Acton Institute Powerblog

What’s the point of working anymore?

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Whatever the reasons behind “The Great Resignation,” Gen Z must keep in mind that we were designed to work, to produce, to create.

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Is there any value to work in today’s world? This is a question that many in Generation Z find themselves asking.

I started working at a very young age. By 12 years old, I already had two part-time jobs plus a side business of my own. At age 11, I started mowing lawns and doing odd jobs for neighbors. A year later I was working for a catering company, then a landscaping company, and finally bought my own riding lawn mower and trimmer for a side business. A year later I sold my equipment when I became interested in woodworking. I used the money from the sale to buy tools and lumber and began making and selling furniture. Through social media and local connections, I was able to find some small success throughout high school as a custom woodworker. I’ve always loved this kind of hands-on work. Of course, there were days I didn’t want to go out in the heat and mow lawns or stand in front of 300-degree grills for hours, but at the end of the day, the satisfaction of work and the reward of a paycheck were more than enough to keep me going.

Fast-forward to today. There’s an overwhelming message from social media and the news that, when it comes to work, the current system sets you up for failure. For the past two years, a trend has been building to quit jobs. Encouragement in this direction has gone viral on social media, with #quitmyjob gaining 276.5 million views, and #quittock boasting 16.2 million views. Many in the media are calling this “The Great Resignation.” In the words of Glenn Beck: “‘The Great Resignation’ is ultimately a crisis of freedom, identity, and exhaustion. It is, as noted in a recent Gallup report, an expression of great discontent. Gen Z feels like they have nothing to lose and nothing to gain.” My generation has been left with this question: When the system is designed for my ultimate failure, why play the game?

In the “State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report” put out by Gallup, the researchers found that only 21% of employees in the U.S. and Canada are “engaged” in their work, which is to say, only 21% of employees find their work to be meaningful and a benefit to their overall well-being. This high level of disengagement is a major contributor to the great resignation. As people lose sight of the value of their work, they begin to look elsewhere for both satisfaction and a means of generating income.

Not unrelated to this trend, from the time I was born in the early 2000s, the welfare state in America has grown from $20.8 billion in outlays to $1.75 trillion. A world without a vast welfare state is foreign to Gen Z. In the past few years, we’ve seen stimulus checks and various social relief programs that have opened up even more avenues of receiving unearned income. Is it unfair to think that this contributes to the devaluation of work? When there are so many ways to get money “for free,” why would you work for it, especially in jobs deemed menial, demoralizing, or dead ends?

As Teddy Roosevelt said in 1903, “Far and away the best prize that life offers are the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Earned money was the key for me: learning from a young age that you have to work for your income. Not only that you have to work, but that it is inherently good to work. While the message on social media and elsewhere has been that the workplace is toxic and the system is rigged against personal growth and well-being, this mantra is extremely harmful, especially to my generation, and should be resisted. As we begin building our careers, we should not only expect hard—and yes, even “menial” work—but strive for it. And if we see a problem in the workplace that makes fulfilling our responsibilities unnecessarily difficulty, we should work to fix it, not run from it. This is what we were designed to do: to work, to create, to innovate—and most of all, to glorify God through benefiting our neighbor/co-worker.

It’s that design aspect that I believe is missing in the thinking of so many in my generation. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; Male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion … over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:27–28). Humans were created to work, to have dominion over the earth. Being made in the image of God, it is in our nature to work and to produce, not merely take.

As my generation moves into the workforce, we must not forget that we were designed to work, not to live off others, and that work is not always going to be the most fulfilling or creative. We don’t live in a paradise where our dreams are handed to us as an entitlement. Now, if “The Great Resignation” is, in fact, a signal that a reborn entrepreneurial spirit has been let loose in the culture, I am all for it. But if it’s about merely wanting to “be my own boss,” in an effort to avoid dysfunction, well, many will find that can be even more exhausting than having one! But whatever the reason so many are leaving their current places of employment, my generation should be looking for better ways to work, rather than excuses not to work. To do so would be to disdain our Creator’s own design—and command.

Andrew Leston

Andrew Leston is a member of the Acton Institute Emerging Leaders program and a junior industrial engineering student at Texas A&M University in College Station. He also works at the Research Security Office for the A&M System and is passionate about the worlds of intelligence and security. Andrew is on contract with the United States Air Force and hopes to have a long career in public service.