“Hard Work” Isn’t What It Used To Be
Yesterday I read the latest installment of Digiday’s “Confessions” series, about a 20-something worker lamenting over the culture of overwork at their ad agency. I started reading with a sympathetic mindset – this poor soul must be running a million miles an hour on some cruel corporate hamster wheel with no relief in sight. But then I kept reading . . . about conversations with coworkers during smoke breaks (are those still a thing?) and working an unimaginable 50-hour work week (I was honestly expecting a number with a seven in it.) This got me thinking – are agencies really working their younger workers to death, or has the work ethic of today’s entry level employees dropped so much that they always feel overwhelmed?
With that off my chest I need to come clean about my own background. I’m a card-carrying member of Gen X who’s been in the media industry for a quarter century. So that officially makes me a curmudgeon in the “get off my lawn” sort of way. I’m not always the smartest person in the room (graduated high school and college with a 3.2 gpa), and I didn’t hit the career lottery by interning at Google in the late 90s. Instead I’ve generally been successful in my career by out hustling everyone else around me. My definition of hustle is exactly what the beleaguered Millennial is this article is complaining about. I get in the office way early on most days and try to produce quality output as efficiently as I can. That’s what my employer is paying me to do, right? I also relish being given extra assignments and doing tasks nobody else in the org is willing and able to do – that’s the secret to being indispensable in any company.
Sadly working harder doesn’t seem to be valued as much today as it used to be. So what does this mean for the future of workplace productivity? In 20 years, when Gen Xers like me are retired, will today’s Millennials fill the void? Maybe some, like the unaudacious agency employee from our story, will pick up the slack by learning to do more. Or maybe companies will just accept the fact that it takes more workers (or maybe AI systems?), to do the work we middle-aged humans used to do back in the day.