Job lock?

中国日报网 2013-10-11 11:33



Job lock?

Reader question:

Please explain this headline: Obamacare could free workers from ‘job lock’ (, September 6, 2013).

My comments:

Literally, job lock means you’re locked in your job.

Locked in your job?

Yeah, the same as you’re locked in the house. A roommate thinks he/she is the last one to leave the apartment and therefore locks the door behind them. And since your apartment can only be unlocked from the outside, you get stuck inside the house. You can but stay indoors until one of your roommates comes back home – unless, of course, you want to risk injury by jumping out the window.

A job lock, on the other hand, refers to the situation where you’re stuck with your current job, unable to move on, jumping ship or starting your own business.

Last weekend, I met a few friends, all old cronies from school and, over tea, the topic of jobs and career paths was broached. One man said he’s very satisfied with his current employer, an American oil company, because he’s paid well. Not only that, he said he was particularly happy with the benefits that come with the job. For example, aside from the normal medical insurance and everything, he gets a month of paid holiday for every month of work, extra subsidies for work in the countryside and outfield and, if he were an American, he’d even get a monthly stipend for house repair back home...

I pointed out that “they mean to treat you well so that you’ll work for them for life”, hence missing all other opportunities out there at large. I didn’t mean to sound contrarian or anything, but just thought it might be worth our while pointing out the other side of the coin from time to time. Another friend, of course, was on hand to testify that he’s had more than a dozen jobs over the years and the constant change of scene has worked out for him just fine. He’s now self employed.

Anyways, the upshot of our discussion is, we concluded that, ironically, being treated too well by one’s employer can be too much of a good thing.

It’s exactly the situation with job lock, an American term describing the very health benefits turning out to be too much of a good thing.

As my friend who works for the American oil firm testifies, a lot of big American companies offer employees a generous benefits package – including, most crucially, health care – in addition to a monthly salary. But the problem is, these benefits vary from firm to firm. If you jump ship, you risk losing some or all of the benefits you get from the previous employer.

Which brings us back to Obamacare.

Finally, phew.

Well, Obamacare, as pioneered by President Barack Obama, is a much more universal package covering a wide range of basic healthcare issues. Presumably the American worker will now be able to retain much or most of health benefits they have with their current employer even if they jump ship or quit the job to start their own business.

For example, some companies refuse to pay for medical costs over diseases an employee contracts while working for his/her previous employer. Now, with Obamacare, they’ll hopefully be covered whichever way you turn.

I hope I’ve interpreted Obamacare correctly, of course.

Currently, Obamacare has brought nothing but more trouble to American politics it seems, forcing the government to close. In the long term, however, I hope Obamacare survives the current debate and turmoil unscathed, intact and in whole.

So that the American employee can keep enjoying the previous benefits – which, to be sure, can become too much of a good thing when it leads to job lock – while looking for greener grasses elsewhere without a care.

Alright, let’s call it quits right here before this hopeful vision of the American work scene itself sounds too good to be true.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Jumped the shark?

Against all odds

If you play your cards right

Tried and true

Time to connect the dots

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)


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