Take My Job, Please

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[Updated 3/25/2014.]

According to Gallup, only 29 percent of Americans consider themselves “engaged” in their work. This percentage has held essentially constant for more than a decade.

This means that, at any given moment, there are 71 percent of us who are, at best, disinterested in our jobs, and at worst really hate them.

At the same time, there are millions of people looking for work, feeling that they cannot get hired no matter how hard they try.

I suppose one should be thankful for just being employed. But something is not right here, and the intractability of the status quo shouldn’t prevent us from reaching for something better.

Here’s the thing: people are clinging to their jobs–jobs they don’t really like–as if castaways to a life raft, a situation known as “job lock.” It’s no cognitive leap to realize that anybody feeling “stuck” in a job is not going to be very productive.

There are various reasons for people’s reluctance to change jobs, including:

If the labor market were truly functioning properly, those who are dissatisfied with their work would transition to new, more engaging jobs, freeing up positions to be filled by those who are seeking employment. Economists assume, in theory, that a job market is unfettered, and that labor can move to where labor is most valued. But this isn’t happening.

Some of this is due to the jobless recovery we are living through. But with all this wonderful technology we have today, it seems like there ought to be a way for people who are unsatisfied with their jobs to make this known in a confidential way and allow others browse for new work. Think an Airbnb for employment–I’m vacating my job and I’m inviting you to fill it.

It would be a part of the so-called peer economy. “The peer economy is the growing business segment of transactions between individuals – one person to another – without a middleman to manage and package it,” says Sunil Paul, co-founder of the internet company SideCar. “It [once] made up the entire economy before industrialization when corporations came to rule economic activity.” He lists Skype, PayPal, Etsy, and Airbnb–and of course SideCar–as examples.

It would look like this: the dissatisfied job holder would post a reasonable description of their job on the site. Others looking to change jobs could browse by category to find a job they’d be happy to fill. The current holder would provide sufficient information for the job seeker to be able to at least secure an interview. The current job holder also would agree to quit, creating the opening for which the job seeker would apply.

Some basic rules would be needed. The job holder would submit a good faith disclosure of the reasons for giving up his or her position, including nightmarish working conditions. The job seeker must be self-aware enough to bid successfully for the job and not apply randomly out of desperation. Like any web product, it would need to take suitable precautions against being hacked, being taken over by trolls, or being otherwise abused.

No one wants to take a leap of faith without some prospect of finding a place to land. If job seekers had a realistic possibility that they could land a job if they took the leap, it stands to reason that job mobility would increase. Job lock would decline; productivity would improve.

We all face an uncertain future when we take a job. In his novel Reflex (1980), Dick Francis eloquently summarizes the predicament of work:

Most people think, when they’re young, that they’re going to the top of their chosen world, and that the climb up is only a formality…. Somewhere on the way they lift their eyes to the summit and know they aren’t going to reach it.

When you reach that plateau, it would be nice if you could find a helping hand to a higher, or at least more rewarding, place to be…without the middleman.

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7 comments

  1. geralynwichers

    Interesting idea. I know that when I was leaving my job this spring, I wanted to warn people “no, don’t work there! This guy’s a monster.” Little wonder the girl who I trained left a few months later.

    The thing about job descriptions, including working conditions, is that they’re subject to the author’s attitude and bias. Others have worked in the position I vacated and had a great experience. Where I currently work is no different. I like it. Others hate it, the supervisor, etc. Vengeance or sabotage could come into play.

    • Matthew Taylor

      All good points. Job descriptions are a weird animal. When I read the one for my job–that was developed by our HR department–I don’t recognize it as what I do. That’s where, I think, a plain English description would help. But that’s vulnerable to bias, as you indicate.

      Clearly, the idea can benefit from additional input. Thanks for yours.

  2. SALT

    In Australia a few decades back jobs were plentiful and the unions became strong because it was moreso an employee’s market. Today it has reversed. Workers’ rights have deteriorated and the legacy of the suffragettes is almost forgotten when it comes to women in the workplace. And I know men need just as many protective rights as well. On the slightly bright side I believe this has encouraged people to become more interested in their futures by being forced to think about it ~ can we be more self-sufficient, do I need to work three jobs across seven days, can I start a small business, can I make do with less. Must we buy a new car every two years. Do we need two homes or a maid. The worst thing about the US market is the fact that health care is tied in with a job. Crazy. Yet so many people don’t seem to want national health care there. I think workplaces overall are mostly horrible asylums with lunatics at the helm. I have worked at plenty ~ from places with alarm bells ringing every time the phone rang (yep, the place was wired with alarms ~ real alarms DING DING DING DING DING to go off in every department every time the phone rang) to a place where we needed to raise our hands to talk during a staff meeting. Then there are HR people ~ that’s worth a blog of its own. There are very few places which encourage and nurture a soul and really respect and thank employees. We are definitely in an era where we are glad for every penny which comes our way.

    • Matthew Taylor

      I read something recently that said that the old model of employment is dying and that we all will be forced to become entrepreneurs for our own “personal brand”. I see it happening already in some professions–it may not be all bad, but it’ll take some getting used to. Which is why some peer-to-peer job transfer technology would be helpful.
      Yes, the health care tied to employer thing is crazy, stupid, and counterproductive. Lots of people here in the States seem to love it, though I can’t figure out why. And don’t get me started on HR. Discretion prevents me from blogging too much about it, but I hear ya.
      Thanks for your comments from the Southern Hemisphere.

  3. Leave the Cannoli, Take the Knife

    Great article, nicely underscores what I went through recently when I walked away from a nearly 20 year career as a speech pathologist. I have always been dumbfounded by what people (sheeples perhaps?) will put up with in the workplace. On my way out the door I tried to report my employer for Medicare fraud, but with no real luck. Apparently you have to hire an attorney and stay in your job as a mole to do that effectively. So I headed out the door. My last moment of dismay came when I asked my manager when she would like to sit down for an exit interview and she told me that she had no intention of doing one. Clearly my old employer, a large for profit healthcare corp. (Genesis, btw, I owe them nothing and have no compunction about sharing my disgust for them), could care less what departing employees with years of experience think. And in my particular facility, at the same time, the Director of Dietary, Head Nutritionist, Director of Nursing and multiple aides and nurses also quit. No one got interviewed.

    • Matthew Taylor

      Thanks Cannoli for sharing this. I enjoy reading stories like yours, not because it’s fun but because it really illustrates what’s going on in the ‘real world.’

      To quote a previous posting of mine, “Despite what we are taught to believe in college, the world of work does not treat us as individuals with a unique combination of talents and experience. Rather, we are just the sum total of our transferable skills. We are resources (human resources, right?), something reduced to its monetary value, modular and interchangeable.”

      This has been a hard lesson for me, though I still hold out hope that talent and experience are valued, somewhere.

  4. Pingback: The Peer-to-Peer Economy is Expanding | The Fly

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