Jobseekers! Graduates! Recent procurers of positions! Lend me your ears. I’ll give them back, I promise. Please, come on, sit down, I have to tell you something really really important and I don’t want to have to take your ears by force and post them back to you later, it’ll be an administrative nightmare.
I’ve noticed something sinister creeping into the psyche of the country’s workforce. During this calamitous job crisis, talented people are refused jobs and employed people are refused job security. All of which has led to something we must control, if not eradicate: when people manage to land or keep a job, they don’t stop at “phew”. They’re actually grateful.
So why am I, the author of How to Be Jobless, telling people NOT to be grateful when they land that most coveted of things: a steady job?
Let me explain.
You’re not a snob for thinking you deserve a job
Let’s get this out of the way now, and repeatedly. If you’ve been on the reading end of my rants after someone calls young people “job snobs” you’ll know my take on this. I wish I could be more succinct but I don’t know how to spell a snarl.
There was a time when graduates were called entitled for thinking they deserved their DREAM job upon graduation. And they probably were. That’s the effect the relentless self-congratulation of university marketing can have on a person – if you’re told for three years straight that your university shits world leaders and sweats Pulitzer prize winners, you might get the idea your degree certificate means a bit more than “I did some readin’ an’ exams an’ that.” Only by continuing to be alive for a year or two after graduation do you realise how naive and adorable you were in your mortarboard, and just how woefully ill-prepared for your dream job.
The problem is, the “you think you DESERVE it” narrative has shifted from “dream job” to “any job”. Jobs for which you’re plainly overqualified, jobs you gained qualifications to avoid. That’s not snobbery. It’s doing what you’re told, then having them shout “kidding!”, laughing maniacally and running away.
I think I deserve a job? Damn right I do – not my dream job, straight away, or possibly ever if I don’t turn out to be talented or hardworking enough for it. But yes, after doing everything I was told would put me on a career track, I deserve a shot at the entry-level position. And the guy who left school at 16 because he didn’t need A levels to work in retail should get the retail job.
You have a job? Good. That’s what’s supposed to happen
This is how a society avoids collapse – people are born, they go to school, then they become adults and they work, pay tax and contribute to the upkeep of the country. The idea that a job is a privilege is not only cruel, it’s unworkable.
Everyone knows this. And everyone knows “job gratitude” is really tied to fear – fear of losing your job, or never getting one. And everyone knows that’s a horrendous way to exist. No one ever said, “So they worked in terror and insecurity, looking over their shoulders for someone to snatch their jobs away, plunging them into unemployment, depression and poverty – and they all lived happily ever after.” So why is there no effort to dissipate that insecurity?
No organisation will ever tell you to relax. Fear is the greatest motivator. That’s why they used whips to get the pyramids built. The fear of being literally whipped has been replaced with a more complex and subtle web of fears – the fear of not being able to pay the rent or mortgage, the fear of being out of work for long stretches, the fear that suddenly having to live on jobseekers allowance won’t be a good enough reason for the gym to let you cancel your membership and why the hell did I sign up for a year contract in that stupid flight of New Year’s optimism…
Fear turns to an office-based Stockholm Syndrome alarmingly fast, and as long as you’re both fearful and grateful, you’ll work those extra unpaid hours (and you really will: UK workers do around £33 billion’s worth of unpaid overtime a year) – which is mighty nice of you, because as long as you’re doing five people’s work, they don’t have to hire any of those hundreds of thousands of unemployed young people to help you.
Don’t adjust your idea of what “good” is
I’m addressing all of you, regardless of job situation: this is a rubbish deal. Unemployed or overworked – are these our only options? It might sound ungrateful, and it is, but we should not be saying, “Phew, I’ve got a job; I’m ok!” That’s not just individualistic. It’s wrong. As long as a few are doing the work of many while thousands of talented people beg to have their applications read, none of us are ok.
Don’t give into the temptation to look at someone who’s unemployed, or even your old jobless self, and say “At least things are better.” Just because your situation is better, it doesn’t mean it’s good. Google-imaging Johnny Vegas might make someone feel better if they’re overweight, but it doesn’t make their jeans fit or lower their chances of heart disease.
Don’t be grateful for your job. Once we’re thanking businesses and governments for a crappy deal, it’s ours forever. And the fight isn’t over yet.
Thanks for listening. You can have your ears back now.
Hang on. There’s one left over. Whose is this?!
Want more Grad Scheming? ‘Ear you go. (See what we did there?)