Maybe this is the Crux of the Employment Problem?

The headline from this Time article lays it out pretty simply:

The Pandemic Revealed How Much We Hate Our Jobs.

I wonder if all of the talk about laziness, unemployment benefits, toxic workplaces, etc. really all comes down to this. There are a significant number of people in this world working in jobs they simply don’t like. Or, to look at it another way, there are a significant number of jobs that give us no reason to not hate them.

I’m purposefully looking at this from two directions because I don’t think there is only one way to look at it. There are some terrible jobs out there, that people would only do out of desperation. There are some better paying jobs, that still don’t pay enough to warrant staying in them, and there are jobs that you couldn’t pay me enough to do. There are also people with no motivation or opportunity to upskill, who are making as much as they did working thanks to unemployment and simply won’t work until that changes.

What those of us who have been busy working all the way through 2020-2021 might have failed to realize, is that the world is different now. There are things that we were taught to do, and to never do, that were only relevant because the men who ran the business world decided they were important. When many of us look at someone who decided not to hurry back to the same job they got furloughed from in the Spring of 2020, we fret about the gap on their resume. When we see someone quit a job because it didn’t fit with their goals, or what they want from their life beyond work, we can hear the shaming voices of a million little recruiters in our heads calling them a “job hopper”. When we see someone take less money to work in an industry that doesn’t hurt their mental health with overwork, stress, and chaos, we consider them weak.

And yet, the more I look at the workplace as we enter a post-pandemic era, the voice I keep hearing is Leonardo DiCaprio, from Gangs of New York:

The earth was shaking now. But I was about my father’s business.

Many of us in the older generations, and I am solidly on the Gen X side of things, grew up in our father’s business. So much that as canons starting firing around us, all we can see is the career we are supposed to have. The model that told us that working hard, being loyal to the company, and proving our worth over the years, was the way to success. Employment gaps, stepping back, or job-hopping were career suicide. They only showed that you weren’t loyal, weren’t hard-working enough, and looking for the easy way.

But, what we’ve seen since then is that a lot of that is complete BS. Yes, some of us have been successful climbing the ladder at our company over the course of 20-25 years, but for a whole lot more of us, there was no ladder. At best, we maybe got the occasional bump in title or responsibility, maybe a little raise here and there that was barely above a cost of living adjustment, and in the worst case, our “loyalty” was rewarded by a layoff so they could bring in someone else at a lower salary and start all over again.

Some, like me, starting leaving for different opportunities when the job we were in didn’t fit what we wanted any longer. Which doesn’t fit the narrative. But, it’s only a little off the norm.

So, now, when we look at the people who’ve decided to do something else entirely, we are aghast. “How could they?” “What are they thinking?”

Maybe, and I don’t want to speak for whole generations here but, just maybe, we need to consider that the earth is shaking in terms of careers and employment. That whole generations are out here still being told to buckle down and work hard at a job they are passionate about for years, who have also watched that system fail people miserably, and they don’t want any part of it. They see that the world is shaking, and changing. They see that having a gap, or job-hopping means way less than the older generations have said it does. They see the opportunities in gig work, freelance work, etc. to forge a different path. They see the benefits of simply leaving jobs that create poor mental health. They aren’t waiting to have someone else give them permission to forge ahead.

Maybe most importantly, they see the recruiters and the “old heads” wagging their fingers about job hopping and laziness and just don’t care. They simply add those people to the list of people they don’t want to work for. Knowing full well that, eventually, those people will be gone, and they will still be here, shaping the workplace into their own image.

So the next time you see someone not following what has been conventional knowledge about careers for the last 50 years, stop and consider why we still hold to that advice when that’s not the world we live in any more. Consider what the last year has done in terms of showing us what really matters, and that what we do for work, is exactly that, what we do for work. Not the full parcel of our identify and value in the world.

It’s about time.

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