Disengagement and Work

Now *that* is disengagement!

VICE News had a recent bit on millenials (that devilish demographic that shuts down any business in sight) and their lack of engagement on work. There were a few other subjects brought up but this was the main subject of the video and the one I most want to focus on for this article…which you may have guessed from the title, huh?

First up, the host tells us that according to Gallup polls 50% of millenials in the US as what is termed “disengaged” meaning they’ll show up on time and do the bare minimum, but nothing else. And another 16% of millenials are actively disengaged, meaning they go out of their way to sabotage their work environment and their co-workers.

A few things about this distinction:

  • I’m probably closer to the disengaged side than the actively part. My disengagement mostly revolves around joking with co-workers, eating food, staring into space and (of course) reading. I don’t really go out of my way to disrupt the workplace except passively through slacking. That said, I still show up (roughly) on time and do the bare minimum of my job plus anything I am explicitly asked to do.
  • I think it’s a funny phrase, “actively disengaged”, it sounds like an oxymoron. That said, I wonder if, as the host says, that anyone who is actively disengaged with their work is trying to make their co-workers miserable. It seems much more plausible that they’d specifically target their bosses. Unless they had a really bad co-worker or someone who really annoyed them while their at work.

The reasons for being disengaged are many but some of the ones mentioned included having massive amounts of college debt and bad incentive structures. The former makes it so people have to choose a job more for its convenience and sake of time then what they really want to do. And further, they’re likely to feel they¬†have to get the job because of the debt.

As someone who only attended college for a year before deciding it wasn’t for me, this doesn’t hit me as hard. It’s still something that is subtly influencing my decisions in the background since the money needs to be paid at some point. But in the meantime, I will keep putting it off until I am in a comfortable position to pay it off.

Other reasons included (though not explicitly related) were issues of fearing co-worker violence, fear of harassment, not feeling like they could speak to their managers (these last two especially apply to women). And I also imagine the lack of vacations and pressures of their bosses being (as seen in the video) workaholics isn’t a great thing either.

One thing that bothers me sometimes about corporate entrepreneurs (particularly the guy on the panel) is that because they made the company they think it needs to operate completely in their own image. Even if they’re obsessively work-driven and in really unhealthy way, their employees need to be like that too.

If you want to be effective at leading people, then one of the most foundational things to recognize is that people have different needs and values. And if you’re going to claim that you’re such a superior businessperson to everyone else then you need to have a multi-faceted team of people and not rule under them with uniform values and an iron fist.

Of course, heck bosses to begin with.

I’m just saying that if were going to have bosses in a capitalist system I’d ideally prefer for them to at least have some common sense and decency. The guy on the panel who reacted so angrily to the notion of vacations was (to me) seemingly angry about how it would reflect on him if he allowed that. But it seems to me that the only sort of people who might take offense are folks not worth taking seriously anyways.

Also related to the issue of engagement was the “gig economy” and full-time employment. Some of the panelists were recommending side work, but the host rightly points out that this can be unrealistic in an already overly-demanding economy. Then again, as the panelists retorted, taking up a side gig you love so it can become your main line of work and doing in your spare time is a little different from just taking another part-time job, like Uber.

For me, that means writing on this site, writing my comic book, making music and poetry, writing the occasional essay or short story, etc. But all of this is possible because I have super cheap housing costs due to living with three other people and in a slightly poorer part of town. And even with all of that, I still have to work 15-20 hours a week.

My situation now (and many of them throughout my life) isn’t necessarily always attainable to many folks and even in my situation I need to hold down a part-time job. So I think the notion that people can just pick up side hustles seems a little farfetched just as the host is saying. I’ve talked about gigs vs. full-time employment before, here.

Besides that, I don’t have too much to comment on. There wasn’t a lot to this segment and what was discussed was mostly shallow and not terribly interesting to me. It was a nice touch to include audience questions and comments and there was a question at the end about how to know when to switch careers…to which I’d say, avoid them.

My own disengagement from the work I do likely is similar to many folks: I don’t care about the company I work for, I don’t have any economic investment in it, it’s a part-time job, it’s service work which feels degrading or menial, etc. Many individuals within the US economy are in the service sector and I don’t think it’s a bug, but a feature of work.

Funnily enough, none of the panelists offered anything in the way of solutions for the problem of disengagement. I’m not sure if that’s because they didn’t have the time, didn’t think to, or (more realistically perhaps) didn’t have them.

The problem of work is complex and the symptom of disengagement is just one of its many parts. What makes y’all feel really disengaged with your work, if anything? Does your work make you feel disengaged? And if not, what keeps you active and interested in what you’re doing?


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