hey, older generations, did you know work doesn’t have to be awful?
Baby Boomers are very upset with Millennials for trying to make work more meaningful and comfortable after watching them suffer.
Being an older millennial is both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, you’re still young enough to see the logic in some of the changes in education and workplaces that send hordes of baby boomers complaining about lazy, entitled young people who do nothing these days, all too often from their work cubicles, on social platforms said lazy do-nothings built into billion plus dollar empires. On the negative side, you get to hear all the grumbling and flack directed at you as well even though you’re now a colleague on the same level rather than an office temp. It’s as if just mentioning that media buzzword sends countless people close to 40 and older into a rant the sole purpose of which is to tell you how much life sucks, how work is supposed to be awful, how you must work day and night for a reward that might never come, and damn it, will you get some polo shirts and khakis instead of coming into the office in jeans? This is a business, not a hippie commune where you can wear comfortable clothes and be treated like a person! Why in the old days you came to work in a suit, had a two martini lunch, and slept in your office to ever get ahead in life and make something of yourself, you lazy, good for nothing little twerp…
And so it goes, we’re told. It’s called work because it’s supposed to be grinding, tedious, and all together terrible. You put in your eight hours, or however long the boss needs you, then you go home to your family where you can wear what you want, say what you want, and enjoy being at a place other than work. You’ll rise up slowly over the years, pay your dues, get noticed by your strict, no-nonsense, but secretly warm and kind boss who watches your every move and slowly mentors you to take over when he retires. And on the day of his retirement party, he delivers a long, heartfelt speech about how far you’ve come, and how he truly considers you the absolute best replacement for him, and how one day you’ll go far. Then he’ll invite you back to his house so you can have an adventurous night with his ex-supermodel trophy wife because hey, you’ve earned it champ. If we’re going to indulge in retelling nostalgic corporate fairy tales, we may as well spice it up, right? Yes, to those whose work is non-stop thanks to ubiquitous smartphones, and who must compete with either overseas versions of us or robots for every job, and whose bosses see us as nothing but an expense as our tenures grow, all this old timey advice is pretty much just tone deaf fairy tales that completely ignore the real world for a cozy fantasy.
Like with many nostalgic themes in America today, all too many people view work with a set of rose colored glasses, and pretend that not only does the magical workplace I satirized actually exist today, but that it also ever existed at all and they worked there. But you and I both know it really isn’t true. How? Because when I was a little kid, I watched you come home, drop all your bags, slump into a chair, and bitterly complain about how you got passed over for that big new promotion in favor of some brown noser, or the boss’ spoiled kids, how your benefits became a lot more expensive while giving you way less, how you’ve always dreamed of doing something, anything else with your life but that, telling me to go to college so I can grow up and like what I’ll end up doing for a living. What, did you really think that we weren’t watching and listening when we were little and that your grousing, depression, divorces, and eruptions of hatred for toiling at some cubicle farm where you’re just a cog in a large, faceless machine with little reward wasn’t going to make any impression on us as we were growing up? And now, we’re lazy, entitled, and rotten little bastards because we’re following your directive to find something that makes us feel at least somewhat alive in between sleep and home, and actually say that’s what we want?
Kids don’t grow up in a vacuum. We didn’t get the idea that we were supposed to do something meaningful with our lives out of thin air. It was taught to us from the day we could understand a simple sentence from your mouth. We’ve seen firsthand what an awful work life does to family, home, and health, so telling us to accept it as a fact of life and succumb to the misery is really a self-righteous way to tell us to give up and take life’s beatings. Kind of like you did. Except in an environment where not only are you treated as an overpriced non-person, you don’t even get a good, old fashioned load of bullshit from corporate assuring you that’s not the case anymore. It boggles the mind that so many people look at a commitment to an employer, with whom they’re going to spend more time than with their family in many cases, build a relationship with it much like a marriage, and after a while decide that it’s totally fine to have an abusive spouse that just uses you to get what it wants, and that’s how life just is. Almost three fourths of the workforce is basically suffering from an economic equivalent of a battered spouse syndrome, and that hurts both employers and employees. But too many employers simply don’t care and won’t fix it.
So you can choose to view millennials’ complaints of being made to do useless busy work, or a proposal to allow jeans and comfortable shoes in the office as spoiled brats being bratty. That’s your choice. Or you could choose to consider why you’re demanding a four year degree for an educated and fairly expensive human being to make copies, fetch coffee, and do something by hand for weeks on end instead of writing a program that could do it in minutes. Dismissing very vocal and recurrent complaints is a comfortable spot to occupy. You don’t have to reevaluate a method you’ve always followed critically, or make any changes. You can be lazy and leave that cube farm plagued with resource misallocation and workers who’ve long forgotten how to feign actually caring about what they do as it is, telling yourself and others that it’s a fantasy right out of an episode of Mad Men with mentorships (which have long been phased out), opportunities for all (which have all been outsourced or automated), and an almost fatherly concern by those in charge for the comfort of their employees (which was deemed to expensive) and not a slow, steady descent into irrelevance. Fixing real problems is much more expensive, and so we’re all simply told that the bugs are not bugs at all but actually features, and great ones at that…