Quit hating on your job
CHICAGO — Our society has succumbed to the pleasant lie that work should always be fun and that work relationships should be that of the Best-Friends-Forever variety.
But believe this fairy tale and you’re likely to be one very unhappy employee.
A teacher friend of mine recently told me a story — practically with flames shooting out of his eyeballs — about his high school freshmen.
During a lesson on the pros and cons of a higher minimum wage, his class watched a YouTube video of journalist John Stossel interviewing Merv Crist, owner of a fancy steakhouse in Bakersfield, California.
Crist made an offhand comment: “My father and mother instilled work ethic. … You work. You don’t say, ‘Should I jump?’ You say, ‘How far should I jump?’ when the boss says, ‘Jump.’”
The students in my friend’s classroom were befuddled. He reported — and I’ve heard similar concerns from countless professionals who are in charge of hiring young people — that the class consensus was that the guy on YouTube was exaggerating because, well, why would you do something just because the boss said to?
The way things are going, “boss” is a term that will soon go extinct, along with “superior” and “manager,” in favor of the more egalitarian “team leader,” “coach,” “fellow company stakeholder,” “peer facilitator” or “work community member.”
This may be the natural outgrowth of a public school ethos that, in the last 20 years or so, has emphasized fun, student-centered education methods. This philosophy puts pupils in charge of “creating their own knowledge” and insists that everyone is special and no one should ever be considered the highest authority on any topic.
If your teacher is not an authority figure, and also your parents let you choose your own meals, clothing and everything else that used to be dictated by mom and dad, why in the world would you do what your boss says? Especially if it’s not fun?
And it’s not just kids. The idea that individual leadership is bad and only team-based work is valid seems to be everywhere.
In a review of the MTV reality show “Todrick” about the musical entrepreneur Todrick Hall, a past “American Idol” contestant, a New York Times writer recoiled that “Ostensibly, part of this show’s aim is to emphasize that Todrick Inc. isn’t a one-man operation. But watching Mr. Hall work, it’s clear that everything around him is a prop. The people, the cameras, the locations, the actual props — they’re all in service of him. And so ‘Todrick’ ends up being a documentary about top-down management, not collaboration.”
It’s hard to imagine many people lobbing this same criticism at any of the adoring biopics and documentaries about the “visionary” and “innovative” Steve Jobs, who was notoriously dictatorial.
(For a succulent debunking of the myth of cultish charismatic leadership and the efficacy of group collaboration, read “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain.)
Ultimately we must consider whether there is a possible connection between all this me-me-me-ism at work and rising dissatisfaction with employment.
In “The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life,” by Janice Kaplan, the author observes that while Depression-era employees were grateful to have any job that kept them out of a bread line, today the anxiety of those struggling to find work is practically equal to how much people hate the jobs they have.
“When we asked people in the survey I did how grateful they were for a variety of things, ‘your current job’ finished dead last. Only 39 percent expressed gratitude for their present employment. The number went way up for those who earned $150,000 or more but even in that elite group, close to 40 percent said — nope, not grateful for my job.”
Kaplan does devote a full chapter of her book to explaining why employers should be grateful for their employees and treat them well. But she asks us to consider that our own approach to work — our willingness to accept that it isn’t always fun, fulfilling or self-directed — might have more to do with how we experience it than how our employers treat us.
Try to appreciate work — it’s hard even when you love it, and nearly everyone has a boss. And being employed sure beats the alternative.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.
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Last week’s column was about Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., a respected gastroenterologist who wrote “Fiber Fueled,” which came out in 2020. Today’s column is the first in a series of columns based on this book.