Dissecting the work issue

I realise it may sound like I live in an ivory tower/boat, doing only fancy things, and that as a consequence that post about being totally demoralised may have sounded a tad self indulgent. I do all sorts of things, many of them mundane, banal, unexciting. This isn’t just a justification exercise though, I’ve sat down and thought hard about the nature of work, and figured out some stuff I think has far wider relevance, so let’s test that and see…

I write under other names too, and in a wide range of genres and forms. I’m not precious about that, I’ve written pub quizzes, custom erotica and reviews of household products along the way. I have worked tills and stacked shelves, I’ve washed glassware and spent long days doing stalls. It’s not all poncing about in celebrant gear and dabbling in philosophy! As a volunteer I’ve painted fences, picked litter, done long data entry sessions… I also edit for cash. And sometimes, for love.

The money aspect is simple. We all need money, and to be paid for your work is generally necessary, and also contributes to self esteem. I had no problem writing pub quizzes. I’d do it now if it came up. When the pay per hour is so low that you can’t live on it, that’s both deeply impractical, and in our cash driven society, does seem like a value judgement. I’d like to support anyone whose work was valuable enough to be paid, but who wasn’t being paid enough to live on, and there’s way too much of that out there.

I can bring a sense of meaning and soul and integrity to any job I do, based on experience to date. That’s about my attitude to work, that I know how to bring those things to the most mundane tasks. I think back to the paper round, and other low-brainers. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it, and I know if I want to feel something is innately valuable, I have to invest the right things. You can do it on a checkout, you can do it cleaning toilets. There aren’t many innately useless, meaningless jobs out there, and if you find one, there are always issues around how the money is deployed. Supporting a family is meaningful. Financing your planned studies, or your bardic work, or travel; there are many paths to meaning, and that’s down to the individual.

So that isn’t the problem either.

I focused my thinking on the volunteer work, because it takes the money out of the equation, and because when you’re volunteering, the innate worth is a given. Some of those jobs made me happier than others. I was happiest picking litter and painting fences. I was least happy in the job that came with a title and apparent status. Why? It all boils down to how I’m being treated. I spent a month working evenings to get the fences painted at my son’s school. It was a huge job, and although I had some help, it was exhausting. But, teachers, and the head, would stop and talk to me, and they kept telling me how much they appreciated what I was doing, how it cheered them up in the mornings seeing the painted fence. I felt wanted, needed, appreciated, and that enabled me to do a long, hard job for no pay, and to take pride in doing it. The two volunteer jobs that gave me a title came with a side order of never feeling trusted, always feeling inferior, no praise, nothing to sustain or enable. It burned me out, and I saw the same organisations burn out and demoralise a number of other good volunteers too. It’s not enough that the work be rewarding. A little respect, praise, recognition and encouragement make a world of difference.

I took this back to my current working situation. There are places where I feel like a loved and valued member of the team, and places I don’t. There are places where communications have been poor and I’ve been demoralised by this, but, those are fixing so hopefully I will feel better about what I do there. Working for someone who values me is a joy. There are people for whom I would happily wash dishes and fetch coffees if that was where they needed me to fit. I don’t need to feel super-important, I need to feel that my bit, whatever it is, matters, has a use to someone, and is recognised. That comes through, or doesn’t, in the smallest nuances of interaction. Recognising what’s going on here, I shall vote with my feet, where I need to.

It’s all about getting to be a person, and being treated like a person. I’ve worked in a small production space that was fun and happy, even though I was just washing and packaging. The culture of a workplace may be the most important thing. Places where they time and restrict loo breaks, constantly monitor, harass and demand, these are soul sapping. Such employers ask you to be a machine, not a person. There are some people who, seeing writing purely as a ‘product’ want authors to be well behaved little machines that make product. Any employer, in any business who in any way wants their worker to act like a machine, is an abomination. Human respect, human dignity, human expression are, I think, what makes the differences between workplaces that are good spaces to be in, and workplaces that grind you down and make you feel like shit. With the right employer and the right people, the most mundane job can be a joy. And with the wrong person, the most lovely and heartfelt project can be turned into a miserable act of drudgery. Been there. Not doing that again.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Dissecting the work issue

  • Andrew Smith

    Thanks, Nimue, for yet another thoughtful and insightful blog. I agree that finding value in the work we do is important, and being valued for it is essential to nurture our creativity and motivation. Unfortunately, senior managers these days seem to think that fear is the best motivator. Currently, I face being made redundant for the second time by the same company in about a year. Last time I left a role that I loved and was offered another on less money. As I have a family to feed and am the only wage earner I accepted it, though with trepidation as the company was changing from a carrot to a stick one, if you see what I mean, and the job was out of my comfort zone. Nevertheless, I worked hard at liking it and did my best, but over the past year we have become increasingly overworked, underpaid, under pressure, bullied, manipulated and exploited by executives on bigger and bigger salaries with bigger and bigger bonuses while staff and staff salaries are cut. It’s a corrosive emotional atmosphere where staff are expected to work long hours for nothing, and blaming and recrimination are rife at all levels. I have seen good people become monsters or go to pieces. Now I face redundancy again and am being offered my old job back, but it will mean less money again to pay the bills, etc. I feel I have no option but to accept – it is a job, after all, but the company has turned into such a horrible one to work for that I wonder sometimes if I have the emotional strength to retain some psychological wellbeing and integrity in such a negative work environment.
    I, like most people, am motivated by carrots, not sticks. The question is, can I stick it at a company that is all stick and no carrot and remain a humane being? It’s a problem I’m wrestling with as, I am sure, are many others around the country/world. Thanks again for your blog, which has inspired me to put thoughts into words as I struggle to find an answer. Bless you.

  • Pauline

    You know what, this actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Human dignity, respect, human expression – these are important whether you write or whether you clean toilets for a living. At the end of the day doing one job doesn’t make you a better person than someone who does a ‘menial’ job.

    • Nimue Brown

      What really winds me up, is that in most things, it is the most basic stuff, the factory floor, the delivery people, the front line workers, the toilet cleaners who make all else possible. Frequently, without them there would be no company, no product, no vast wage packet for the leeches. Yet these jobs are monstrously undervalued. Further peasant’s revolts are clearly called for….

  • Jennifer Tavernier

    I am right with you!. When one is working, or investing energy on another’s behalf, in furthering something, it HAS to be a 2 way thing. Sure, one can go for quite awhile sometimes, and create good vibes all they want, but when there is no energy coming back in, one does do a burnout and dies to that extent. I have that situation here, to some extent – I do get energy from my tenants, and knowing and seeing that I am helping, and I like people. I get energy from them. There are a couple good sources in the office above me, but they are also workers, but we recognize each others competence and integrity. The big bosses -are in the slave mentality. In the end though, while good and strange things come in sideways, the bosses are running everyone into the ground, and expending way too much effort on the wrong goals – (Their survival, Vs little or no bare survival for anyone else.)
    But, without a balance, one does do a dwindling spiral, even if one tells them-self that they are aware of it and can deal with it. It still erodes or majorly unbalances the inflow/outflow, and thus confidence and joy.
    In the end, one ends up screwing with their own integrity – (at least at a regular “job”.) When Art enters into it, that is a whole other ball game, because that’s life force that comes straight from you and addresses the higher self, or whatever one chooses to call it. There is money and exchange involved in that too – but doesn’t undermine the intention or physical product. It’s a weird area, but that is the way this stupid economy is set up. Energy is great, but we all still have bills to pay – and that is that nasty little printed pieces of paper, that we and others have imbued with this value beyond price. Sometimes one does whatever because they have no choice, to meet the demands. It would be great if we could all really hold fast to our integrity, over our life, but that just isn’t always a workable solution. As far as menial job? LOL! I seem to have lost the definition or connotation of that – because a job with a return, is a job with a return! But I have found a truth for me, that is if am giving my all in good integrity and responsibility, but flowing it all into a bucket with no bottom, knowingly accepting a draining situation, I am honestly putting *me* at risk. Because I am letting someone use me as a mat to cover their black hole, and nobody wins. So it doesn’t pay to wear blinders, just make sure no matter what one does to bring the cake home, that one is aware knowingly of the ramifications and has a plan to continue up the expansion ladder.

    (LOL! Must laugh! I have honestly never pictured you as wafting about in celebrants’s robes looking all blessed and benign, while floating 3 inches off the ground.) There are times this can be attained, but I usually have footing on solid earth, if not sometimes walking in a trench!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: