How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?- Charles Bukowski
Nearly every poll and scientific study shows that, in the United States anyway, people don’t really like their jobs. In fact, large numbers actually hate their work. A recent survey found that seven out of ten workers have “checked out” or “are actively disengaged” at work. Yet, the vast majority stick around for fear of poverty in a lousy job market.
It’s not surprising to see these numbers. Practically everyone I talk to complains about work in some way. For large numbers of people, their jobs negatively affect their physical and mental health. Work is literally killing them. But, why? I’m going to explain why work sucks (and how to change it later on). And, I mean at a fundamental level.
Why Work Sucks
Yes, this had to make the list. Many people in leadership positions simply aren’t leaders. They lack social skills and the tools to motivate employees. If you can’t inspire and motivate, what do you have? Force. And when people feel forced to do anything, they’re usually miserable and less productive.
The current system, especially in big business, rewards the aggressive go-getters, not necessarily the best leaders. While aggressively pursuing opportunities is a strong leadership trait, if that is the only leadership skill a person has, then watch out. Lots of companies today are filled with power hungry enforcers, not leaders. And, that’s bad for work.
Everyone Else is a Minion
Most businesses today are very bottom heavy. There are lots of minions and very few leaders (or opportunities to be one). Being a minion sucks for a few reasons. First, they get told what to do. Second, they have very little input even though they actually deal with the clients or customers.
When I was a teacher, we were often invited to collaborate on certain proposed changes in the school. We were with the students in the classroom everyday and knew them well. Our suggestions were rarely even acknowledged. The result was often uninformed and counter-productive policy.
This is one reason why there are many, many bad employees in jobs. While some people are just lazy and whiny, in many cases, employees have simply decided it’s not worth their best effort. After all, why should a twenty-something McDonald’s employee be all smiley and cheerful when she’s making minimum wage and putting up with horrible customers and annoying teenage co-workers?
At some point, everyone (or at least seventy percent) reaches at least a mild level of disassociation.
It’s Outdated and Meaningless
Working itself isn’t outdated and meaningless. But, our current version of it is. First, let’s look at the outdated nature of the current system. It’s based on working forty hours, being extremely productive, showing loyalty to a company, commuting to a building, and spending the better part of a person’s life doing it.
This may have been useful for employees in the 1950s and 60s, but is it relevant now? Why forty hours? Hasn’t technology helped make that somewhat obsolete? As for the productivity and loyalty, that may have worked forty years ago when there was a gentleman’s agreement of sorts for the company and employees to work together. Why should any employee show loyalty today when a company is likely to high tail it to India or Mexico the next week?
The building part is also baffling. With the internet, why do we still cram a bunch of people into cubicles? While it’s true that some jobs require this, many do not. Spending hours commuting daily isn’t good for employee health, happiness, or engagement.
The other part of the equation is the meaninglessness of work. In the past, your job could at least provide you with a sense of meaning. Most jobs involved constructing things that others found useful. And, generally, a person was paid well for it. It’s hard to find meaning in today’s service economy, where a guy makes minimum wage to get someone more obese.
How To Change It
However, it’s not all bad news. There are ways to actually improve labor and the quality of life for workers. So, here’s the good news of how to change the current sucky conditions of work.
Be Less Materialistic
If people weren’t working extra for crap they didn’t need (or their children didn’t need), likely the unemployment rate would be lower. Kids would also have a parent around and everyone wouldn’t be so overworked and stressed.
Granted, it would be tough for most Americans to cut out the addiction to stuff, but is both parents working sixty hour weeks so they can afford that third plasma TV really good for society or their families (or themselves)? Probably not.
But, when people are desperate for money, they’ll put up with terrible working conditions. If people stopped being so materialistic, there’d be fewer potential employees available. Supply and demand says they’d be treated better and paid better.
Find An Identity Outside of Work
When meeting someone new, what is often the first question? It’s often “where do you work?” or “what do you do?” It’s because we’ve typically let our jobs define us. If we allowed ourselves to be defined by other, more meaningful metrics, then perhaps work wouldn’t become the center of people’s universes.
For example, how can commuting ten hours a week on top of a fifty hour work week provide any meaning? Better, in my opinion, to make less and have a life with friends and meaningful experiences than lots of money and toys and be empty.
Finding an identity outside of work isn’t too difficult. Get to know beautiful women (or confident, charming men), make friends with fun, exciting people. Spend time with your family. Exercise, get out in nature. Write. Read. Pray. Do something worthwhile.
Start Your Own Business
I’ve saved the best for last. As the quote from Bukowski illustrates, when we work, we’re actually making money for others. And, in many cases, the process of making others rich is killing our spirits and health. What’s the solution? Start your own business.
I went to school for nearly twenty years of my life (High School, Bachelors, Masters) and no one mentioned that I should start my own business. I was conditioned to believe that I had to go to college and get a workaday type of job.
I believe our problem today isn’t too much capitalism or having too many millionaires. It’s that we don’t have enough capitalism and that we have too few millionaires. We need more people to come up with a great idea, take the risk of starting a business, and work their asses off to make it successful.
Working for yourself means independence and the joy of knowing that at least your hard work and dedication is making you money. It’s a lot riskier than going out and working for someone else. But, the upside is incredible. And, given that work as practiced in 2013 is destroying many men and women, it’s barely a risk from a happiness standpoint.
Happy Labor Day! It started out as a radical holiday. Let’s make it radical again. Challenge the nature of work. Be happy.