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Lifestyle Personal 27. April 2015

From generation internship to generation burnout. A commentary

Aren’t you afraid of the future?

This is a question, which funnily enough I have been frequently hearing the last few months. After all, I am almost finished studying and should perhaps crystalise a few thoughts on the matter: I mean, who’s going to pay for my retirement? I am no 26 years old – ancient, if you think that in these days you finish high school at 17, only to jump straight into the world of tertiary education, all the while keeping one foot in the sphere of the evolving workplace – with the endgame of starting your career, asap. Unpaid employment experience and internships are essential for this path, too bad that often there is little time left over – and then you have to solve the issue of finances.

Experience required.

Of course I worked during my studies, a bit of this, a bit of that. I wrote for print and online media, played gigs when I could and pulled a few all-nighters. I had a good time. Then it was helping out in a few galleries, interning at a PR agency, and then all the promotional and modeling work that came my way. I’ve been a removalist, cleaner, garbage-man (in-lieu of gym membership), movie ticket collector. I’ve peddled beer mugs at Octoberfest, worked for a prestigious museum and then consulted for radio and television. There would barely have been a week go by with less than 60 hours of work, with study as a parallel pursuit. Even on a Sunday. Still, it was a brilliant time, in which I met a whole host of fantastic people. A time that is important for all young people to get to know themselves and others. It is a decisive phase, during which we need to reach the understanding of what we want from life, or don’t want.

Study on top of work.

Not to be forgotton: a degree costs money, and not a very misely sum, even if Germany is comparatively affordable to other countries. Yes, I am aware of the discussion surrounding university fees, even though I am not particularly inclined to go into it in this piece: I was witness to the decision as Bayern decided that the best way to increase university resources was to increase fees. Apart from a few new bits of furniture, technology and the odd library, nothing much has changed. What has been felt with more longevity is the issue that now it is not only grades that ensure a successful tertiary education, rather a mixture of academic endevour and the depths of your parent’s bank account.

Yes I know that there are student loans, and study allowances (which is awesome btw.) It is also clear that every student has the opportunity to work. It’s just frustrating that during my degree I have met many people who have had to drop out of their chosen course due to financial pressures, although they have been working like crazy to make ends meet. The student loans were not enough to get very far past rent and groceries, and then the workload of part-time employment would drain the energy required to study effectively. Others don’t even get that far, deciding not to enroll in university as it is simply too expensive.

You reap what you sow… right?

One thing that has occurred to me recently, is why do I receive offers from so many employers (and I don’t mean small start-ups, who burn through young, motivated students; discarding them after their “probationary” period), who want 40-60 hours a week for minimum wage? No, thanks. Not to be mistaken, I think that work should allowed to be exhausting. Often exhaustion is a requirement, that is what differentiates work from leisure. Of course, not every employer is the same, it is highly dependent on the sector. As a sociologist the employment alternatives to teaching and academia are generally limited to the media sector – a highly competitive sector with a brisk turnover of staff. If one reaches the point where “I’ve had enough, I need a change because I can’t do it anymore, then these employers are guaranteed to find someone who will work under those conditions for the same money. The demand determines the offer. Right? If you try to enter into salary discussions without selling yourself short it often concludes with “we just don’t have the kind money to keep you.” Work hard and long hours for a pittance, is this the motto of my generation?

No more burnout

Perhaps this is just a perspective shared by myself and many of my study cohort. Indeed, the Clevis-internship magazine for 2015 recently published data that almost nine out of ten interns (86 percent to be exact) in Germany where happy with their internships. Over 7500 students and high-school graduates completed the survey in the months leading to publication. So why are we complaining? Everything looks sweet. I’m not so sure. How can a survey with such a measly cohort be representative of the student body of over 2,500,000 German students? What would the rest have to say? “No worries, we just have to work on our lifestyle expectations… maybe we should be a bit more frugal?” Personally, I think that most young academics have had an absolute gutful of the current situation – in particular the fact that the only students able to undertake these internships are those with parental benefactors. Alternatively, it is the students who are happy (or not) to keep adding to their mountain of student debt. In sum: Young people are not there to be burnt out – but how can we avoid it? What do you think? Have you had similar experiences? Or should we simply relax a little bit? Will it all just work out in the end?

Der Text ist ursprünglich auf Deutsch erschienen. Auf W&V findet sich ein interessanter Kommentar mit dem Titel „Arbeit für lau“.



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