Book in the news: an impassioned attack on corporate culture

Cover of Lab Rats by Dan LyonsLab Rats

How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us
Dan Lyons
Atlantic Books (£16.99)
Buy on Amazon

Technology startups are renowned for their insane working culture – their staff are expected to work long hours with little job security in an often chaotic corporate culture. Some argue this is a fair trade-off for the chance they will make a fortune through stock options. After all, they choose to work in such businesses, and less-stressful and more secure alternatives are readily available. Or are they? Journalist Dan Lyons argues that the choice is disappearing: that the “mercenary” ethos of the technology industry is “infiltrating many other businesses”, as Kirkus Reviews says.

Lyons’s book is an “entertaining, if scattergun” attack on the effect that the tech industry has had on everybody’s working lives, says The Economist. Lyons blames the technology sector for encouraging bosses in other industries to cut real wages, making workers feel “dehumanised and less secure”, and exposing them “to constant, stress-inducing” change. “Many modern workers will agree” with his call for new management techniques based on “treating people well”, as well as with his argument that, instead of “obsessing” about billion-dollar “unicorns”, we should look for companies that can “turn a profit and improve society at the same time”.

Lab Rats is also a “lively and spirited” takedown of an industry “that is increasingly brazen in its unabashed parasitism”, says Houman Barekat in The Guardian. And its “core argument” – that “dignity, respect, stability and security still matter” – is “surely irrefutable”. But while the sentiment is “welcome”, Lyons’s hope that companies can be persuaded to change out of self-interest is a “tad wishful”. Enlightened leadership can only to do so much. Meaningful change entails “legislative protections” – and they can only be won through either the ballot box or the picket line.