Like it or not we spend much of our lives, one third of it in fact, working. The average person will spend 90,000 hours of their life at work, so saying your job can impact the quality of your life can safely be considered an understatement.
It’s probably unsurprising then, that our jobs can be one of the biggest stressors in our lives. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of workers feel stress on the job, 65% of workers felt that stress caused work difficulties, 40% say they’d rate their job as extremely stressful, and 25% of people say their job is the number one stressor in their lives. Something’s got to give.
The purported reasons for all this stress are varied. 42% of those surveyed by the American Institute of Stress report that yelling and other verbal abuse is common. The CDC’s list of stressors includes “low morale,” “job responsibilities,” “career concerns,” or “traumatic events.” This LinkedIn article entitled “10 Shockingly Common Workplace Problems Impacting Your Business” includes “workplace hierarchy,” “difficult clients,” “problem solving,” and “staying engaged," but the majority of stress studies fail to include issues like "racism," "discrimination," or "sexual harassment," that are unfortunately prevalent in the workplace.
These statistics paint a disturbing picture, and we haven't even tackled the topics of discrimination or workplace violence, but we hope we’re well on our way to making a point. Cultural issues manifest in the workplace. Cultural issues are discussed in the workplace. Cultural issues often become workplace issues, and if you’ve been paying attention to current events over the past couple of years, none of this should really be a surprise. Culture and work are inherently interlinked, and often changes in the workplace are what spearhead larger changes in society. These cultural issues will also become the workplace issues our students will eventually have to contend with.
The way our current education system is structured often leaves students woefully unprepared for the reality of the world. For example, studies have shown that the majority of American public-school students don’t know how to identify a healthy vs an unhealthy relationship. We discuss discrimination in the broadest of terms, sanitize conversations around race, and don’t discuss the power dynamics that if used irresponsibly, largely fuel the kind of bad workplace behavior that helps negatively impact peoples’ lives.
This brings us to the title of this post, why career exploration is where these tough conversations organically fit. If the purpose of career exploration is to get students ready for the world of work, statistically the majority of black students will deal with racism at work, the majority of female students are likely to endure sexual harassment on the job, and 90% of students are likely to experience bullying in the workplace. Putting our heads in the sand and not preparing students for these realities is doing them a great disservice. If we’re teaching students how to make a resume or interview for a job, we also need to also be teaching them how to be on the look out for problematic workplace behavior—how to report it, process it, and support coworkers who may be victimized.
Career exploration and job preparation can't exist in a vacuum. It must include all the variables from the real world, the good, bad and ugly, in order to be effective. Because career readiness includes preparing students for workplace realities, this is where these tough conversations need to start. Keep in mind there's also an argument to be made that much like every teacher is to some degree a literacy teacher, every teacher to some degree is a life-preparation teacher. Getting students ready for life means it's the responsibility of all educators to have these conversations, even if it makes people uncomfortable. Great things don't come from comfort zones—great changes don't come from comfort zones. We have a responsibility to equip our young people with the language and tools to fight these systematic injustices.
This means looking inward. It means having frank conversations about problematic behavior, and not putting the onus of preventing bad behavior on those who may be victimized. We can’t just teach young people how to avoid sexual harassment but teach them how not to perpetrate it themselves. We can’t just have black students talking about their experiences with anti-black racism but need white students to reflect on their biases and how they can step up to become allies. These are complex topics that we need to start spending time on to ensure that the workforce of the future is a diverse, inclusive place where everyone has the right to work unimpeded. Let’s do the right thing—let’s start talking.