How 87% of people either disliking or hating their job became normal
By E.F Nicholson
In 2012, Gallup published their State of the Global Workplace report, which could have been more accurately titled “the absolute depressing state of the global workplace”. The report highlighted findings from Gallup’s ongoing study of workplaces in more than 140 countries. The big reveal? Well, the shocking news was most people don’t like their jobs; like a friend of mine Jason said, “You say you’re going to work not to fun”
The report states “The bulk of employees worldwide — 63% — are “not engaged,” meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes. And 24% are “actively disengaged,” indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to co-workers. In rough numbers, this translates into 900 million not engaged and 340 million actively disengaged workers around the globe.”
In layman’s terms, 63% don’t want to be working but mange to put up with it but just do the bare minimum and the other 24% consciously hate their jobs and actively bitch and moan about that fact to anyone willing to listen. In the US the total figure of active-disengaged and disengaged was 70%, which is very high, so it’s not just developing countries that have this problem.
Considering 45% of the people employed in the US earn the pitiful minimum wage and most of them are employed in the service industry, is it any wonder that being paid peanuts for dreary and mindless work invokes feelings of active disinterest and overall disillusionment? And, we wonder why the lotto is so popular.
What’s interesting is that this problem is viewed as an issue with the employees themselves, not with the actual work. When you search “employee engagement” on Google, you come across thousands of article and suggestions on how to improve your engagement with your employees. One article titled Working Dead: The Cost Of Low Employee Engagement goes through all the profit leaking problems that “workplace zombies” create for corporations. All the tips and tricks suggested are not about addressing the fact that being a zombie is the natural response to being “treated” like a zombie, rather it’s about squeezing more from said zombies. Ok, they might be zombies, but surely they can be more productive!! It points out how workplace zombies take off more sick days with an emphasis on the company’s bottom-line (damn those lazy zombies!!!!), rather than addressing what it is about their work environments that makes some people more sick than others.
What’s also absent from the analysis is why “workplace zombies” are the majority, not the minority. The obvious truth that if the majority dislike it, it’s probably unlikeable work seems to be ignored. Part of what the report also revealed is that if you are in management, you are more likely to be engaged. So, I guess getting paid more, not being stuck doing the grunt work and lording it over others, has its own rewards.
Yet, aren’t there limits to how engaging an unengaging low paid work can actually be? Having worked countless hours myself in low paid fast-food work, I can tell you first hand there are only so many ways to feel “engaged” after the one thousandth time of putting pickles on a sesame-seed bun. Yet, they are the “zombies” for not being enthused and jumping for joy about their mind-numbing enslavement. Go figure.
Even the title and tone of the Gallop report is about how workers are engaged or disengaged, rather than the work itself as being engaging or disengaging. Like there is something wrong with the employees, rather than the alienating and meaningless work they have been given. This idea of the detriment of forced meaningless work goes as far back as the Enlightenment. In his 1791 book, On the Limits of State Action, classical liberal thinker Wilhelm von Humboldt states:
“Whatever does not spring from a man’s free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness” and so when the laborer works under external control, “we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is”
Umm, ring any bells?
The take away from this study isn’t just the staggering amount of people who seriously hate their job; it’s how coercive the system we live in must be to ensure the majority of people’s waking life is spent doing something they actively despise or mildly loathe. How violent and punitive a world we must live in if you can compel someone to do something they detest—not just for a few weeks, but for a lifetime. Well, at least school prepared them for something! Then, to add insult to injury, the onus is placed on them to get another job, follow their bliss, or pull themselves up by their boot straps and just work a little harder. The zombie article suggests making sure employees are getting enough exercise. Wow, jumping jacks! If only I had thought of that.
The fact billions are people are put to work solely to survive to ensure billions of dollars of profit go to a tiny percentage of people is presented as just the way things are. The fact is the world’s eight richest billionaires control the same wealth between them as the poorest half of the globe’s population. The grotesque irony is that very wealth is built on the misery and wage slavery of those other 3.6 billion people. You really think Amancio Ortega, the founder of the Spanish fashion chain Zara, works harder than his low-paid sweatshop workers in Bangladesh? So much so that he is entitled to the combined wealth of all 450 million of them?
Yet, for most, both in the third-world and the west, work is a question of basic survival. That is, if I don’t work, I don’t eat or I can’t afford to support myself and my family. I also think most people don’t want to sit around and do nothing. There will always be small percentage who do, but they are in the minority. People also feel the social stigma and shame that goes with “not working” as we have now conveniently tied a certain moral righteousness or “Protestant work ethic” to career and productivity, even though it’s useless and mundane. Of course, that doesn’t extend to the aristocracy and the elite; their life of leisure goes unquestioned.
So, people’s desire to be productive becomes channelled and directed into ultimately unproductive things. Of course, people can argue “well someone has to do it”, which I think was well rebutted by George Orwell 83 years ago in his book, Down and out in Paris and London:
Suppose it is granted that a plongeur’s (dishwasher) work is more or less useless. Then the question follows, Why does anyone want him to go on working? I am trying to go beyond the immediate economic cause, and to consider what pleasure it can give anyone to think of men swabbing dishes for life. For there is no doubt that people—comfortably situated people—do find a pleasure in such thoughts. A slave, Marcus Gato said, should be working when he is not sleeping. It does not matter whether his work is needed or not, he must work, because work in itself is good—for slaves, at least. This sentiment still survives, and it has piled up mountains of useless drudgery.
I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure; it is safer to keep them too busy to think. A rich man who happens to be intellectually honest, if he is questioned about the improvement of working conditions, usually says something like this:
‘We know that poverty is unpleasant; in fact, since it is so remote, we rather enjoy harrowing ourselves with the thought of its unpleasantness. But don’t expect us to do anything about it. We are sorry for you lower classes, just as we are sorry for a cat with the mange, but we will fight like devils against any improvement of your condition. We feel that you are much safer as you are. The present state of affairs suits us, and we are not going to take the risk of setting you free, even by an extra hour a day. So, dear brothers, since evidently you must sweat to pay for our trips to Italy, sweat and be damned to you.’
This is particularly the attitude of intelligent, cultivated people; one can read the substance of it in a hundred essays. Very few cultivated people have less than (say) four hundred pounds a year, and naturally they side with the rich, because they imagine that any liberty conceded to the poor is a threat to their own liberty. Foreseeing some dismal Marxian Utopia as the alternative, the educated man prefers to keep things as they are. Possibly he does not like his fellow-rich very much, but he supposes that even the vulgarest of them are less inimical to his pleasures, more his kind of people, than the poor, and that he had better stand by them. It is this fear of a supposedly dangerous mob that makes nearly all intelligent people conservative in their opinions. (full passage is here)
Sadly, this same mentality prevails today: keep the rabble busy surviving so they don’t get any big ideas. Yet in addition to the indignity and uselessness of forced wage slavery we see that its maintenance feeds not only the business class that profits from poverty wages and high returns, but the very act of keeping people in stressed but simultaneously powerless and captive jobs also makes them even more money. Laura K Kerr, author of Dissociation in Late Modern America, points out how this is possible:
An example of how societies become organized around the propagation of traumatic defenses is found in Daniel Lord Smail’s book On Deep History and the Brain, where he made a connection between global capitalism, social hierarchies, and the body’s reaction to threats. Smail argued capitalism exploits the body’s survival responses (freeze, fight, flight, and submission) by creating the conditions of psychological domination as well as providing relief from the feelings of powerlessness that capitalism and social hierarchies engender. According to Smail, capitalism generates stress through its unpredictability and hierarchical power structures, but it also alleviates stress by producing an economy organized around the production and circulation of addictive substances and practices.
Smail noted that, from its inception in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, global capitalism has been organized around creating and feeding addictions. The first imports to Europe from Africa, the Arab World, and the Americas were coffee, sugar, chocolate, tobacco and “spirits” — all mood-altering substances. During this time, the term “addiction” gained its modern meaning as a self-inflicted behavior rather than the state of being indebted to another (serfdom) that previously distinguished the addict. With this shift in understanding of addiction also came a new organization of society away from a focus on managing external forms of control to a focus on internal ways of responding to dominance by self-medicating its effects.
Today, the use of addictive substances and activities to regulate stress is so common it is difficult to demarcate between what counts as recreational use of substances and what constitutes lifestyle maintenance. Addictions are a widespread way of managing feelings of agitation and overwhelm, which for many are habitual responses to the pressure of trying to make a living in the current global economy. Typically when we anticipate danger, the body either becomes so activated that it enters a state of extreme agitation (referred to as hyperarousal) or it moves towards a state of shut down, freezing in response to feeling profoundly overwhelmed (called hypoarousal). Addictive substances and activities are now everyday methods for escaping such states — a role religion has also served, especially in the pre-industrial world.
Many states of the world affairs from poverty, war, social injustice, exist with an unspoken assumption that ‘this is just the way things are,’ when in fact it’s a case of ‘this the way things have been created.’ Despite this, I have confidence and faith in the ingenuity, imagination, and innovation we are capable for living together in this world in systems that don’t require people to live undignified and dreary lives—that require relief of some escape via alcohol or TV just to make it to the other end of the week. I think we have it in us to envision and build a work life that is fulfilling and fair for all. How we take what we have and turn it into something better—I don’t have an answer for that. Maybe the whole thing needs to crash and burn before that’s possible, maybe some kind of global seismic shift will occur spontaneously. Either way, the hope of that better life for all needs to be kept alive, even if its birth remains unknown as yet.