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Essay: “Work Ethics”

It’s a warm Friday afternoon in July; post a lovely and delicious bit of barbecue. Sometimes a good meal can leave you sluggish, content to just sit and bask as your stomach begins the digestive process, enjoying your current company of peers. My father has instead chosen to educate my brother and me on the tired old topic that is the difference in work ethic between his generation and the more recent ones.

He speaks of how different it was when he was young, how they had a certain loyalty and morale towards their employer and how your job was a source of pride in itself, no matter what you worked with. An example he brings up is the computer savvy person who lived in our neighborhood when I was in my early teens, and how he had not chosen to pursue a career involving computers because it’s “what I do for fun”. He thought he would ruin the joy of his favorite past time by making a career out of it. But now, young people today are encouraged to pursue an education and a future career in a field they feel passionate about, involving something that truly interests them. And I have to admit that even I had that story told to me when it was my turn to consider my college options (though in the end I ended up with a compromise, hoping a slightly different major would increase my future chances of employment).

I wondered at the energy my father invested in this discussion, which ended with the conclusion that the reason there is such a high unemployment rate among young people is that they only want to work with something they are passionate about, scrubbing toilets and serving fast food is rarely on someone’s list of hobbies.

Now afterwards I find myself going over his discussion again and I ponder the pros and cons of the mindset of his generation. I have to admit that I must consider myself a part of that generation he dislikes, because for me…A job I am not passionate about is reduced to just the exchange of labor for cash. It becomes the base definition of the word “job”, while the rest of my time is devoted to the things I truly care about. What is the problem with thinking the way I do, that probably many in my position do, those that don’t have the right diploma or degree to wave around, but still need to pay the rent and make sure their children can go to sleep with full stomachs?

One argument that I can sense my father using is that with people like us, you end up with workers who do the bare minimum. We don’t slack off, because mistakes and reduced productivity makes our employers unhappy, but why should we go that extra mile, when our job is just that…A source of income? What is the problem with just coming to work and doing exactly that which is assigned to you?

One sad answer to this is that in today’s economy with a high unemployment rate, particularly among those who don’t have a proper education there is a fierce competition for any job, especially the low-income jobs. So, that might result in pickier employers. Naturally they might wish for workers who DO go that extra mile, who work overtime and come in early, even though they don’t get paid extra for it. Perhaps it will result in a situation where “just doing your job” won’t be enough?

Another problem, as I channel my father, is that there is very little loyalty towards your employers. Sure, you are happy that they hired you, that they pay you, but what other reason do you have to feel loyalty towards your employers? Any low income job is basically the same, so why treat one of them differently from the other? How many ways are there to make a burger? How many ways can you clean a bathroom or an office space? And what does your employer really do to inspire any loyalty in you? Every now and then some scandalous information is revealed in the media about the owner of a fast food chain or some other big name business.

I think all the protests seen in America about minimum wage are a sign that loyalty towards your employers are at an all-time low. I think that is also a product of this economy, in such a harsh world we all know how vulnerable we are, we sense that our jobs hang by a loose thread, if we fear we might get laid off anyway, if we get paid so little as is…Why not stick your neck out a little and make your voices heard? At least then you can feel some pride in yourself.

In my father’s early days of employment works were plentiful, even for those like him who had dropped out of school and whose grades were bad even before then. Because there were more jobs than workers then, in the booming 60s and 70s, employers took more of a chance on kids, trained them up, so is it any wonder that they felt a strong sense of loyalty towards those who had given them a job and purpose? Is it in anyway strange that they were happy to have any kind of job, providing them with safety and security, a decent income and place in the world? What did it matter then that their actual interests lay elsewhere? Back then the corporate climate was kinder, unions were stronger and capitalism was still in its cradle. But today it’s a very different story.

Today people are urged to be clever with their education, try and combine it with a passion or interest, because gosh darn it, you don’t want to end up unemployed during your lifetime…Cause then you’ll be forced to settle for most anything, if you can find a new job at all that is.

What my father missed when he had his little rant with us was how different our society is today than what it was when he was young. He emerged from school in a kinder time, where the employees were in control, where affordable housing was available everywhere and someone like my dad, without an education could easily afford a nice vacation trip to Spain at an age where kids today are only just graduating from High School with few opportunities for decent employment. Sometimes I can feel envious that things were so much easier for him, that he lived in such kinder times, but I have to consider it a possibility that we could have such a world once more.

It might not be easy to strip all that excess power from businesses, to force them to treat their workers kinder, and raise the minimum wage to levels where a person can actually survive without taking on a second job. But if we get all these things, which really won’t hurt companies much in the long run I can guarantee us workers will think more kindly and with more loyalty towards those that employ us. Let’s change this world from a simple “Dog eats dog” scenario and instead change it to a “You scratch my back and I scratch yours”.

I think we would all benefit from that in the end.

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