The epidemic of job unhappiness

“By noon on the first workday of 2016, I received seven emails from former students moaning about how much they hated their jobs, and how determined they were to make a change in the New Year”, writes Bill Bergman, full-time instructor of marketing at the University of Richmond Robins School of Business.

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He feels, these emails are representative of a growing dissatisfaction among young adults in the workforce, quoting a recent survey by Deloitte that claims that 44 per cent of young adults want to leave their current employer to join a new company or do something different in the next two years. A study from Gallup found that over 70 per cent of young adults feel disengaged at work.

Bergmann argues, if business schools are going to play a role in solving this growing “unhappiness epidemic” among young professionals, they will have to “infuse a dose of reality into their already crowded curricula”.

The author blames grade inflation and the curriculum in many schools for the students' dissatisfaction once they are out working in the real world. “Many course syllabi outline every class period with specific due dates for assignments and exams. After the first day of class, students know exactly what to expect. Once they load everything into their Apple calendars, the next 15 weeks are completely defined.”Students who read the material, listen to an authority figure, think critically, and score well on a test, think they will be happy and successful at their first job. “Unfortunately, the real world of business operates with more twists and turns, where unreasonable bosses and demanding clients quickly disrupt students' predictable academic formula for success.”

There is no simple fix, according to Bergmann. Still, he feels there are a few possibilities to make classroom experience more representative of the real world:

A less detailed syllabus. Rather than define every single class period, instructors need to simplify the syllabus with some general learning expectations, assignment due dates, and exam dates. Instead of the syllabus being 10-pages of academic precision, it should be reduced to explain broad class goals and expectations. Not knowing exactly what’s going to happen each class period forces students out of their digital-calendar comfort zone. It also gives the instructor more freedom to go in unique directions based on how students in a particular section interact with each other.

Introduce the rigours of daily work. Most courses reward students who can methodically work through complex problems and identify feasible solutions. Supported with a library of real-world cases, students develop talents in critical thinking and problem identification. When students enter the workforce, they have little to no appreciation for how long it takes and how much disruption can be caused by obstacles in the organisation. Business problems may be identified with analytics, but it takes nuanced interpersonal skills to implement change. A deeper understanding by students of the patience, tolerance, and communications techniques required to put new ideas into practice might help solve some of their disengagement issues.

Kick students out of their comfort zone. Teachers at business schools need to add some spontaneity and irrationality into the classroom. This may not make young professionals feel more fulfilled in their early jobs, but at least it will better prepare them for the unpredictable work cultures they are about to enter.
“Perhaps there is no cure for the age-old problem of early career unhappiness,” Bergmann admits. “Time and experience may be the only successful treatment of the chronic disease. But like most educators, I find it difficult to stand helplessly by watching former students suffer a year of unrest, when making some changes in their business school education could make a big difference in their first job experience.”

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