In the latest episode of the Gustonomics Podcast, Gusto’s Principal Economist, Liz Wilke, explains the silver linings in the graying workforce. Each episode is only about 10 minutes long, so you can quickly get some new economics knowledge and get back to your day. Catch up on all the episodes wherever you get podcasts.
Hey there, On the Margins readers. I returned from my sabbatical a little rusty, so the newsletter took an extra couple weeks to get back into the swing. I hope you don’t mind.
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And now, the newsletter.
Maybe bad moods are good
Here’s a darkly humorous column from Greg Ip at the Wall Street Journal trying to puzzle out why Americans are so unhappy when things are going pretty well economically. The thinking goes, even if inflation is still a drag, it’s WAY better than it was in the summer of 2022, unemployment remains very low, and wages are doing ok. Still, other factors are at play like more time off and flexibility that theoretically should help worker satisfaction.
Yet, Americans are miserable. Inflation seems to stick to our brains more than rising wages or a strong job market or an improved work-life balance. Plus, expensive coffee is upsetting:
[C]onsumers also care about the absolute level of prices and are bothered they remain so much higher than a few years ago.
The average Starbucks coffee has gone from under $3 at the start of the pandemic to $3.63 in the second quarter, according to Numerator, a marketing data company.
Honestly, I stopped going to Starbucks ages ago because it would make me so mad.
Anyway. High mortgage rates are also a bummer, so that has an impact. Plus, there’s war in Europe and the Middle East, never-ending political buffoonery at the national level, and enough cultural issues to go around, so virtually everyone’s goat gets got one way or another. It all adds up to the collective feeling that Americans, despite being pretty satisfied with their personal circumstances, aren’t feeling great about things overall.
Which, I have to say, seems like a normal thing to feel and nothing to be too alarmed about. As we’ve talked about, people have good days and bad days at work, so it stands to reason that they’ll feel good or bad or MEH about things overall, too. It’s not indicative of anything more than humans moving through the world on any given day.
But also, there is something about American culture—dare I say optimism—that keeps us hopeful that things will get better, no matter how good we have it now and how little we appreciate it. The US was ranked 15th in the World Happiness Index earlier this year, and it’s hard to imagine ever falling out of the top 20 (i.e., roughly the top 10% of countries). I’m happy to be proven wrong, but it just goes to show that, on a global scale, we’re pretty happy here whether we’re willing to admit it or not.
Still, we’re always complaining, never satisfied with the status quo, and continue to strive to improve things. Irritability is good for comedy, so it stands to reason that it works in other domains, too. It drives engagement in people’s lives and might also inspire them to start businesses or work for those businesses to solve problems or to improve their own situation and the situations of our communities. That helps create financial security and goodwill and spurs more economic activity that, generally speaking, improves people’s lives. Things are far from perfect, but would we really want them to be?
We should just face it, Americans might be happiest when they’re unhappy.
I really thought the three years of a pandemic had caused us to move past this, but here’s Suzy Welch wagging her finger at young people who wish to work hybrid or remotely:
“The young people who choose to have that life that go into work maybe one or two days a week or never, and work entirely remotely, they may have a version of success that is not our version of success,” Welch said. “It’s all about how you define success. They’re probably not going to become CEOs, but maybe that’s not what they want.”
There’s nothing quite like someone lecturing young people about how if they don’t want to be CEOs when they grow up, then they’re losers.
Now, if she’d said, “Maybe that’s not what they want, and that’s OK,” I’d be less salty about it, because it is ok. But she didn’t say that; she suggested succeeding in business means being in charge or having a title or whatever and then offered a condescending qualifier.
This all originated because someone who made their career working in an office sees lots of young people not working in an office and, ergo, believes that their careers are doomed. This is an affront to many of the folks who made their careers this way, and the most visible and vocal of this group of people doesn’t mind telling the rest of us about it. But as we’ve discussed, how people work and where it fits into their lives is now something people think a little bit more about rather than just plowing through the hustle machine.
People don’t need to be CEOs of corporations, but they can still be CEOs of their own lives, which might be what they really want.
During the pandemic, we discussed dress codes, personal hygiene, and various other WFH phenomena that we all embraced for two or three years or in perpetuity. Some things were for the best, other things—well, let’s just say the jury’s out.
As 2023 comes to a close, more people are showing up at the office again, which means certain activities are also returning. Namely, deodorant use. Back at my old haunt, Adrienne Gonzalez investigated whether this was really the case or is just an old trend that picked up steam during the pandemic:
[D]eodorant is making a big comeback now that companies are pushing return-to-office, at least according to […] a Unilever media call last week. Unilever owns Dove, Rexona (or as we know it here in the US, Degree), and douchebag favorite Axe, all of which took a sales hit in 2020 and 2021 when everyone went feral and stopped showering as much as they used to. Things started turning around for personal care in 2022, just when workers began returning to office in earnest
Not so fast, sayeth Adrienne. She found studies from 2014 where only 87 percent of millennials said deodorant was of “daily importance” and a 2019 survey that showed “37 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds surveyed said they hadn’t purchased deodorant or antiperspirant in the past year” and “48 percent for 18 to 24-year-olds.” So yeah, it appears this was a pre-pan thing that got a pandemic boost. Seems fine.
Anecdotally, though, I have been back in the office regularly for a while and haven’t noticed a more natural aroma in the air, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Ironically, I tend to avoid close contact with people, in general. Or maybe it’s that they’re avoiding me? I didn’t stop using deodorant during the pandemic. Did I?
Fresh from Gusto
- My colleague Luke Pardue on entrepreneurship among veterans in 2023.
- And my other colleague Tom Bowen on why more small businesses should offer health insurance.
- Welcome to Gusto’s new GPAC class.
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Read with Gusto
- Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial had some moments.
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- Peter Thiel seems disappointed that, among other things, all his wealth won’t prevent him from dying.
- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen grabbed some In ‘N’ Out before meeting Xi Jinping.
- Comedy wildlife photos.
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