Who is Anxious? Exhausted People, Those Living Hand to Mouth - Huxiu#
McDonald's model includes the de-skilling of the production process, firing older employees, suppressing unions, reducing company benefits, and cutting corporate welfare, which other companies have followed suit. More and more companies are using temporary labor, which has become part of global capitalism. ⤴️ ^c5fe74ac
Continuous anxiety is a characteristic of those living hand to mouth. ⤴️ ^af7ad0d3
Many positions are being restructured in the wave, exacerbating the expansion of the hand-to-mouth group. One example is the commodification of managerial positions, with more and more companies using labor intermediaries or hiring temporary managers to complete short-term tasks. Many temporary managers have gone from highly respected professionals to disposable individuals. ⤴️ ^2783c926
Such fragmented work experiences also lead people to lose their attachment to work and their confidence in investing in slow but meaningful work progress. ⤴️ ^ff9f9f83
"Any behavior that hinders 'getting things done' is understood as a lack of dedication or work ethics, and even strongly implied as a lack of wisdom. ⤴️ ^12cbe00d
Who is Anxious? Exhausted People, Those Living Hand to Mouth#
In recent years, anxiety has become a widespread trend among young people, both in the United States and China. Young people face tremendous pressure in terms of education, work, and competition. Behind this anxiety lies deep-rooted causes, including the decline in return on human capital investment and social mobility.
• The book "The Age of High Pressure" reveals the soaring trend of anxiety and depression among young people, becoming a collective phenomenon.
• The decline in social mobility has increased anxiety among young people, making it difficult for them to seize opportunities in a highly competitive and limited environment.
• The implementation of flexible capitalism has created an unstable work environment, lower income, and reduced welfare, providing fertile ground for hand-to-mouth anxiety.
According to a recent survey by Harmony Healthcare IT, a health data management company, 61% of young people aged 18 to 26 in the United States have been diagnosed with varying degrees of anxiety.
Anxiety is not only present among young people in the United States. The "China Youth Netizen Social Mentality Survey Report" released by the Fudan Development Institute shows that for Chinese youth netizens, the most prominent type of anxiety is related to learning/work. In addition, young netizens also exhibit a state of "anxiety and struggle" in their lives.
Zhang Ming, Deputy Director of the Institute of Finance at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that one of the deep-rooted reasons for the increased anxiety among young people is the decline in the return on human capital investment, and the deeper reason lies in the decline in social mobility. Behind the widespread anxiety, what is the crux of our time?
The emergence of "destructive perfectionism," facing high pressure
Mental health issues are invading the younger generation and becoming a collective phenomenon. "The Age of High Pressure" book reveals that the incidence of anxiety and depression has skyrocketed in the past decade. The proportion of college students seeking counseling has increased at a rate five times higher than the average enrollment rate. The high prevalence of mental tension, anxiety, and depression has become an epidemic, especially because young people today face a future of increasingly fierce competition and diminishing opportunities.
"The Age of High Pressure: How to Help Children Navigate Difficulties in College and Transition to Adulthood" [US] B. Janet Hibbs, translated by Cheng Liping, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Press, 2023～07
The possibility of upward social mobility is decreasing globally. Even in the United States, which has always touted unparalleled upward mobility opportunities, social mobility has been declining for many years. One of the reasons for the decline in social mobility is the decrease in middle-income, and the income security of the middle class is disappearing.
In this situation, parents also worry that there is only one straight path to a better life, "you must do well. You cannot make mistakes, otherwise opportunities will be ruined." Thus, "destructive perfectionism" is born - people cannot tolerate their children not excelling in everything. However, the problem is that everyone makes mistakes or fails at some point, and usually no one can excel in everything. Even if everything is done well, the value of education is depreciating. College tuition is expensive, and sometimes its value is only equivalent to a high school diploma in the past.
Continuous anxiety is a characteristic of those living hand to mouth
Why is the possibility of upward social mobility decreasing? Why do people feel increasing uncertainty? Guy Standing, author of "The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class," and an economist at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, sees that the "neoliberal" model, which permeates all aspects of life with market principles, shifts risks and insecurities onto workers and their families.
One of the representatives of neoliberalism is the establishment of "flexible mechanisms in the labor market." Flexibility includes many aspects - wage flexibility means quickly adjusting wages to respond to changes in demand; employment flexibility means companies can easily adjust the number of employees without cost, thereby weakening employment security and protection; job flexibility means companies can internally mobilize employees and change job structures with minimal resistance and cost; skill flexibility means being able to easily adjust workers' skills.
According to neoliberal economists, every economic recession is due to a lack of market flexibility and a lack of "structural changes" in the labor market. The so-called "flexibility" essentially systematically reduces employees' sense of security. Since the 1990s, more and more people have entered an "unstable living situation," which means they cannot guarantee that they will continue to do the same job in the coming years, months, or weeks.
"The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class" [UK] Guy Standing, translated by Xu Caiyu, Zhejiang People's Publishing House, 2023～04
Today, the commodification of companies is becoming more prominent, which means that the promises made by employers are no longer as valuable as before. Employers may leave tomorrow along with the management team, and negotiations on labor content, wage payment, and how the company should treat employees in difficult situations will also become ineffective.
The commodification of companies means that even white-collar workers can lose their jobs and other benefits overnight. Companies want more flexible labor to reduce risks and control costs. In the globalized system, the competitive advantage brought by temporary labor is increasing. Various companies have followed suit - for example, ==McDonald's model includes the de-skilling of the production process, firing older employees, suppressing unions, reducing company benefits, and cutting corporate welfare, which other companies have followed suit. More and more companies are using temporary labor, which has become part of global capitalism.==
The result is the creation of a global hand-to-mouth group. According to Guy Standing's estimate, currently, in many countries, one-fourth of the adult population is in a hand-to-mouth state. Those living hand to mouth face issues such as insecure employment, prevalence of short-term positions, and lack of labor protection, while also losing the rights that were considered deserved by the industrial proletariat and the white-collar class - the concept of a career, stable professional identity, national welfare, and corporate welfare. ==Continuous anxiety is a characteristic of those living hand to mouth.==
There is ample evidence that since 2011, the incidence and intensity of anxiety have been increasing. Essentially, the increase in anxiety is not just a personal psychological problem but a distribution issue and a manifestation of structural inequality. Some British researchers believe that the partial cause of anxiety disorders is the economic recession and austerity policies implemented by the state after the financial crisis, while another study suggests a close correlation between welfare reform and the increase in mental illness.
Fragmented work destroys long-term bonds and goals
Is it only "temporary workers" or those who work multiple jobs who experience hand-to-mouth anxiety? In fact, the binding relationship of standard employment is crumbling and has become the norm, and it is constantly expanding.==Many positions are being restructured in the wave, exacerbating the expansion of the hand-to-mouth group. One example is the commodification of managerial positions, with more and more companies using labor intermediaries or hiring temporary managers to complete short-term tasks. Many temporary managers have gone from highly respected professionals to disposable individuals.==
"The Faceless: The Personal Consequences of Work Under New Capitalism" [US] Richard Sennett, translated by Zhou Wuna, Shanghai Translation Publishing House, 2023～10
Richard Sennett, a visiting professor of urban studies at MIT and a sociologist, found that even elite professionals in the Silicon Valley computer industry feel a constant crisis due to the "short-term employment" system - they have to move frequently due to changing jobs, and they and their families no longer have long-term bonds with the outside world, and they don't even have the opportunity to establish such bonds; they struggle to stabilize their professional image and identity value in their work and find it difficult to meet the interpersonal needs and pursue personal goals.
Flexible systems can cause anxiety because people do not know which risks will be rewarded and which path to take. Everyone can be replaced, leave the team, and join another team. ==Such fragmented work experiences also lead people to lose their attachment to work and their confidence in investing in slow but meaningful work progress.== "The whole system exudes indifference in organizations lacking mutual trust. People in these organizations have no reason to be needed. Such indifference is achieved in repeated corporate reorganizations, as employees are used and then discarded."
Flexible capitalism also brings problems to people's character - in such a restless and short-sighted society, how can we judge which are the sustained values within ourselves? In an economic system focused on achieving short-term goals, how can we pursue long-term goals? In constantly fragmented and reorganized institutions, how can we maintain loyalty and commitment among people?
Continuous exhaustion, the pursuit of achievement in vain
Faced with the above problems, how can individuals cope? Is "tiger parenting" effective? Is "overwork" effective? The tail end of the baby boomer generation and the earliest batch of Generation X lived in a stable and improving economic and political environment, but when their children, the "millennial generation," entered the workforce, they generally felt exhausted.
Cultural studies scholar and writer Anne Helen Petersen found that compared to the previous generation, millennials have much less savings, worse social equality, less stability, and heavy student loan debt. She describes the fatigue experienced by millennials as a state of continuous exhaustion - it could be the state of a high school teacher grading exam papers or the state of a fast-food worker driving for a ride-hailing service after work. This fatigue has become so widespread that "in May 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognized it as an occupational phenomenon caused by long-term workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."
"The Burnout Generation" [US] Anne Helen Petersen, translated by Yang Wenzhan, Gezhi Publishing House, 2023～10
Unlike the baby boomer generation and Generation X, who had a free-range childhood, millennials entered a process of intensive parenting, also known as "tiger parenting." They carry the expectations of their parents and have worked hard from childhood to accomplish one goal after another. With the idea that as long as they follow the steps, they can find a good job, they have experienced the dot-com bubble and the financial crisis.
Due to the economic recession in the past few decades, the rise of the gig economy driven by technology, and the continuous reduction of worker protection measures, many workers who entered the job market after 2008 do not have independent sources of income and have multiple jobs. As a result, millennials, who were once stressed and over-scheduled children, have become exhausted and overworked adults.
The author of "The Burnout Generation" found that for millennials, efficiency is life. They have internalized the idea that they should work non-stop. The optimization of the self from a young age has blurred the boundaries between work and leisure.
However, the more work they complete efficiently, the more demanding the working conditions become, the lower the income, the worse the welfare, and the more unstable the positions. Efficiency does not bring higher wages, and resilience does not increase value. The investment in work actually exacerbates exploitation. Accompanying this exhaustion is a strong desire for achievement. People's hearts are always filled with uncontrollable desires and anxieties, turning this desire into painful unattainability.
However, indifferent modern capitalism is indifferent to people's efforts - in the past, young people acquired a skill that would bring rewards decades later, but now people find that the qualifications they have spent many years obtaining are outdated and insufficient. The more training they participate in, the more likely their skills will not keep up with industry progress.
Faced with skills becoming obsolete, people either frantically learn new skills or believe that since they cannot bring certain returns, they choose to "lie flat." Subsequently, complex division of labor and high technology make proprietary skills no longer belong to any profession but only exist in the programs that dominate people. Each employee is designed to be replaceable and discarded in repeated corporate reorganizations. The pursuit of personal character, belief in the meaning of work, continuous improvement of skills, and becoming an irreplaceable expert have become legends of the previous generation, weakening people's sense of value.
However, in the United States, the work ethic of "overwork" has become standardized. The author found in anthropologist Ho Rouwan's field research on consulting firms a statement that points directly to the engine driving the culture of exhaustion: "There is nothing better than being able to constantly get things done. ==Any behavior that hinders 'getting things done' is understood as a lack of dedication or work ethics, and even strongly implied as a lack of wisdom.== However, the influence of this mentality has far exceeded mere elitism, and at the same time, it has not questioned the legitimacy of downsizing, layoffs, and outsourcing.