Principles and survival
Feeling stuck or trapped
Last month, a few stories hit the news and gave me pause. I’m always on the lookout for bad company behavior and these particular stories were related to work I do and products I use.
The first was that email marketing giant Mailchimp wanted to launch a new podcast with production company Pineapple Street Studios. The two companies had collaborated before, but a new stipulation from Mailchimp was that the new podcast would include only non-union workers. Most of Pineapple Street’s employees were unionized. The union refused and Mailchimp pulled the business.
The second was about Substack, where I’m hosting this publication. Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie published a note about Nazi content on the platform. In it, he wrote:
I just want to make it clear that we don’t like Nazis either—we wish no-one held those views. But some people do hold those and other extreme views. Given that, we don't think that censorship (including through demonetizing publications) makes the problem go away—in fact, it makes it worse.
The Substack stance has caused an enormous backlash. Substack takes a cut — 10% — of all paid subscriptions, which means that the company is profiting from such content.
There were open conversations on Threads from people rightfully disturbed by this stance. But a lot of writers wondered: where else can I go? It’s not an easy thing to move an entire publication elsewhere, especially for one-person operations.
It reflects a problem that many people face. How much can you stand by your principles, especially if you end up in a worse position as a result?
Playing the game
In early 2021, it was easy to say, “If you don’t like your job, just quit.” And millions of people did just that, ushering in The Great Resignation, a period of time that lasted about a year. According to Julie Lee, director of technology and mental health at Harvard Alumni for Mental Health, Gen Z, in particular, wants “to do meaningful work with a sense of autonomy and flexibility and work-life balance and work with people who work collaboratively.”
The most recent jobs data in the U.S. shows that the rate of people voluntarily leaving their jobs is down to its lowest level since September 2020. This probably reflects that Americans are less confident in their ability to find new jobs, given the current market. A quick scroll of LinkedIn will show countless people who have been out of work for months after a layoff, despite being well-qualified applicants for hundreds of jobs.
Certainly, people are nervous. Anyone out of work or people desperate to leave their current roles may be rethinking the “types” of companies they’re willing to work for.
And that’s ok. I’ve talked to people about taking roles that are far from their dream job, just to have a break from the job-hunting hamster wheel. It’s fine to do something less than meaningful and fulfilling work. It’s fine to simply collect a paycheck.
A friend of mine was considering applying to a role at a company he’d previously ragged on, a lot. He asked if I thought he was being hypocritical. I told him absolutely not. We all need to eat; that’s the capitalist world we live in.
I don’t think it will always be this way. It’s a tough job market now, but things are always cyclical. The Great Resignation was more than a blip: it was a fundamental shift in the way people think about work. Younger generations will demand new ways of working and these will eventually be the norm.
When to walk away
Quitting a job in the current labor market is a privilege, without a doubt. People have to some savings, access to health insurance (in the U.S.), a strong network — multiple prongs of security.
Take Twitter, for example, back when it was known as Twitter. Musk came in and demanded an “extremely hardcore” way of working for Twitter 2.0. Anyone unwilling to commit could leave.
Except many employees couldn’t just leave. The labor market had already taken a downturn by that point. Employees on H-1B visas would be forced to leave the country if they couldn’t quickly find another job. People with families, mortgages… not everyone can walk away. Even if they found the new leadership intolerable.
I thought a lot about the recently Substack stance on Nazis. I thought the same with many of Musk’s repugnant actions. What about people who rely on those platforms for income? They’re many of the same questions employees face when they take a job or stay at a job that goes against their beliefs, principles, or expectations of an employer-employee relationship.
Creators have to ask themselves: what are my options? What is the potential hit to my income? How much can I stomach?
I’m in a position now where I can say no to clients. That wasn’t always the case. I send an annual holiday email to family and friends using Mailchimp. I was really disturbed by Mailchimp’s demands that its podcast have non-union employees. But I use Mailchimp as a free service, once a year. Was it worth trying to make a switch? It certainly wouldn’t harm Mailchimp in any way, since I’m not paying anything.
Substack is complicated. I support many fellow writers on this platform, several of whom have Substack as a primary source of income.
Even personally, if I were to move my newsletter elsewhere, it would be tricky. For most platforms, I’d have to pay far more than I’m currently earning. That’s always been part of Substack’s allure: it’s free. One of the writers I follow said that he’s in the process of moving off of Substack, due to the company’s stance on hateful content, but he’s paying someone to do the migration. Not many writers can do that.
We all face times when there are no good options. We hold our noses or try to look the other way. We take what we’re stuck with and hope, someday, that things will be better.
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