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To an older worker -- that is, over 40 -- a job means a paycheck, not prizes and treats

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S.J. Schwaidelson
S.J. Schwaidelson is Minnesotan by marriage but a die-hard New Yorker by birth. She blogs at The Wifely Person Speaks.
Photo Courtesy fo S.J. Schwaidelson

I am a dinosaur. I firmly believe if you have a job, your first responsibility is to show up. On time. Ready to work. In the grown-up world of paychecks, that's what you do if you want to keep getting one. At least, that's what my parents taught me.

And that was the position we took with the boys. They managed to grow up. One's a blues man, the other's an engineer. Both are self-sufficient.

When our guys were little, my husband and I questioned the wisdom of handing out participation medals at an event. We were immediately rebuffed, told that all children were special, and all children should get prizes for trying. We suggested that made as much sense as handing out prizes for respiration. 

I work in an environment where the median age seems to be under 30, and I can tell you that handing out all those prizes for breathing has created a generation of self-obsessed children who seem unable to enter into real-world responsibility without some sort of award system dangled before them. In my office, each month that you're a perfect-on-time-no-unexcused-absence person, you get a forgiveness coupon. This valuable chit can be used to remove a tardy arrival demerit that would otherwise go on your permanent record ... you know, the equivalent of a note from Mom to the school attendance officer.  

Excuse me, but aren't you SUPPOSED to be on time?

  The older workers (over 40, which isn't all that old in my book), who are used to being paid for doing work in a professional manner, are at a loss as to how to respond to this new state of business. It's not the prizes and sub-casual attire that stymie us oldsters; it's the casual attitudes.

  Between the group planning office games and the treats and toys brought in by vendors, we've created a workplace-as-playground mindset. Work has to be fun now, not just a paycheck; the workers have to have a good time while they're here. I'm not suggesting that work should be a bad time, or even just a grind, but which is the priority: productivity or fun? And how did we even get to a place where we're questioning the priority?

  In a tight job market where raises are scarce (or minuscule if they happen at all), perhaps doing one's job well really isn't enough to keep the next generation engaged. This is neither a partisan nor political issue; this is a cultural one. Kids coming out of school and into the worst economy in a generation still have expectations of high starting salaries and signing bonuses. These kids are not earning or progressing at the same rate as their parents and they're not willing to accept a lower standard of living that comes with a smaller salary. What seems to be missing is a sense of future growth. It's not all instant gratification. 

  We do all our children a disservice by reinforcing the idea that they are the center of the universe and that their personal joy, satisfaction and passion trump those of anyone else. We are not teaching them how to be part of a collective effort and we're not teaching them that work done well can bring both personal and salary growth in the future -- that one has to strive to reach those goals. Instead, we are teaching how to set themselves apart and to concentrate solely on their desires, which must be met now. We are teaching them to think so inside their own little boxes that the outside walls could collapse around them with little notice.

  I'm O.K. with being a dinosaur. I think I'll continue to show up on time, do my job, and cash my paycheck. And if I'm real lucky, maybe a kid sitting near me will get the message. After all, the paycheck is the prize that lets you follow your dreams, indulge your passions and do all the really fun stuff. 

  In the meanwhile, as these kids start to have kids of their own, I have to ask: What are they going to teach them? 

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S.J. Schwaidelson is Minnesotan by marriage but a die-hard New Yorker by birth. She blogs at The Wifely Person Speaks.