Saturday, May 27, 2006

The end of the white-collar workaholic

Preliminary clarification: no, I am not suggesting that white-collar workers putting-in obscenely-long hours is a phenomenon in general decline. If anything, the opposite is true for men of my (prime working-age, 30-44) generation, despite all the “family-friendly” guff (“family-friendly” is to noughties workplaces what mission-statements were to 90s ones).

Workaholics are an endangered species in that the voluntariness that is a necessary part of their ostensible addiction is in steep decline. “Workaholic” is not, say, a suitable term to describe a rat running on a treadmill just so as to stay still – and such an image seems fairly accurate in describing white-collar Xers who are ball-and-chained to their jobs.

So what’s new/different, vis a vis boomer workaholics?

One is high house prices: for boomers, workaholism was about getting the icing on the cake, for Xers it’s defensively pre-empting downward mobility, in hoping to become a home-owner like one’s own parents.

More insidiously, “work” can no longer be a primary addiction (semi-jokingly or otherwise), because often it has been replaced by a harder drug. And I’m not speaking metaphorically here: in 2006, alarming numbers of Xers, of a type who in the 80s would have been labelled as innocent-enough “workaholics”, are crystal-meth addicts*.

As usual, the boomer-tariat sort of sees the problem here but fudges it, as if trotting out a few all-purpose clichés is going to fix a generationally-specific problem.

But it is an editorial in yesterday’s Australian that takes the generational cake, as it were:

There are hard times for [those] ideologically ill-disposed to the opportunity and prosperity provided by a generation of economic reform.

Yep, 27 years of economic fundamentalism in the West merits the label of a “generation”, in time-frame terms at least. In human terms, the Australian’s connotation is that some (Xers, presumably) are perversely dyspeptic in the face of so many years of “opportunity and prosperity”.

Needless to say, count me in on this one. Addiction to one’s own bile beats a crystal meth habit, any day. I probably would be happier as a 80s-style workaholic, admittedly – but I can’t see anyone out there offering me a ride in a time-machine with a pair of yuppie-red braces thrown in.

* Julie Macken and David Meagher, “Hot shots” AFR Magazine 26 May 2006

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