Meaningful Work

This morning, I read two articles on Fast Company that seemed to contradict each other. The first was about some internet guru lady who says that big companies better look out because working Millennials won’t be motivated by money, instead, they’ll be looking for ‘meaningful’ employment.

The second article said, big companies are trying to motivate their employees to work crazy long hours, near 80 hours a week, by paying them lots of money, because paying one person to work 80 hours is cheaper (because of things like taxes and benefits) than paying two people to work 40 hours a week.

If the writers of the two articles had talked to each other – the advice they might give to big corporations is to pack their jobs with ‘meaning’ and they can hire four Millennials for the price of one Gen-Xer. Now, that might mean they’ll have to deal with the Millennial’s mothers calling the boss anytime the millennial came home with a poor grade, oh I mean bad review, but that’s the trade-off for saving money.

A woman I know (late thirties – so NOT a Millennial) recently left a job because her boss, although continuously complimentary of her skill and efficiency, complained about her lack of ‘passionate commitment’ to the company because she refused to work more than 50 hours a week. He wanted her to ‘realign her priorities.’ Her priorities are currently aligned with her husband and her small child, for shame! After a year of enduring the dirty looks of her co-workers every time she left the office before 6 pm to pick up her son from after-school-care, she finally told the boss to take his job and shove it.

Why do I feel like we’re going backwards? Didn’t that boss ever see the movie ‘9 to 5?’ What happened to the ideal of the 40 hour work week? Wasn’t that something people fought for a hundred years ago?

Those people actually had jobs that meant something. Back in the early part of the last century everybody made things, tangible things. White and Blue collar alike could explain their jobs in tangible terms. Everyone worked so that they could go home after an eight hour day and spend time with their family and friends, enjoying the food and shelter bought with the money they earned.

Isn’t that the point? Isn’t the point of a job to make the money you need to live? And isn’t life defined by the moments you spend with the people you love and the experiences you have away from work?

Oh sure, there is this fantasy we’ve all been promoting for that last few decades that we should all ‘love’ our work. This is garbage. In fact garbage is a great example of why this is garbage.

We’ve all been told ‘the world needs ditch-diggers too.’ It took me a long time to realize that statement wasn’t just about people who literally dug ditches. It was about the people who maintain the civilization we take for granted. The pothole fillers and the utility pole climbers and the garbage collectors.

If all those people suddenly quit and started doing jobs they ‘loved’ or felt ‘passionate’ about, a lot of garbage would start piling up in front of your house.

I was out for a walk the other day and as I crossed a narrow side street, I could see a line of cars trapped behind a garbage truck. Not all, but a few of the stuck drivers were leaning on their horns. They’d been doing so for so long, that the garbage men were stubbornly taking even longer to do their work. I’m guessing, but there was a lot of hand, no, full arm gesturing going on, so it’s probably a good guess.

As I walked (quickly) beyond the scene, a man sitting at a table outside a bar on the main street asked me what the commotion was about. I said, “Some idiots are honking at the garbage men.”

The late 20ish man, dressed in ‘casual Friday’ khakis and button down shirt, enjoying his lunchtime PBR, said to me, “You know they get paid by the hour, right?”

I’m not good with witty comebacks. I just waved a disdainful hand in his face and walked on by.

I wish I’d said, “If they’re paid so much, why aren’t you doing that job?” OR “Whatever they are getting paid, it is not nearly enough for the service they provide.” OR “And how exactly are you are deserving of your six figure salary by sitting here at noon on a Friday enjoying your liquid lunch?”

If we paid everyone based on how meaningful their jobs are, and I mean meaningful as in full of tangible meaning, not some sort of twist on the word ‘fun,’ garbage collectors and utility workers and ditch diggers would be the billionaires.

Take that one step further, get rid of all the jobs that don’t have any tangible meaning, and all of a sudden, that guy sitting outside the bar is unemployed. And all the idiots honking at the garbage collectors all disappear because they can’t afford to buy the cars they were driving.

I think it would be lovely if all the Millennials actually meant ‘full of meaning’ instead of ‘full of fun’ when they say they want meaningful employment. The world would be better for it. But on the other hand, I’ll be the old lady living off the social security funds that they’ll be paying into. So, screw that, meaning and family is overrated, go, work your 80 hours a week and pay for my trips to Atlantic City, if that is still a thing in forty years.