Do the mahi, get the treats.
Historically we could see this saying as a rallying point to work harder, push more and get ahead for your future self. However, since Covid has (and continues to) highlight inequities between the haves and have nots, many have become disillusioned to the idea.
There are a lot of groups globally who have worked hard and have nothing to show for it. We've been seeing think pieces for years about the infamous "avocado toast" holding Millennials back but, in reality, we know it's much more than choosing to buy bespoke coffees and fancy toast toppings.
Here's the kicker – workers are starting to realise their value. Data was released showing there were over ten million vacant jobs in the US that employers can't fill. In September, 4.43 million Americans quit their job and workforce participation is at its lowest level since 1977. In North America, this has been termed the Great Resignation.
The old tabloid media staple is people are lazy, don't want to work, and are at home smoking jazz cigarettes while the rest of us have our noses to the grindstone paying for their leisure. For a minority, this might be true but the internet is an interesting place away from the corporate signposted areas. There are a lot of clues that it's slightly more complicated.
Firstly, before looking at what younger people are doing, more older people have retired. In the US, average annual baby boomer retirements between 2012-2019 sat at 2.05 million. In 2020 it was 3.2 million. With market returns strong in 2021, it's likely the figure will be well above the average again. That could be nearly three million additional people out of the US workforce in two years.
Then there are many communities of people online responding in different ways to the pandemic and work. It's a significant behavioural shift in a short space of time. Some have looked at wages vs house prices and have said "what's the point?"
Some are strategising other ways to earn money outside established employment. Others share tips on stretching their money further and living on less. Some are telling everyone to demand raises and increased benefits, basically unionising online.
Moving to China, there's now a movement called tang ping or lying flat. This is where some young Chinese people are opting out of stressful jobs, not incurring material or lifestyle costs, avoiding marriage and children, and just doing enough to get by.
The pioneer of the movement was profiled in numerous pieces earlier this year.
Five years ago, Luo Huazhong discovered that he enjoyed doing nothing. He quit his job as a factory worker in China, biked 1300 miles from Sichuan Province to Tibet and decided he could get by on odd jobs and $60 a month from his savings. He called his new lifestyle "lying flat."
And Luo explained how he was living a low-desire, zero-pressure lifestyle without stable employment, while staying with his parents in Zhejiang province. When he was feeling up for it, he would travel three hours to Dongyang, Zhejiang, where the world's largest film studio is located. He found work there that he considered perfect – acting as a dead body in movies.2
So how is this carrying over to New Zealand?
A recent article from the New Zealand Herald shone a light on "rage quitting", where people were reportedly impulsively, abruptly and angrily leaving their jobs. A LinkedIn survey of 100 workers by Skills Consulting Group found a third of the participants had either recently rage quit, or were preparing to do so.
Again, we can blame Covid for this to some extent. Lockdowns, working from home, having to share the pressures of the workday with homeschooling and childcare, all mean we have shorter fuses than we did pre-pandemic.
A study in the UK found although rage quitting seemed impulsive it was the end result of dissatisfaction or issues that had built up over time. In countries such as New Zealand with low unemployment and a spike in job listings, people felt there were other opportunities if they quit.
Anecdotally it's accepted that Auckland's lockdown may have fast-tracked this trend, which is driven by a number of issues including burnout and overall job dissatisfaction. Given what we've discussed in the past few months around inflation, house prices and even the cost of living, there's ample reasons for people to feel frustrated with their situation if they're getting neither job nor lifestyle satisfaction.
Assess, research, plan
It can definitely be tempting to give in to those fed-up feelings, particularly with the wave of "New Year, new me" sentiment that typically rears its head around this time of year. If you're feeling stuck or frustrated in your current position, take a breath, and assess.
First – and something we always advocate for – do your research and figure out where you're at, where you want to be. Do you have enough savings to support yourself if something goes awry? What other considerations (like kids, pets, rates, insurance and the mortgage) do you need to think of?
In terms of the tang ping concept – maybe lying flat won't work for your goals, but how far can you recline while supporting your current lifestyle?
Strengthening your finances shouldn't require a complete overhaul of your life; a few easy tasks can set you on the right path, and, more importantly, help ease that nagging feeling that you are neglecting something important.
If you need financial guidance, it's always a good idea to reach out to the professionals. A burden shared is a burden halved. It's also important to look at your financial wellbeing holistically in line with your overall health; if your situation is keeping you awake at night, it's likely having an impact in other areas than just your wallet.
Sometimes the simplest of actions can give you the greatest peace of mind.
• Nick Stewart is a Financial Adviser and CEO at Stewart Group, a Hawke's Bay-based CEFEX certified financial planning and advisory firm. Stewart Group provides personal fiduciary services, Wealth Management, Risk Insurance & KiwiSaver solutions.
• The information provided, or any opinions expressed in this article, are of a general nature only and should not be construed or relied on as a recommendation to invest in a financial product or class of financial products. You should seek financial advice specific to your circumstances from an Authorised Financial Adviser before making any financial decisions. A disclosure statement can be obtained free of charge by calling 0800 878 961 or visit our website, www.stewartgroup.co.nz