Economist Paul Krugman, who’s been pretty accurate in his predictions since the 2008 crash, wrote a column today weighing in on the benefits of extended unemployment payments. There have been endless screeds on this subject, of course. Predictably, conservatives are unequivocal in their conviction that people are not going back to work as soon as they might — especially in the service industries, but also to some extent in white-color jobs — because they’re lazy and fond of “living on the dole,” to use an old phrase. The opposite view, espoused lukewarmly by Krugman, is that workers in leisure and hospitality can’t stomach the thought of returning to low-paying, thankless, drudgery jobs with no benefits; and those in offices are sick of slaving 70 hours a week and being paid for 40, with the requirement of being available 24/7, all the while being disrespected and treated as disposable. Certainly, when it comes to corporate America, there’s a large degree of overlap between attitudes toward service and white-collar employees. In other words, the bottom line is all, and anyone can be sacrificed to it. Toxic conditions exist in burger joints as much as in cube farms.
It’s no wonder, then, that servers and hotel staff who were laid off during the pandemic are having second, third, and fourth thoughts about going back to work. Ditto admins, programmers, marketing people, and the like in office jobs, particularly those facing long, tedious commutes. Anyone who actively dreads going in for a daily shift is going to put off doing so, if there’s a chance of something better anytime in the near future. And rightly so. With the minimum wage not only laughable, but stagnant for the last 12 years, while executive management rakes in the cash and perks, resentment is high. Add in CEOs’ entitled mindsets, and Joe and Jane Average worker are at the point of, “Hell, no!” wherever possible. I keep tabs on office job postings, and I’m seeing listings for skilled admin positions, requiring years of experience, with long lists of responsibilities, but no benefits, and salaries of $12 an hour. The only people who are going to take those kinds of jobs are absolutely desperate, may not have the maturity needed, and will move on as soon as something even marginally better crosses the radar. It would seem that the hiring companies don’t care about any of the above; getting a body in a chair is the objective.
I can completely relate to my fellow workers’ resentment and ambivalence toward returning to work. I’ve been part of the leisure and hospitality industry, and it invariably translates to long hours of hard work, most often standing, carrying, serving, folding, scrubbing, lifting, or other combinations of physical exertion. Pittance wages, dependence on tips, sometimes few or no benefits, hassles from customers. Likewise, I’ve sat in the rarefied air of a corporate office, and have been required to take on seemingly endless piles of extra responsibilities, to learn new software and platforms, to complete work that only I (literally) could do, and have been celebrated as a real contributor to corporate success one week, and been out on my posterior the next week, after years of service and four-star reviews, due to “restructuring.”
I’ve had a couple bosses at the G.O.A.T. level, but not surprisingly, they were short-lived in their tenures, because either they couldn’t tolerate the things they were forced to do, or the corporation wouldn’t tolerate their sensible, compassionate, forward-looking approaches.
Many other bosses were not so stellar. There was one guy who was polite enough during the rare times I saw him, but who let me go one day, out of the blue. His buddy later told me that my ex-boss’ wife had developed a truly deranged belief that there was an affair going on, and had told my former boss that either he got rid of me, or she’d leave him. There I was, stuck on a resort island with the season over, no way to leave, no work to be had. It was a scary couple months until a part-time restaurant job opened up.
Two hospitality bosses were habitual womanizers, and both of them hit on me. I tactfully rebuffed their advances and suffered no negative consequences, luckily — there are always lots of fish in the sea at a hotel. I just had to witness their carryings-on and pretend not to know about them.
Another boss expected me to cover for his liaison with a sales rep, and when I answered his wife’s calls and merely said I didn’t know where he was (the truth), instead of making up a lie, he was livid. He assumed (incorrectly) that I was the one who told the COO about his shenanigans, so I was the recipient of a scathing, blistering (entirely fabricated) performance review, the only negative one of my career.
I had a boss who was a really good guy, but who belonged in a corner with a calculator and a green eyeshade, rather than in a management position. He’d grown up in Cleveland, but still had to call me from the road and ask directions to get across town [before phones with GPS]. He was lost when it came to his managers/associates and dealing with office situations, too.
Another guy was the absolute best in the office, but went off the rails and flashed a series of women in public before being hauled in by the police. Needless to say, when I later recalled sitting in his office for one-on-one meetings, my thought was, “Ewwwwwwwwwww!”
And on and on. I put up with all manner of BS, on all levels. I willingly took on all the work they wanted to give me. I worked around corporate cluelessness. And still, I lost my last two jobs, along with other employees, because of the cutting-expenses mantra. When I asked who was going to do my work, the answer in both cases was that the work simply wouldn’t be done anymore, the work that had been deemed so critical that I’d had to jump through hoops to master it.
Am I bitter? Eh, once in awhile. After all, I watched my job descriptions balloon exponentially, while my salaries only puffed up slightly. And lost two good jobs due to short-sighted corporate groupthink. Mostly, though, my philosophy is that if I had to leave a place, it was because I was meant to be somewhere else. I realize, however, that I’ve been much more fortunate than millions of other people in this country, those who have truly horrendous working conditions, and who have lately been forced to reconsider their positions and realign their priorities. They don’t want corporate serfdom and non-existent work/life balances. They’re weighing their options. And, as businesses are finding out, the result of all that deep thinking is, “Enough is enough!” And it’s about time.