April 12, 2024

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Opinion | Want a ‘lazy girl job?’ Think again.

2 min read
Opinion | Want a ‘lazy girl job?’ Think again.

If I were young, single and just starting out (instead of old, married and hopelessly set in my ways), I suspect I’d be attracted to the TikTok trend #lazygirljob. As defined by influencer Gabrielle Judge, who popularized the term, a “lazy girl job” is remote and pays your bills without demanding too much of your time, or that you be at work at any particular time. This has given rise to the predictable reactions — some “old man shakes fist at sky” takes on young people these days, as well as some applause for women opting out of America’s “toxic” hustle culture.

As someone who has worked remotely since 2007, I can hardly shake my fist at young people who would rather not waste hours on a daily commute. And though I used those extra hours simply to do more work, I understand that workweeks that routinely stretch to 60 or 80 hours aren’t for everyone. Nor should they be.

But I do wonder how happy people seeking low-intensity remote jobs will be with this decision 10 or 20 years down the road. Of course, this is a question I’d also ask of the companies offering the jobs: Might this end up being a good short-term decision that has significant long-term costs?

Investing in one’s career is, to put it bluntly, kind of annoying. It can even be productivity-sapping. Economists who looked at the productivity of software engineers working for a Fortune 500 company that had two main campus buildings several blocks apart found that engineers separated from the rest of their team were actually more productive than those sitting together, particularly the senior engineers. In the short run, being near co-workers hurt their pay.

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But employees who sat in the same building as all their colleagues received about 20 percent more feedback and had better long-term career trajectories than those working on spatially divided teams. Moreover, this effect appears to have been particularly acute for women, who both provided and received more mentoring when sitting near their co-workers. Most worrisome, from the company’s perspective, having just one distant teammate reduced feedback even among co-workers who were sitting together.

This mirrors what we have been hearing from corporate managers recently: Your teams might be able to hit their deliverables remotely, but they aren’t building up the kind of human capital that leads to longer-term growth. Though, of course, the #lazygirl might ask why she should burn valuable hours today to get a better job tomorrow if the job she has right now is good enough.

One answer is that your 26-year-old self doesn’t necessarily know what 40-year-old you will like. Maximizing self-care and travel opportunities might not be as appealing when you have backaches and toddlers; by then, you might rather have money for more bedrooms and better after-school care. Unfortunately, you’ll probably figure this out only when it’s too late to call backsies.

But there’s another way I’d gently suggest that aspiring young #lazygirls might be blinded by their shorter time horizons: They haven’t yet seen how much the economy can change. With the brief exception of the early pandemic, when record unemployment was papered over by record government unemployment checks, Gen Z has experienced only a market with more jobs than workers to fill them. Thus, they don’t know what millennials and Generation X learned the hard way: The kinds of jobs that are most fun to have in boom times are often the most risky in a downturn, because when a recession comes, who will employers let go first? The “quiet quitters,” or the “second worst person on your team” (a strategy Judge advises in one video), or the remote workers they barely know.

Young workers have also not seen how much job markets can change even when the broader economy is strong. In 2003, when I started in journalism, it was still a great business; newspapers effectively had local monopolies on everything from classified advertising to movie times. Since then, their ad revenue has fallen by about 80 percent, as circulation dollars remained stagnant. And while some of the losses have been made up in other formats, total newsroom employment has still dropped by 26 percent since 2008. Most people in my industry expect it to fall further.

Now ChatGPT and its cousins threaten to do to a lot of other jobs what the internet did to journalism. (As with remote work, recent research shows that women’s jobs might be especially vulnerable.) The remote jobs Judge touts as perfect #lazygirl fodder — “non technical tech roles” like “marketing associate” or “account manager” — seem particularly vulnerable to such disruption. And in any case, as an entrepreneur of my acquaintance once said to me, “If your job can be done from the beach, it can probably also be done from Bangalore.”

This won’t hurt Judge, because she now works for herself as a TikTok influencer. But her followers won’t all be so lucky. So before taking her suggestions, they should at least consider the advice I recently got from that same entrepreneur: “Be kind to your future self.”

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