It seems to me that every generation has to have something or another to complain about. Generally speaking, each will gripe about all of the other generations at least once, if not much more frequently. Our parents’ generation talks about everything that our generation is lacking, and our grandparents’ generation is equally negative in regards to our parents’ generation. Reg Theriault discusses just such laments in his article “Old Blue Collars, Young Blue Collars, and That Little Place You’re Going to Get in the Country,” from his book, How to Tell When You’re Tired: A Brief Examination of Work. He brings up the age-old idea that “kids don’t want to work anymore.” Is such an assertion reality, or is it just the right of every “old-timer,” as Theriault deemed the older generations, to think they are superior to younger people? In order to determine that, one must first examine those making such a statement.
According to Fredric N. Fields, a writer for the Boston-based periodical Inc, the generation that grew up around the time of the depression and World War II possesses “skills, experience, reliability, and dedication… An older workforce is more stable, productive, and satisfied than its younger counterparts… Older workers have a stronger work ethic than younger workers because they remember…times when many Americans experienced deprivation.” To put it simply, two generations ago people truly knew the value of hard work because it was absolutely necessary for survival, not just for success and happiness and prosperity and all of those pretty little words people are so enthusiastic about today. Theriault points out that people of the older generation have accepted “that it easier to do the job than fight it. As you grow older working, work becomes your ‘thing,’ and you do it with somewhat less resistance.” As the economy improved and the “Baby Boomers,” our parents, were born, more and more opportunities arose and those who had not yet accepted work, mainly in the sense of manual labor, as their “thing” tended to blaze knew trails, finding ways of making a living in a different fashion from that of their parents.
The Boomers were “better educated, more articulate, and aware of the power of networking… [They felt] ‘entitled’ to stimulating work. They value[d] self-expression and fulfillment more than security, status, and power.” Advances in technology led to new fields and, with them, new job opportunities, as well as a need for creativity, entrepreneurship, et cetera. This new generation was more interested in learning new skills and training for new jobs in order to “ensure their upward mobility,” because the focus had shifted from survival to success, and people were eager to climb that corporate ladder. Along with all of these shifts in technology and the job market in general, came changes in the way that people did business. The resulting system, which is still in use today, is one with “no mutual respect between management and labor.” Boomers still wanted to work, but they wanted to do so in a very different manner from their parents. People wanted to run their own companies and the “workingman,” to use Theriault’s term, suddenly sat much lower on the totem pole. Companies moved overseas or to other cities where “the labor was cheaper,” producing the ever-present monster that we call downsizing. “The result is a system where the worker has no sense of security and no incentive because he could be let go tomorrow,” which leads to exceptionally high levels of stress in the American business world and a generation transformed from the largest group of infants to the largest group of workaholics.
And, how, one might ask, does any of this have to do with whether or not it’s true that kids don’t want to work today? Well, all of the pressure around keeping a job and the stress that naturally accompanies that contributes to this image that our generation has of the way the working world works. We see our parent’s generation constantly under large quantities of stress and people changing jobs continually, whether because of downsizing or personal dissatisfaction, and we conclude that whatever job we take on is only a temporary thing, but our “work ethic,” if you will, isn’t much different from that of our predecessors – we still need to work. We also feel that need to work at a very early age – most kids have at least some informal work experience by the time they are twelve, and 64 percent have informal jobs by the age of fifteen – but we simply aren’t required to remain in a position that we dislike.
It is because of this constant movement between jobs that anyone older than the Boomers sees us as not fickle and lazy and so on, but to quote Arthur P. “Jay” DiGeronimo, president of Victory Super Markets, “young adults today aren’t very different from previous generations, except that now they have more opportunities” (Beaudette 2).