Monday, September 27, 2010

I blame Dilbert and Michael Scott.

Picture this: an intelligent 20-something has seasonal employment as an agricultural worker. For the non-growing seasons of the year, he collects unemployment benefits - a subsistence living, really. His working conditions are truly miserable: he works outdoors during peak insect season, in rainy weather, and in summer's heat. It is hard, back-breaking work, and it pays in the range of $500 to $700/week. Sounds like a special kind of hell, to me.

But what he dreads? Working in a cubicle.

I've heard other young adults with the same misgivings; they'd rather be unemployed than work in a cubicle. They look down their noses at those of us with office careers.

I think Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, one of the funniest comic strips going, is at least partly to blame for the current scourge of 20- and 30-somethings still living in their parents' basements, working at minimum-wage or seasonal jobs. And then The Office, with its ineffable, cringingly hilarious boss, Michael Scott, put the nail in the coffin.

Because Dilbert and The Office gave cubicles a bad image for a whole generation of readers and viewers. Between the two of them, we have a kind of dystopia of workaday existence: miserable working conditions, sub-intelligent supervisors, lazy and misanthropic colleagues.

Not that cubicle farms are my idea of heaven, but there are far worse working conditions to be had, and there are far worse situations in life than being gainfully employed and financially independent. And, to be quite honest, although I've had my share of crappy cubicles and one or two difficult colleagues, for the most part I've enjoyed my time at the office.

I've also done a fair share of telecommuting -- freelance work from home -- so I do have something to compare it to. Working from home certainly has its benefits (Yay, fluffy slippers! Yay, not having to do anything about my obstreperous hair!), but I genuinely missed the camaraderie of working in an office.

Gosh. I'm having a flashback to, oh, 1970, when hippies (who blamed their fathers for selling out to "the man") laughed at middle-aged workers who'd spent their entire lives working for the same company; and those fathers scorned their lay-about offspring for having no ambition or direction.

Does anyone else remember this song? I don't know its title and can't find it online, but I remember listening to it and feeling sad for the father in the song, wondering how he'd feel having his son call him "a joke," and wanting to smack that unappreciative son upside the head. (There may have been redeeming lyrics later in the song, but I don't remember them.)
My old man spent 18 years in the coal pits.
My old man's a joke,
Working for the Company.
Three cheers for my old man!
I feel like this is what today's youth are saying of my generation: that our work lives are laughable, that we've sold our bodies and souls for a pension and a pocket watch. In my defensiveness, it is truly scary how much I have become my father.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, I guess. Which actually gives me hope that these sneering young adults will one day realize that every job has its downsides and its benefits. And that there's something to be said for supplemental health benefits and the creative stimulation of an office workplace.

1 comment:

  1. Is it work itself, or work in a cubicle that Gen Y objects to? And if it's just the cubicle, where *would* they like to work? And if they want to work planting trees seasonally & drawing EI, are they OK with living near the poverty line their whole life and not retiring, ever? Life is full of hard choices.



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