People are having a hard time these days. 401Ks are still deflating, jobs are hard to come by, and even that morning cup of coffee is coming at a steeper price than it was even just a year ago. Walk into any office in America these days and chances are you can hear a pin drop. Sure there’s the constant whir and hum of computers and work…but the chatter and the laughs seem to have gone by the wayside. So what’s changed? Why is working in America so unsatisfying these days?
It used to be that working and employment were a means to an end. If you worked hard and did your job, chances are that you would live a good life, achieve at least a chunk of the American dream and be able to enjoy your off hours. But nowadays there has been a real paradigm shift…Americans are working more, longer hours and no one is sure what is coming around the bend. So what’s happened?
- Uncertainty: In days past Americans tended to buy into the American Dream; more than likely once you had won a job with a company, you would spend the vast majority of your working years there. You knew there was a pension, good benefits and the promise of success. Working hard and staying loyal to your company paid off over the long-term…you could buy a house, get a color tv and know that things were well. Now it’s a different story. The traditional model of employment has changed significantly. People are forced to change jobs at a much more regular rate, companies cut employees with no hesitation and a retirement or pension plan is nearly unheard of. The level of uncertainty has increased ten fold over the years. Employees know that the truth of the matter is simple; they are always expendable and if hurting them helps the shareholders, well, then a reduced check, increased hours and a layoff notices don’t come as such a shock.
- Pay Reductions: If you step into a supermarket, you’ve probably noticed the creeping prices and dropping quantities. Coffee comes in 12 oz packages, not 16 oz. Tuna comes in 5 oz cans rather than 6 oz. How about gas? 8 years ago a gallon of gas cost under $2…wow. While prices have continued to creep higher and higher (in some cases less a creep than a leap) salaries and pay have either remained the same or even begun to drop. Is it any wonder that people are less and less satisfied in their daily life? Things are getting harder out there and from all appearances, the big companies and government don’t seem to be doing a great deal to help out.
- Overwork: I was recently working with a client abroad and while we were in the middle of business he informed me that he would be taking three weeks off come August. Wow, three weeks I thought! I figured he must have been saving up his time. But no, just another vacation…he’d already taken one earlier in the year. Here in America vacations have become an increasingly rare event. Not only do we have very limited vacation time in comparison to other developed countries, but additionally, most of us feel a real crunch from our companies when ‘asking’ to take our vacations. And working nine to five has become a thing of the past as well. Most of us work past regular hours; if not in the office we’re working at home on laptops, smart phones and tablets. Over the last several decades Americans have been working at an increasing pace, longer hours, with more responsibility and fewer benefits. Is it any wonder people are less and less satisfied?
It’s easy to look back at yesterday and assume that things were easier, simpler and all around better. It’s rarely that cut and dry, but in some cases it is the truth. When looking back on working America then and now, the overall value and esteem held for employees has dropped. We work hard, we work long and we never know what’s coming around the bend. Working in America has become a marathon…except no one knows where the finish line is. We’ve started working not as a means to an end, but an end in and of itself. So in your travels today, tomorrow and next week, make sure you’re doing all you can to carve at least a little time for yourself.