Thursday, September 30, 2004

Engaging the Slackers

I had commented on one of Pat Kane's posts about slacking off in the workplace, and his response really connects with some of my recent thoughts about transitions for people who are not engaged in their work:
"Slacking is, at least, a temporary sanity-strategy in a pathological workplace. But ultimately, I agree, it's self-defeating - filling people up with cynicism rather than energy. I think slackers want to be players, unalienated and engaged - it's often that their will has been sapped, they're in a cycle of tiredness and defeatism."
Anyone who has worked in a company dealing with mergers or layoffs (often both), or just any really nasty corporate culture has seen or experienced the cycle he talks about. Exactly at the time when you most need the energy and willpower to make a change, you're exhausted and demoralized. It's terribly difficult to regain momentum to get engaged or get out. Pat's thinking that government policy could ease transitions for people seeking a better life:
"But, hell, I still have a dream of an enlightened government that could construct a 'social wellbeing system' that could help people strike out for engagement in their active lives, without them disappearing in a tangle of debts and disillusionment if the Free Agent dream goes sour. A ground of play, as I call it."
We're mostly in a mode right now where we're not expecting much help from governments (although the boomers are obviously riled up about health care funding), but that may change. Some simple policy changes could facilitate this without being too expensive. For example, why not give someone two or three months of employment insurance benefits even if they quit their job? With this lifestylism project, I'm more interested in how people help themselves through these transitions, and Pat makes a great observation:
"I've been talking to a lot of people over the last few days with the book, and I suppose I'm trying to be cognisant of just how trapped and dependent some people are on the their jobs - locked into consumption patterns that require a steady wage, maybe even a love of routine that insulates them from the world, etc."
The latter part is often based on pure fear -- fear of not getting a different job, losing the relationships they've built up at work, having to start at the bottom of a ladder somewhere else. But I'm most fascinated by one of the reasons he gives for people's dependence on their jobs -- the costs of their lifestyles demands it. So one obvious way for people to enable their transitions is certainly to dial down their expenses, which is never easy.

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