It seems that roughly 4800 people entered the Washington Post’s Next Great American Pundit contest. I do not envy the editors for the week or so they’ll spend whittling the entries down the the top ten.
Though I think I’m a few years off from having the confidence to have pundit ‘tude, I did enter. With a 400-word limit, I had to decide between setting up a longer piece that would cut off at the 400-word mark, or just try to make a coherent argument complete within the word limit. I went with the latter.
With a national unemployment rate hovering near 10 percent, we’re moving beyond job hunt desperation to a general workplace malaise that is also a threat to American morale. A recent DDI poll found that more than half of worker bees feel disconnected from their workplace responsibilities. Despite reporting significantly heavier workloads as their companies streamline staff, employees perform by rote, rather than because of an ambition to reach the next rung or the determination to stay employed.
At first glimpse it seems crazy to be almost lackadaisical in one’s professional efforts given the economy. Corporations are downsizing, eliminating job security. Bonuses are a non-starter, since belt-tightening is a matter of course. And if not experiencing forced furloughs or pay cuts, receiving a raise tied to the bump in the cost of living is considered generous.
The growing ranks of the unemployed don’t just raise concerns about whether one will be able to make that next mortgage payment, it threatens the daydreams that inspire people to work the extra hours, to take on side projects and to survive less than optimal work environs. Whether focused on the next promotion or company leapfrog, ambitions are born of what one imagines could follow a vertical or lateral transition.
Given that inadequate compensation and a hunger for career advancement spur new employment searches, 60 percent of workers are actively looking for a new office environment, competing with millions of equally hungry, unemployed job seekers. Competition is fierce and the odds of making a move to a more favorable position seem slim. Even if a new opportunity avails itself, there’s no guarantee it’s anything but the flip side of the same coin.
At the same time, having 1 year of experience, or 20, at a company means little when that job is deemed expendable or redundant. A position can be here today, gone tomorrow. When the opportunities are limited outside one’s current employ, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep that hope alive. With the ability to imagine the possibilities faltering, ambivalence is infectious.
Such insouciance is toxic at a time when innovation and fresh thinking are demanded to make the American labor market competitive again. The psychological hurdle to overcome is as palpable as the economic one: the power of possibility needs to be rekindled.
If anything, it was great to be writing again, so I need to get this blog back up and running.