"If this job makes you so miserable, why do you still work here?"
Answers That Broke My Fucking Heart
The popular narrative right now is that “nobody wants to work”. Previous generations have had joke staples for decades about the shittiness of their work lives and how much they despised their jobs, but all of a sudden, “nobody wants to work” is widely regarded as the ultimate sign of the times; Millennials ARE lazy! Vindication!
Of course nobody wants to work, especially not in this world that we’ve built. However, more and more people are not tolerating getting ruthlessly fucked by their employer. Those signs on business windows that read: “Sorry We’re Closed! Nobody Wants To Work!” ought to read: “Sorry! Nobody Wants To Bust Their Ass To Live In Poverty!”
Jobs are a necessary and important function of our societal existence. Besides the material production of goods and provision of services, performing a job that gives one a sense of purpose has proven psychological benefits. However, doing a job that doesn’t suit you, or that doesn’t leave you emotional or physical energy for a life outside of it, can have devastating consequences on your wellbeing: physical, emotional, and mental. In light of America’s response to COVID-19, and the vocal heralding of “essential workers” while simultaneously exploiting us for record-breaking wealth generation, I feel an obligation to highlight a remarkably sick job culture.
From just before the beginning of the pandemic until September 2021, I was working as a plasma center phlebotomist. The trajectory I saw the company taking was not one in which I wanted to participate. I’ve since switched to doing phlebotomy for clinics. Near the end of my time working at the plasma center, I inquired of the more veteran employees, those who had been working there 5+ years, why they had stayed at a company which so blatantly disregarded their wellbeing and perpetually prioritized profit over both its employees and its plasma donors. These are the answers I received:
#1: Health Insurance
A truly ridiculous reason to stay at a shitty job, since most modern civilized countries do not force their citizenry to pay out of pocket for their health. Employers in other countries can’t rely on the necessity of healthcare expenses to keep their workers subservient because it’s something already provided by virtue of participating in society.
Getting sick is part of life, it certainly shouldn’t threaten your employment status.
#2: “I’ve been here too long and make too much money to switch jobs”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this reasoning, so I’m sure many people feel this way in all sorts of lines of work. I believe it to be a calculated and deliberate incline: just enough to keep people on the hook and (if you’re fortunate) keep up with the cost of living, but not enough to facilitate real socioeconomic growth. People get stuck at the same job for decades, stuck renting instead of buying a home, stuck going to the food pantry and paying for meals on EBT, cutting corners and coupons, and any recourse would set them further back than staying where they are. You may be reading this thinking: But Alex, here you are, switching jobs and finding better, alternative paths to achieve what you’re after. Why don’t they just follow suit?
For one, I give substantially less of a shit than most people about adhering to the status quo, but there are unfortunately other mitigating factors at play for a lot of people which prevent easily transitioning career paths. People who come from privilege like to scoff platitudes such as “Move out of the country if you don’t like it,” or “Just get a better job,” but the reality is rarely so simple.
#3: Tuition Reimbursement
Another heartbreaking corporate gaslighting move. In order to secure employees in their miserable positions, they offer to pay the nonsensical debt young Americans accrued in pursuit of higher education, in exchange for a contract of labor. Many coworkers around my age felt trapped at the company because if they quit, they’d be defaulting on thousands of dollars in loans for an education which should’ve been public access.
With the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, many students are finding themselves paying full tuition costs for online courses. While ostensibly teaching oneself is entirely viable, doing so without the accreditation of a university is largely viewed as incompetency or laziness. Our society has developed an amazing doublethink regarding education and intelligence. It’s entirely possible to be a well-educated moron, or formally uneducated and brilliant.
#4: Vacation time/PTO
This is one of the more commonplace mindfucks of America’s corporate pimping game. Rather than providing you with a workplace from which you don’t want to escape, you’re graced with the fabled paid time-off. It makes you feel like you’re being gifted something you already deserve: spending time with your family without fearing your needs won’t be met for doing so.
This is not to say PTO is inherently a bad thing or should be viewed warily. Rather, this is an indictment of a work culture that puts paid time-off on such a pedestal when it should be an intrinsic part of the deal of undertaking the responsibility of a full-time job. People who cashier gas stations and cook fast food deserve quality time with their families as much as the pretentious suits who dictate the majority of their waking lives.
#5: Determination to fix the brokenness
By far the most inspiring answer, albeit questionably realistic. I appreciated this attitude in that it acknowledges that things were not functioning as they should be. Although continuing to show up and participate in a broken system is a dicey way of attempting to improve it, I can’t condemn it entirely without being a hypocrite.
Only one supervisor answered in this way, I wish her the best and hope she’s as successful in her goal as she possibly can be.
#6: “Stupidity and low self-worth”
A painful answer to hear, but also I believe to be the most honest. She had been at the company at least a decade longer than I had. She told me she noticed the same trends that I did, but she just kept her head down and kept on doing her job; “being a good employee” took priority over just about everything. I had been the same way for some time, but nowhere near as long. The pain and regret behind her eyes when she answered was highlighted by the mask covering the rest of her expression. Putting a brave face on doesn’t work when people can only see what’s in your eyes. Throughout her employment, she believed she didn’t deserve better, and that’s ultimately what kept her there.
While she was the only one to answer in this brutally honest manner, I don’t believe for a second that she was the only one kept on staff by this line of reasoning. That work culture requires that employees feel worthless to justify their wages amidst the profit being made, and it’s certainly not alone in that regard. Many positions depend upon self-deprecating thought loops to keep employees in place.
Earlier I conceded that there are extenuating factors for a large portion of the population which prevent, or at least inhibit, transitioning careers. However, there are workarounds if you’re willing and able to think a little outside the box. With COVID having turned the job marketplace upside-down, many positions have turned remote, without any proximity requirement. If you feel like any of these reasons have resonated with you, I sincerely encourage you to look at other options. There is always, ALWAYS another job. The stress of switching jobs is definitely a hurdle to overcome, but if the thought of clocking in another day turns your stomach the way it did mine, that stress is worth powering through.