It's natural to feel thankful that you're employed, especially when jobs are scarce. But is that gratitude actually a misguided emotion?
It’s become a common refrain: “I’m just grateful to have a job”. The last year has wreaked undeniable havoc on the working world. Globally, the working hours and income lost in 2020 added up to the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs. Workplace closures, layoffs and a steep rise in unemployment are enough to make anyone who’s managed to hold onto their job feel some measure of gratitude – or, at least, pressure to be grateful.
That pressure pre-dates the pandemic. One of the most pervasive conversations around jobs is that we should be thankful to be hired, especially when competition for a position is fierce. Candidates are even expected to express the sentiment if they want to be hired in the first place: it’s hard to imagine leaving an interview without saying how much you appreciate being considered, or sending a thank-you email.
Imposter syndrome may also play a part: workers who aren’t confident they deserve their roles may develop feelings of unworthiness, despite being qualified or skilled. Women are particularly vulnerable to imposter syndrome, and may find themselves giving outsize thanks for their jobs. And, in recent months, Latino and black Americans were significantly more likely to be affected by pandemic-related lay-offs than white Americans. Those among these groups who have kept their jobs are likely feeling pressure to express gratitude – even if they have to force it, and even if their workplace doesn’t inspire much to be thankful for.
Although some gratitude is genuine and spontaneous, other expressions of thanks – like the kind many workers feel pressured to exhibit right now – aren’t similarly authentic. And this forced, phony gratitude can backfire. “If we’re asked to think about a time when we practiced forced gratitude, most of us can come up with one,” says Sarah Greenberg, a California-based psychotherapist and corporate mental-health consultant. “Like when we’re young and don’t want to eat our peas, and our parent says, ‘be grateful you have food!’. Well, we continue to do that to ourselves as adults. That forced gratitude becomes a social norm, and then it becomes our internal voice.”
Misplaced gratitude, or even the genuine one, could lead to mistreatment from employers who know their workers won’t complain or leave, due to job-shortage concerns.