Anomie & The Great Resignation
Just as things started to reopen, a new type of challenge faces companies of all shapes and sizes. Where have all the workers gone?August 07, 2021 · 3 min read
Over the past few months there have been shortages of seemingly all forms of goods and services. Though I'm no economist or supply chain expert, these shortages make sense intuitively. After a year of complete shutdown and disruption, it makes sense that the global distribution of goods could be impacted. What I find a little harder to make sense of is the labor shortage rippling across nearly every industry. Blame is being placed on government handouts, bad employers, and just plain lazy people, but I think it goes much deeper. Empowered by digital networks, and given an extended moment of reflection, workers at all levels are rethinking the place of work in their lives.
Anomie & The Division of Labor
I first came across the term anomie after reading The Division of Labor in Society by Émile Durkheim. It's an utterly offensive word in my opinion, bringing with it purely negative associations. Anomie refers to the breakdown of any moral values, standards or guidance for individuals to follow. It's what leads to social alienation and distrust in society, something Durkheim blamed on the division of labor. Sadly, it's a word that I believe describes the feelings much of us have towards our work today. If you've ever had the "Sunday Scaries", or asked yourself the existential question before work of "What the hell am I doing?", you've likely experienced anomie. It's a terrible, gut wrenching feeling that results from a deep inner void. A lack of connection or meaning derived from the work that consumes most of our waking lives. For years it seems many have suppressed the feeling, likely out of necessity, but the pandemic has forced people to wake up.
Pandemic & Time
The pandemic gave people time. Time to reflect, and time to learn new things. Many productive people made full use of the time, learning about new jobs, and picking up new skills. Humans are more empowered now than perhaps at any time in history. We have unprecedented access to people, ideas and information, and now, given the accelerated movement towards remote work, are no longer limited by geography. This has given us the power of choice in our work, a good thing for workers, and a new challenge for employers. A big part of what we're seeing today, is that people are sick of doing shitty jobs for shitty people, and have the knowledge and fresh skills to go elsewhere. I have a friend who bartended before the pandemic, and after being laid off he took the past year to learn audio engineering. He's now making better money, works on his own time, and can freely travel to do what he loves most.. play music. Amazing!
This is the new reality and I think it comes at a time when we need a shift in our collective consciousness. At the very least people who are happier in their work will bring that possibility into the community. That's a good thing. People who are seeking to derive more meaning and purpose in their work will seek out different types of jobs. Jobs that don't contribute to an endless cycle of wasteful consumption, but rather ones that make things that are beneficial to society. Basically, jobs and work that push society and humanity forward. I think these types of jobs will become more widespread as the demand for them increases. We have a lot of bigger challenges to solve, so the timing of this all could not be better.