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:
- fear of losing health care;
- fear that if they leave their current position, they’ll find no better job openings, or no openings at all;
- fear that, if they changed jobs, they’d have to do more for less; and
- the feeling that since they’ve put in so many years at their current job, the idea of starting over is distasteful.
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.