You don’t even have to pick up a damn newspaper anymore to know that: unemployment, depression, and alcohol sales are up; and jobs and happiness are down. So, that being said, you guys don’t need some firecracker introduction to how much job markets are absolutely sucking right now. Everyday our minds are continuously bombarded by job reports and unemployment percentages saturated with failure. It’s a shitty world out there and the pillars of man will soon fall—and boy, at this point, we almost welcome the collapse, if not just to start over again on a level playing field.

Anyway, in order to set the stage for my idea about why job markets continue to suffer, let’s all get on the same page by recapping the popular votes. So, generally speaking, the dismal condition of current jobs markets are predominately considered to be the product of:

1.) the global financial crisis (which began in late 2007 with the collapse of the real-estate market)

DING! DING! DING! How did you ever guess? You are a total GENIUS.

But yeah, that’s pretty much it. There exist a few other pet theories adding to the mix, which consider the influences of government spending and taxation, but the main idea is that the loss of wealth precipitated by the collapse of the real-estate market has perpetuated floundering job markets. As we all know, this is absolutely true. However, there is another peculiar message I’ve become aware of while sifting through public concerns about the health of job markets.

It all started when I began to get a sense that news about job markets weren’t just reporting on their health in terms of the lack of jobs, but rather, they were also reporting about those workers who were underemployed. There then became this very real conversation about a lack of competency, skills, and talent within the pool of eligible workers. You kept hearing things like: workers just don’t have the skills coming out of college; increasingly, college graduates have poor literacy skills and can barely write formally or manage complex information. This dialogue immediately attracted my attention, which then forced me to cross-check some of my own experience with those of my friends. What I came up with, I think, partly explains why job markets not only lack jobs, but also talent, and also why so many people are underemployed as well.

[I want to take this time to just emphasis the important implications of a job market that lacks talent and underemployed workers. While the lack of jobs is certainly disturbing, a weak pool of employees is even more disturbing as a lack of skilled workers means that, even if many jobs were available, they couldn’t be filled.]

Let’s connect the dots together. .    .         .       .     .    .  .  .  . . .  . . . … .. . .. . …….

THE CULTURE OF PERPETUAL IMMATURITY

We’ve all heard it: kids just don’t want to grow up these days. People get married later, divorce sooner, socialize more, and ultimately, are more concerned with the present than with the future. In the U.S., as well as here in Japan, members of the internet generation are common regarded as “drifters”, extending a life of minimal responsibility well into our late 20’s and early 30’s, delaying a solid career path choice and partying far into the early morning hours under the permission of slogans like “YOLO” (you only live once). We’re the generation of video games, instant gratification, and the severe handicap of short attention spans, where even minimally effective verbal and written communication skills are a rare find. At a time where internet communications have made the exchange and access of information nearly ubiquitous, we use most of such technological advancements to share pictures and funny videos rather than feed our minds. Essentially the behavior of our generation has fallen under title words like, precarious, unreliable, self-indulgent, and “no-strings-attached”.

The truth of it all is that older generations think we are lazy. They often talk about a lack of work ethic, competency, and an over all lacking sense of responsibility which they’ve never known. My answer to this would be that, indeed, they were 100% correct: this is something they have never known—but not because we lack the capacity for all of the integrity they possess. No way; we definitely have that. The reason is because they have never experienced the perpetual, yet elusive, demotivation that is now stalking our modern day work culture. Demotivation is the hidden force behind employee pools that now teem with mediocrity and a seeming lack of ambition.

HALF-TIME

A native Japanese told me the other day that current job market trends show that college graduates in Japan actually CHOOSE to work a part-time job rather than find full-time work. (I also suspect that this happens in the U.S. as well). When I pressed others for reasons as to why they think this is happening, I was met with a lot of blank stares and vague theories about how younger people don’t really care about work. One woman commented that part-time work allowed young workers a flexibility they couldn’t normally find in a full-time position. All explanations were logical, but they failed to really identify a source; if overqualified graduates are choosing to take jobs that render them underemployed, the question is: Why? I think the idea that younger generations don’t care about work is somewhat accurate. But then, why don’t they care about work?

DEMOTIVATION

JOB A:

I imagine that I were to offer you a job that paid a decent salary, and that, in describing the job I also indicated that there existed chances for promotions and raises throughout your employment. Now imagine, not only have I assured you that you would be working with a team of competent professionals, but also that those employees who showed exceptional skill and industriousness would almost surely received addition compensation in the form of either a bonus, company recognition, or a promotion.

Pretty sweet deal, huh? While such terms are almost never explicitly stated outright, this has been the basic unspoken dogma of classic work culture: if you work hard, there are benefits and incentives that will reward your efforts.


JOB B:

Now imagine that I were to offer your a job with a very minimal base salary, and that, in describing the job I also indicated that there wasn’t much potential for promotion and that raises were either behind inflation rates or non-existent. Now imagine, not only have I revealed our current staff as a bunch of lazy bums, but also, there would be virtually no extra compensation for exceptional performance, and that, any employee who exhibited better than average skills would simple be given the majority of the work.


If you consider yourself to be a sane person, there’s no way you would even sit in that interview chair long enough for me to even finish that paragraph; you’d be out of that office and down the block in a heartbeat looking for a liquor store. While, of course, the explicit revelation of these terms is a complete exaggeration, this is exactly the unwritten dogma of modern day work culture: the harder you work, the more work you’ll be given, and you will receive no addition compensation.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The resulting demotivation of modern work culture is a byproduct of a perfect storm which involves education loans, sky-rocketing price-tags for higher education, and the financial crisis which had robbed much of the world of its wealth. All of these factors have converged to create a job market unwilling to take risks, train employees, and create good incentives. The price and prevalence of higher education is partly to blame as both have caused a surge in graduate degrees and the plummeting of salaries.

Before, when education loans were harder to get and universities charged reasonable rates (at the least the public ones did), a family had to think long and hard about betting their financial security on sending someone to college. This meant that, because so few people had college degrees or graduate degrees, it was easy for companies to tell which hires were obviously more competent and deserved better salaries. This also created the incentive for employees to work harder and hone their skills. Now, with easy loans and so many graduates, it’s difficult to tell who’s really competent, and so the entire job market pays everyone the lowest salary possible and you end up with crazy demands like “must have 3-5 years experience” for an ENTRY level position. And, what’s more is, salaries have fallen so far out of sync with advanced degree debt that it’s almost not worth going back to school if nearly half of your monthly income is going to Sallie Mae after you graduate. That’s not an increase in wealth; that’s a negative net-worth.

It might sound unbelievable that in countries like the U.S.— nations built upon the premise that hard work makes a person whatever they want to be—that now, such a basic principal is no longer relevant. Modern work culture has become the poster-child for expressions like “the curse of competence”, or “the reward for competence in digging is a bigger shovel”. I think younger generations have unconsciously picked up on these messages that essentially warn them to play down their abilities and to perform at a minimal level. As a result of the financial crisis and the aforementioned contributing factors, raises are minimal, promotions scarce, and managers will exploit the one competent worker in the bullpen just to keep himself looking good to the higher ups. Younger generation workers understand this intuitively when they are offered ridiculously low salaries and given a plethora of job responsibilities that don’t match the description. The lack of an honest system of incentives keeps younger workers ambivalent about work and about a career market where their efforts are exploited rather than rewarded. We aren’t lazy or incompetent; there’s just no reason to work much harder for nothing.