That assumption was mostly wrong.
In "Wealthy, Successful and Miserable
," part of a series of articles in the Times on the future of the workplace, Duhigg writes that a generation of overachievers who seem to have gotten everything they want are, in fact, unhappier than ever -- and that the powerful, high-paying jobs they worked so hard (and paid so much in tuition) to get are the problem. "I feel like I'm wasting my life," one investment banker, who feels trapped by his $1.2 million a year job, relayed. "My work feels totally meaningless."
Job dissatisfaction, of course, is not a new phenomenon. These days, however, the stakes -- those larger salaries and the lifestyles tied to them -- are higher, as are the expectations. And living in an era of self-care and self-empowerment has led many to believe they are entitled to have it all, "authentically" at that. Meanwhile, social media fuels the idea
that everyone else is happier than you. What results is a new American workforce increasingly defined not by what it has achieved but what it feels it lacks.
There's no doubt that previous generations did not always find true "meaning" in their work, whether they were doctors or lawyers, car salesmen or carpet-installers. Work was what you did. You were glad to have it, or at least resigned to it, and so you went there. You came home in time for dinner, and you rarely worked after hours.
A 2016 Erasmus University Rotterdam study
of four generations of workers found that earlier generations valued job security and wanted to avoid risk. In other words, Baby Boomers were loyal and respectful of hierarchy. As new generations entered the workforce, and "work/life balance" became part of the cultural vernacular, people were more likely to voice their discontent -- or expect conditions to change. And, more recently, a 2017 Gallup poll
found that only 15% of people worldwide feel engaged at work.
The difference, though, is that these days work is everything. Americans work longer hours
, and we retire later -- if at all. Work is our identity and source of fulfillment. It is also how others judge us. A recent piece in the Atlantic
defined "workism" as "the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one's identity and life's purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work." And "workism," wrote the article's author, Derek Thompson, is making Americans miserable.
What's new, too, among today's generation of workers is that -- miserable though they may be -- they have the luxury of being able to voice dissatisfaction when it arises, and they do. Today's employees, and especially those who attended prestigious schools and landed prestigious positions, have the expectation that satisfaction ought to be part of the package.
A 2018 poll
of 5,000 professionals conducted by the Korn Ferry Institute, an organizational consulting firm, found that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they're bored. Number two: They're looking for a new challenge. Our era of self-empowerment has more people believing they are entitled to a happy, fulfilling life -- and especially those who were fortunate enough to attend schools like Harvard.