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The entitled young in the UK have finally given up on real work - The Telegraph - 20.12.23

Britain’s century-long culture of productivity is being trashed before our very eyes says Matthew Lynn.

Mondays and Fridays went first. And then going into the office at all. And after that, it turned out that you couldn’t really be expected to be in the same country as the company you work for, and your boss certainly couldn’t contact you out of hours. Now, it is claimed that graduates are refusing to come into the office for job interviews. Seriously?

In reality, the WFH virus is mutating, and like many viruses, growing more troublesome all the time. A culture of industry and hard work that has taken centuries to create is being trashed before our very eyes – and sadly it will be very hard to ever restore.

It was probably too optimistic to expect the traditional job interview to survive the onslaught on traditional working cultures. The days when you might buy a new suit, polish your shoes, and arrive twenty minutes early, all to make sure you made the right first impression on a prospective employer are now consigned to the past.

And yet why would we be surprised by that anymore? When the pandemic struck, and we were all locked up at home for several months, many employers reckoned working from home – or lounging around in your PJs to give it its technical term – was a short term solution.

Sure, we might learn a few lessons in flexible working, while using office space more efficiently, but then everything would get back more or less to normal. Instead, it turns out that we allowed habits to form that are now out of control.

Working from home has been transformed from an occasional privilege to something that can’t even be questioned. Aided and abetted by over-powerful, woke human resources departments, and perhaps soon to be enshrined in law by an incoming Labour government, it is considered an absolute right.

Any CEO with the temerity to suggest it might be good for people to pop into the office a bit more often can expect to be treated as the reincarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge. It doesn’t stop there. “Working from anywhere” presumably means that you can be sunning yourself on a beach somewhere while still officially “working”. The “right to switch off” means that your boss can’t contact you about anything outside of working hours. But what if the entire company is about to crash?  

As for the five day week – there are efforts to whittle it down to four, and may soon be just three. Where it will all end is anyone’s guess. It may soon be considered an outrage for employees to have to deal with customers, or to be subjected to performance reviews, or indeed to have any contact with their employer whatsoever, except of course to collect their monthly pay cheque (perhaps paid into an anonymous account so as not to intrude on their privacy).

The trouble is, this is not working for anyone. What must have started as a well-meaning attempt to improve productivity and flexibility has turned into something far darker instead. It is an all-out assault on the meaning and purpose of working at all.

If we are to put the most positive spin on it, it is about a younger generation – first desensitised to human contact by social media and an addiction to smartphones, and then traumatised by a pointless lockdown that robbed them of the formative experiences of school and university – that has forgotten how to negotiate their way through actual interactions with their fellow human beings.

They might not want to come into the office because they are intimidated by the occasionally scary prospect of actually communicating with their colleagues, or (gasp!) their boss.

If we were to put a less positive spin on it, it is about a sense of pure entitlement, mixed in with a dash of idleness. They don’t believe in the value of work, they think the world owes them a living regardless of whether they make any effort or not, and, fed on a constant diet of TikToks celebrating “quiet quitting” and “lazy girl jobs”, their role models are icons of indulgence and indolence instead of industry and application.

But here’s the problem. Right now, our culture has got this the wrong way around. No one should have to be encouraged to “attend” a job interview in person. They should be raring to go, simply because they want to impress someone who may be able to offer them the next rung on the career ladder.

Likewise, you should be fitting your life around your work instead of the other way around. And you should want to be in the same geographical area as your colleagues and customers since otherwise you can’t possibly know how to get better at your job. None of those are impositions. They are what make working at your chosen career worthwhile.

It is hard to know how to fix the culture of indolence now that it has become so deeply embedded. But perhaps not impossible. Companies might be tempted to announce that any applications from people who don’t want to come in for an interview will be immediately binned – that they will ignore calls for a “right to switch off”, and will make office working mandatory again.

It might or might not work. And yet, if nothing is done, a culture of work and effort that has taken two centuries since the industrial revolution to create will be lost. While it may be impossible to get everyone to buff up their sneakers before a job interview, at least turning up should not be too much to ask. 

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The entitled young have finally given up on real work - by Matthew Lynn for The Telegraph
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