PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Why do we work so hard? Is it for a pool in our suburban backyard, a pair of cotton pants that would have looked stuffy on Pete Campbell from Mad Men 50 years ago or the keys to your grandfather's favorite luxury car brand?
Or is it to prop up a failing automaker with nearly $50 billion in government money, only to take a $10 billion loss on the deal and discover that said company still can't install a decent ignition switch? These weren't the questions General Motors (GM - Get Report) was asking when it ran a confrontational ad for its Cadillac ELR that made excuses for U.S. excess and made light of other countries' work ethic and days off, but that's the fight it picked.
Cadillac ran that spot with poor Neal McDonough as the aloof materialist in question during the Winter Olympics, presumably to remind the country that we're No. 1 even if the medals table or just about any other global measure don't indicate the same. Hey, "because we're crazy-driven, hard-working believers," so why shouldn't we flaunt some "stuff" that's "the upside of only taking two weeks off in August. N'est-ce pas?"
Let's just pretend, for a second, that N'est-ce pas translates to "I haven't been paying attention to economic and social reality in this country for at least 10 years" instead of "isn't it so." Just to get our Caddy-driving friend up to speed, the U.S. lost nearly 9 million jobs during the recession. Unfortunately, the National Employment Law Project notes that 60% of all jobs lost during the recession paid middle-income wages or better, while 65% of the more than 6 million jobs recovered since then have been low-wage. So yeah, people are working hard, but for a lot less money.
Even if that job manages to buy workers some "stuff," it's not keeping them from being absolutely miserable. A Salary.com survey that found only 38.5% of Americans felt fulfilled by their jobs, while only 52% said they were totally committed to their work. Only 19.5% put in extra hours because they enjoy their work and 72% are motivated solely by their paycheck. Meanwhile, Gallup found that roughly 52% of all full-time workers in the U.S. are not involved in their work and put only as much into it as they're forced to. Of those, 18% are "actively disengaged" and so bitter about their work that they're actively trying to sabotage the workplace and make life miserable for everyone else.
Yep, the guy in the Caddy would poison the water cooler it he thought it would get him out of that office any quicker.