Why it’s time to ditch your ‘dead-trend’ job

Certain ‘jobs’ should be left behind in order to pursue more meaningful work

From off-the-cuff table talk to buttoned-down meet and greets, employees of all collars usually ask: Where do you work? Rarely, if ever, do you hear: What’s your job? The answer is simple—nobody dares to leave a bad impression.
We perceive this risk because ‘job’ doesn’t have the most exemplary connotation in our vernacular. In my opinion, a job is something we must endure for 40-plus hours a week to earn some pay. Gradually, this became the norm, and an onslaught of punch-in-punch-out jobs erupted—although that may not be the case today.

This issue is all but simple. There are dead-end jobs, and there are “dead-trend jobs.” The latter, I believe, are lifeless from the start. Dead-end jobs are jeopardized by disruptive innovation, whereas dead-trend jobs temporarily pop in and out of the market.

At least with dead-end jobs, purpose is a matter of perspective. Take the story of the three labourers found smashing boulders with iron hammers. When asked what they were doing, the first one replied, “Breaking big rocks into smaller rocks.” The second said, “Feeding my family.” The last one said, “Building a cathedral,” which was in reference to the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris, the capstone of which was laid in 1345—182 years after the initial work began.

This means the first generation of labourers may have spent every waking moment breaking rocks and, in turn, their backs. For posterity’s sake, the third labourer left no stone unturned. He was driven by the day his grandchildren would revel in the artistry of the cathedral, which would stand tall and proud for decades to come.

In my view, the same cannot be said of dead-trend jobs. With dead-trend jobs such as “chief visionary officer,” “influencer” and “brand warrior,” employees in our post-industrial economy are swinging their iron hammers into thin air.

Globally, a growing number of workers believe their jobs are pointless. In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, nearly a half claimed their job had no “meaningful significance.” In fact, the same number of workers admitted they could not relate to the company’s mission.

Another poll, conducted by Gallup, the Washington, D.C. based polling organization, showed that of 230,000 employees across 142 nations, only 13 per cent of workers actually liked their job. A 2015 poll conducted by the market research company YouGov showed that 37 per cent of British respondents thought their jobs were invariably futile.

I believe this futility emerged out of a systematic failure of how jobs have been conceived. It’s little wonder that “job” was originally ascribed to demeaning wage work during the industrialization of 18th century England. Driven from their traditional work on the land and in crafts, these labourers were reduced to cogs in a lean, mean, profit-maximizing machine.

For a century, these cogs were kept churning by economist Adam Smith’s tenet that people were naturally lazy and worked only for pay, according to The Atlantic. Smith’s “division of labour” concept meant that workers would perform repetitive tasks while being responsible for a small contribution of the product. Unlike craftsman of the past, several labourers working this systemized line increased efficiency, as described in the International Encyclopedia of Ergonomics and Human Factors.

As such, I believe manufacturing systems became less reliant on meticulous skill and attention—competencies that otherwise wage-hungry labourers lacked altogether. Ever since then, work has been cast down as a mere money-making, GDP-generating, chore-like exertion.

The remnants of this history continues to shape our working lives. Take, for example, the teacher who aspires to educate young students, but realizes that only scores on standardized tests matter. Take the financial advisor who seeks to counsel sensible advice, yet recommends riskier investments to meet commission quotas. You won’t find any shortage of these examples in our labour force.

Nevertheless, there’s good reason to be optimistic. Researchers and managers of international corporations have shifted their focus to meaningful work. Recently, Globoforce and IBM released their most recent report based on a global survey of 22,000 workers. Findings showed that out of the six human workplace practices examined, meaningful work topped the list. Meaningful work contributed the most to employees’ positive workplace experiences.

We shouldn’t try to continue “dead-trend” jobs. There’s no possibility of advancement from these jobs, nor can any level of technology save them. Let’s bury the dead for good.

All views are my own and not that of my employer.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 


Uber: A win-win or a catch-22?

Taking a look at Uber’s devious practices in the business community

Last month’s cat-and-mouse game between Uber drivers and Bureau du taxi de Montréal (BTM) officers led to confusion, tension, vehicle seizures and even arrests.

BTM claims Uber drivers cannot offer paid rides without a taxi-driver’s licence or permit. Despite this legal grey area, Uber offered to pay their drivers to disobey the Quebec law. The resulting animosity between both groups is leading to groupthink, whereby Uber and taxi supporters irrationally conform to the views held by their own in-groups at the expense of actual facts.

As a fellow digitally literate young professional, I can see why it is so easy to buy into this hype and jump on the Uber-wagon. It’s a convenient, flexible and affordable transportation solution for many customers. Uber also allows common drivers to cash in on their otherwise non-monetized driving skills. In fact, the company claims a driver can earn up to $90,000 a year. So, how is this sharing economy not a win-win?

The problem lies in the dynamics of the relationship between Uber and its drivers. It is in Uber’s best interest to hire as many drivers as possible to keep up with the growing demand. Uber promises drivers a business-to-business (B2B) partnership, whereby Uber and drivers grow the brand ‘together’ to attract more consumers. As such, drivers feel solidarity with Uber, even though Uber is the sole owner of the brand.

This ambiguity in roles created by drivers’ illusory belief in an equal partnership precipitates a business dilemma. As Uber scales their product, which consists of others’ labour and transactions, less consideration is attributed to drivers’ needs. For this reason, a dissociation within this relationship is inevitable.

Photo by Núcleo Editorial.

So, how about that advertised $90,000 annual salary? Not surprisingly, a 2015 investigation by Philadelphia City Paper suggested that Uber drivers would have to work 27 hours a day to earn that much.

As users, we falsely assume Uber is socially and technologically innovative. According to Stanford Business, the value of social innovation accrues primarily to the society rather than single individuals. Specifically, the added value of a socially innovative idea is necessarily greater than the gains acquired by individual entrepreneurs. I do not think small-talk with strangers qualifies as social innovation.

Perhaps then Uber’s source of innovation is more technological than social. However, the truth is that technology actually plays a secondary role for Uber. Although it is evident that much effort has been invested into the app’s programming, nothing is overtly proprietary about its development.  

Uber’s talents are not epitomized by cutting-edge innovation. Rather, Uber crookedly  differentiates itself from the competition by finding legal loopholes and bending the rules. Worst still, The Observer claims that Uber has previously sabotaged Lyft (a competing app) by ordering thousands of fake rides.

Uber’s $62.5 billion USD net worth has lured governing bodies into making special, loose accommodations and exemptions. For example, training for Uber drivers consists of watching a 13 minute YouTube video, the privacy of customers’ information is questionable, and background checks are easy to get around, according to a report by The Globe and Mail. This is dangerous for several reasons. First, consumers’ health and safety is reduced merely to an afterthought instead of a top priority. Undeniably, taxi drivers require much more certification and testing.

Secondly, Uber has a disproportionately stronger negotiating position, and so drivers are left without any leverage in all key decision-making. Uber has the power to jack up prices when demand drastically increases as it does on holidays, whereas taxi drivers are required to charge regular prices and accept all customers without discrimination.

Lastly, Uber drivers are hired as so-called independent contractors—not employees, according to a report by CBC News. This means Uber can get away with denying responsibility or lying without ever being held accountable. For example, The Observer reported that Uber has been known to slash fare prices, which caused drivers’ earnings to drop below the minimum wage. Then, Uber actively blocked drivers’ repudiating tweets to minimize harm to their brand. Clearly, sharing is not always caring, especially when Uber doesn’t share any of the accountability.

Unlike taxi drivers, Uber drivers take on all the risks but none of the benefits. Uber drivers pay for all their car insurance, inspections, gas, repairs, maintenance, depreciation and sales tax. Meanwhile, drivers are rewarded with insufficient training, marketing advice and profit margins.

In sharing economies, users rent or borrow assets owned by someone else. Unfortunately, this business model has atomized the workplace. ‘Micro-entrepreneurs’ are working in ‘micro-economies.’ The result—a perfectly schemed catch-22—as consumers’ influence shrinks, the power of ‘sharing’ monopolies grow. All the while, we the consumers turn a blind eye. Uber has all the leverage, and we gave it to them. It’s time we jump off the Uber hype-wagon before it drives us into the ditch.

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