Do You Think about Work All the Time?

“The really idle man gets nowhere. The perpetually busy man does not get much farther.” Sir Heneage Ogilvie.

Do you think about work all the time? If you want to work for men’s lifestyle website, Barstool Sports Blog, Chief Executive Officer Erica Nardini believes that you should. And she’s figured-out how to figure out whether you do think about work all the time. She was interviewed in the New York Times about, among other things, the difficulty in hiring suitable candidates and, in particular, her belief that she sucks at it. To augment her poor interviewing skills, she does this:

Nardini: Here’s something I do: If you’re in the process of interviewing with us, I’ll text you about something at 9p.m. or 11a.m. on a Sunday just to see how fast you’ll respond.

What’s the right response time?

Nardini: Within three hours. It’s not that I’m going to bug you all weekend if you work for me, but I want you to be responsive. I think about work all the time. Other people don’t have to be working all the time, but I want people who are always thinking.

NYT, July 14, 2017.

The single best buzz I’ve read about Nardini’s slippery little test is Barstool’s site itself, the post entitled “The Internet is Mad We Work Too Hard at Barstool Sports.” Barstool Blog. In his apologia in defense of Nardini and Barstool itself, David Portnoy, a/k/a, “El Presidente,” samples some of the more biting and clever Tweets faulting Nardini’s responsiveness test. Portnoy though re-characterizes what his critics don’t like and re-casts them as Nardini’s (and the company’s) positives, i.e., successful attitudes on responsiveness and a work ethic and the resulting achievements the company has enjoyed. He thinks he’s clever. But he’s really just up Nardini’s rear-end. I mean, she is the CEO after all.

He also drops in examples of the text messages shared between Nardini and her top staff, as sarcastic responses to what a slave driver she is (or is not). The takeaway is that they love their company and their CEO, she checks in on them a lot, knows them and a lot about their personal lives, and the tradeoff for working very hard is that they are an especially close-knit (and did I mention successful) group. And it seems very genuine, and Barstool seems like it would be a fun place to work.

But there’s a problem. None of that has much to do with Nardini’s interviewing method mentioned in the Times interview. Let’s break it down:

  1. the actual CEO (not the HR Director or a hiring manager) of a company looking to hire a candidate
  2. sends surprise text messages to the candidate
  3. over the weekend
  4. at odd hours
  5. expecting a response within three hours, but without saying so (that’s the test)
  6. because she, the CEO, thinks about work all the time
  7. and she wants (to hire) people who think about work all the time
  8. and believes that if you text her back within three hours, you think about work all the time too.

Uh-huh. And there are no other possible conclusions? C’mon, these people want a job! How about these: Sally texted me back because she thinks she’s getting the job. Or, Jacob texted me back because he really wants to work for Barstool, but he was binge watching Netflix and nursing a hangover from Saturday. Or, Ben was walking by his iPhone at the exact moment I texted as he was headed out to walk his German Shepherd. Sally, Jacob, and Ben people aren’t thinking about work all the time. They haven’t even been hired yet! Oh dear. And this is to say nothing of the fact that Nardini expects a response within a set timeframe only she knows. “I’m thinking of a number between one and five. Can you guess what it is?” (Whispering) “It’s the weekend, Erica. And it’s 9 on Sunday. I’m goin’ beddie-bye. Maybe you should too.”

And Nardini’s the CEO. She better be thinking about work all the time. That’s pretty much what she gets paid to do. But everybody she hires? Now depending on where the candidate would fall in the corporate hierarchy, and whether hourly or salaried, I agree that some positions require extremely high levels of commitment. But Nardini needs constant attention or she’ll die! She just excuses the intrusions with a flimsy justification using “responsiveness” and “thinks all the time.” Whatevs. But which is it? Responsiveness, which presupposes urgency, or constant obsessing about work, which is okay if you’re the top officer in the C-suite, but abusive if you’re not.

One of my favorite tweets in response to this issue read:

Oh and by the way, Sir Heneage Ogilvie, the British surgeon I quoted at the beginning of this blog post, he’s also known for first diagnosing Ogilvie’s syndrome: the acute dilation of the colon in the absence of mechanical obstruction. Abdominal distension, pain and distorted bowel movements, with nausea and vomiting. See where I’m going with this? Let’s keep in mind what Jack Nicholson’s character was so passionate about in The Shining. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Don’t think about work all the time. Think about other stuff too.

That’s not really the law, y’all. It’s Life.

The author, Peter Rutledge, is an Employment Lawyer and Partner at Rutledge Law, Greenville, SC. You can contact him via these channels:
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“Here’s something I do: If you’re in the process of interviewing with us, I’ll text you about something at 9p.m. or 11a.m. on a Sunday just to see how fast you’ll respond.”

Erica Nardini, Barstool Sports Blog CEO