Working Hard & Hardly Working

May 1, 2018


Commentary: Maybe you have noticed those big signs in storefront windows: Help Wanted.

There are foundational attitudes that have been essential to our human survival. They can be found in most every culture and society. They are a vehicle to pass down essential concepts needed to insure the survival of a culture and social structure to future generations. One of these concepts is the notion of having a Good Work Ethic - and Working Hard.

Something has happened in modern times. Our attitude about work - that is, working purposefully and diligently - is often seen as an archaic idea from a less sophisticated and backward prior age.

What is a good work ethic? Most would agree it means showing up at a job daily and on time. It means not looking for excuses to stay away from your workplace. It means doing your best, and having a level of competence for the job you were hired for. It can mean learning the most you can so you might advance in your career. Certain professions will, of course, demand a higher level of dedication and competence. But at present, consider the idea of having a good work ethic at a basic job in a common profession in a ubiquitous place of business. Could be a store or restaurant or auto repair shop, or something similar.

In the long history of work, there were times when working life was badly out of balance. There were periods when people worked six or seven days a week in terrible and dangerous conditions. Workers might be on the job twelve or more hours a day for minimal pay if any at all. This was not so much work as it was institutionalized abuse. Things had to change, and eventually they did as unions and labor laws came into being. These acted to restore a healthier balance between one’s working and home lives.

After the Great Depression and World War Two, the 1950s saw the rise of the single income wage earner who could support an entire family. One person would push off to work at the nearby office or factory or store and return home at 5:00 pm every night to a hot meal and grateful family. Many televisions shows shown in reruns today still portray that world. The TV shows were a myth, but the family dynamics portrayed were real for the millions of families lucky enough to have jobs that provided. Things have strayed mightily since then from that idealized and humane picture.

A new lifestyle has emerged in the modern working world. This novel approach has never been tried on a grand scale before. What is it? Lot’s of people don’t want to work anymore. This development does not describe all of the many folks working multiple jobs just to make enough to meet the rent and buy groceries. This is about an attitude that has taken hold within many others. These social pioneers view the concept of work as archaic and undignified. They see themselves as having evolved beyond the need or desire to work hard at a job for someone else. If a job is mundane, difficult, or requires too much of their time, it’s not for them. If they can’t spend the day gazing at their smartphone or their employer won’t let them be on social media all day, then it’s out. This is the new approach: The Anti-Work Ethic.

Help Wanted signs can stay up for weeks or months at a time. When you ask the business owners, they lament they’ve hired many people who just don’t last. Some even leave after a single day. Translation: They Don’t Want To Work. They have selfies to post and videos to scan and social media trends to keep up with. There is just no time to show up at a routine job every day. That’s just too barbaric.

So, we’ll learn where this bold new work experiment is heading. There are still countless hard-working folks keeping our workplaces functioning every day. But their numbers are dwindling as they exit the work force. The empty chairs left behind beg for competent replacements but the chairs remain vacant. We are on an epic journey from Working Hard, to Hardly Working. And if you believe that robots will be our saviors, don’t be surprised when you discover they have minds of their own, too.