December 1, 2016, by David McCauley – Work is a necessary aspect of life. It can give us purpose after service and helps provide us with the resources we need to live our lives. Unfortunately, there are too many workers that are dissatisfied with their jobs and disengaged in their workplaces.
According to a 2015 Gallup poll, only 32% of all employees are considered engaged in their jobs. The majority (50.8%) were disengaged at work, with a further 17.2% actively disengaged. These statistics are frightening and demonstrate how unenthusiastic most people are about what they “do for a living.” This problem is heightened for many veterans who have lost a sense of purpose after serving.
For those in the U.S. military, it’s a lifestyle. As a civilian, your job can’t be all you do. There is a fine line between living to work and working to live. In our digital world on the homefront, very few roles actually require you to be ever-present in a stuffy office reminiscent of your bunk during the last deployment. Having a job now is a far cry from even fifty years ago and it’s time to rethink our careers.
Working is what some might call a necessary evil – but it’s unnecessary in many industries to hold onto strict office hours and workday schedules that interfere with many of the habits (like morning PT) that we developed during our time in the armed forces. When we lose sight of why we work, it’s easy to understand why so many civilian workers are unhappy. There is more to life than just working all the time – a balance that must be recognized. Much of this balance is dependent on having a career that fulfills your professional and personal goals, a career that fills you with similar purpose that defending your country did and does.
There are a couple things that need to change, namely the way people think about jobs and the way companies think about employees. Too many employers choose to adopt the disastrous mentality that they deserve more for less. Instead of paying employees fair wages, they offer cut-rate prices and demand results on an increased workload. Why is it so surprising that veterans don’t appreciate feeling like they’re being taken advantage of? Unrealistic expectations, a lack of empathy, and greed are all to blame. Enriching yourself at the expense of your team is never appropriate. It’s an unfortunate practice when the reality is that engaged employees are the key to sustained business success. Companies are nothing without their workforce. You might even say that they’re the first and most important customer.
It’s human nature to always yearn for some greater calling or career. It’s a simple truth that not everyone will be able to achieve their far-reaching dreams of stardom. We can’t all be rock stars or famous artists. Our cities need sanitation workers, mechanics, and electricians even more than entertainers. It’s ironic that the social construct that enables us to have these dreams is the same one that can hold us back from fulfilling them. If everyone could fulfill their dreams, then no one would be able to. Another way to say it is that if everyone is special, then no one is.
On the flip side, some work arrangements have become common enough that it no longer holds that same rare appeal. Many people used to view authors, bloggers, and programmers who work from home, like Nathan from Appnovation, as exceptions of the workforce. Now that remote work and flexible time is becoming more commonplace, it’s not such a foreign idea. It’s seen as achievable.
Modern professional veterans often crave more flexibility, namely the ability to fulfill their work on their own terms. The rise of digital careers in advertising hubs like New York City highlight this. You’ll find job listings for Digital Analysts, Digital Editors, Digital Marketers, etc, and the majority can be fulfilled from anywhere in the world – giving you more time when you need it to find fulfillment outside of the office.
Employees are unhappy and disengaged but they don’t have to be. Identifying that employees are dissatisfied and seeking to understand and resolve these issues is the necessary step. Until employees are treated like the partners they are, the U.S. will continue to face the troubling issue of disengaged workers and veterans. There are many ways to work and collaborate – perhaps a little flexibility is in order?
About the Author: D.M. McCauley is a former U.S. Navy sailor who worked in Intel. After the service, he has dedicated his time to writing and traveling with his significant other.