Bait and Switch highlights the people who have done everything right—gotten college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive résumés—yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster. There are few social supports for these newly disposable workers, Ehrenreich discovers, and little security even for those who have jobs. Worst of all, there is no honest reckoning with the inevitable consequences of the harsh new economy; rather, the jobless are persuaded that they have only themselves to blame.
My favorite part of the book occurred during the conclusion, where Barbara Ehrenreich talks about the rise of "passion" as a prerequisite for corporate work. Not only was it scarily relevant to my own experience, but it seemed applicable to this blog. Here are some quotes:
"Likability and enthusiasm are no longer enough to make one's personality attractive; just in the past few months, I've noticed more and more demands for passion." (230)
"Energy and commitment are so 1995; in the twenty-first century one is required to feel, or at least evince, an emotional drive as consuming as romantic love." (231, emphasis mine)
"The new insistence on 'passion' marks a further expansion of the corporate empire into the time and spirit of its minions. Once, white-collar people were expected to have hobbies...Today's 'passionate' employees, however, are not expected to have the time or energy for such pursuits...It is the insecurity of white-collar employment that makes the demand for passion so cruel and perverse." (232)
Sadly, I've found all of this completely true. And I was actually fairly lucky, because most of the jobs I applied for during my last search were with nonprofits. It's easier to be passionate about an organization that's doing good things for the community. However, supporting the cause was often not enough-- I was expected to display a passion for the details of the everyday work, even if it was something like data entry or mass mailings. The world of work sometimes seems insurmountable to me because I'm just too honest. I could lie about my experience or about my skills (sure, I'm great at multi-tasking!), but faking passion...it just seems too cruel. And the idea that everyone else may be doing it just makes it worse. We try to find jobs we love, but we can't expect those jobs to love us back. It's a very rare employer that cares about your job's impacts on the rest of your life.
What I wonder is how this pressure to fake corporate passion impacts our other passions: Sexual, romantic, platonic, artistic, political, or what have you. Can you "evince" passion by day and suddenly switch to real passion by night? I've been told or encouraged to fake various personality traits on the job before. But how, after being fake for 8 hours, are any of us supposed to go home and be genuine to a friend, partner, or family member? People tell me that because I'm trained in acting, I should be great at faking my way through a job interview, for example. But acting is totally different in that it has clear boundaries. Once you start acting off-stage in the rest of your life, how do you know where it ends?
Our relationships with our jobs are so dysfunctional. We've been lied to, cheated, humiliated, disrespected, and abused at jobs we were supposed to be passionate about. (If I mention this, I'm likely to be told the economic equivalent of "boys will be boys".) And yet we still think that after the workday is over, love can solve all our problems. As people living in this era, we're always trying to "process" our relationships and figure them out. But we don't have any established ways to process the pain that our jobs (or lack thereof) may have caused us...until we make some up. As always, the comment box is yours.
(And all this can only lead to anarchy! More about that next time.)