Monday, July 15, 2024

Labour Trends Taking Over The World – Purposeful Underemployment

Since the pandemic shifts in the global labour market have been tumultuous, to say the least. New, splashy titles like ‘quiet quitting’ and ‘the great resignation’ came into the business lexicon as a way to define the shifting landscape of work. There are two definitive aspects of all these labour market trends: they are led by younger workers, and they have their origins in China.

The Chinese Labour Force

China’s young workers are a force to reckon with. According to China’s Bureau of Statistics, there are approximately 96 million 16- to 24-year-olds in the workforce. Of that number six million are unemployed. The rest are employed in jobs from street hawking to back-end developers. 

China’s millennial and Gen Z workforce face unique challenges and opportunities. According to a report by Deloitte, China’s Gen Z and millennial workers prioritize values such as social impact and work-life balance and are more likely to switch jobs for these reasons. Additionally, the government’s push for higher education has created a highly educated workforce, but this has also led to a highly competitive job market and a growing number of unemployed college graduates.

Instead of using their years of training to enter highly lucrative white-collar jobs in giants like Tencent or Alibaba, China’s youth are moving towards ‘brainless’ physical work. Rather than sit at a desk, working on mind-numbing and passionless work, workers are preferring to do manual labour that while not as lucrative gives better work-life balance, and connection.

Purposeful Underemployment - The New Labour Trend Taking Over The World

No one wants to work anymore

The “lying flat” movement in China is a social phenomenon where young people, particularly millennials and Gen Z, are rejecting the traditional societal pressures to work long hours and pursue material success, and instead are choosing to embrace a more relaxed and minimalist lifestyle. The term “lying flat” refers to the act of rejecting the idea of “striving for success” and instead choosing to live a simple life with minimal material possessions and working only to meet basic needs.

This movement has been seen as a response to the growing economic pressures and long working hours in China, as well as a rejection of the intense competition and societal expectations that have been placed on young people. It has also been seen as a reflection of the changing values and priorities of the younger generation in China. However, the movement has also been criticized for being a form of escapism and for promoting a lack of ambition and productivity.

Officials in China were quick to put a stop to the movement by deleting posts on social media and campaigning for hard work ethics. Yet the trend spread quickly even around the world. In the Western world, the idea of the Great Resignation grabbed the attention of workers and CEOs alike. Social media sites like Reddit’s anti-work channel also became popular avenues of discontent as workers came to complain about employers and share incidence of abuse. All in all Almost half of the world’s workers are considering quitting.

Pay the Price

Purposeful Underemployment - The New Labour Trend Taking Over The World

From The Great Resignation to lying flat and quiet quitting there is no shortage of terms to describe how young people do not want to be part of a disadvantaged labour market. Many commentators have pointed out how work hours have decreased over the past decades, yet the purchasing power of those labour hours is drastically lowered in the Western world especially. While it was common for a shoe salesman in the 1950s to afford a middle-class lifestyle, today even highly prized white-collar jobs in tech and business cannot afford a house in many cities.

The reality many young workers from Shanghai to San Francisco are facing is a cost-benefit analysis. Go to school, get into debt, and drive yourself crazy, just to afford a modestly better lifestyle than someone who simply became a barista or street hawker. Not to mention those roles do not involve gruelling overtime, senseless meetings and other office nonsense. Without the reasonable incentive that someone can work hard in school and afford a nice house or go relax with time off, white-collar work makes no sense.

As one 25-year-old woman interviewed by Business Insider put it: “I gave up my high-paying consulting job, escaped endless emails, interviews, and PPTs, and started from scratch as a barista with a monthly salary of only a fraction of that time,” 

As inflation eats into young peoples’ purchasing power, and