I recently attended a job info session. You’d think they were advertising a low-budget boat cruise. Representatives from the company painted a colorful image of what it would be like to be their employee: the socializing, the events, and the constant stimulation. “Don’t worry, even if things get choppy—there’s always so much to do.” This hyped up, super “fun,” Disneyland-ish portrayal of the workplace was insulting. Here I am, somewhat reluctantly, with a foot out the door, and I’m still being treated like a kid.
There are common junctures of generational disillusionment in our lives (think: mid- and quarter-life crises), where reality chips away at our idealism. The cause? My humble guess: impending doom. Before we reach “exciting milestones,” (e.g. starting college, graduating, getting married, having kids) we think about them in vague abstractions—like movie montages—but as these get closer, they become intricate puzzles that make us tense up.
On the eve of graduating high school some of my career benchmarks included: being the boss of people and doing something creative and living in the city … all while saving the world. Now a senior in college, I think, “Sure, why not? But what does that mean, and how?” Leadership comes with understanding the small, inner workings of the job and I know that living “in the city” means I’ll be outside of it, holding fast to its fringe. I’m at the threshold of the juncture, the stage of impending doom—no bright and vague abstractions. From this vantage point, I am not interested in hearing that I’ll be investing my time and attention on something that is simply fun.
There is strategic planning taking place higher up with regards to the way a lot of these job offerings are advertised. What does this say about how companies understand their target audience? Our generation? We’re children that need to be constantly stimulated, cradled, and entertained. Our attention spans are null, we’re shortsighted in our goals (we prefer immediate distractions over long term constructions), and honestly we’re just here for the fun! I think we all want to be reminded of our higher nature, especially when we are making such ginormous decisions.
Don’t get me wrong—environment, social events, and other perks are not expendables. They carry significant weight in the decision-making process by enhancing and humanizing what could otherwise be a sterile and unsympathetic day-to-day … they acknowledge the day-to-day. They make getting out of bed easier and help dilute the dichotomy between “work” and the rest of our lives, but they shouldn’t be the reason we get out of bed—this reason should be something loftier.
I worked at a startup this summer, and I cared about how much light poured into the office, and the nature of the conversations that got slipped in between meetings and lunch breaks. It’s important for the social facets of the job to get institutional attention. But none of these things were selling points. Prior to hiring they depicted a hustle and grind, there was less selling and more challenging. With a lot of startups and tech jobs, the workplace is depicted as a sort of playground. It’s important to consider the narrative we are using and the ways in which we are babied.
Approaching it from a more practical and less conceptual standpoint, some entrepreneurs even question whether or not these benefits boost productivity. Suresh Bhagavatula, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, believes “it needs to be studied in greater detail than to just say that cool culture leads to better work.” Andrew Yang, CEO and founder of Venture for America, recently examined the idea of the glamorous and sexy entrepreneur: “Most of the other people were attracted to the idea of entrepreneurship, but less the ins and outs of actually gutting it out.”
We are likely to have more troubling generational junctures if we keep finding a refuge in these light and flashy abstractions of the workplace. They also hold our generation to lower standards. The T-shirt and hoodie, anti-cubicle, booze-and-brainstorm narrative we portray is not symptomatic of mediocrity and lack of seriousness. It’s meant to be a brain lubricant, catalyzing creativity and setting the stage for advancement and innovation.
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic