The Eight-Hour Year: a metaphor of new graduates and young workers

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Have you ever been frustrated at a young hire in your office? “Kids these days! Schools don’t teach them anything! How can they keep making such stupid and obvious mistakes?

Or maybe instead, you are a person new and inexperienced in your career. Have you ever been frustrated by the impatience and lack of guidance from your supposed "mentors," who seem to assume you can magically think of everything and catch every problem? Or maybe you've ever gotten angry at yourself for being “so stupid” and despairing that you will never get it right, never become a master? It seems impossible and out of reach that you will ever succeed.

This post might help both sides see the situation through a new light. I have a real "holy cow!" realization that I want to get out there. It is a perspective on life that gave me great comfort in my first shakey year of working, and everyone I have shared it with has been appreciative.

But to share this insight, I first need to introduce a concept, the eight-hour year. Or ehy for short. An ehy is when you’ve been doing something for roughly eight hours a day, every day, for the entire year. Since there are 24 hours in a day, each year of life contains 3 ehys. Simple, right?

In addition to defining the ehy, let’s make a “cartoon” model of the life of a modern human being who goes to school. Assume that this typical person gets a higher education after high school, and then goes to work in a career.  In our model, the typical person spends eight hours a day sleeping, eight hours a day working or going to school, and eight hours a day on everything else, like playing, housework, taxes, raising the kids, etc. Therefore, after one year of life, the person has spent 1 ehy on sleeping, 1 ehy on work and/or school, and 1 ehy on everything else.

Now true, that person probably had weekends and vacations off from work/school, but they probably spent some extra time working late on a deadline, or cramming for exams, or reading articles about their job, whatever. Children do get summer vacation but they also get plenty of homework at older ages. Plus, we’re keeping things simple.

With our new unit of measurement and our simple model of life, let’s take a look at an average junior worker. They are just  joining a knowledge profession that requires four years of training after highschool. e.g. a graduate in finance or Russian or teaching or anything else like that. Let’s assume they just graduated and are about 20 years old. (If you don’t like that, assume they are 24, and do not count the “experience” of living from ages 0-4 towards getting job skills).

What level of experience can this new hire possibly bring to their first job? They have:

  • 0-1 ehy of practical experience at their chosen career. Maybe, if they were lucky, then during school they managed some relevant summer jobs. Maybe not.
  • Probably the new graduate has only 0-3 ehy of total job experience at any kind of job at all. (Remember an ehy is working eight hours a day every day, so even if one works a job after school or on the weekends, it it is still very hard to spend an entire ehy at work while a student).
  • 3-4 ehy of academic training for their "general job field" at a college or university, which we all know probably won’t be very specific to the exact job they get on graduation
  • 20 ehy of training or work skills on ANYTHING. We are now totaling all they time they spent at school or at work of any kind. Even kindergarten. Maybe they have even less than 20 ehy, considering summer vacations.
  • 20 ehy school + 20 ehy everything else in life = 40 ehy of consciousness. That’s 40 ehy they did not spend asleep. Really, 40 ehy of existence.

Now, consider who they are working with in a typical office. In my field, engineering, normally a job post for a “junior” person asks for 5 years experience, so that’s ~5 ehy specific to the job they are trying to do. This means that the "junior" will have more experience doing their specific job than a new graduate has had time to learn or do anything in the general academic field within which their job resides.

Next, consider some middle-manager person; their age is in the 40’s or 50’s. They have ~20 ehy spent on the job. They have more experience doing their specific job than the new hire has had total schooling or working on any kind of topic at all.

Lastly, consider some really experienced person, like the department manager or that old guy who's been with the company forever that everyone brings their toughest problems to. This person is in their 60’s, and they’ve been doing this job all their life. They have 40 ehy of job experience. They have as much experience doing this specific job as the new hire has experience BEING CONSCIOUS. The new hire’s –-every-– waking-–moment–- is matched by a job-specific experience that the older worker brings to the table.

Therefore, if you are a mentor, be patient. This new person is going to have some skills you need, and know some things you don’t know, but there’s no way they’re coming out of school fully prepared. They certainly won't have the instincts and foresight you do. And if you earn their respect and build their skills, their energy and fresh perspective will help you, and you'll get a grateful ally at work.

If you are new at your job, remember the eight hour year, and forgive yourself of little mistakes. I mean, come on: some people have spent more time doing their job then you’ve spent time doing anything at all. OF COURSE they will spot things you don’t. OF COURSE they will recall things you did not think of. Make sure you do your job carefully enough that you can benefit from their checking, and be respectful of their advice. But also be respectful of yourself. You have experiences the other person has never had, and obviously you will have skills and experiences the others cannot imagine. You can take any attitude too far -- don't forget to keep ask questions, and worm out whether "we've always done it this way" is a savvy truth or a cover for lazy thinking.


2010-09-10 - Minor rewrites for clarity

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One Response to The Eight-Hour Year: a metaphor of new graduates and young workers

  1. very good post. I like it.

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