I used to be mainly concerned about the unfortunate but deeply ingrained attitudes of the upcoming and incoming workforce, and how these overly entitled kids would fit into the newly serious and heads-down culture of those startups and growth-stage businesses that had dodged the bullets and stayed alive for the past three years. These kids had been indoctrinated from birth by helicopter parents, with first-place trophies for all, and convinced by college faculty that their generation would be a gift (and a bargain at any price) to the working world.
But I'm afraid that over the past few years, the real world has taught them some even more pernicious and dangerous lessons. I was worried about the work part of their work ethic, and I should have been paying more attention to the ethics part.
Work isn't going to be a picnic for anyone who thinks the next two years will be fun, easy, or anything but a difficult slog with plenty of bumps along the way. Those who believe that have either been asleep for a couple of years or have their head somewhere the sun don't shine. Most of the management teams I'm talking to these days aren't rushing headlong into the new world. They're plenty happy to regather and re-energize the troops, move forward at a reasonable pace, and make sure they're on sound footings before they take the next big leap.
This newly cautious and conservative environment will be a challenge for every returning employee, but finding their way and navigating the complexities and confusing social and moral signals in the working world is gonna be hardest on the newbies. They have no history, war stories, culture, or prior experience to fall back on. For folks who have never even been in the office, trying to master the ebb and flow of everyday activities and figure out directions and priorities, which are hard to come by in most startups in any case, won't be simple or straightforward. I feared that, having never fallen flat on their faces, having never seen a real bear market, or faced any real adversity beyond sheltering from Covid-19, this new group who were happily bringing their whole selves to work -- whatever that means -- would be very difficult to integrate post pandemic. They've been taught to believe that the business world is forever up and to the right.
How easily could they slot into any growing business even without the additional challenges of a remote and hybrid working environment, the constant pressure to catch up after two years of stasis, the understanding they are "free to be you and me," and the idea that they could take a job, make a job, leave a job, do several jobs at the same time, or do a lot of nothing and still thrive and survive. Wishful thinking, hope rather than hard work, taking shortcuts instead of putting in the time and paying the requisite dues, and living in a world of screens acting as mirrors rather than windows was a very likely prescription for disappointment all around. The gig economy and the Great Resignation could turn out to be very bad and sad jokes on many of these feckless folks.
But I've come to believe that there's a far greater worry than merely the work ethic of the woke generation, largely due to the impact of four years of the Trump plague and its continuing persistence and toxicity. These upcoming young adults have been subjected to Trump's horror show of corruption, self-dealing, the systemic undermining of our institutions and democratic processes, and bald-faced lie after lie. The only two object lessons that they can draw from the experience are a) that nothing is sacred any longer and b) that there are no consequences for even the worst behavior because our legal, legislative and enforcement systems are themselves impotent, corrupted, and virtually useless.
This is the lesson our kids are learning every stinking day as the stench of Trump remains potent and pervasive.
Trump's initial electoral triumph and his administration's flagrant and overt criminal behavior taught several generations of our youth that if you're shameless, aggressive, and completely without morals or ethics, you can succeed grandly and get away with almost anything. That's as long as you carefully and continually engineer Faustian bargains with millions of MAGA morons, autocrats such as his buddy Vladimir Putin, and ambitious and craven members of Congress looking out solely for their own interests and reelection prospects. Perhaps worst of all is the example set by at least three lying justices of the Supreme Court, who willfully and repeatedly perjured themselves in public to secure their nominations. A sad truth is that people who will lie for you will eventually lie to you. We thought these jurists to be the caretakers of our Constitution; instead, they've become its undertakers.
Worst of all, because Trump is a virtual illiterate and a Freudian nutcase, he told us over and over who he is -- right to our faces -- what he planned to do, and how he would do it. He can't help himself. Like the scorpion who stung the frog, it's his nature. At his rallies, he loves to recite various butchered versions of a poem/song about a vicious reptile called the Snake, as he attempts to slander illegal immigrants. He loves telling the story and, according to him, the MAGA crowd eats it up every time, even though they clearly can't understand what it has to do with anything else he's ranting about. Watching the people in the audience behind him as he bumbles through this overlong tale is a study in stupor. Clearly dazed and confused, they sit there waiting and wondering when the laugh line is coming (there is none) or where they're supposed to smile and applaud.
It's abundantly clear that neither he nor his raving rally fans seem to appreciate the relevance, the moral, or the irony of the tale. Was he really so stupid that he didn't understand the story's message, or so cynical that he was actually proclaiming that he was a duplicitous crook and a complete fraud whom we were stupid enough to consider inviting into our homes and lives?
I realize that the man has no sense of humor or irony. But the story of a devious snake whose poisonous bite was its only reward for the care and generosity of the tender-hearted woman who took the half-frozen reptile to her bosom was frighteningly close to home--a stunning and overt admission of just what people were signing up for in voting for him. That's what makes it hard to believe that millions missed the obvious message. The snake's only rationalization--largely lost in Trump's fumbling and sloppy syntax--is that the woman "knew damn well that he was a snake before she took him in." Trump, being the arrogant egomaniac that he is, couldn't resist telling America that he was the snake.
The leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion -- regardless of who did it -- is in some ways the dying canary in the coal mine demonstrating yet again that there are no longer any agreed-upon or basic behavioral limits, no unbreakable laws of decency or ethics, and, in a Trumpist/MAGA world, no bottom. Deals with the devil never end well.
As employers, this flagrant and painful breach may be our last clear warning that we have to take immediate steps in our own businesses -- especially where we have millions of newbies coming on board without anchors, reference points, or any real ethical guidance. We need to educate the people we work with every day that there's actually a better, brighter way to do business and to live, but that it's going to take patience, difficult sacrifices, hard work, and even some faith in one another to pull ourselves out of this horrid downward spiral. Trying to rebuild trust is tough at any time, but it's even harder in the social media sludge and sensationalist media world we live in today.
If we don't help ourselves to right the ship and set a better course, then we'll all have to live with and suffer the consequences of the lessons Trump has sadly taught us all. If you don't think that the risk of this infection is alive and ongoing everywhere, and ultimately far worse than Covid-19, then think about this selfish reminder: When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.