The Age of Anti-Ambition (NYT article)

There is widespread fatigue among workers about being cogs in the machine. This NYT article delves into why many people are quitting or have chosen not to work without garnering more dignity for their labor. Most stay on the sidelines due to sheer burnout from jobs that don’t fulfill risk-reward expectations: Link

The article misses a key point contributing to worker catatonia. Most folks, especially recent college grads, go into a workplace to socialize and build a sense of community. This displacement is about to end as the pandemic goes away. Some companies understand the current gap by offering in-person amenities to workers. Salesforce is renting a Bay Area wellness retreat.

I believe the age of anti-ambition can be quelled by leaders using the carrot or the stick. Both approaches make sense given the immense suffering of workers during the current displacement. The ‘carrot plan’ involves things that can’t be easily measured —- wellness retreats, community building activities, teaching new skills, offering more benefits for family caregiving, and pathways to living in lower-cost locations. The ‘stick plan’ already has adoption in the form of automation, outsourcing, and innovation so fewer workers are needed. For example, when I order a Domino’s Pizza, my order gets captured in a Filipino call center and gets relayed back to the US store location for fulfillment.

The ‘stick plan’ is hard to overcome when times are uncertain, so the most ambitious workers know that their ‘ninja’ moment has arrived. They upskill, move to cheaper areas, and put their kids in the most resilient schools. They pull their families together so multiple generations can offer each other company, child caregiving, and share living costs. Some build up their faith-based communities or cultural tribes to recreate the loss of fellowship.

Here’s my take. Regardless of one’s ambition, there’s a saying, “he who has the gold makes the rules.” This alternate corporate-speak version of the Golden Rule continues to run its course. President Obama warned many years ago that US jobs will head to Asia if Americans don’t work harder. Only the hungriest and strongest thrive amidst uncertainty and chaos. It’s ok to take breaks, but this is not the time for extended hibernation.