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Response to ‘Suck it up and get on with the job’

Monday, 16 January 2017  | Kara Martin

Katie Brice chooses a soft target in an editorial in the Herald Sun (15/1/17). Millennials have been blamed for their work ethic, yet again. She does not need to fear a backlash… there is no advocacy group to speak out on their behalf. She also raises some philosophical comments about the nature of work, which may reveal more about her own experience of work.

Let me begin with her comments on work. She uses a dictionary definition of work to suggest that work was not meant to be enjoyable. It is true that most of our synonyms for work - toil, drudgery, labour - point more to the fact that work has been impacted by the Fall. They point to the difficulty and frustration of work that are predictable following the curse in Genesis 3:17–19.

However, work existed before the Fall and was a positive activity. God worked, creating the earth and everything in it, and pronounced it good (Genesis 1). God invited human beings to join him in working in the Garden: tilling the earth, looking after Eden and naming the animals (Genesis 2:15, 19–20).

Work itself was not cursed after the Fall; only the process of work. In fact, most people find a level of enjoyment in working. We are designed to work, and the cruellest thing is to deny people the opportunity to work. So it is natural that people should expect some level of satisfaction in working. If the work itself is uninteresting, then the reward may come from the working relationships, or simply in the wage or salary received.

What Katie has picked up on is the reality that there has been a transformation in the nature of work. Whereas our parents sometimes worked to live, slaving away to earn enough money to keep the family housed, clothed and fed, nowadays, we have more choice in the range of jobs open to us. In addition, our work is not as physically demanding. We have the opportunity to look to work as a means of finding purpose and meaning.

This is not necessarily a new thing for humanity. Work up until the industrial revolution was often based around the home, such as farming or cottage industries. Artists have always seen work as means of expressing meaning and purpose.

While the industrial revolution gave rise to the concept of a job and a wage, and tended to lead to work being more mechanistic, dangerous and less satisfying, the technological revolution today provides great opportunities for people to start and run their own businesses.

Katie mentions that our parents often spent their working life in one or two organisations. The nature of organisations has changed so significantly that even someone trying to be ‘loyal’ my not be able to stay in the one company. Technology and globalisation have led to a hugely competitive environment, and many organisations do not survive as long as they did in the past. If they do survive, they often change ownership, with key positions often being replaced.

Vocations have also changed dramatically. While a teacher, pharmacist or doctor might be able to work in their profession for life, most other vocations are vulnerable. I started my working life as a journalist, moved into communications, then human resources, training, business analysis, lecturing and policy work. Disruptive technologies are impacting on vocations such as taxi driving (Uber), paper journalism (online access to news), hotel management (Airbnb) and so on.

The restlessness amongst workers is often a result of the flatness of modern organisations. Increasingly, to move up in an organisation, one needs to change organisations, because it may take a long time for someone to leave to create an opening.

While Katie believes Millennials are too picky and expect too much from work, they are actually suffering more from the transformation of work, and the impact of technology, than Gen X and the Baby Boomers who created the context for change. They are also the product of some unfortunate parenting and education. Simon Sinek points out that this is a generation who were told they could do anything, that they should have high expectations, that they could aspire to change the world. They have been told that they are the ones to fix the problems caused by our generations including climate change, terrorism, unemployment and nuclear proliferation.

What we have to embrace is that the nature of work is changing very quickly. It is the Millennials who will need to adapt to the new environment of job insecurity, technology disruption and globalisation (see the New Work Order Report by the Foundation for Young Australians),

If Millennials see this change as an opportunity to explore meaning and purpose, to create new work and opportunities, then we should be celebrating that, not blaming their work ethic or advising them to ‘suck it up’. Work is good but working is cursed, and there will always be a balance between those pressures. Work also has the potential to be redeemed, with a focus on working to create positive change, and in my experience it is Millennials who are leading the way with those initiatives.

Kara Martin is Project Leader with Seed, lecturer with Mary Andrews College and author of Workship: How to use your working to worship God, published in March 2017.

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