BASKETBALL player Michael Jordan quit the Chicago Bulls at his
peak because the thrill was gone. Chicago Cubs superstar Ryne
Sandberg did the same thing. Gary Larson, "The Far Side"
cartoonist, just retired at 44 because he feared his work would
slide into mediocrity.
Anna Quindlen, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of The New York
Times, recently stepped off the fast track to write novels and stay
home with her kids. Harvard University President Neil Rudenstine is
on leave because he's "worn to a frazzle."
What's going on here? If those with some of the most glamorous
jobs in America are dissatisfied - people who get six-figure
salaries, limousines and thunderous ovations - what about the rest
of us? How are we supposed to charge up the hill and capture the
prize for the company?
We can't. We won't. We're tired.
It wasn't always this way. At one time, we came early, stayed
late, worked weekends, dragged home briefcases and dutifully
checked our voice mail, even on vacation. But now, what's the point?
The perks - the promotions, the raises and bonuses, the job
security - are all but gone, and our ambition has evaporated right
along with it. So we'll just take a desk out of the way, even in
some suburban outpost, if it means we can have a life in return.
Thanks to technology - to computers, faxes, cellular phones and
laptops - the barrier between home and office has been removed, so
we could be available 24 hours a day. Like some kind of Pac-Man,
work devoured every waking moment until there was no time for
anything else. Those were the rules. For 15, 20, even 25 years, we
accepted them. But now, we'll pass on the brass ring.
"I'm squeezed dry," an IBM manager says. "Besides, if you're
out of the loop, it can't be slipped around your neck."
The Employer-Employee Contract
An unmistakable job malaise has settled over the country like a
fog, researchers say, and one need look no further than the next
cubicle to know that they are right.
With baby boomers getting older, organizations getting flatter
and the contract between employer and employee - the one that said
if you worked hard and kept your nose clean, you would be taken
care of - virtually dead, driving yourself hardly seems worth it
"The signs are everywhere; people are at the end of the line in
what they're willing to give up in their humanity," says Jeremy
Rifkin, an economist and author of "The End of Work," a provocative
new book that examines the changing workplace. "The mental fatigue
today is every bit as significant as the physical fatigue of the
early Industrial Revolution."
Indeed, in numerous surveys, stress is identified as the
nation's No. 1 health issue. In two dozen interviews for this story
- most with white-collar Chicago professionals in their 30s and 40s
- the overload was palpable. Respondents used medical terms to
describe themselves ("brain dead," "hemorrhaging") and their
workplaces ("triage," "trauma ward").
What is significant is not the exhaustion but that it has
gripped one of the most educated, driven and overachieving
generations in history. Everywhere you go, the talk is about
slowing things down; about sabbaticals and resigning partnerships
and scaling back to part-time status. When Mickey Kaus, a columnist
for The New Republic, recently flipped through Yale University's
alumni report, he was struck with the fact that fellow 1974
graduates craved less, not more.
Wrote one Yalie: "As the commitment to achieve fades . . .
forward momentum fueled by the desire to advance one's position has
come slowly to a halt. . . . I am beginning to discover the beauty
of and the satisfaction in standing still."
We're in the midst of a seismic psychological shift about
defining success, according to Mitchell Marks, an organizational
psychologist and director of the Delta Consulting Group in New
York, which advises senior executives of Fortune 500 firms. …