yes, the structure of work can change
What ever happened to building a better world for our children? When did our society become so bitter that we perceive someone asking for a better future as entitled? It disappoints (but not surprises) me that people cannot get over the "I had it worse at one point so you should to" mentality.
Worker productivity has increased dramatically over the last few decades with the proliferation of technology, and it's incredibly disappointing that the benefits of that increased productivity has been reaped by the shareholders and management class while the expectation of the 9-5 workday is consistently pushed.
For many, their workday is orders of magnitudes more complex than that of the previous generations. Responsibilities that used to be managed by teams of people are now managed by a single person, while the expectation has grown such that a single person needs to output what used to be expected from a whole team. The ownership class reaps the double benefits of increased productivity with reduced labor cost, while the rest of us just gets more work.
In the past, technology promised us freedom and an equitable life. Instead, it has been used as a tool to bludgeon the working class into continuously producing more for the owners of the technology.
Kyla you really nailed it. I’m a retired engineering manager and gave my entire staff of 20 something’s the freedom to work when and where they wanted. Only requirement? Get the job done well and on time. They loved it but HR got wind of it and went absolutely apeshit (sorry about the language but it is accurate :-). Made them (salaried every one) click in at 8 and out at 5 with mandatory 1 hour lunch break. Then Covid happened. Got a call from a good HR person (they do exist) asking if I could send her a copy of my department’s WFH policy (that we wrote as a team) so the entire company of 20000 employees could use it. Happy days until Covid went away, then back to the clock!!!! WTF!!!! Retired and turned my management role over to a brilliant young person of 30 who is still fighting for the right for our team to be recognized as skilled talented responsible people, not just bodies carrying a badge with an access code. Again Kyla, you really nailed this.
I like this post, but here are a few observations. And, yes, I know that Kyla acknowledges that her history is a Cliff's Notes version.
Henry Ford felt betrayed when workers unionized at Ford. Given all the efforts he made on their behalf, he saw no reason for them to unionize. Management and the union went thru some violent rough spots.
We are not in a post industrial era. Industry is running hotter than ever. More steel, more wood products, more plastic. What's different is that much of the industry is in foreign countries. Still, the USA continues to be a leader in all those categories. At the risk of pissing off a few people, let me suggest that, if it doesn't matter when you do your job, your job is not all that essential. Can doctors and nurses work whatever hours suit them? THEIR work is essential. I don't know when Kyla wrote this post, and it doesn't really matter. The world will go on, with or without her post, and will likewise survive without my response. But if the steel, the lumber, and the plastics don't continually get processed thru the factories, THEN we've got a problem. Everybody has to be there, working together, not just when they feel like it. Some will say that we should be more sustainable. Well, of course we should. But that doesn't change our needs.
As for climate change, could we just give that one a rest? The good news is, if climate change is the biggest problem you've got, you've got it good. Do you think homeless people worry about climate change? How about either Palestinians and Israelis, these days. I'd say they've got bigger issues. I know a thing or two about climate change; I was licensed to teach physical science in public schools, and taught earth science, including climate change. When was that? That was the 1970s!!!! Of course there's real climate change, but climate change as it is currently being politicized is mythology, not science. I probably just pissed off a lot more people. Why? Isn't the real science what we should be learning and discussing, and not the fairy tales coming from celebrities and politicians? Any who are offended by what I've said, can you name, without looking, ONE climatologist? Do you see my point?
Her video was super reasonable and why many of us wanted remote work premandemic! I’m so sincere, I am never commuting again. Figuring out better arrangements for those who can’t work remote hardly seems unreasonable.
Thank you for writing this Kyla
Solid post Kyla!
I checked your notes this time, but didn't spot it, do you have any specific book recommendations on the history of the labor movement?
At one point YOU were the TikTok girl I was saying "hey she's right!" about.
excellent piece 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼
A heart hardens, I guess. But anyone who didn’t feel like this girl the first time they had a full time job is probably lying. I can remember ironing a dress shirt and feeling like something in my life was ending: my childhood, maybe.
Thank you for this great post! When you mention that "community at work is coworkers" that stuck out as something that millennials and gen z experience less and less
When going through my grandmother's old photo albums, I was struck by the amount of photos with coworkers, both at the factory and at parties. Birthday parties, grad parties, baptismals, Christmas parties, and funerals. One of the unfortunate corollaries of unstable, temp and gig work is less bonding between coworkers who could be there for each other. Surely this is a part of the misery that so many experience at work today
Great post. There’s a lot of individual components indicating change is coming. Remote work, gig economy, creator economy. I’m not sure how these forces will come together, but it sure feels like we’re on the cusp of a major shift.
One interesting angle is the degree to which schools mirror 9-5 structure. As a digital worker, I can make my day whatever I want, but ultimately I still need to drop my kid off at 830 and pickup in mid afternoon. My personal economic capacity for flexibility is hindered by structural systems stuck in the industrial age.
“Unlike previous generations, Gen Zers face unprecedented challenges...” Is something only a Gen Zer could say with a straight face.
The stick-figure picture is funny, but misconceived: the pressure on young people to work 9-5 (Boomers: nine to five??? Think yourselves lucky!) will come not from embittered Boomers and Gen Xers — who, by and large, are nearing the ends of their careers and are keener on work-life balance than anyone else — but from young people in the workplace competing for the prime jobs.
The pace layer in which this dynamic is buried is way deeper than the industrial revolution.
This article so beautiful. I am solidly Gen Z and working my first real job as well. Although I feel like I've been able to avoid a lot of the problems from the video because I can, just barely, afford to live in a city with excellent public transit. I hope we can manage to change things for the better
Splitting work into job, community, and commute provides rich background into the way we can derive 'job satisfaction'. Often times, among my twenty-something peers, I hear the justification "my job sucks, but I like my coworkers" = "job sucks, but community works". And they're living in the city, often a higher-paying information technology job, so one must assume the commute isn't bad. Their ability to stomach the (1) job sucking also comes with a longer term deal of likely financial security (given they're in consulting or finance).
In my own life, this piece could not be better timed. I recently left the intelligence community in DC (yes) as an Economic Analyst because the job was interesting, but the impact of an incredibly secluded "work - community and commute" warped my reality. I am on a new path– figuring out how to thread an interest in the world economy (job) (and where it's headed) into a community and commute more sustainable...
in fifteen years of commuting from an east side Seattle suburb to my International District job, I found I could get to work faster by driving (alone) but the experience of using public transit was much more rewarding in that I could read, doze, listen to music, and people watch. And of course there was occasional excitement. Driving to work (or home) by oneself has to be one of the most stressful and lonely experiences. Having options to take public transit or using a maximum adventure strategy by riding a bicycle (or scooter) is crucial to avoiding anger, frustration, and that feeling of "losing time" one may experience when driving alone.
I am not attempting to criticize the woman referenced in Kyla's article. Just pointing out that options are the key to not feeling trapped and squished by circumstance.
Here's the thing.
It's not that I don't want you to re-imagine work - I do.
It's that I don't see how it ends well for you.
Working remotely cuts out the commute but makes you available over a lot longer part of your day.
Living on your work laptop or having your work apps on your phone exposes you to corporate monitoring.
There are remote work centers in India - if your job can be done remotely someone is already figuring out how to do it overseas.
You lose your job? You've lost access to your emails, contacts, research.
Unless you're re-imagining a job where you are considered invaluable, where you have owners in your work, you are setting yourselves up for someone smarter to screw you over.
See the gig economy.
I don't say it can't be done - I'm doing it myself - but I would start with re-imagining intellectual ownership and capital acquisition before jobs.
I watched the video and what I saw was a child throwing a tantrum. What I didn’t see is any hint of agency, and I’m willing to lay 5 to 1 odds she hasn’t shown any other than that tearful plea to make my life easy to an audience who can’t. Yes long commutes suck. I knew a guy who commuted every day from Philadelphia to NY city, hours on the train each way. I simply can’t imagine that.
The reality for the majority of people is that your first job sucks. I graduated into a terrible economy, and worked at a call center with aerospace engineers who couldn’t find jobs. Part of transitioning into adult life is doing something about that.
In my early to mid 20’s I was working that call center job, studying for the CFA exams, learning computer programming, and working overtime in my crappy call center job with the idea I was going to fix the problems with my job, life, and salary which eventually happened, but it took about 5 years. It takes time and hard work.
What is she doing other than performance whining? I can’t say I know, but for starters she could hit the pavement locally if a 30 minute commute is too much. And if you really think she would be totally satisfied with that job if only her commute was 5 hours less a week I have a bridge to sell you.
Sure, for many jobs work could be structured differently to be more employee friendly, and thats worth considering, and worth writing about.
But I’m sorry it’s hard to be sympathetic to someone working 40 hours a week with 5 additional commuting hours. That leaves 123 hours out of 168. Throw in 56 hours of sleep and she still has 67 hours a week of time to make gratingly whiny videos. If she thinks that’s hard she should try 9 to 5 plus parenthood.
Change the world if you think it needs changing, but the urgent advice for this girl should be to get off your ass and fix what you don’t like about your life rather than making videos about how tough it is. Telling her the problem is that we are punching down or lack compassion isn’t going to help her. It will only convince her that the rest of the world needs to change and she’s just fine.