Merriam-Webster defines underemployment as: "the condition in which people in a labor force are employed at less than full-time or regular jobs or at jobs inadequate with respect to their training or economic needs."
That's a pretty fair assessment, though I would argue that one may not be a trained burger-flipper, but a job flipping burgers may hasten the onset of dementia in those who are predisposed to it. In other words, you can be intellectually underemployed, too. This type of underemployment occurs in many positions where one is dealing with the public and is provided with a "script" (the most imbecilic of which always begin with the word "welcome") created by people with marketing degrees and very little knowledge of how Earthlings actually talk.
You can also be morally underemployed, and these are the people in fields like politics, law, medicine, entertainment, and education who find themselves waking up in the middle of the night, pondering what sort of assholes they've become as a result of their daytime activities.
Then there is age-related underemployment, where you are required to do things on the job that are ill-suited to the mature person. This can be:
- Physical ("Can you be on your feet for nine hours, with one 45-minute break?" "No. Do you know anyone who can? I mean, without repetitive stress trauma?");
- Cultural (listening to FM radio "lite rock" all day. Every day);
- Experiential ("I know what happens when you cut back on payroll. It's not good.").
The underemployed geezer is a class all its own.
If you think I'm talking about the AARP crowd, think again. I am using the word "geezer" in accordance with the evolved meaning currently in use by our society i.e., anybody over 40.
This is especially true in the workplace, where very young and inexperienced people are often given supervisory and management positions beyond their abilities because:
- They make an attractive dating pool;
- They perform their jobs acceptably if you take away their smartphones;
- They are more flexible with their work hours, because they haven't yet reached the age where they need to sleep;
- They're cheaper than old and experienced people. At least in the short-term;
- They don't question authority. Mainly because they don't take it seriously. I would say with good reason.
- Are, by definition, undateable;
- Want more money. Sometimes, lots;
- Need to eat and sleep. Sometimes, lots;
- Are usually recently-fired refugees (which they desperately try to sugarcoat during the interview process), or moms returning to the workplace with computer skills the same age as their oldest child;
- Will, often as not, greet corporate mandates with responses like "Really?"
Hence, it is difficult to find any employment when you are a geezer, which is why geezers so easily settle for underemployment. But once the 24-year-old hiring manager gets over his or her complete lack of personal interest in giving you a job, what happens next on the career path of the underemployed geezer is both a blessing and a curse.
Here's the blessing:
If you have anything on the ball at all, within one month at your new place of underemployment you will be enthsiastically embraced as the go-to, relied-upon, can't-live-without, employee-of-the-year. I promise you. Not that you will be offered a full-time position with a decent salary and benefits. You won't. But this is a wonderful thing if your self-esteem is dragging in the dust due to the dismissal circumstances of your previous job and/or the more visual effects of menopause. And you will happily respond by turning in a stellar work performance.
Which leads to the curse:
At that point you will be scheduled for exactly 34.5 hours a week. Every week. Given the work typical of most underemployment, this is not so wonderful unless you are desperate for money. Even if you ARE desperate for money, being at work almost full-time, all the time, tends to rule out any attempts on your part to look for something better. Or, if you're not desperate for money, to enjoy any of the potential benefits of underemployment, like free time. Furthermore, you will never take a sick day because you've already had, and are immune to, most of the endless cold and flu bugs that take down your younger workmates. (Yes, geezers get broken hips and have oral surgeries. But we bounce back quickly, having had practice with bouncing back from things like childbirth.)
In summary, you just can't win.
I write this after working 60 hours in the last seven days, most, cleverly arranged to straddle two weeks so that I wouldn't go into overtime.
Being a geezer, I'm tired.