December 1, 2023

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Happiness (or lack thereof)

Earlier this year, you may have noticed that I noticed that the Wall Street Journal was very preoccupied with THE GREAT ACCOUNTANT SHORTAGE. The exhaustive coverage was, yes, exhausting, but the Journal obviously reasoned that the waning interest in one of business’s major fields of study warranted TOTAL COVERAGE. It gave me, and other accounting observers, plenty to write about, I suppose.

Anyway, sorry to say, the accountant pipeline, as many of you can surely attest, has not been filled. Still, it seems that the Journal has moved on, choosing now to focus on our collective misery. As you may recall, in the last newsletter, we discussed why Americans are unhappy despite many positive—or, at the very least, not negative—economic trends. This time around, I’ve stumbled across a derivative story about why everyone is unhappy at work right now. AS IF WE DIDN’T ALL KNOW.

Despite wage increases, more paid time off and greater control over where they work, the number of U.S. workers who say they are angry, stressed and disengaged is climbing, according to Gallup’s 2023 workplace report. Meanwhile, a BambooHR analysis of data from more than 57,000 workers shows job-satisfaction scores have fallen to their lowest point since early 2020, after a 10% drop this year alone.

Full disclosure: I work at Gusto, this is a Gusto newsletter, and Gusto is in the same space as BambooHR, but we don’t currently have any research on employee happiness that I’m aware of. The closest thing I got is my colleague Tom Bowen’s research on younger workers taking more sick leave. It’s an excellent report, but whether this is “sick of work” leave is unclear. I DIGRESS.

I touched on this last time, but a few things that often get overlooked in this EVERYONE IS MISERABLE narrative: First, moods ebb and flow, wax and wane, dare I say whiplash. This has been especially true in the pandemic and post-pan era. 

“Oh no! Everything is terrible!” 

“Hey! Everything isn’t as bad as we thought!”

“Sorry, we were wrong. Everything is definitely terrifying right now!”

“Are we used to everything being so terrible yet? Yes? Ok, I guess we’re good now!”

Right now, we seem to be trending down. This strikes me as fine, normal. For example, my debit card got locked earlier this week because of a suspicious transaction and, ho boy, is that irritating. It took everything I had not to topple one of these big dumb phone booths in our office. But I took some deep breaths, remembered that I had made plans with a couple of friends in the coming weeks, and I’m fine, here writing this newsletter and telling you about it. ALL GOOD.

Second, all this misery is temporary. No, really. Oh, I know that it seems like an ETERNITY, but I assure you, this will pass. Sure, maybe we won’t be able to appreciate our happiness when it returns, but that’s beside the point. It’s the anticipation of the thing that’s exciting and gets us worked up. “Boy, am I miserable now, but I sure can’t wait to be happy again! It’ll be so great!” That’s the feeling you want.

Third, we’re together! Is there anything more profoundly satisfying than sitting around with a few of your close work friends over drinks and complaining about work? No, dear reader, there is not. I suggest you enjoy this unhappiness while it lasts.

Thanks, millennials

Now that millennials make up the lion’s share of the workforce, I don’t see any problem with scapegoating them for every annoying work trend that dominates the culture. I say this as a millennial-adjacent person

Anyway, the work trend that annoys the most people right now is, without a doubt, remote work. It does not matter what you think about remote and/or hybrid work, it annoys a lot of people—mainly everyone but millennials:

Across multiple datasets, one generation — millennials — disproportionately wants to work from home, Nick Bloom, a Stanford economist and a work-from-home expert, told Business Insider. People in their 20s typically want to be in the office three to four days a week to socialize and get mentorship — “and because home is often a cramped apartment share.”

Going into the office is a desire that crosses generational lines, unifying groups that aren’t often in alignment: Gen Zers, Gen Xers, and boomers.

Bloom says that Millennials have young kids, bigger houses, and “full lives” outside of work, ergo, they want remote work. Boomers are empty-nesters, want to get out, stay sharp, mentor young people, ergo, they don’t want remote work. Gen Z wants to socialize, learn from smart, experienced people, ergo, they don’t want remote work. Gen X resents Millennials more than Boomers, ergo, they don’t want remote work.

But remote work we will have—ok, hybrid, at least. It’s here to stay, just like avocado toast.

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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