Slash careers are the new normal for young Chinese
Published: Mar 22, 2016 05:33 PM Updated: Mar 23, 2016 08:46 AM

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

As an editor of one of the largest English-language daily newspapers in Shanghai, I'm always in desperate need of freelance writers, foreign and Chinese alike, who can contribute to our pages. Ideally they should be able to craft articulate and insightful responses to trending topics while being able to meet our strict deadlines.

Unfortunately, after six years since Metro Shanghai first launched, we have yet to find even a handful of reliable Shanghai-based freelancers whom we can regularly count on for submissions. Despite the fact that we pay quite competitively compared to expat magazines in this city (most whom don't pay at all for unsolicited content), many submissions we do receive turn out to be unpublishable - commercial PR, non-newsworthy rants or articles completely opposite of what was originally pitched to us.

Missed deadlines are also a frequent problem committed by freelancers. This type of negligence is the worst for a daily newspaper because a missed deadline can leave an editor without enough content to fill a page.

New York Times columnist Marci Alboher's 2007 self-help book One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success is a cult hit in China, frequently cited on various Chinese lifestyle and career discussion forums. It has become a kind of bible for young Chinese freelancers struggling in our current down-ticking job market who adopted the book's terminology and started referring to job hopping as "slash careers."

The younger job applicants come from good backgrounds, have had an excellent education, are familiar with modern technology and current lifestyle trends, work efficiently and are upwardly mobile in their societal aspirations. But they often enter the workforce without any specific career path. They coasted their way through college and thus have no idea about what they want to do in life, so they see jobs as just a personal trial period to try on different hats. They think that they are "gaining multiple career experience" but are oblivious to the negative effect that frequent turnover can have on the business that hires them as well as on their own resumes.

One young acquaintance just informed me of her third job within one year, even bragging about turning down her previous employer's efforts to retain her after she submitted her resignation. Before I could chime in that job hopping can have dire consequences on one's future career, she arrogantly interrupted, "Don't blame me! Instead you should bless me for getting a 100-percent salary hike in my new job. My capability deserves that!"

Many company managers and HR personnel in China today were born in the 1970s or '80s, which are often referred to as "the last responsible generations." Raised on the cusp of China's reforming years and our exploding economy, they could see wealth and success on the horizon but nonetheless still had to struggle for a good education and a good job.

Which makes it all the more challenging for them to have to hire Post-90s and millennial employees and freelancers, most whom never had to struggle in life, easily got into a university and count on their parents for financial.

As such, employers are left in a precarious position: they need workers, yes, but hiring and training someone who is just going to quit once they find a better-paying job somewhere else costs time, money and resources. I'd like to say that outsourcing work assignments to freelancers is a viable option, but more often than not, the money a business saves from not having to provide a freelancer with medical benefits, insurance, visas, job training and paid annual leave does not make up for the fact that it's extremely hard to organize a talent pool of skilled - and more importantly, dependable - slash.

In the context of the new normal economic development in China, we have to keep in mind that it's not easy to find a satisfactory job for many people, nor is it easy for traditional industries to keep talents from hopping to more salary competitive new sectors.

The emergence of slash community hopefully can decrease pressure for both sides.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.