“The saddest lie in the modern day’s work dilemma is that anyone can get rich if they just work hard enough.”
The 20th century gave rise to many traditional and linear career paths with structured, hierarchical organizations. As a result, stress and work dissatisfaction became common traits. Depression is even more so. Desk-jobs are not inherently meant to be bad. But the idea of being confined to a desk for more than 40 hours a week for years, for a salary that does not compensate a moderate lifestyle can be agonizing. Especially if you are pressured by debt (and in many cases, over-expectations.)
Of course, not everyone finds desk-jobs painful and this article will not try to convince anyone otherwise. But the idea of spending years or even decades for an organization that does not care for its employees is a common problem… and quite sadly, daunting enough.
One of the root causes of this dilemma can be observed when looking at most jobs. Throughout the years, as computers and tech evolved, it has disrupted the need to use physical labor or effort. Many jobs are abstract and lack tangible results thanks to digital data and cloud storage reports or excel sheets. This is especially difficult for those with high spatial relations visualization.
You work hard all day and in the end, it feels like you haven’t produced anything real for your efforts.
But there are many other concerns in the office and why people are dissatisfied or want to leave as soon as they can. The list is huge. From untapped abilities to a micro-managing boss, to office politics or bad management. It is hard to maintain a good atmosphere in large companies in the long run without encountering problems. But when the first thought of entering an office is: “when can I get back home?” there is trouble. And that is what I felt and heard from coworkers. Something was not right. So what had led to so much discomfort and anxiety to become self-dependent?
Many office cultures do not share the same work-life-balance as the Scandinavian countries. In our cases, we can say farewell to those extra hours of family-time or hangouts with our best buds. One of the sad reasons for this is that a shocking number of people living from paycheck to paycheck. This is a huge problem for not only middle and low-income families but the upper class who are seeing their six-figure incomes slip through their fingers. Even though the average American earns more than the average person in the European Union (collectively) life is still crippled by accumulating debt. 🙁
From Classroom to Cubicle – The Transition of Graduates
Graduating from college and entering “the real world” is perhaps one of the most jarring life transition a young adult will ever face. There is a certain level of joy and relief when someone graduates with a special set of skills or knowledge. You are eager to earn those cash rewards you’ve so eagerly waited for.
And reality comes crashing down.
Getting a job can be difficult enough. But getting a well paying job that values its employees feels like a Mission Impossible ride. Rejections or ghosted emails by busy HR will haunt graduates. And the majority of the lucky ones will either end up doing something they will probably won’t enjoy. Or they will never truly utilize what they’ve actually learned.
The mentality of many coworkers I had in one of the Big Four companies where I worked (Deloitte, Pwc, KMPG and EY) was simple. There were those who managed to cope with their confined spaces in their cubicles, limited responsibilities, strolling the office halls devoid of life. They found relief in their stability and evidently… were much happier. And there are those who quenched their sorrows in bars because their work was hell, constantly repeating in their heads: “Get some experience and leave ASAP.”
(Perhaps I was one of these… except I couldn’t afford to go to the bar.) 😛
The truth is, 90% of the people left these companies within a year or two. Why? On one side, there was a fear of burnout. As a fresh graduate, young adults can take the hustle and the notion that you are just a number amongst hundreds of other employees… fresh meat for superiors.
Another concern was labeling. You want to perform well. But once that motivation dissolves every eye labels you as lazy for not working more than 40 or 50 hours a week. So the hustle culture grows on you. And you have to maintain your enthusiastic pace at the cost of family, health, happiness, and friends.
Time is Money
But the true reason for leaving a job was not because of the work or low pay. Truth be told, over time my colleagues and I came to a realization. It was scary! When looking at your superiors who were a few years ora. decade older than you, and where their lives headed… there was no joy or satisfaction.
But when doing the math in your head and start thinking about your future, there are some of the most important things economists don’t use when measuring a country’s GDP: TIME. In the business world, time is crucial. Why? Imagine you invest in real estate, stocks or currencies. Whether you’ve invested from your own budget or company capital, the timespan of your ROI is more important than anything. And I keep thinking whether my investments will bear fruit by the time I’m 35 or 65. Time is the most important finite resource. In the same sense, you invest your time in your work environment, in your time in that small cubicle at your desk. You can calculate whether your ROI is actually worth all that trouble or not?
And as time goes by, people tend to live in regret of not living their passion. And so they leave their jobs as soon as a better opportunity arrives. This, I believe is not only unhealthy for employees. But also harms the company and rids it from loyalty, persistence, and creativity.
This could be an opinionated argument. But we have to go back to the beginning and look at our system and the fundamental expectations we have developed that lead us astray. First, let’s start remedying the situation from our education.
It is important to facilitate university students in all ways possible by developing strategies to synthesize the characteristics that would align with the university‘s mission to develop professionals for a better world. The problem is… many universities fail at these tasks! At one of my lectures, we were debating what makes a great university from an average one. The answer from an Ivy League professor was simple:
This is incredibly difficult and needs a lot of skills, practical knowledge, persistence, discipline, connections, funds and some luck along the way. But the first five points, are things we can learn ourselves while students. Universities should promote and encourage these skills.
The Real World
Exposure to real-world problems and taking risks should be part of courses implement into curriculums. An effective way is to let go of the students’ hands and allow them to make progress and find ways of making money from certain courses. This way, they can see the full effect and versatility of their degrees in the job market.
Many internships or student-jobs are extremely useful at this point. But personally, I wish I had looked at my future from an entrepreneurial perspective, instead of picturing myself as an office rat in a suit. I wish I had tried and worked out various ways to use not my degree but my knowledge to start something with my own hands. To use my own efforts, diligence, and creativity to determine the market demand for my skills combined with the knowledge of my courses and the teachings of my professors. While this might sound like an edgy cliche, it does at least grant young adults a taste of the world we live and work in. It can help many avoid falling into the clusters of office cubicles by developing means to work for themselves. (Of course, not everyone dreads the cubicle, not everyone is in favor of self-employment. But it is worth giving people a shot from an early age to be their own bosses.)
“The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.” by Tony Robbins