Today I talked with a friend who just started a new job at an organization focused on existential risk. Two pieces of advice I gave:

  • This is a fast-moving, ambitious organization where people have short AI timelines. It is not trying to guard you against burnout. You have to be in charge of deciding how much to guard yourself there. (It doesn't really matter which organization this is - if that description applies, the advice probably does too.)

  • This is a setting where work, housing, dating, friendship, and social scene are closely entwined for a lot of people. When you're deciding how entwined they should be, consider how past things have gone for you: if you've had acrimonious breakups or clashes with housemates or coworkers, probably err on the side of keeping things more separate. Also consider that people you're not very entwined with now might be different in six months or a year (when you end up working in the same chain of management, etc.)

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It is not trying to guard you against burnout. You have to be in charge of deciding how much to guard yourself there. (It doesn't really matter which organization this is - if that description applies, the advice probably does too.)

This sounds fairly suboptimal to me, no? 🤔

  • even if you expect AGI in 5 years, taking care of the mental health of employees seems really useful and not significantly trading off against performance
  • I‘m worried if people who have a lot of responsibility over our future are not in their best mental health, seems like this will trade off against decision quality

Things like "do you work 40 vs. 60 hours a week" are not obvious choices here - longer hours probably increase risk of burnout, but you also get a lot more work done for as long as it lasts. In fields like corporate law or medical residency, people do long hours for years (though especially in medicine, there are definite quality vs quantity tradeoffs).

I agree that how long you work is not an obvious tradeoff. I was responding to the "[The EA org] is not trying to guard you against burnout" part. A rephrasing of that sentence might be "The EA org is doing nothing to prevent people from burning out", right?

I'm quite sceptical that an EA org is making the right call by spending zero effort preventing very common and devastating mental health issues like burnout? This doesn't have to mean to tell the employees to work less, but it might mean

  • managers should monitor mental health
  • telling employees to take a break when they are at risk of burnout
  • providing resources for mental health support, coachings that help with maximizing sustainable productivity

I'm sure they're not doing literally nothing to prevent burnout, but it's not a high priority for them, and when it trades off against something else (like taking a break, or using manager capacity on supporting mental health) I expect burnout prevention will often come behind other priorities.