RUBEN NAVARETTE JR.: Americans need to figure out how they really feel about work
Monday was Labor Day. Established by Congress in 1894, Labor Day is set aside to honor the contributions of the American worker. But this year, for a variety of reasons, the holiday felt a bit off.
September 6, 2022 - 9:02 pm
Monday was Labor Day. Established by Congress in 1894, Labor Day is set aside to honor the contributions of the American worker.
But this year, for a variety of reasons, the holiday felt a bit off. Unfortunately, Americans no longer revere the dedicated worker. Instead, we admire the crafty scoundrel who finds a way to wiggle out of work.
How many people do you know who say that they hope they win the lottery so they can keep their job?
The coronavirus was an accelerant. Being locked up during a pandemic and spending a ghastly amount of time by yourself — and with yourself — spurs introspection. Look at yourself long enough, and you will eventually look at your job. And maybe you’ll decide that you deserve better.
Perhaps you’ll join the so-called Great Resignation, where millions of workers have ditched jobs that are not fulfilling or meaningful. Life is short. Best to not waste it working for an unappreciative boss in a work culture that won’t change at a company that doesn’t value your input.
Or maybe you’ll do what a lot of folks in their teens and 20s seem to be doing these days. It’s called “quiet quitting.” For Americans born between 1997 and 2012, sticking it to the man means doing just enough to get by and not putting in 110 percent. They’re not quitting. They’re coasting.
Goodbye, overtime. Hello, autopilot.
With so much going on in the “work space,” Labor Day 2022 was a good time for Americans to sort out how we really feel about the concept of labor.
The answer is complicated. Some surveys say most U.S. workers don’t like their jobs, especially those at the lower rung of the economic ladder. Others find that most workers like their jobs just fine.
But one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that most American workers don’t much like how we are being managed. I imagine that many of them think their bosses are idiots who should be in another line of work.
In Gallup’s 2020 “Great Jobs” survey — which is conducted in partnership with Lumina Foundation, the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network — the trend lines were clear.
■ Only about 44 percent of employed Americans are in “good jobs.” Gallup defines those as jobs where workers put in 30-plus hours per week for an employer who provides a regular paycheck.
■ There are significant disparities in the quality of jobs that people have, according to race and ethnicity.
■ Most workers, even those at the bottom of the income scale, say their paycheck is less important than enjoying their day-to-day work, receiving a stable and predictable salary and having a sense of purpose.
Meanwhile, “Help Wanted” signs dot the fruited plain, from sea to shining sea. Managers and shopkeepers keep raising wages and coming up with incentives just to interview. They still can’t find enough workers. And anyone they do hire may show up today but skedaddle next week.
For July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate fell to just 3.5 percent.
Look, I admit it. I don’t get what’s going on with kids today in the workplace. I’m a member of Generation X, and we’re largely self-starters. My cohort and I don’t need your praise. We wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway. Save it for the millennials, who treat the stuff like oxygen.
In elementary school, we X’ers let ourselves into the house with a key hidden under a flowerpot, made ourselves an after-school snack and plopped down in front of the television, where we were raised by sitcoms. In high school, we worked at after-school and summer jobs — and so did everyone we knew.
Today, we’re hustlers and workaholics.
I put in seven days a week, juggling five or six part-time jobs. The idea of joining the Great Resignation or “quiet quitting” strikes me as absurd. Before I could find myself, the mortgage company would most certainly find me.
Still, I have to admit something else: To my surprise, I think those younger Americans who have a laissez-faire attitude toward work may be on to something. There is nothing wrong with reassessing priorities now and then. A healthy balance between work and life is a noble goal.
The X’ers couldn’t pull it off. We tended to go too far in one direction or the other. If the kids think they can do better, more power to them.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.