Editorial: A problem for the ages?
Published 1:05 am, Friday, February 12, 2010
In one of my rare moments of downtime recently, after getting off the phone with one of my friends, I was struck by a realization. It was sparked by the phone conversation -- the person I was talking to was raving about his job. He truly loves what he does for a living.
The notion instantly struck me as odd, but I didn't know why until I really started thinking about all the people I know who really do not like their job. Then I began to think about the people I know who don't even have jobs. If the litmus test for happiness is job status, today's workforce is probably pretty miserable.
Part of the unhappiness seems to be stress-based. So many people are faced with too much work and not enough time or not enough help. When companies cut back, the work doesn't go away, it just get dispensed among the people who are left over.
Another part of the occupational unhappiness seems to be that people are taking work wherever they can get it. Jobs are scarce, and so many people jump in wherever they can find a place, whether it's the right fit or not -- the well-known square peg in a round hole, which is an uncomfortable and, at times, suffocating place to be.
These are the people who feel like they are backed into a corner. They have jobs, but not under the circumstances they pictured when they entered the workforce.
Of course, as we get older, we realize that most people aren't living out their dreams. Our society isn't overrun with professional athletes or supermodels. The reality is that most of us just find something we're good at that's close enough to what dreamed about, or we find something that we can tolerate enough to be able to come back to work every day.
And then there are the jobless ones. Too many people are without jobs now, and have been for months. They cobble together a living by finding freelance work, collecting unemployment or anything else they can think of. They've cut back on all extraneous expenses, which means they can't even afford to have fun anymore.
Just because someone has a job doesn't mean that they're rolling in the dough, either. Extra workload doesn't usually translate to extra money anymore. So many of my friends and associates are living paycheck-to-paycheck with families to support. They're justifiably worried about their children's future.
This time in our nation's economy has been compared to the Great Depression, but things really aren't that dire -- yet. Let's hope they don't get there.
But while we don't see the likes of Hoovervilles around here, many are waving Hoover flags (empty pockets that are pulled inside out).
People are broke, or nearly there whether they are employed or not. For the younger generation just entering the workforce, this is the hardest time they've ever experienced. It feels overwhelming.
But at the risk of sounding trite, every generation has had its ups and downs, and has managed to survive. That gives me hope. I have to believe that things will turn around, even when mainstream media is shouting doomsday warnings at us 24 hours a day.
I have no solutions or quick fixes for those who find themselves in a job they don't like or who can't find work. Nor do I have any money-making schemes up my sleeves. I do wonder, though, if the unhappiness in the workplace is a generational thing. Did other generations find themselves in the same predicament? Is this hopeless feeling something unique to the kids just entering the workforce or is it a feeling everyone goes through at some point in their career?
I have a feeling that the answer I receive will be something along the lines of: "We just sucked it up and got through it."
I'm from the Office Space generation, so I'm not far enough removed from the 20-somethings in the Devil Wears Prada group to offer any words of wisdom. But I've seen Falling Down (1993), Nine to Five (1980) and Network (1976). Better yet, I've seen Modern Times (1936). I suspect the generation getting its start in the workforce right now is not the first to feel frustrated.