Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Do You Hate Your Job?

You may not know it, but you are miserable. You hate your job. Not just you. Everyone hates his job. Apparently, millennials hate their jobs more than the rest of us. 

Why do we hate our jobs? Well, they require us to work. And, we hate working. We want to engage our wondrous souls in more spiritual endeavors. We do not just want to be pushing paper and marketing gizmos. We seek more meaning, and we are not finding it in our jobs.

Don’t believe me? Read Elena Shalneva, a woman who hates her job. (via Maggie’s Farm) Worse yet, she has statistics, amassed by the Gallup corporation, suggesting that we all hate our jobs. Apparently, Americans hate their jobs less than some other people; in Japan, they really hate their jobs.

Needless to say, we have long since abandoned our love of statistics. But, we are happy to tell you that once upon a time, the Western world did not have something we now call the Protestant Work Ethic. Thanks to sociologist Max Weber we now understand that the Reformation brought us a spanking new work ethic. That meant, in the words of Martin Luther, that working to make a living, working to allocate capital, working to produce goods and services… could count as good works.

Before Luther, good works involved only religious practice… going to mass, going to confession, giving alms to the poor… and doing meaningful spiritually uplifting charity work.

In time the Protestant work ethic gave us free enterprise and the Industrial Revolution. You might think that these together greatly improved the quality of everyday life in the West… and even the East. If we like we could always go back to prior age when life was nasty, brutish, mean and short.

Shalneva does not mention the Protestant work ethic. She does not mention the cultural disparities between cultures that embrace it and those that prefer a life of indolent leisure, creative self expression and lubricious decadence. 

She does, strangely, begin her paean to sloth with a few words from Hesiod. If you have never read Hesiod, you have not missed very much. Anyway, Hesiod was not a fan of work.

Of course, what counted as work in 700 B.C. is not quite the same thing as what counts as work today. Shalneva does not note the point, but she should have:

The key variable between the time when men were happy and the time when they were not, according to Hesiod, is work. “In the Golden Age,” he writes, men “lived like gods … remote and free from… hard toil…” But in the Iron Age, “men never rest from labour…” Writing about the Iron Age—the age of hard work and misery—Hesiod wrote about his own time, but he also wrote about our time. We live in the Iron Age. It is a sad age. It is the age when people have to work. And work kills the spirit.

In truth, you begin to wonder what has made work so unappealing. Perhaps it derives from the fact that some people do not understand work. Some people, like Shalneva think that the only good work is work that allows us to exercise our passion. Apparently, it is not enough to exercise at the gym or on the track. We need to go to the office to exercise our passions… an activity that is nothing if not self-indulgent.

In her words:

Few of us are talented enough to make a living from the exercise of our passion. So, driven by economic necessity, we fall into “jobs.” Most of these jobs are superfluous and invented—I’m sure of it!—to keep the talentless population employed. 

One is allowed to wonder whether these disparagement of work reflects a feminine perspective, a sense that the world of work was not designed to engage a more feminine sensibility. 

But it is also probably true that little girls don’t grow up wanting to become “vice-president for real-time card payments.” Or “senior manager for content licensing.” Or anything with “talent development” or “HR” in the title. Don’t get me wrong, these jobs have their uses. If you are a good vice-president for real-time card payments, someone, somewhere will be paid in real time. And that is a cause for joy. But how many of us are stoical enough to be motivated by the vague image of a nameless, faceless customer we will never meet, and about whom, let’s be honest, we don’t really care, when we push open the door of our open-plan at nine in the morning and brace ourselves for ten hours of drudgery?

It is perhaps too obvious to mention-- but here goes. What about work in the home, work bringing up children, work making a home? Why does that not cross Shalneva’s radar? I am not sure whose idea it was, but the general disparagement of work within the home seems at the root of some of these problems. If it goes unmentioned, that probably means that it was not dreamed up by the vast right wing male conspiracy.

Anyway, Shalneva seems to prefer more spiritual work. Why, pray tell, does she not join a charity or, at least, an NGO?

What I worry about is unrealised spirituality. This is my niche and the hill on which I will die. The dichotomy between what we originally want to be and what, due to the limitations of talent, circumstance, luck and, most of all, economics, we end up being, is as real as it is tragic. It is the curse of the Iron Age.

She seems especially torqued that her childhood dreams are not being realized in her work. Since when do we judge our jobs by whether or not they fulfill our wishes. And why do we still cling to our childhood wishes, our hearts’ desires, regardless. Did it ever cross her mind that we should develop the talents that we were given, not attempt to make our dreams come true? Did she miss the Biblical text about putting away the toys of childhood? 

To call this tragic suggests that she is much too full of herself. 

Sadly, she is not finished. In a later paragraph she addresses my concerns. For that I am surpassingly grateful:

If you don’t like office work, you can become a PE teacher. If you are bad with authority, start your own business. The corporate sector is too greedy for you? Join an NGO. How glorious our life would be if things were so simple. Regrettably, they are not. Nicolai Berdyaev, a Russian religious philosopher during the first half of the twentieth century, argued—quite convincingly—that this choice to which we habitually refer is not really a choice at all. There is no freedom in it. It is a decision to adjust, adapt, and fit in. It is not a choice to create. At best, it is the choice of an animal looking for food and shelter, not of a human agent created in God’s image. He was right. As we leave childhood and the need to earn a living becomes increasingly urgent, our dreams start getting trimmed and trampled and squashed, until there comes a day when we no longer remember them. We begin by seeking the sublime. We end up resigned to the ordinary.

Berdyaev was an Orthodox mystic who attuned himself to the anagoge, to the end of days. He was not a proponent of the work ethic. His was a reactionary return to the days before the work ethic. Curiously, he seems to be promoting a form of radical individualism that sees the duty to work, the duty to contribute to society, the duty to provide for one’s self and one’s family… as detrimental to one’s chances to gain access to Heaven and to be resurrected. 

By my own rough calculations Shalneva is not a millennia. Be grateful for little things. But her attitude seems to reflect the general attitude to that misbegotten generation. Today’s millennials, you will be happy to learn, want their jobs to reflect their deeply held political beliefs. They want their jobs to be spiritually uplifting. Apparently, they do not much care about the bottom line or about economic viability. 

They do not call themselves pseudo-religious misfits, but declare that they want their work to reflect their values. One understands that this also involves tree-hugging environmentalism, flooding the nation with illegal migrants, hating all Republicans and wrecking the engines of wealth production in order to worship at the altar of the goddess of Nature.

Sue Shellenbarger described the millennial mindset in the Wall Street Journal last year:

More young workers are holding employers accountable for their values, and insisting that their companies stand for something, Mr. Edmonds says. Some 32% of millennials say businesses should try to reduce inequality and support better education, but only 16% of the employees say companies are actually doing so, the Deloitte survey shows. And while 27% of millennials think businesses should protect the environment, only 12% believe they’re doing so.

The growing employee activism is marked by walkouts protesting employers’ stance on the environment, immigration policy or use of their technology for military drone strikes. Some 38% of developers have approached their leadership with such misgivings or concerns, according to a recent HackerRank survey of 71,000 software developers.

All that promises to put more CEOs on the hot seat. As employees become more vocal, “C-suite leaders will have to listen,” Mr. Edmonds says. And that, he says, is a good thing: “It helps employers get clearer about, ‘This is what we stand for.’ ”

In the best of circumstances this will offer employers an interesting management challenge. More likely, this incompetent undereducated cohort is not going to have a very bright future.


UbuMaccabee said...

Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment: chop wood carry water.

Guatama Ubu

"paean to sloth" Is that a 12-tone poem?

Sam L. said...

Shalneva? Who is she? I suspect I shall neve(r) know, for LO, I care not.

David Foster said...

The survey didn't actually say that 85% of people hate their jobs; it said that 85% of people (worldwide) were "not engaged", which is not great but is a different thing. And that's a worldwide number; the number for the US is 70%.

To the extent that people aren't engaged or actually do hate their jobs, I'd assert that most of the time the problem isn't that they don't want to work, but that the jobs are in a poorly-organized and poorly-managed environment. In the US retail industry, for example, decisions are often made at people and/or by computers...without any opportunity for local input, leading to such things as the stocking of snow blowers in south Florida. Erratic schedules, with no advance notice of when someone has to come in, are common. And there in a vicious circle between inadequate training and high employee turnover.

I recommend Zeynep Ton's book 'The Good Jobs Strategy', in which she discusses the problems with retail and customer service jobs and discusses alternative management approaches. My review is here:

Anonymous said...

Donald TЯump.

Sam L. said...

I've never hated any of my jobs, even when I was cleaning out dropping pits on the chicken farm. Or underground in missile launch control centers. Now I'm retired; what have I to hate?