What’s Wrong With Work Today?

I think that work today is broken. And when I say “work” in this case, I mean our jobs in the corporate world. In my circle of twenty-and-thirty something friends, I see a lot of us restlessly switching jobs looking for that elusive perfect fit where we can do meaningful work. Between 2008 and 2010 I switched jobs three times – once a year. By 2010, I started asking questions like, “Am I flaky or is the system broken?”

Millennials have a reputation in the workplace of being demanding, entitled and lazy so you might guess I was just another flaky young person. You’ll have to take my word for it that I wasn’t. I’m sure in some cases Millennials have definitely earned this bad reputation, but we are also truly dealing with a broken system.

We live in a corporate wasteland. An engineer twiddles his thumbs working at Boeing – he has so little real work to do that he can complete his Masters during work hours. On the other hand, a data analyst works 80 hours a week and commutes an hour each way. His benefits keep shrinking every year. After three years, a teacher still can’t get a full-time teaching position in any of the four school districts she subs in. On the other hand, the office manager at a chiropractic clinic is drowning trying to do the work of five positions – reception, customer service, marketing, billing, insurance. A bank teller works the same job for years with no promotions in sight. The only way up is waiting on the only-slightly-older bank manager to retire. On the other hand, a talented sales rep moves up the ranks quickly but ends up driving 50+ miles a day in her territory selling businesses telecom services in order to meet all the required goals. All of them wonder from day to day if any of it is worth it. So many jobs require too much but don’t provide enough.

Work It isn’t just young people who feel disillusioned with work. It seems the average American is stressed out, burn out, overwhelmed, and way too busy. Americans work more than any other industrialized country and take the least vacation. We’re unhealthy workaholics and much of our stress can be attributed to a toxic work environment.

When I was writing my book, I spent a lot of time researching work because I wanted to get to the bottom of WHAT was wrong with our jobs. You might say, “Well – that’s easy – it’s called sin, Tash” and yes, I get that. The fall and sin are definitely at the root of what’s wrong. But, for me, in my first toxic job, in my second toxic job and in my third good-but-mostly-boring job, that answer just wasn’t really enough.

Most of the books I’ve read on calling and work that come from a Christian viewpoint haven’t really provided satisfying answers in this area of dissatisfaction with our jobs. They’ll talk about the problems we face in the workplace like maintaining personal integrity, avoiding temptations, and keeping a good witness etc.

Yet, in my experience, it is not the major issues of ethical compromises or temptations to embezzle money that face us every day. Some authors might mention bad bosses and annoying coworkers, but it still feels like they’re not really addressing the questions I had. Questions about whether something was just wrong with me or if there was also something wrong with the job.

I had questions about why my work was boring, why it was so hard to stay motivated, why frustration bubbled up so easily, why I felt resentment, stress, bitterness and the desire to rebel. Were these reactions only a sign that I had a lot of growing up to do, or did they also indicate that there was something substantially wrong with my job? These minor issues are the constant battle that many of us feel unable to conquer because no one has delved into what is wrong with work itself.

For instance, I thought Tom Nelson’s book Work Matters (which I’ve already mentioned here and here) was excellent and I highly recommend it. But I was disappointed that his chapter on “Facing Challenges in Our Work” spent only a couple pages on discontentment with our jobs and had little advice beyond this:

If you are wrestling with job contentment, there is nothing wrong with praying about and seeking another job that perhaps would be a better vocational fit. However, I believe that our present vocational stewardship ought to be our primary focus of faithfulness. Perhaps God will transplant us to a new workplace, but it important that we bloom where we are presently planted.

While a soul-suffocated complacency leads to job ruts, a God-honoring contentment unleashes increasing creativity, synergistic teamwork, and overall productivity in our work.

While I heartily agree that sometimes we just need to learn to see the positives instead of living in a permanent “grass is greener” mentality, I think there is so much more to job contentment than just trying to summon it with sheer will power. Our work is broken and we need to talk about what whole work would look like. Obviously, at the most basic level, the reality of sin means our jobs will never be perfect. But I don’t think this means we can’t ask for better work. We don’t have to resign ourselves to a life of endless frustration with our jobs. I believe that if we can understand what has gone wrong with work, we can begin to put things right where we can.

What do you think is wrong with work today? I would love to have you weigh in on this topic.

4 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Work Today?

  1. I have so many thoughts! Especially because I’m a recovering workaholic. In a perfect world, this would be a long conversation over tea. 🙂 In reality, I think I’ll have to start some serious email correspondence! Thanks for your thoughts Tash.

    • I would love to hear those thoughts and wish it could also be in person with tea. In the meantime . . . let the email correspondence begin!

  2. Great post Tash. I am one of those few people among my peers that is completely satisfied with my job. I feel incredibly blessed, and pleasantly surprised. I landed this job hoping it would be a “foot in the door” to the world of communications/writing that I wanted to get into (a big change from working 2-years as a painter) and it’s transformed into something I truly love.

    A huge part of that has been the management at my work. I think a big reason why so many people aren’t content with their job is that they overlook some really important things: great management, good coworkers, and flexible work hours. In a tough economy it’s hard not to think about money and money alone, and maybe that’s part of the reason for some people’s unhappiness — our jobs are connected more to a paycheque than how we’d really like to spend our time.

    Of course, that makes my friends sound shallow, and I don’t think that’s really the case. I also have a theory that technology has just made our jobs so much easier that we really don’t need to be working 40 hours anymore. Maybe 30 will suffice to get the job done, which is why we are bored for 10 hours of the work week.

    As for the workaholics — part of that is the money crunch, the other part… I don’t know, it’s never been a problem for me. 🙂

    • Thanks for the great comment, Joel. I’m happy for you that you’ve found a job that is satisfying – you mentioned some key pieces we’ll be discussing in the next few blog posts including management, flexible work hours and nixing the 40 hour work week!

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