“Long hours and low pay go hand in hand in the creative class,” wrote The New York Times cheerily Friday. Apparently today’s young generation of aspiring professionals — especially those trying to get a footing in fields that are hard to break into — now puts in way more work hours than what might actually be healthy.
“The recession has been no friend to entry-level positions, where hundreds of applicants vie for unpaid internships at which they are expected to be on call with iPhone in hand, tweeting for and representing their company at all hours,” the Times said, referring to the fact that competition for even unpaid internships (which mostly entail grabbing coffee and taking an Instagram or two) has soared to the point at which applicants who want the job had better be willing to devote their entire life to it. After all, it’s a dog eat dog capitalist world: If they don’t, someone else certainly will. According to the Times, one new-media manager was overheard saying recently that a company needs to hire a “22-22-22”: A 22-year-old willing to work 22-hour days for $22,000 a year.
This is ridiculous. He wants us to throw away our young lives in the cubicle and on a Blackberry. But at what point can we young, jobless hopefuls say no? If we want to work our way up in an industry, putting in this sort of effort is absolutely required. And even when we’re not working, we’d better be working — tweeting, checking e-mails, etc. If we turn the iPhone off, we’re fired. When Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked last Monday, the company’s community manager had her phone off to enjoy family dinner. She was criticized for not being on top of the problem, which isn’t entirely fair, if you think about it. We can’t even eat without our phones on the table.
Our technologically hyper-connected world has created high demands that require us to sacrifice our personal and private and work-free lives in the name of relevance that comes from long, extra hours (and large coffees) and constant communication via social media. And all that for very little pay. Remarked the Times: “The notion of the traditional entry-level job is disappearing,” said the author of “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy.”
Of course, it’s not like we can cap workweeks the way they do in France, but maybe some solution is warranted. Maybe, despite recession, companies need to hire more people, and cap their hours so as to manage salary budgets while also making sure that employees, especially the young and thus exploitable ones, aren’t overworked.