and our families, is no more. Without a place to live, there is no future here. At 61 I plan to leave with my 32 year old son and his family when they have to leave. Ageism is real as I look for work. This recruiter business/ double interviews is ridiculous. It has slowed the process and caused me to miss opportunities and caused me to go further in debt. And I’m not in the tech industry. Houselessness will only get worse until we care about the core of families.The homeless are people that have experienced an extreme loss of family support. It goes full circle.

  8. An Gela

    September 10, 2021 at 1:56 am

    Loved this article. I was a hiring manager in Q1 2021 and also an applicant (all in San Diego, CA). I feel you’ve captured both sides of the pain!

  9. Leo Lotspeich

    September 10, 2021 at 4:13 am

    A fine piece. Anyone who hates this is in denial of the horrible situations that it is turning a spotlight on.
    As someone who is both looking for a career and a home (been in the apartment game too long), I see a lot of what has been described here. It is exhausting. It is isolating…and part of me wishes some of these people that have been flooding Austin and flooding our housing market would simply leave. The key word there is ‘some.’ Obviously if they all leave Austin will feel the impact. I feel it will become a delicate balancing act between employers adjusting their expectations and applicants gaging whether a certain ‘job’ will let them have a life outside of the business.
    Again, though, beautiful article!

  10. D. Y. Padilla

    September 10, 2021 at 6:45 am

    Goodj job identifying issues that are usually pushed under the rug an continuously operating as nothing is really happening, I work place or social environment.
    Watch out Austin?

  11. Abigaile

    September 10, 2021 at 6:54 am

    Great article thank you

  12. Ria Persad

    September 10, 2021 at 7:46 am

    Lani, no truer words spoken concerning the ridiculously narcisstic (and astoundingly counter-productive) hiring practices that abound pretty much everywhere. It’s like a disease. Thanks for your candor and total honesty. Let’s see if we can find a company with a real sense of reason and humanity out there. Does it even exist?

  13. Richelle

    September 10, 2021 at 7:49 am

    Excellent article! Thank you

  14. Jim

    September 10, 2021 at 9:15 am

    This article sounds like the Yogi Berra saying: nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.

  15. Withheld

    September 10, 2021 at 9:17 am

    We’re considering moving because frankly the Texas State Government is trying to kill us: woefully inadequate power grid, firearm ownership requires no training so any yahoo can own one, insisting our kids go to school unmasked so they can contracted a potential fatal but preventable virus, and such poor precautions for said virus that there are scant few ICU beds in one of the country’s largest cities making a crosstown drive a risky proposition in case you are involved in a serious accident.

    Oh, and 50% of the population now has less body autonomy than ever.

    Austin is great, but the madness of Texas is getting harder to dodge.

    • Don't CA My TX

      September 10, 2021 at 5:57 pm

      Please don’t let the door hit you on the way back to your CA cesspool. This is TX and there is a reason why it’s better than CA and people are flocking here for freedom.

      • Ieee

        September 11, 2021 at 2:14 am

        Lmfao you don’t even know if they’re from California. Texas has always had major issues and all we do is use capitalism to sweep it under the rug with the endless “job opportunities” the texan government tries to sell us. You’re in DENIAL.

      • Nicholas

        September 11, 2021 at 6:15 am

        Comments like this are why a good portion of the world had Texans. I have never meant anyone that has said “Texans, they have a stable head on their shoulders”…

      • JB

        September 11, 2021 at 3:52 pm

        Sounds like a bunch of bitter folks who didn’t work hard enough or take risk and are complaining about it now. Pack it up and leave if you don’t like it, nobody wants you here. Adapt or get chewed up or spit out. You are in America.. nothing but excuses here

      • Kevin

        September 12, 2021 at 9:58 am

        It was your city and your Texas politicians that asked everybody to come there. Blame yourself. Texas has always been lying about their shady history ever since it was stolen from Mexico. It’s kind of ridiculous to say that there is more freedom in Texas when the majority of people living there do not have much say in their government. Shame.

      • K

        September 13, 2021 at 10:33 am

        Why do you assume everyone leaving is going to CA? There are plenty of blue leaning states out there with working electrical grids.

        • JP

          September 16, 2021 at 4:52 pm

          DON’T KID YOURSELF….

          I once ran IT substation projects for Pacific Gas and Electric – California’s electrical grid is in FAR WORSE condition than Texas’ power grid is… California has regular brown-outs throughout the year and PG&E will intentionally turn the power off during fire season or high wind days. The California power grid is failing; it’s old, substandard and falling apart on every level.

    • Withheld

      September 11, 2021 at 1:03 pm

      I am sorry to lose people like you from Austin. California is a lovely state, just too expensive. The mean-spirited Texas politics, as illustrated by the other comment, are driving this once-and-potentially wonderful city into hell. I wish the racists and sexists and fascists would leave, instead.

    • Mark

      September 11, 2021 at 6:28 pm

      Please leave. Your values are diametrically opposite of most folks around here. We will be fine, really.

    • Charles Davis

      September 12, 2021 at 3:33 am

      We’re considering moving because frankly the Texas State Government is trying to kill us: woefully inadequate power grid, firearm ownership requires no training so any yahoo can own one, insisting our kids go to school unmasked so they can contracted a potential fatal but preventable virus, and such poor precautions for said virus that there are scant few ICU beds in one of the country’s largest cities making a crosstown drive a risky proposition in case you are involved in a serious accident.

      Oh, and 50% of the population now has less body autonomy than ever.

      Austin is great, but the madness of Texas is getting harder to dodge.

      You’re being untruthful, triggered, and Chicken Littleish.

      Crying over one time the power gave out during extreme weather?

      ¿Will you be requiring firearm training also for the felons?

      Your kids are not forced to go maskless- they are free to wear a mask, and you can vaccinate them if you’re so worried.

      No major hospital yet has run out totally of ICU beds “in case you get into a serious accident”

      People enjoy full control of their bodies- the reason for no mask mandate allowed. If you’re alluding to killing unborn baby- you’re still allowed before 6 weeks, or better still- use birth control or put the screwdriver in a different receptacle.

  16. Tara Iagulli

    September 10, 2021 at 9:22 am

    You are so right on with this article! I worked with tech candidates for 10 yrs at UT long before the Austin housing mkt was destroying dreams and back then the hiring process was ridiculous already. Recruiters would tell me they couldn’t find candidates who could code – then I would ask about their GPA screening – 3.5 – please! I’m also married to a talented software engineer and watching him spend a week on an interview project assignment while we have 2 toddlers when he already has 20 yrs of software development experience is just disheartening. One point you missed – working remote means you’re never allowed to take a day off – even when he was so sick & completely lost his voice he was still expected to be on Zoom all day – how come managers don’t treat tech employees like humans and “say stop working get some rest.” No in fact whenever he would try to say it’s too much pressure during the pandemic with all the work and 2 toddlers, his manager’s response was – “you get paid enough to deal with it.” Then when his private company sold they only gave us half the money we invested in their stock – literally stole from their employees to fund huge parachute payments for executives who can’t write a single line of code for the software companies they manage. This is common – here’s some stock options you have to vest and then buy and oh we sold the company sorry your investment is worthless. Yes we’re grateful he has a job and makes a good salary, but the attitude is bonkers. His company’s stock soared during the pandemic and they still took away the 401k match. Bottom line money matters, but people don’t stay just for money – employers need to make their people feel seen and appreciated for their work. Thank you for writing the truth!

    • CML

      September 10, 2021 at 1:26 pm

      “when his private company sold they only gave us half the money we invested in their stock – literally stole from their employees to fund huge parachute payments for executives who can’t write a single line of code for the software companies they manage.”

      THAT is the kind of thing that makes you just want to blow it all up. Infuriating!

      • Tara Mullins

        September 11, 2021 at 5:07 pm

        People selling their homes for more than there worth and not thinking about the tax hike their neighbors will suffer, and or others suffer for their greed is the real issue. It’s been going on here since 2000 and it’s grown into a monster…

        The hiring process and expectations are way out of control and was before the pandemic. Let the employers suffer for a bit, and we’ll see what happens next. Meanwhile earthship communities will rise and we’ll all just fly them the middle finger when the start begging for workers. Oh,maybe it’s already happening….

  17. Deb

    September 10, 2021 at 9:35 am

    Having lived in Austin for 30 years it’s hard to watch as your city is taken over by wealthy entitled people. When you can’t afford a home in your hometown it’s pretty sad. I say greed is driving things, everyone wants a piece of the pie…and well soon there will be no pie left.

  18. B Bunderson

    September 10, 2021 at 10:05 am

    On point! Completely agree as a 44yo skilled professional that is currently job searching here. We have given up buying a home for now and are even reconsidering why we moved here nearly two years ago.

  19. Craig Richard Hunt

    September 10, 2021 at 10:08 am

    In my world this article is completely true and the loss is real. I am currently leaving the downtown Austin area even though I used to love the town lake area. Sadly, the forever pandemic variants, impossible housing cost rise rate and 17 computer languages required by people who can’t name half of them are all to blame. On that note, Open Source Software is also a similar double edged sword. It feels like every programmer wants to invent a new language or product now. The concept and value of standardizing, which previously was used to build wealth in software and oil industry titans, are all lessons lost. That said, while some of us like me will be thrown out as the market forces normalize I am not sure this is a net loss for Texas or the USA. Maybe it is a good thing if we have MORE new neighborhoods in every county instead of the fortunate few who can still walk to a single community in downtown Austin.

  20. Casey James

    September 10, 2021 at 10:35 am

    Spot on analysis. I have a decent paying, dead end tech job. I’ve been through many rounds of layoffs, and frankly I’m tired of being expected to do the job of 2-3 people without a commensurate raise or even recognition. I’m constantly training my future replacements, who inevitably move on. Why would they want to continue working in a place with oppressive management when they can make the same money at a fast food joint? In the meantime, I can’t learn anything new because I’m needed where I’m at. My company likes to proclaim that we’re all in this together, but we’re not. This is NOT the company that I enjoyed working at for years, and my work ethic is broken. I’m trapped by my current rate of pay and accumulated vacation time. I’m basically holding out for a retirement package or the price of “the privilege” of living in Austin to become so high that I throw up my hands and leave. This is the sentiment of many of my long time coworkers.

  21. Jannene

    September 10, 2021 at 10:50 am

    An excellent article.

  22. Y Ali

    September 10, 2021 at 10:52 am

    I’m in tech and I moved to Austin recently. I got a better job and pay from my previous employer with similar job expectations. Also I receive 2-3 messages every week from recruiters for a new job opening. I agree to the skyrocketing housing prices is a problem in Austin, but to me rest of the points in this article looks incorrect.

  23. Mario

    September 10, 2021 at 11:09 am

    As a hiring manager, I appreciate this article. Hits home on MANY fronts. Thank you for take the time to research and write this. Phenomenal!!!

  24. Will

    September 10, 2021 at 11:32 am

    Nail hit directly on head. Great article / description / explanation.

    Read it, chew on it, digest it.

    Understand your position in this well-described work-culture-scape
    Look at it through the perspectives of the described ‘others who are not in your position’
    Respond and plan accordingly.

    Oh, and … Pass it on.

  25. Jeremy Lopez

    September 10, 2021 at 11:34 am

    Let’s talk about the big elephants. The crappy Texas policies on voting and reproductive rights are a little restrictive to put it mildly.

    TX leadership wants the tech money but not the people.

    • Protecting the unborn

      September 10, 2021 at 6:44 pm

      If what concerns you is the protection of humans where a heartbeat has been detected, then you can take your pro-murder policies to some other liberal cesspool.

    • Kevin Q

      September 12, 2021 at 10:06 am

      I’m sure that’s a big factor in people wanting to leave. There is inadequate representation in Texas government and the Texas government is conservative to the extreme. Until some big changes are made the entire state only represents older white Christian people.

  26. Amber Wimberly

    September 10, 2021 at 11:42 am

    I believe a lot of long time and native Austinites would appreciate it if a good number of the new people would leave. TBH

    • Chris

      September 10, 2021 at 3:48 pm

      Yes. Yes we would appreciate it very much!!! I even have a truck you can borrow and will help you pack and show you the fastest way out. That’s the beauty of it all. No one asked you to come or is making you stay.

  27. Dave Pedley

    September 10, 2021 at 11:46 am

    Thank you for the though provoking article. One element of people’s decision making process that was not addressed is the impact of the state legislative priorities that are turning Texas into Gilead. Perhaps in a follow up article you could expound on that, both on people leaving Texas and the effect on attracting talent to Texas.

  28. Robby TT

    September 10, 2021 at 12:00 pm

    let’s not ignore that the state of texas is taking away women’s rights, human rights, and voting rights while allowing anyone over 18 to openly carry a firearm anywhere they please without any training or licensing. these trends will begin to drive folks away from texas and specifically liberal austin in droves.

  29. Tommy Ward

    September 10, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    Cheap McMansions and good barbeque can attract a lot of people, but if enough people come the houses won’t be cheap anymore, or they will be located at the end of a nightmare commute.

    The current political climate in Texas is also going to be a turnoff for at least half of potential candidates.

    Pandemic related WFH policies have created a sense among talented knowledge workers that putting up with unpleasant location, commute, or culture is no longer a requirement for work.

  30. John

    September 10, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    Spot on. This should be in WSJ.

  31. The Coincidentalist

    September 10, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    I was stuck in Austin for just over 2 years due to COVID. I found Austin to be boring AF. Mathew Mcconaughey is a damned liar. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING “weird” about Austin. The place is practically sterile. And the culture? Outside the trend-hole hipster neighborhoods it’s largely comprised of willfully ignorant rednecks and their republican death cult Jesus’ gospel of “screw everyone else I’ll do what I want, I’m the son of god!”. That and the pervasive Sexual Exploitation … with a seemingly endless supply of Hooters knock offs and strip clubs. The food scene? A handful of mediocre pseudo high end places that are pretty good, but nothing to write home about and hands down some of the worst Mexican food on the planet

  32. Floyd Creosote

    September 10, 2021 at 2:53 pm

    Many good points made, but the problem is that there isn’t just one problem that can be easily identified and dealt with. There’s a whole mess of things that have come to a head right now. Some are local Austin problems, some specific to our industry, but I suspect the whole nature of employment is being rethought by a lot of people and things are never going to go back to how they were.

  33. ML

    September 10, 2021 at 2:56 pm

    When I moved back to ATX 5 years ago from Chicago, my money stretched further here. Living here has catapulted my career in tech, which I will forever be grateful for! But even with a good salary I find half of my monthly take home pay going to living expenses…rent and bills have gotten so much higher than Chicago. It’s making me want to move back.

  34. TruthIsHard

    September 10, 2021 at 3:33 pm

    Just because you can’t get a piece doesn’t mean it’s no good. Wasting time ranting here is not going to change the fact a city with the talent and nature and the safety without earthquakes, fires flood and hurricanes will keep growing and attracting capital

    • Ann Duncan

      September 12, 2021 at 9:27 am

      Uh…. balcones fault zone

  35. Rich Man

    September 10, 2021 at 4:16 pm

    The time has come for tech talent to unionize. If we don’t we will continue to be marginalized and mistreated. And I’m a conservative libertarian thinker. But sometimes unions are the answer. Just look at how much good ALPA has done for pilots. A union is not necessarily a socialist institution.
    Let’s unionize!

    • Meek

      September 12, 2021 at 12:09 am

      I’m sure unions are definitely socialist. Socialists had been very active in the US Labor Movement. Socialist ideology isn’t inherently bad.

  36. Dale Swanson

    September 10, 2021 at 4:19 pm

    I’ve got a few friends who’ve lived in Austin (and ultimately left, for good) including a couple native Texans. They cited everything said above. But on top of all that, they added the current – and ongoing – political climate, which has allowed George W. Bush, Rick Perry, and now Greg Abbott to take up residence in the Capitol, and fostered such socio-politcal fecal matter as a social media “censorship” law; a racially restrictive (and explicitly political) voting rights law; and the country’s most reprehensible anti-choice abortion law (which a packed and complicit Supreme Court deliberately let stand). On top of everything else mentioned in the article, and the responses, Austin is still the capital of Texas.

  37. Nick

    September 10, 2021 at 5:22 pm

    By Felicia

    • Michael Bruce

      September 11, 2021 at 4:14 am

      I loved Austin but had to leave in 2009. The escalating cost of living combined with the city’s abandonement of its middle class and poor is overwhelming for many.

  38. Justakbs

    September 10, 2021 at 5:24 pm

    When did Austin become the “center of the tech space”? ?

    • brian smith

      September 11, 2021 at 3:58 am

      LoL Austin traffic is bad, but nowhere near as bad as southern California.

    • Lawrence Stehling

      September 11, 2021 at 7:43 am

      Ah yes it’s all the libs fault. I recently discovered they’re to blame for ‘the human condition…-

    • K

      September 12, 2021 at 3:34 pm

      Yes, this is spot on. This article almost willfully ignores the state level politics that frankly, make Austin a hard pill to swallow. The idea of undergoing last years winter storm over and over again while our legislature passes embarrassing and horrific right wing laws is frankly too much. And if I can make my job remote, why would I stay here?

  39. Deborah Feo

    September 10, 2021 at 8:56 pm

    Tried posting a comment but didn’t know that it takes a few minutes before it posts. So I accidentally posted again something similar. But now I see both of my comments removed. Could one of them be brought back because it doesn’t look like anyone commented anything similar.

  40. CJ

    September 10, 2021 at 10:55 pm

    The politics and culture alone wouldn’t bring me to Texas! The state seems very confused and the governor belongs in a nut house!!

  41. Jonathan Lipschutz

    September 11, 2021 at 8:54 am

    The new motto is Make Austin Corporate,Mr and Mrs Weird done left town,they can’t afford the rent

  42. Change Texas Forever

    September 11, 2021 at 9:05 am

    Texas is like Middle East. They need to accept the modern reality instead of fighting it. Austin is the center of the change. Change Texas ! The people who do not change will be outnumbered soon! That’s the reality!!!!

  43. Mark

    September 11, 2021 at 9:28 am

    Nice article. I retired fairly young but I was willing to come back to work. I just told the boss the pay wasn’t the critical thing, I just wanted part time work. He replied that he’s sorry he couldn’t meet my pay request and wished me well on my job hunt. He didn’t believe that it was about the work schedule. I want to spend more time with my family and do volunteer stuff. I do about the 3x the work of his full time folks, I have a much higher skill level and I love training folks but yes lots of disconnects.

  44. Oreo

    September 11, 2021 at 9:42 am

    LOL. I guess. First thing i did when i moved to austin seven years ago was start working remote.

    The main issue i had with Austin companies was that they always grossly underpaid. For example, one time i applied to indeed. I passed their grueling interview process. Only to be offered less than what i was currently making. And it was for more responsibility!

    The second thing i did shortly after moving to Austin was move to the surrounding suburbs.

    In retrospect, i should have just moved to another city.

    I guess i felt all of these complaints intuitively years before ?

  45. A P

    September 11, 2021 at 12:56 pm

    I moved to Austin from a nearby state (not CA) in 2012 for career advancement. Unfortunately, I found an inward-looking community with a lack of industry diversity, rapidly increasing cost of living and housing, wage disparity per cost of living, a lack of infrastructure, a lack of equity, a lack of pay equity for women, a lack of diversity, a lack of job opportunity for those who didn’t attend UT,a lack of social and cultural opportunities for people over 35 and females as a whole, and a deplorable and revengeful state political system that degrades the rights of women. Woefully disenchanted, I left in 2019. There, I said it.

  46. Kyle

    September 11, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    Was considering moving to ATX from Kentucky but after visiting I’m not sure if this place is “liveable.” Seems like everyone is crying about how easy their life is. What kind of city is this where 6 figure warmers complain about job applications…..

  47. Phil G.

    September 11, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    I’m not quite sure how the author came to this conclusion given that, as reported by the Austin Business Journal in May of 2021, on average 184 people are still moving to Austin per day. Throw a rock in any direction and you can’t help but hit a brand new Tesla with out of state tags. Certainly the points raised are major issues that need to be dealt with here in Austin, but these are systemic problems of in all American cities, and the tech industry itself. There isn’t an Austin exodus, more of an urban inbound shuffle of new talent, while the inequity and inequality mentioned in the article remain, as always, in our present society.

  48. Tiffany Reyes

    September 11, 2021 at 2:43 pm

    Well written article! I’m a native Austinite, my parents, grandparents and 2 of my great grandmothers were born here, all grew up in East Austin. Growing up here was wonderful, almost like a dream in a lot of ways but I long knew that for as “weird” and liberal as Austin claims to be it’s very much racist. My mother experienced ageism in hiring practices so I can see how racism, sexism and ageism still prevail in 2021, which is incredibly unfortunate and hard for me to comprehend. Heartbreaking that we’ve been priced out of the community and my daughter won’t know anything about the experiences I had growing up in a Mexican American/African American community east of IH-35. The culture and minority owned restaurants full of flavor have shut their doors one by one. That’s why the “Mexican” food sucks here, if by that you mean Tex-Mex. There’s still good Mexican food from 1st generation immigrants, interior Mex, northern Mexican cooking but for restaurants owned by Texas born Mexican Americans, you’ll have to go to San Antonio for that. Chuy’s is a joke. They have canned beans. Nothing like the food my Gma makes. Canned beans are a sin in her book. Hoping affordable housing becomes high on politicians list at some point. Who the heck voted for the soccer stadium when we’ve BEEN needing affordable housing? I would have loved to have had a Target and Whole Foods in my neighborhood growing up but they came after the poor people (mostly of color) were priced out. Mobile Loaves and Fishes has done a much better job than local government addressing homelessness. I wish the national government would take notice and it could be a model for real change, empowering those who have experienced job loss, lack family support, dealing with abuse/trauma/addiction issues with a fresh start. Put a little human back in humanity

  49. Josh

    September 11, 2021 at 2:55 pm

    The worst part is all of this is expanding outward. I live in San Antonio and have been experiencing this housing market catastrophe. I inspect homes and seeing 600k homes sell like starter homes and site unseen by the buyer. The Austin implosion was inevitable but the effects on the surrounding cities is as clear as the sky is today.

  50. I'm not a victim

    September 11, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    Any wonder that a city that prides itself as the Berkeley of TX. Is having problems and rise of a victim similar to the CA. ‘Bezerkley’?

  51. Marcus Osborne

    September 11, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    Austin is an awesome, eclectic, entertaining, magical place. I moved from Northern California after the Camp Fire in 2019. Sure the prices are high, but they are high in every major city in America. If you want a better life Texas can provide that. To all californians cut down all that cali is great talk, and remember its not where your from its where you are at. Sure it has a homeless problem, but so does Sacramento, L.A. and the City. Let’s all remember Austin had a 2% jobless rate prior to the pandemic. Ive known people who didn’t work in the Tech industry that have become successful in Austin. The same people willing to work back home in California and could not find A decent paying job are thriving in Austin. To all you Texans you will never get your city back, unfortunately welcome to the new bay area. Bay area people you’ll never get 70 degree temperatures get use to 90’s in the month March and humidity. If you lived in the Central to Northern valleys of California the weather is the same. Austin reminds me of Sacramento just way cooler, in cultural significance to our American landscape. You can’t walk on dirty six,or go to Austin City Limits, SXSW, international indy racing and not be amazed at how boring California really is. Im staying, I get the Texan’s perspective, it was the Sacramentans prospective 30 years ago. I loved my little cow town, we love our kings and cow bells, but then the bay area people started move in complaining, and bitching,driving the prices up,for example Granite Bay, Roseville, Elkgrove, and the gentrification of Oak Park and Del Paso heights, housing price in Oak Park are similar to Austin, not a significant difference honestly. Californians are causing a change in this state,but please don not be disrespectful Leave your politics back home, and appreciate, no state income tax and cool venues that have actual personality, and cool people. Austin helped me change my life, I love the city, and Governor Abbot is a straight shooter unlike Gavin Newsome May God continue to bless Texas.

  52. Christopher

    September 11, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    I wish I didn’t agree this was a great piece. I am a senior leadership of a national firm,. Texas Nork, have been in ATX for 25 years. I live on 3rd between Lamar and I-35. I will be out in December. I could stand the increase costs, because I thought there was a nice culture. However, Texas’ hard right turn towards intolerance is something I can’t live with

  53. Otto

    September 11, 2021 at 8:02 pm

    Why would anybody want to live in Texas? It’s the most backwards state in the union, apart from Mississippi. If you want to be a guard thinking tech hub, then maybe become forward thinking overall. The entire South suffers from this problem, but Texas far more than most.

    The only reason tech companies want to go there is cheap labor and low taxes. That’s not enough for intelligent people to want to be there

  54. Mike White

    September 11, 2021 at 9:00 pm

    I love Austin, mostly because of the social climate – it’s easy to meet people here because a good balance of people are from a huge diversity of everywhere else and people don’t have to be big shots or overly political all the time like other places – more of a free atmosphere. People are kind too. Best city in Texas.
    Not best place in the world though. There’s so much land and plenty of good places in the country and world – entering an era where people don’t need to be bunched up in any particular city, due to what? – technology – that there would be any attempt by a city to claim a “tech hub” title is ironic.
    I mean, Everyone kinda works in tech now, obviously – and will increasingly – and everywhere. I personally have no idea why someone would want to move from the ocean to a murky little snaky river, except for the culture. But then don’t come here and complain about the culture and say it’s wrong and try to change it to be like where you came from. That’s arrogant.
    I’m not from here and don’t love the weather or the topography but Austin’s culture makes it awesome. Doesn’t mean I’m gonna nail myself here forever, When we humans can be mobile, why would people choose to be territorial?

  55. David Tkach

    September 11, 2021 at 11:09 pm

    This article is absolutely on point. I have delt with Austin’s tech pay for 30 years and now while out of state I was included in an unexpected layoff. The cost of living has never been kept up with and forcing most to work two jobs or leave.

  56. Ann Duncan

    September 12, 2021 at 9:28 am

    Hello. Balcones Fault Zone.

  57. JP

    September 16, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    I wish people who have never lived in California – or never spent time there in the last 20 years would stop talking out their butts about how great it is;

    California is a DISASTER.

    The highest taxes in the country;
    The most unfriendly environment for new small businesses;
    A homeless population completely out of control (Imagine 5 Texas stadiums worth of people living on the streets of LA and SF)
    Crime out of control; everyone stealing the stores blind in SF because they won’t enforce the laws;
    People defecating on the streets in SF;
    Gun laws which are in direct violation of the US Constitution;
    A power grid that’s on the verge of complete collapse (I know, I used to work for PG&E);
    Crumbling roads, infrastructure, etc.
    An inept state government incapable of building a high speed rail system despite having $100B allocated to it;

    I can go on and on….

    It’s amazing how many people are blind to all of this….

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Opinion Editorials

Decision-making when between procrastination and desperation

(EDITORIAL) Sometimes making a decision in business can loom so large over us that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary. Why?

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decision-making between procrastination and desperation

I need to confess something to you

So, a little confession’s good for the soul, right? I feel like I need to confess something to you, dear reader, before we jump right into this article. What follows is an article that I pitched to our editor some months back, and was approved then, but I’ve had the hardest time getting started. It’s not writer’s block, per se; I’ve written scores of other articles here since then, so I can’t use that as an excuse.

It’s become a bit of a punch line around the office, too; I was asked if I was delaying the article about knowing the sweet spot in decision making between procrastination and desperation as some sort of hipster meta joke.

Which would be funny, were it to be true, but it’s not. I just became wrapped up in thinking about where this article was headed and didn’t put words to paper. Until now.

Analysis by paralysis

“Thinking about something—thinking and thinking and thinking—without having an answer is when you get analysis by paralysis,” said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman, speaking to Fangraphs.

“That’s what happened… I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, or if I was doing anything wrong. I had no idea.” It happens to us all: the decisions we have to make in business loom so large over us, that we delay making them until it’s absolutely necessary.

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Worse still are the times that we delay them until after such a time as when making the decision no longer matters because the opportunity or market’s already moved on. So we try to find the avenues for ourselves that will give us the answers we seek, and try to use those answers in a timely fashion. Jim Kaat, the former All-Star pitcher said it well: “If you think long, you think wrong.”

Dumpster Diving in Data

In making a decision, we’re provided an opportunity to answer three basic questions: What? So what? And now what?

The data that you use to inform your decision-making process should ideally help you answer the first two of those three questions. But where do you get it from, and how much is enough?

Like many of us, I’m a collector when it comes to decision making. The more data I get to inform my decision, and the sufficient time that I invest to analyze that data, I feel helps me make a better decision.

And while that sounds prudent, and no one would suggest the other alternative of making a decision without data or analysis would be better, it can lead to the pitfall of knowing how much is enough. When looking for data sources to inform your decision-making, it’s not necessarily quantity, but an appropriate blend between quantity and quality that will be most useful.

You don’t get brownie points for wading through a ton of data of marginal quality or from the most arcane places you can find them when you’re trying to make an informed decision. The results of your ultimate decision will speak for themselves.

“Effective people,” said Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, “know when to stop assessing and make a tough call, even without total information.”

Great. How do I do that?

So, by what factors should you include (and more importantly, exclude) data in your decision-making?

Your specific business sector will tell you which data sources most of your competitors use already, as well as the ones that your industry disruptors use to try to gain the edge on you.

Ideally, your data sources should be timely and meaningful to you. Using overly historical data, unless you’re needing that level of support for a trend line prediction, often falls into “That’s neat, but…” land. Also, if you’re wading into data sets that you don’t understand, find ways to either improve (and thus speed) your analysis of them, or find better data sources.

While you should be aware of outliers in the data sets, don’t become so enamored of them and the stories that they may tell that you base your decision-making process around the outlier, rather than the most likely scenarios.

And don’t fall into this trap

Another trap with data analysis is the temptation to find meaning where it may not exist. Anyone who’s been through a statistics class is familiar with the axiom correlation doesn’t imply causation. But it’s oh so tempting, isn’t it? To find those patterns where no one saw them before?

There’s nothing wrong with doing your homework and finding real connections, but relying on two data points and then creating the story of their interconnectedness in the vacuum will lead you astray.

Such artificial causations are humorous to see; Tyler Vigen’s work highlights many of them.

My personal favorite is the “correlation” between the U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and people who died after becoming entangled in their bed sheets. Funny, but unrelated.

So, as you gather information, be certain that you can support your action or non-action with recent, accurate, and relevant data, and gather enough to be thorough, but not so enamored of the details that you start to drown in the collection phase.

Trust issues

For many of us, delegation is an opportunity for growth. General Robert E. Lee had many generals under his command during the American Civil War, but none was so beloved to him as Stonewall Jackson.

Upon Jackson’s death in 1863, Lee commented that Jackson had lost his left arm, but that he, Lee, had lost his right. Part of this affection for Jackson was the ability to trust that Jackson would faithfully carry out Lee’s orders. In preparing for the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson approached Lee with a plan for battle:

Lee, Jackson’s boss, opened the conversation: “What do you propose to do?”

Jackson, who was well prepared for the conversation based on his scout’s reports, replied. “I propose to go right around there,” tracing the line on the map between them.

“How many troops will you take?” Lee queried.

“My whole command,” said Jackson.

“What will you leave me here with?” asked Lee.

Jackson responded with the names of the divisions he was leaving behind. Lee paused for a moment, but just a moment, before replying, “Well, go ahead.”

And after three questions in the span of less than five minutes, over 30,000 men were moved towards battle.

The takeaway is that Lee trusted Jackson implicitly. It wasn’t a blind trust that Lee had; Jackson had earned it by his preparation and execution, time after time. Lee didn’t see Jackson as perfect, either. He knew the shortcomings that he had and worked to hone his talents towards making sure those shortcomings were minimized.

Making trust pay off for you

We all deserve to have people around us in the workplace that we can develop into such a trust. When making decisions, large or small, having colleagues that you can rely on to let you know the reality of the situation, provide a valuable alternative perspective, or ask questions that let you know the idea needs more deliberation are invaluable assets.

Finding and cultivating those relationships is a deliberate choice and one that needs considerable and constant investments in your human capital to keep.Click To Tweet

Chris Oberbeck at Entrepreneur identifies five keys to making that investment in trust pay off for you: make authentic connections with those in your employ and on your team, make promises to your staff sparingly, and keep every one of them that you make, set clear expectations about behaviors, communication, and output, be vulnerable enough to say “I don’t know” and professional enough to then find the right answers, and invest your trust in your employees first, so that they feel comfortable reciprocating.

Beyond developing a relationship of trust between those who work alongside you, let’s talk about trusting yourself.

For many, the paralysis of analysis comes not from their perceived lack of data, but their lack of confidence in themselves to make the right decision. “If I choose incorrectly,” they think, “it’s possible that I might ________.” Everyone’s blank is different.

For some, it’s a fear of criticism, either due or undue. For others, it’s a fear of failure and what that may mean. Even in the face of compelling research about the power of a growth mindset, in which mistakes and shortcomings can be seen as opportunities for improvement rather than labels of failure, it’s not uncommon for many of us to have those “tapes” in our head, set to autoplay upon a miscue, that remind us that we’ve failed and how that labels us.

“Risk” isn’t just a board game

An uncomfortable fact of life is that, in business, you can do everything right, and yet still fail. All of the research can come back, the trend lines of data suggest the appropriate course of action, your team can bless the decision, and you feel comfortable with it, so action is taken! And it doesn’t work at all. A perfect example of this is the abject failure of New Coke to be accepted by the consumer in 1985.

Not only was it a failure to revive lagging sales, but public outrage was so vehement that the company was forced to backtrack and recall the product from the market. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.

You have to be comfortable with your corporate and individual levels of risk when making a decision and taking action. How much risk and how much failure costs you, both in fiscal and emotional terms, is a uniquely personal decision, suited to your circumstances and your predilections. It’s also likely a varying level, too; some decisions are more critical to success and the perceptions of success than others, and will likely cause you more pause than the small decisions we make day-to-day.

In the end, success and failure hinge on the smallest of factors at times, and the temptation is to slow down the decision making process to ensure that nothing’s left to chance.

Go too slowly, however, and you’ve become the captain of a rudderless ship, left aimlessly to float, with decisions never coming, or coming far too late to meet the needs of the market, much less be innovative. Collect the information, work with your team to figure out what it means, and answer the third question of the series (the “what”) by taking action.

#TakeAction

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Opinion Editorials

Managing bipolar disorder and what I wish my employers understood

(EDITORIAL) This editorial offers a perspective on living with bipolar disorder in the workplace, giving employers insight into how to support similar team members.

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bipolar disorder

I met Jacob Martinez (Jake) a few years back at one of our offline events. He is an eager and ambitious person that always wears a smile (and seriously, it’s an infectious smile), always seeks to help people around him, and is kind and positive at every interaction.

In his most current effort to help others, Jake asked what I thought about his writing about his new bipolar disorder diagnosis, something that most people hide and pray no one discovers. But not Jake. As he dug deeper into the rabbit hole of available information, he realized there was little available discussing how this diagnosis impacts career paths, and almost nothing available to help employers to understand the nuances.

And let’s face it – there are plenty of people hiding their diagnosis, and employers that could be missing amazing talent simply for not understanding how to accommodate.

The following is about Jake’s journey with his diagnosis, how it has impacted his career, and his ideas on how hiring managers and business owners could interact with people living with bipolar disorder in a way that keeps their talents in full use on the job. This isn’t scientific and the suggestions aren’t based on some HR seminar, no, it’s meant to give you unique insight that most people don’t share – I want you to read this through Jake’s eyes. It’s a brave look into working with this challenge:


As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, I’ve struggled to find resources that would help individuals like myself jumpstart our careers and learn to navigate working full time with a mental health disorder. Most generalized stories about mental health disorders and the workplace focus more on how things didn’t work out and not on how they started or advanced their careers.

Many give examples of individuals with mental disorders in high-ranking positions who end up leaving their specialized field to work as part-time cashiers or other less stressful and less triggering roles in order to seek a better work environment for their mental health.

I’ve also found that there is a lack of resources for employers when it comes to helping employees with mental disorders. Not many employers are prepared to do so, nor have this skill in their wheelhouse. Without this knowledge, training, and experience, how could they understand the struggles of what it’s like to work with a mental disorder and be expected to provide the necessary support to help their staff?

Many factors contribute to this being overlooked or left unaddressed, such as the stigma behind people with mental disorders in a work environment, or simply because no one knows how to talk about it. When I apply for jobs, I always ask myself “Do I put in an application that I am someone with a condition that needs reasonable accommodations? Is that even an option?” How would I even begin to ask an employer to understand what I am going through? And while I’m still figuring this out and working through what my diagnosis means for my career, I’d like to share my experience and start talking about it.

Like many young individuals, I started college bright-eyed and with a hopeful outlook. I navigated internships, jobs, and full course loads but only to exit with a mountain of debt and depression that can be best described in a meme. Many, with no prospects out of university and an average GPA, end up working menial jobs to get by, hoping for their big break.

For me, this time was spent at Torchy’s Tacos, a local Austin Texas favorite. My luck finally came through when I found a new opportunity. I thought to myself, how hard could it be to deliver packages to people? Especially in a city like Austin where anyone could make a business out of cleaning cat litter boxes. This company, I thought, was going to be my lucky break – my jumping-off point. And it was for about a year. That is until my bipolar diagnosis came in.

Suddenly dealing with bipolar disorder…

I experienced sporadic shifts between depression and hypomania. With my diagnosis came a new understanding of what my limits and strengths were. I understood that stress only made it worse but that physically moving around was the best way to cope with it. Working in a warehouse-type environment allowed me to run around, helping to melt my stress away physically.

But when it came down to job performances, some weeks were better than others.

When I did well, management would make comments like, “I like this new you,” or “whatever is happening, don’t change it.” But nothing was said when I didn’t do so well. Comments continued to dismiss the real issue that I was heading towards an uphill climb of mania. And as I climbed higher and higher, more mistakes began to happen – small ones that added up beyond anything I could control. With each and every episode of mania or depression I had, the trust I had taken time to build and cultivate slowly began to fall apart.

Then came the drop – an episode of depression so deep that it’s hard to recover from. For myself, this began as a result of multiple episodes and when several “options” were laid out on the table by my employer.

First, my employer recommended that I take Family Medical Leave Assistance (FMLA). For someone like myself who never knew what FMLA was, I didn’t know where to start and what this meant. No one told me I would not be getting paid and that I would have to use my sick and personal time off to supplement my income. As someone who has built their identity around working, taking time off felt like an attack on my identity at the time.

Subsequently, I was also told I could be released for making any mistake (no matter how small or slight), attempting to change the work culture, or requesting anything unreasonable such as requesting time off for anything other than medical. My manager also called my episodic shifts a “stunt.”

Every time he said this, I lost faith in him, and he lost trust in me.

Some of the hardest words someone with a mental disorder can hear from a manager or mentor are, “When you pulled that stunt, I can’t trust you anymore” and “we will no longer be working together if you do that again.” His words cut deep and only made each episode worse—finally leading me to turn in my two-week notice.

During my time there, none of my managers ever asked if something was wrong when warning signs showed up. They just assumed that I had already checked out and given up. I felt like a cog that was replaceable and could easily be overturned. Trust was required to help me battle my mental demons, and in this case, that trust was broken on both ends. No one came out of this on top, coping skills were not utilized as they should have, and no one reached out like they said they would.

After reflecting on this experience, here’s what I’ve learned and wished my employer did:

Trust: Trust is earned, not given as the adage goes. But for an employee living with bipolar disorder, trust is given before it is earned. I made the choice to trust my employer (and my entire team) by opening up about my mental health and battles – I had to. And while not everyone may be prepared to open up about what they’re dealing with internally, it can help.

Doing this tells people that you’re asking for help and are making yourself ready to receive it. It signifies your willingness to allow others inside. This can be beneficial to you as it helps your team members become better at recognizing warning signs and understand when to check in to see if you need help. My recommendation here to anyone working with someone who has a mental disorder: Listen if we choose to open up, don’t be dismissive of our efforts, and trust us when we ask to carry more for the team.

 

Don’t assume: Someone opening up about a diagnosis can’t expect everyone at work to have a background in psychology or psychiatry and to understand when comments like “I like this new manic you” are harmful and dismissive.

Not everyone is going to be interested in researching and learning how best to help a team member who is dealing with a mental health disorder. So, don’t assume that they know.

What would have helped me and maybe changed my situation would have been to be more honest and direct about my specific needs upfront. For employers, try to also understand our needs and limits with stress. Ask your employees directly what they need from you in order to make them feel more comfortable. Another way of tackling this would be to ask your employee about some of the coping strategies they are learning in group therapy sessions. If you know your employee is going to group therapy, if you feel comfortable with it, check in with them and encourage them to keep up with those sessions. When assigning unique projects or extra tasks, it’s also helpful to explain what you are asking and offer employees the best ways to achieve it.

 

Ask for and give reasonable accommodations: In my case, I eventually learned that taking time off was not an ‘attack on my identity’ as I had previously felt. I learned to accept it as part of living with bipolar disorder and know when to ask for it. Pushing for myself was empowering and was the best thing that could happen in that given moment.

So, if you’re someone who struggles with bipolar or other depressive mental health disorders, the best thing you can do to help yourself, while building courage and confidence, is to speak up and be your own advocate. Ask for accommodations.

For employers with a team member struggling with a mental disorder, when it comes to giving that team member time to themselves, it should never be a fight or argument. Change the schedule, do what you can to make accommodations, and support someone who needs time away for treatment.

 

Give helpful feedback: In my experience, my previous employer either avoided giving me feedback completely or made dismissive comments like, “I don’t know what the hell happened…”, followed by something positive. Like many others who suffer from bipolar disorder, ineffective and unclear communication can easily lead us to spiral from misinterpreting details and having self-doubt.

I would have benefitted from receiving clear and specific feedback, whether that was immediately after a mistake or as a conversation during team lunch. This small amount of open dialogue could have allowed us as a team to resolve conflicts, improve teamwork, help me build my self-esteem, and improve my performance.

 

Show appreciation and have open dialogues: What is equally important for employers to do is to let us know that you are paying attention to and appreciate our efforts, regardless of how small or large of a task we complete. In a warehouse, things are extremely routine, but it doesn’t take a lot to thank someone for trying.

A few small words and gestures could have been really helpful in breaking me out of a depressive funk or a manic episode and can certainly help someone else in the future.

 

Practice mindfulness: At this moment, let’s check in with our emotions. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT Therapy), some of the questions they ask are about checking in with your emotions and your thoughts. Are you in control of your thoughts or are they in control of you? Are we still in touch with our emotions? Perhaps we are cross at ourselves for playing the victim to our mind’s frustrations?

When it comes to mental disorders, employers need to be more understanding of what their employees are going through. However, we as individuals should also be able to look inwards and see what we are feeling. Core mindfulness is a skill to develop no matter what position you work in or what you’re dealing with. Mindfulness teaches awareness of thoughts and feelings, the focus on the here and now.

From my experience, learning to control my thoughts and emotions is an effective way of dealing with my bipolar disorder. While it took time to discover, I learned that my mindfulness practice was running around the warehouse and moving. This allowed thoughts to flow in and out of my mind without having to give them any power over me. Knowing this made me feel stronger and clearer. Finding a mindfulness practice to help you cope takes time and experimenting – so try different things and figure out what works for you.

 

Ask for help: If you’re struggling with a mental disorder at work, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. That help may look differently for everyone, be it talk therapy, telling a co-worker, or taking time off. Either way, sometimes the best way to help yourself is to start asking for help. If you’re someone who has a co-worker struggling with a mental disorder, pay attention and reach out to them if they need help.

While I’m still learning to navigate my bipolar disorder, this experience has taught me (and hopefully others) some helpful lessons. I have learned to manage it better and am continuing to advance in my career path.

My hope is that companies make a more concerted effort to improve their training on mental health disorders in the workplace. I also hope that by sharing my story, I can help others with bipolar disorder to excel at work.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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