Study Ties Employment to Mediocrity, Lowered Libido
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Jobs often promote an existence stultified by complacency and shallow relationships. But can jobs also inspire kids to do boring things?
The answer remains elusive, but the authors of a new study have uncovered a potential connection: teenagers who work in part-time or summer jobs are apparently more likely to avoid all trouble with the law, to muster smiles and courtesy at will, to be incapable of expressing their political views in print or in protest, to be tired, listless, and unimaginative, to be quiet, fat, and subservient, to prefer video games and television to the pursuit of meaningful work outside the job, to take prescription medication for depression, and to remain sexually pathetic throughout their employments.
"We can see that there is some link, some association," says co-author Angie Flapman, an associate professor of behavioral science and human resources at Pepsi University, Inc. "Maybe these kids see what their managers are doing, what other employees are doing, and they think, 'That's how people act, and that's how I should act.'"
Sociologists have studied how shopping malls, corporate-sponsored schools, and unauthorized glimpses into the way money and power really work in this country affect teenagers, but part-time and summer jobs haven't gotten much attention.
Representatives of McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Microsoft, and lawn services across the country did not return calls seeking their reactions to the study.
For their study, which is reported in the current issue of The American Journal of Jobs Jobs Jobs!, Flapman and her colleagues went to businesses in Seattle, WA; Detroit, MI; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; and New York, NY. They collected job applications from 1,599 teens from 1997 to 1999 and interviewed supervisors, co-workers and family members. They also sued under the Freedom of Information Act to get the FBI files on these kids. Tellingly, in these FBI files, reports of all sexual, deviant, aggressive, and interesting activity end abruptly on the date of employment. Thereafter, all reports reveal teenagers who have suddenly lost all characteristics, who have devolved into vapid personalities defined only by their job titles, and who have had their volatile expressions of angst supplanted by meek acquiescence to corporate policy, prompting more than one FBI operative to opine in the margins, "Kill me if I ever have a kid like this," or, simply, "Booooring."
The researchers found that teens who worked in part-time and summer jobs more than the average of 30 hours a week were three times as likely to have been humiliated by being named Employee of the Month. They were also twice as likely to have made their parents proud, four times as likely to have stared blankly into space as their fingertips dipped into the deep fryer or a patron stole the tip jar, and six and a half times as likely to have had no sexual experience whatsoever.
The researchers then followed the teens for a year, by the end of which 59 percent of those who worked more than 30 hours a week had developed "career goals," compared to 41 percent who still wanted to "learn to read."
Flapman doesn't know whether part-time and summer jobs make kids boring or whether the kids were boring already and chose jobs that made them even more boring. "Maybe these teens actually want to be dependent automatons," she says, "and getting a job is the best way to make this happen."
"Teens, like adults, are employable beings, and they respond to the work environment around them," says Rick Brady, director of the National Teen Unemployment Prevention Research Center. "When that environment is one that promotes mediocrity and conceals competing values such as 'passion' or 'independence,' then the results are predictable. We see kids treating their co-workers with fake respect and their customers with disingenuous sympathy. These kids show up to work on time and in uniform, and they're led to believe that if they continue to do this, there's a seat reserved for them at the table of the American Dream. They just don't know any better, and, thankfully, this works to the advantage of the very few."
Flapman and her team evaluated several other factors that could affect behavior, including age, parental interference, church attendance, and community volunteerism. However, only one factor other than the part-time or summer job boosted the teens' rates of mediocrity, complacency, and chronic asexuality: the absence of rock and roll.
Paine Modor knows the importances of rock and roll.