Thoughts About Work, Now and Then

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In her article, The Great Resignation: Why People Aren’t Returning to Work, Jane Adams, Ph. D. writes, “One of the significant social changes wrought by the pandemic is the shift in attitudes about work; why we do it, the conditions we do it under, the meaning and place it has in our lives and the impact it has on our families. What the media on and offline calls the Great Resignation and the social culture that refracts and reflects it preoccupies both employers and employees at every level, from the factory floor to the C Suite, as well as the investors and other stakeholders to whom they are accountable.”

This current thinking of work is stark compared to how other generations thought about it, as Jeff Coomer shares in his poem History Lesson.

History Lesson

My grandfather left school at fourteen
to work odd jobs until he was old enough
to join his Lithuanian kin chipping
anthracite out of the Pennsylvania hills.
Nine hours a day with five hundred feet
of rock over his head, then an hour’s
ride home on the company bus
to a dinner of boiled cabbage and chicken.
When the second big war broke
he headed “sout,” as he pronounced it,
for better work in the blast furnaces
churning out steel along the shores
of the Chesapeake. Thirty-two years
and half an index finger later he retired
to a brick rancher he built with his own hands
just outside the Baltimore city line.
The spring he got cancer and I got a BA
from a private college we stood under
a tree in his backyard while he copped
a smoke out of my grandmother’s sight.
“Tell me, Pop,” I said, wanting to strike up
a conversation, “how did you like
working in the mills all those years?”
He studied my neatly pressed white shirt,
took a long drag on his cigarette and spit a fleck
of tobacco near my shoes. “Like,” he said,
“didn’t have a thing to do with it.”