Call me old-fashioned, but should we really be expecting our jobs to bring us happiness?
There was an obnoxious question I started hearing more and more regularly as I moved into what was about the third year of my previous job. Bumping into ol’ friends on the street, we’d get to vaguely discussing our lives, those awkward catch-ups you have with minor acquaintances who ask you, “So, what have you been up to?” As soon as I mentioned that I was in the same job, I’d hear, “Oh wow, you’re still working there?”
I don’t know when spending three years in the same role became some kind of unconscionably lazy act; wasn’t it once noble to stay in the same job for life? Maybe it’s a misleading idea I’ve gleaned from reading too much detective fiction, stories of cops and old-school journos who worked the same beat till they retired. Nowadays, we feel obliged to shift jobs even while we’re still perfectly satisfied in them. Whatever happened to the 40-year tenure? Why is staying in the same role for more than a handful of years deemed so deplorable these days?
The answer obviously has a lot to do with our changing attitudes towards work and the role it plays in our lives. The telling follow-up question I’d often receive from these same people would be something like, “Oh, but what do you really wanna do?” as though we’re all suddenly expected to live out our fantasy lives or that an honest day’s work can’t just be its own reward. Work is work, who really cares what I wanna do. How many people on earth legitimately get to do what they want? All I wanna do is work, earn enough money to not die cold in the streets, stop wasting my time.
The findings of a recent study into the way Gen Y operates in the workplace were briefly summarised in this article (humourously titled, “Come in at 9, or whenever”). It indicated that “by the age of 38, an average Gen Y will have had 14 different jobs – that equates to one job every one to two years”. Sure, there’s something to be said for ambition, but those figures are kinda nuts. How are these people not getting laughed out of interviews, cockily walking in with resumes longer than Moby Dick?
Today’s high turnover rate is often attributed to young employees chasing that elusive Holy Grail: job satisfaction. Based on further research, it seems Gen-Y’ers are willing to forego a better salary in exchange for a workplace of flexible working hours, Facebook freedom, and ping-pong and foosball tables. At the risk of sounding like the proverbial Old Man Next Door: Sigh, kids these days. They don’t know the difference between work and play. Get off my lawn!
Call me old-fashioned, but should we really be expecting our jobs to bring us happiness? If you’re not sitting forlornly at your desk, stressed out and counting down the seconds till you can clock off, perhaps you’re NOT WORKING HARD ENOUGH.
To borrow a line from Chuck Bukowski, the poet laureate of the perennially downtrodden (and edgy high school seniors): “Shock, shock, lord, lord, the wasted days, the days without meaning, the days of bosses and idiots, and the slow and brutal clock.” That sounds a bit more accurate, the ugly desperation of the workplace where we do our best to earn our keep despite the strong urge to just stay in bed. Work is by turns challenging, rewarding and inevitably tedious, not a fun amusement park with lobbies full of puppies and mid-afternoon breaks to play darts with our wacky CEOs.
Further research unearthed a whole bunch of HR consultants describing these new trends of non-traditional employment, a blurring of “work life” and “home life”. This sounds like we’re all being taken for a ride. For many of us, our only moment of peace comes when we walk through the front door, dump our bags by the fridge, plonk on the couch and forget about the struggles of the day with our partners and/or televisions. That separation, the brief respite from the trials and stresses of the work-day, is paramount to our happiness. Being encouraged to sleep in till 10am and check emails in our pyjamas destroys that hallowed division, no matter how much employers try to dress it up as a personal favour.
It seems that shorter tenures are just one of the many changes we’ll have to accept as a new generation of employers and employees look to transform work into some sort of pretend wonderland. Meanwhile, I’m writing this from my living room couch while watching Ellen and drinking lunchtime wine, so what the hell do I know. The future always drags us along, kicking and screaming and drinking heavily.