The Most Depressing Thing an Employee Has Told Me
In my old profession, I often got a call from employees asking if they could talk. As the Operations Director for a small company, I sometimes doubled as the Chief Heart Officer, always there to listen.
One day, an employee showed up in my office, broken down in complete tears. It took a full five minutes for this giant of a man to get control of himself and talk to me.
“I’m homeless,” he said.
That blew me away. Not because he was homeless, I’d met homeless people before. It baffled me because my company employed him!
How could he be homeless?
Our society can suck sometimes
The mantra of personal responsibility and hard work to make ends meet is a good one, don’t get me wrong, but when hard work and personal responsibility still end with you being unable to provide for yourself, something’s off.
One identifiable problem in this instance: corporate culture.
Upwards mobility being a political game isn’t going anywhere, and it’s not exclusive to the company I worked for. You don’t need to work too hard to get a promotion, provided you know who to take out for drinks.
The problem is: political games require you to already have your life together.
A homeless man, who couldn’t pay for his basic needs, could never afford the affluent restaurants his managers ate at. How could he hope to schmooze his way up the ladder if he couldn’t afford a $6 coffee for the person on the next step?
My employee’s circumstances were only partially his own
While it’s true that he could have managed his resources better, there was a deeper problem with the industry he worked in that prevented him from finding a home once his girlfriend left him. If the only alternative to having a significant other is homelessness, our economic situation is broken.
Covid19 taught us many things, such as the concept of an “essential employee” — people who need to work or society grinds to a halt or becomes dangerous to live in.
If the only alternative to having a significant other is homelessness, our economic situation is broken.
This guy was considered essential by every measure. Yet, he made under $10 per hour. In America, an entertainer can make many factors more than an essential employee.
There’s nothing wrong with that, on the surface, but essential workers should at least make enough to pay for basic shelter without the need for a second income.
This will fall on many deaf ears
We’ve normalized destitution as a society. Ignoring the plight of homelessness and other symptoms of poverty has become commonplace.
Many of us forget that we are only one bad day from being in the same situation ourselves.
The fact that my employee had a job that he worked hard to be good at and still couldn’t afford to have a place to live speaks to the terrible inequality within our system, not just for income but for access to basic needs.
We are, as a people, only as strong as the weakest links in our chain. Until we figure out how to take care of people who can’t do so for themselves, despite honest attempts, we will never be strong.
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