Repost: On Work and Money: Part One

Earlier this week I read “The Shame that Keeps Us in Our Jobs,” an article by Paul Millerd, one of my LinkedIn contacts.  Millerd’s piece, about work, work culture, and money, got me thinking about a whole bunch of topics.  This blog is the result of that rumination.

I want to begin with something I’ve wondered about throughout my career as a college and university educator.  We like to ask kids in their late teens to decide on a major, while studying at postsecondary educational institutions, as a way of deciding what sort of work they want to do and what kind of people they want to be for the remainder of their lives.  So, at a moment when they have little to no work experience and are just finding themselves, we ask youngsters, many of them rightfully confused about nearly everything, to make a profoundly important declaration about themselves that will shape their lives for many decades.  Given this reality, is there any wonder that so many people become disillusioned and have mid-life crises when they get a bit older?

As I began to think about the world of work and money, I realized that we carry around all these binaries in our heads.  There’s full-time work and part-time work.  There are those who wear “white collars” and “blue collars.”  There are salaried employees and wage earners.  More specifically, at the place where I’m currently employed, there are faculty and staff—you’re either one or the other.  (I’ve received the label of “staff” because I supervise others, yet I also teach, which means I look a lot like “faculty” too; thus, my actual duties are much more complex than this labeling allows for.)

My point is that these binaries force us to think in over-simplified ways about how we earn money and put food on our tables. 

In the United States, in almost all the cases I’m aware of, only full-time workers are given benefits, such as health insurance and the like.  The decision to organize ourselves this way is completely arbitrary and political.  Powerful interests have created this nonsensical system, and it will take powerful political mobilization to undo and reimagine it.

We begin with the given that forty hours of work per week is standard and that anything less than that is “part time.”  And then anyone working less than full time is penalized by not receiving benefits.  That’s a catch-22 if I ever saw one.  What would happen if we gave workers the option of being both full and part time?  For example, one week they would work forty hours and then the next week they’d work fifteen or twenty?  That’s the sort of thinking that needs to become more commonplace as we move deeper into the internet age.

Back when I was faculty, I came and went at my workplace as I wished.  That’s because being successful at work meant that I did all those things that needed doing.  I set my own schedule and was trusted to complete my work.  Staff members are required to stay on the job for eight uninterrupted hours per day, Mondays through Fridays.  Such an environment is far more regulated than the kind of work I used to do.  Does this differentiation make sense?  Sort of.

I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of those things I’ve thought about these last few days.  My next installment, published a week from today, will go a bit deeper. 

Thanks for reading!

23 thoughts on “Repost: On Work and Money: Part One

  1. You raise a lot of great insights here, Troy. With people living longer healthier lives, work for the next generation will look very different than what we have known our whole lives. I look forward to reading more next week.

    1. Thanks, Michelle. Yes, we need to be more creative in how we think about work in the US. In some ways, COVID forced us to think outside the box. More of that is needed.

  2. Not all fields pay the same money. My son is now going to be a freshman this fall and is still debating his major . He googles to find out what that field would pay him. In fact he has a passion for one particular field and is paying less than the other one. I told him not to worry and go for his heart. That way as you said he is not going to regret in his 40s.

    1. You have given your son some very good advice. If he chases money and ignores his passion, I’m certain that he is likely to have regrets in the future. I’ve long thought it was strange to ask very young people to make such momentous decisions about their future when they are so young and inexperienced. Thanks for commenting.

  3. The binary world, which is accepted by the bell curve people, and their masters, cannot account, by definition, for an anomaly (until is is past tense, even if just slightly past). Seeing an anomaly as, or just before it happens, is not a talent of many.

    1. Very true, neighbordave. Most have trouble visualizing a world that lies outside conventional “wisdom.” I put that word in quotation marks on purpose. Most things conventional lack wisdom. Thanks for leaving such an insightful comment.

  4. My grandkids highschools are now offering certificate programs, so when they graduate they have some qualifications to either start work or use that as a base for their baccalaureate. The kids can choose to enter this, and they give up their optional classes to take their new set.

    My granddaughter chose to become an anesthesiologist because it pays very highly. Her certificate program will be health aid, and the credits she earns can go towards her medical degree. This not only gives her a fallback if she doesn’t get accepted to the medical program of her choice, but also allows her to work part-time in the medical field as she goes through school.

    My grandson had his heart set on being an aerospace engineer but after going on a class field trip he decided to get a certificate in HVAC. He said he can go to work in the trade right away, or he can go to college for a business degree to open Hi own shop. Or he could apply his certificate towards an engineering degree later.

    They live in rural areas, where kids don’t often go to university after high school, so having the schools offer these kinds of programs is great, but universities are cognizant of these programs and will offer credit towards BA degrees.

    Not being able to choose what one wants to do for the rest of their lives has certainly been an issue for many people, but there aren’t any rules against changing our minds later, in fact many do and that’s very healthy. Many of us have even had to reinvent ourselves later in life when circumstances forced us to, and thank goodness there’s now room for adult learners to make those transitions.

    Choices need to be made early, because we need them to become skilled at something to be able to support themselves financially. Working as a cashier or short order cook shouldn’t be the only choice for those who don’t go on to higher education. High school trades programs offer those skill sets, but they aren’t the either/or choice of yesteryear. Kids can still choose to get a degree, but they’ve also been exposed to something that can earn them a better salary.

    1. Thanks for sharing the stories of your grandchildren. I’ve long thought that we often equate education as having no value outside providing us a “career” or work credentials. In my view, education should help us be better people in addition to helping us get ready for the work world. Education is about much more than helping us make money.

  5. I enjoyed reading your insights. My daughter started as staff at UC Berkeley. She is required to be there for eight hours, even when there’s not much to do. There are people in her department who are faculty and staff. I do think requiring college freshman to decide what to do with their life is ridiculous. Also, it’s probably why our young people switch careers and jobs much more than they did when I was that age.

    1. Hi. See my comment to ganga1996. I totally agree that it is odd to ask such young and inexperienced people to make such momentous decisions about their futures. Most young people don’t even know who they are at that age much less what sorts of work they should be doing. Thanks for leaving such an interesting comment.

  6. I agree with you that when you are a teenager you are confused and can’t make a decision about the rest of your life. In most of the cases they are going to regret and change their career. My son chose what he likes the most and he knows he is happy with it but some of his friends found our their real passion and pursued it. They are lucky, it’s not easy to find your true passion when you are so young.
    I am shocked that in the US you get benefits only if you work part-time! It’s such an old way of conceiving the world of work. The so called Gen-Z have a very different idea of how work should organized, like for instance one day you could work 10 hours and the following day only 4, or maybe you don’t work at all. We should think at work as objective based. Of course it depends also on the job. Good insight Troy!

    1. Hi, crisbiecoach. Please see my earlier comments. Americans often see America as the freest country in the world. In fact, it is very unfree in many aspects, including how it organizes itself around work. By linking benefits with work and saying only full-time workers qualify for extras forces many Americans to stay in jobs they hate or that pay them less than they deserve. In a way, COVID forced us to reexamine some of our thinking and that was very beneficial. Thanks for commenting.

      1. I often think that our systems (not only in the US but also in Europe) want us to do what’s best for them. And it’s true that after Covid we have seen many people quitting their jobs in search for a work-life balance that before they didn’t have.

  7. Thanks for a very well-reflected post with many good points that touches on many themes.
    Yes, it is true how young people are “forced” to make a choice so early before they have experienced anything. Even if they choose, it is not entirely based on free will because it is required of them by society, and so forced upon them if they are to succeed.
    The second point you write about is also at least as interesting. In Norway, we work 37.5-hour weeks, and everyone is entitled to 5 weeks of paid holiday in permanent employment. Those who are not can take a holiday when they want, but it depends on the money in the account and how much we have worked.
    The basic holiday pay is calculated, and the general percentage rate is 12.0% of what we have earned the previous year with an employer.

    People who choose not to have permanent employment ( like me while I b) fall between several chairs, like when I got Covid. Even though I had worked and paid taxes, I had to fight to get a small symbolic amount of sickness benefit.
    When we are not permanent employees, they also take away our freedom by taking away our rights.
    Although we pay tax the same way as permanent employees, that tax is relatively high in Norway.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences in Norway. If Americans got a little taste of what most Europeans have, they’d immediately wish to change this system and be more like places elsewhere. It seems that the system needs a little fixing in Norway as well. Are most Norwegians happy with how things are there? I know that the Finns and the Danes are often considered the happiest people in the world. Are people in Norway happy? I’m very curious about life in Scandinavian countries.

      1. Different people would answer differently to your questions. Norwegians born and raised here feel their home country is the best in the world or, as they say, they have won the lottery, which I can understand.

        If you are born here, and that is what you know all your life, it is in many ways a perfect country. But then you have people like me, who are more critical after travelling a lot and seeing quite a bit.
        But let me start with the things that I appreciate in this country:

        It is still a safe country to live in. As a woman, I can go into the streets at night (not all areas) and feel safe.
        If you lose your wallet and people find it, people call you to return it. There is a lot of beautiful nature and green lungs surrounding the city of Oslo.

        And having said that, I do not believe there is a perfect society anywhere on Earth. And Norway is a safe country but very controlled. I am not a fan of state control, and here the state runs literally the show and controls everything you do at all levels.

        Norwegian society is changing—the welfare state, as they call it. Benefits are being tightened increasingly, and if you end up in the system and need economic help, you often have to prove that you are ill or need help. Regarding welfare, Norway today is not the Norway it was 20 years ago. There are a lot of changes, and Norway, even though they are not part of the EU, are making many changes linked to the EEA agreement they have signed.

        I am always amazed that Norway is rated as one of the best countries to live in_ without looking into the survey, I have understood that it concerns economics. In that sense, yes, even though the social differences are increasing, and unfortunately, there is little focus.
        But happy country? If a smiling face measures happiness, then, in that case, Norway is below -1000. It is not a smiling country at all, so happy; I don’t experience Norwegians as happy people, but I see them as complaining and fixed people. It is a very homogenous society with little room for being different.

        I also do not experience Norway as an inclusive country. If you move here, you must work to gain entry.
        It has to do with their history and the harsh weather. Like every other country, the history and weather conditions affect the people, development and the nation.
        I don’t know if I answered your question, but I shared my experience.
        I am attaching a link about mental health ( in Norway). The link is in English.

  8. Great points Troy- the world has changed a lot over the years but our/ U.S. structure of work hasn’t kept pace.

    1. Hey, Todd. Totally agree. I think COVID forced us to rethink our work lives and that was a good thing. We need more rethinking of this sort. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  9. Interesting post. Being unemployed for over a year now, by choice (thankfully my husband’s salary has carried us through), has given me the time to really ponder work. Things I learned in prior workplaces, employment changes in American culture over the years, and what I most want in a future workplace. Because, I am now actively looking for part-time work. I am so fortunate in that I have that option, as my husband’s employer offers decent health insurance so we are both covered there. I hope for our future as Americans, that employees will recognize the power they have and that those in power will work towards a version of “Medicare for All” so that health insurance is no longer tied to employment. I think we’d be astounded by the increase in happiness of America’s workers if that could only happen. People would no longer have to stay in jobs they dislike and can instead do what suits them and brings them purpose, joy, and meaning instead. Great post! Now to read Part II…

  10. The points you’ve raised here have been deeply on my mind over the past year or so. I would love to make writing, in any capacity and in any medium, the way I earn a living and provide a living for my family. When I say “provide a living” I mean partly, as my wife and I each earn income which helps us to pay our bills and to live rather than having one breadwinner, so to speak.

    Recently I have dropped one 8 hour work day so that I can spend the other – Tuesdays, which is today! – writing my novels and working towards having them published. I am fortunate that in New Zealand, and in my specific role, I can do this without losing the few benefits I have moving from what would be considered full-time work down to what is often defined as part-time. This new arrangement has been going for four weeks as of today and the benefits it has provided me have been like night and day. (Please excuse the use of a binary descriptor there.) Not just for the time it has provided me to write, but a day when I can slow down from the speed at which working my office job often requires of me. I don’t get all the writing done on a Tuesday which I might, but the day away from my paid work means I have more energy throughout the rest of my week.

    Thank you for the encouragement to examine current expectations of work and time requirements, in our own lives and in the world around us.

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