384857 my bosses made a bet that i would quit i haventyet

My bosses made a bet that I would quit. I haven’t…yet.

Two top leaders in the manufacturing company made a bet. The plump one said I wouldn’t stay long. The tall one said I would.

The company was located in northwestern China, where I had come to learn about factory equipment and how they can be sold to Africa. I was 2,200 kilometers away from my Sichuan home.

The plump boss had a point: I did not fit in.

I had applied for this job on an impulse. For one thing, I wanted to learn more about Africa because I recently became fascinated with China-Africa topics. But more importantly: I needed a job.

I am a recent college graduate, and because I had spent half a year in Algeria, I missed the fall and spring recruitment seasons.

I graduated from a top university, and I thought I could have my pick of jobs. I also dreamed of being a writer, and thought a writer should be flexible and shouldn’t care so much about money.

I was entirely wrong.

In China, if you miss the recruitment sessions designated for your graduation year, it doesn’t matter where you graduated from: You’re unlikely to get hired.

After your classmates find desirable jobs, all you can then think is: Please give me a job. Any job.

So I took a sales job far from home, a decision few understood because these positions were normally filled with people who are, for lack of a better word, desperate. Sometimes, I asked myself, What are you doing?

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University graduates have traditionally despised manufacturing work, though China remains the world’s largest manufacturer. Graduates loathe sales jobs, too, though Chinese products are all over the world. Graduates also disdain jobs in underdeveloped countries, despite China’s prominence abroad.

However, amid a bleak job market, such work has become a lifesaver to many.

China’s youth unemployment rate keeps breaking records. From April to June, the jobless rate for 16- to 24-year-olds rose from 20.4% to 20.8% to 21.3%. It got so bad that in mid-August, China stopped releasing youth unemployment figures.

Since this news broke, I couldn’t help thinking about its significance, and one month into working for my company, I believed that the numbers were because of two simple reasons: Employers were constantly “optimizing” workers — a euphemism for “firing” — and workers were getting more comfortable with quitting on a whim. Call it mutual disloyalty.

I had a personal example. One of the top bosses told me that he preferred seasoned workers to fresh graduates, and said it was unlikely I would be given the contract I was promised. Many of my peers were optimized. My managers, on the other hand, tried to keep me because of my educational background.

One day, I was invited to dinner by the tall leader, and he told me he had made a bet with the plump vice president. The tall leader, also the VP’s assistant, believed in me.

He said this as a sign of encouragement, but I was just mostly shocked. So the vice president didn’t want me around?

working factory

The VP had always doubted new employees. One question he liked to ask the newcomers was: How many years do you need to become a senior leader?

We demurred when asked. It wasn’t like we could become leaders by shouting slogans. And the truth is, we didn’t even know how long we’d stay in the company.

Most new employees came here to earn quick money. Many were scheduled to work in Central or Southeast Asia or Africa. Almost everyone hoped to be stationed abroad to earn higher salaries. Almost everyone wanted to leave as soon as possible. It wasn’t like we had our dream job. Actually, sometimes the job seemed like hell.

The VP once messaged a group of us about our plan on Sunday (he didn’t ask about Saturday because that was our workday). One of my colleagues replied: “Please feel free to give me instructions, leader” (even though what he hated most about this job was overtime work).

I didn’t give an immediate response, and apparently that was viewed as disrespectful. I sent an “OK.”

When I went to the office on Sunday, reluctantly, the tall leader was there, too. He asked me gently, “How do you feel about working on Sunday?”

“How do you feel?” I answered.

Apparently, I had an attitude problem. Later, our VP asked someone to send a six-minute voice message to me, where he lectured: “If I ask you about Sunday plans, it’s stupid to ignore me or not show up in the office. If you’re not prepared to be a senior leader now, you won’t be prepared your whole life.”

Several people, including me, ended up writing self-criticisms. Unsurprisingly, some people quit.

working factory

The VP’s work philosophy was based on his experiences: He had never asked for a single day off. He was proud that he spent the afternoon of his wedding in the office. It took him three years to become a senior leader; 10 years in, he’s one of the most important people at the company.

His behavior embodied the zeitgeist of his generation: Endure hardship and you’ll be rewarded. For them, the shadows of wars, the Great Famine, and the Cultural Revolution were succeeded by reform and opening. The vestiges of recent poverty were replaced by economic opportunity.

They believed that our generation needed to aim higher: a profitable job, a car, a house, a family before 30…since we had “suffered nothing.”

Unable to fulfill even just a fraction of their wishes amid a weak economy, the people of my generation constantly doubt if there are rewards at the end of this hardship. We suffer endless exams, whose sole point is competition. For “good” jobs, we need various internships and certificates, several tests, and rounds of interviews. For “easier” jobs, like mine, we endure boot camps, contract issues, and day-long training sessions — every day for a month — which are used to weed out newcomers.

It’s common for graduates to send out hundreds of job applications without even bothering to figure out what we’re applying for. It’s common to take civil service exams in the hopes of getting, if nothing else, some stability. Most of all, it’s common to change jobs.

One colleague, who would later wind up in Uzbekistan, left his previous job in a state-owned enterprise within four months because he couldn’t get along with his manager. He felt like his life was doomed since he changed jobs so quickly. But he was comforted by a former colleague who was two years older than him, who said, “I have changed jobs five times.”

working factory

During the dinner, the tall assistant who believed in me expressed his frustration at my generation, saying we were “brought up in the jar of honey” and that we “weren’t good at handling setbacks.” He said he had been hurt when people he trained decided to leave the company.

I felt sorry for this leader. He had always been kind, but he didn’t understand our situation. There were also leaders who crushed us, using the unemployment rate as a threat for all kinds of unreasonable requests. Those of us courageous enough to stand up to them baffled them all the more.

I wanted to tell the tall leader that the one thing that our generation valued even more than money was mental health. “Stay well, or our pay won’t be enough to cover the medical fees,” we often said.

“Stay,” the assistant leader eventually said to me during dinner. “So I can win the bet.”

“Actually, I haven’t gotten a contract yet,” I replied, expressing my distrust for the company.

“That shouldn’t be a problem for you,” he said.

I nodded. Then we talked about other things. I never gave him the answer he wanted to hear.

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