Tag Archives: work

Quiet Quitting is an abomination

When people talk about ‘quiet quitting’ what they mean is just doing the job you were paid to do. That’s a truly horrendous concept. Doing the job you were paid to do is doing your job. Going above and beyond is not something your employer is entitled to. Whether that’s unpaid overtime, being available when out of work when that isn’t in your contract, or anything else being extracted from you that you aren’t paid to do – that’s exploitation.

The dangled carrot is that this is the only way to progress. Doing the job you are paid to do is not enough to get you a pay rise or a promotion. That’s also appalling when you stop and think about it. The idea that your job should be more important than anything else in your life, and that your job should own you, is entirely vile. Unpaid overtime is wage theft. Most people aren’t following a calling, they just want to be able to afford to live. Asking everyone to work like they have a soul deep compulsion to do the job is unreasonable in the extreme.

Workplaces often try to save money by not replacing staff who leave, making those who remain pick up more than their share of the work. It’s exploitative. We’re seeing at the moment in UK transport what happens when a business runs on the assumption that employees can be pressured into working their days off to cover for colleagues who are ill. You can’t sustain that as a model, especially not for a public facing job during a pandemic. You can’t have people working their rest time and not have them get ill and burned out. Companies should employ enough people so that they can cope with illness and holiday leave, but far too many don’t. It’s not a lack of money – vast sums go to shareholders in this case.

I had a round some years ago when it became apparent that I’d got pretty good at the freelance job I was doing. It was suggested to me that my workload should therefore increase with no pay increase, because they were paying for my time. I was able to sit the relevant people down and explain that this is basically punishing someone for being good at their job and honest about what they are doing, and the whole thing was dropped. It helped that as a freelancer doing multiple jobs I was in a position where I could really quit if something became too much work for too little money. Of course, not everyone can do that.

Doing the job you are being paid to do, is doing your job. Don’t let anyone persuade you that they are entitled to more than that, or that you are a bad employee if you simply do what you’ve been contracted to do.

Being diseased

I’ve made some considerable effort not to get covid – I wear masks when I can (I get panic attacks so sometimes I can’t wear them). I’m vaccinated. I stay out of crowds and I don’t do much indoor stuff with people. But here we are, and it is in me and has been in me for a few days.

At this point there are no legal requirements for me to behave in any specific way. There is only advice, like working from home if I can. Little wonder that I have it. Part of the problem here is that we have a fundamentally broken system when it comes to work. We expect people to go to work when they are ill – spreading diseases of all kinds, and slowing recovery. Working when ill is horrible. The person who can just take a few days off and rest will recover faster. But, a lot of workplaces will punish you for doing that. Most people can’t afford to be unpaid or to lose their jobs over taking care of their health.

I feel grim, but not as grim as other things have made me feel in recent years. I’m very tired, but I was very tired anyway so it’s hard to know if this is new and extra very tired, or pre-existing very tired. My concentration is rubbish, but it’s mostly been rubbish this year.

I’m looking at how body stressors add to my experiences of panic. I’m starting to think that my panic experiences aren’t just silly things happening in my head for no reason, and that panic might be what my body does when it starts to feel dangerously under-resourced. I’m usually the first person to assume I’m making a fuss and taking a thing far too seriously, but here I am with covid and it is by no means the most ill I have felt this year. 

What if the panic isn’t an over-reaction? What if the panic isn’t something I need to learn how to control, but a genuine and reasonable response to hazards? What if the problem is one of being under-resourced, not one of just making a fuss? Everything I’ve encountered on the mental health side assumes that panic is an over-reaction, and that the problem is the panicking, not whatever caused it. Last week I had panic attacks caused by being in more body pain than I could take. Maybe the fact of the panicking isn’t the problem here. Maybe I’m not just making a fuss over nothing, and maybe that’s even relevant when the things going on are more about mental health as well.

The Cult of Jobs

In theory, jobs are the answer to poverty, and to the rising cost of living. ‘Get more work’ our government tells us here in the UK. We are encouraged to move into better paying jobs, work more jobs and work more hours. It’s preposterous when you stop and look at it. Time is finite. We do all have to sleep. No one should be asked to work all the hours there are so as to be able to afford food.

It is true that automation and the cunning use of computers will result in fewer jobs. Checkout work is a case in point here. I see people online talking about how we should not use self service checkouts because it will cost jobs. However, I’ve done checkout work and can vouch for it being low paid, tedious, that you get a lot of abuse from customers, and that hauling things over a bar code reader is not intrinsically rewarding. How much better the world would be if those of us who can did that work ourselves and we didn’t require so many people to do it for us.

We could use technology to get rid of boring, repetitive, soulless jobs. We could even stop with the nonsense that jobs and more work are the answer to poverty. It’s interesting to note that in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1914) exactly the same argument was being made by the bosses and politicians in the story and that the author was clearly not persuaded. More than a hundred years later, jobs have not saved people from hunger in the UK.

Jobs themselves are not a solution to poverty. More hours working equate to a lower quality of life. Paying people a living wage for the work they do would be a better place to start. We could afford to question our whole culture around work and working, because increasingly it makes no sense and leaves too many people disadvantaged. We can’t keep trying to grow our economies into more just arrangements – it’s not what capitalism does. We can’t afford the damage relentless growth causes and our planet just can’t take any more of it. Increasingly the Cult of Jobs looks like a death cult that urgently needs replacing.

Learning to be less efficient

One of my big personal projects at the moment is that I’m trying to learn to be less efficient. I’ve got a significant attention span – I can do things with my brain for longer than is good for my body, and I need to tackle that. It isn’t good for my hands if I colour for a couple of hours flat out, or type for extended periods.

Just because I can doesn’t mean I should. 

Years of practical and economic pressure haven’t helped with this. Taking breaks and being gentle with myself has, all too often, felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford. It’s not like that at the moment. Rest should never seem like a luxury. Basic self care to avoid pain and damage is not a luxury. I am not a machine, but I’m not very good at treating myself like a person.

So I’m trying to figure out how to slow down. How to take more breaks, and be gentler. It’s an interesting process not least because it means I have to be alert to what my brain is doing while I’m working. I’m obsessive, and I can fall into the rhythm of a thing and get stuck there, and some bits of my brain really like that and find it soothing. It takes a huge toll on my body if I’m not careful – too much strain on my hands and not enough movement elsewhere.

There will be a balance to find. Enough rhythm in what I do to sooth my brain. Enough movement for my whole body to allow me to be reasonably well. Enough rest for my hands to avoid hurting or damaging them.

Unskilled Labour is an illusion

The idea of unskilled labour is one that is routinely used to make life harder for economically disadvantaged people. The notion is that if you have no skills, there are many jobs you can apply for that aren’t skilled, and that don’t merit much of a wage. If you don’t have a job you are therefore deemed lazy and workshy.

At the start of January, I was job hunting again. When I can work in the kinds of jobs I have considerable experience in, I can earn a decent wage. However, I have done a number of minimum wage jobs along the way. If I can’t find stuff I am well qualified to do, I have to look at whatever I can get. 

There are very few jobs out there that ask for no qualifications and no experience. Many jobs require you to be able to drive and to have a car. When I’m looking for work outside my areas of experience, there’s not much I can apply for, and what I can apply for has everything to do with retail experience and public facing work history. I note that a significant number of low paid jobs require strength and physical fitness, and that we don’t value that much in workers. There may be a lot to be said about the value placed on the bodies of the economically disadvantaged.

Work requires skill and knowledge. Some of the worst paid jobs require heroic levels of patience and considerable stamina. For jobs that pay you to do nothing, as far as I can make out you want to get a high level consultancy gig where no one expects you to do anything, or to get your income from shares and resource ownership rather than by actually working. There are no unskilled jobs. Every employer out there has qualities they require in their employees.

During the pandemic it’s been really obvious that low paid workers were in the front lines doing some of the most important things and shouldering a great deal of the risk.

The idea of the unskilled worker is a convenient illusion. It’s part of the thinking that justifies who gets to be rich and who gets to be poor. The idea that work is low paid because it isn’t important and doesn’t require much of you simply isn’t true. How people are paid has everything to do with power, and very little to do with the true value of their work.

Work as a coping mechanism

I’ve always turned to work as a way of coping. That can mean paid work, volunteering, housework or making things. It’s something I can put between me and the teeth, and the teeth are very sharp and have been with me my whole life.

The theory is that if I can make enough, do enough, be good enough then I can stay out of the teeth. It doesn’t work, and I know it doesn’t work, but I’ve never found anything that does. The problem with working as a coping mechanism is that it can add to the exhaustion and make things worse. I’d be better off with some sense of worth that doesn’t depend on doing stuff, or being validated for doing stuff but I’ve never figured out how to have that. Self help articles and books are all about increasing your self esteem, not how to start from scratch.

I suspect the trick is to have a sense of self and self worth rooted in who you are, not what you do. It’s just that I’ve never felt intrinsically good enough. It’s hard to imagine feeling good enough without having to be useful, helpful or productive. I’m also no sort of ornament.

It also doesn’t help that every single thing I might do to try and keep myself out of the teeth depends on confidence. The worse things are, the harder it is to believe that I can do anything to offset it. The more in pain I am the less able I am to feel or appreciate any wins I might achieve.

It’s not a good way to be. But here we are, and I can still write blog posts,so there’s something.

Doing it for money

Living by creative work is a bit of a gamble, to say the least. Most of my working life I’ve had other jobs on the go as well – often also in publishing, because marketing and editing pay more reliably than writing does.

I spent this last year mostly working on my own stuff, when I wasn’t being horribly ill. Given the many rounds of being horribly ill, it’s as well I wasn’t trying to do much else! But, I gambled on a couple of things and it hasn’t worked out. This happens. Opportunities melt away, or turn out not to be as good as they looked. Currently the entire book industry is being sorely challenged by distribution issues, paper shortages and whatnot, especially in America. Royalty payments are down, because American book sales are really low right now.

What you earn as an author tends to depend on work you’ve done in previous years, and there’s often no knowing how long it will take for the work to lead to money. One of the advantages of self publishing is that you get the work out and sell it. Big publishers move slowly and can take years to make decisions. Graphic novels are slow to make, so the books we’re working on were first drafted ten years ago. With the series complete, that set of books will be more interesting to other publishers, and Sloth may be able to pitch it on – but who knows?

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel in six weeks because someone offered me something like a thousand pounds to do it, and that’s more money than I’d ever made from writing before that point. By the end of it, I had days where I was mostly just shaking and crying – multiple drafts of an 80k novel is a lot to do in six weeks and I didn’t sleep much. I didn’t do another one. I couldn’t have sustained it, although it turned out that my first husband thought I should have done.

I gambled and lost, this year. I lost money on an event where I really needed to come out ahead. Everything has been slower than I needed it to be. Releases are delayed. Various projects have been hit with problems and some things I’ve just had to rethink. Meanwhile energy costs, and food costs are set to rise. I have a safety net, but it’s finite, and shrinking. 

I spent New Year’s eve looking at local employment possibilities. I’ve done all kinds of work along the way, I have no qualms about jumping back in – shelf stacker or dinner lady maybe. My skills aren’t much use for conventional employment outside of publishing, I don’t have a car, and that means I’m pretty much obliged to look at minimum wage jobs if I can’t get the writing based work to pay. At one point a few years ago I was doing half a dozen small jobs to make ends meet, and it was tough. So, I was bracing myself to get back into all of that.

Much to my surprise, I find that instead I’m going to be writing a novel to a tight deadline and for a flat fee. I’ve got three books to read as a matter of some urgency, and I’m going to be flat out for the next eight to ten weeks. So if the blog is a bit brief, or sporadic, this will be why. But it will pay better than being a traffic warden, and I was going to have to lie on that application about how well I handle aggression and conflict situations…

Be gentle for midwinter

I’ve not made much effort to be festive this year – the yule badgers were about it. Midwinter invariably finds me tired. Some years I have the willpower to push through that. This year, I don’t. 

Christmas can be a lot of work. The planning, the shopping, the packing, the food prep, the cleaning. This is all work that traditionally falls to women, and if you’re a mother you may be doing it with help from a child or three who are over-excited and going to lose it entirely at some point. I’ve been that person, although not recently, and never again.

It’s worth thinking about who we expect to do what on our behalf at this time of year. The unpaid labour. The emotional labour. The demands we make on retail staff. The low paid folk who take the brunt of frustration and shopping rage. It is not a season of goodwill to all – especially not when we’re shopping.

The idea of the perfect Christmas is something we’ve been sold. We know what it’s supposed to look like. All those Christmas related adverts showing clean, orderly houses stacked with food and gifts… it creates a lot of pressure. But then, that’s the whole point. The more inadequate you feel, the more you’re going to buy to try and make up for it.

We could be gentler with ourselves. We could be kind, and expect less of each other. We could spend less and consume less and rest more. Rest is cheap, which is no doubt why we aren’t encouraged to do it, when we could be wearing ourselves out trying to meet impossible standards. Rest is also essential and not some sort of bonus luxury you only earn when you’ve done every imaginable thing.

Working nine ‘till five

During my week in the gallery, I was getting up at half past seven, doing half an hour or so of computer work, walking to the gallery at 9, being there until 5 and then walking home. I found it utterly exhausting. It didn’t help that I worked nine days without a day off, which shouldn’t be normal for people with regular day jobs.

I’m used to being able to do bits and pieces of domestic work around my other work. Where other people might get a tea break or a water cooler moment, I might do the laundry or get the washing up. It means that when I end work for the day normally, I’ve done whatever I’m doing on the domestic front as well as the economic front. Coming home in the evening with all of that yet to do is emotionally wearing as well as physically tiring.

I’m a big fan of walking and cycling to work. I acknowledge that it is hard to do this, especially in bad weather or when you  are already tired. Many of the things that are more sustainable – cooking from scratch, buying locally sourced everythings… take time and energy that I wouldn’t have if I worked this way every day. I already knew that many aspects of conventional work aren’t easily combined with sustainable life choices, or with healthy choices for personal wellbeing. There’s a lot of difference between knowing something as a theory, and living it for a while.

I’m a big believer in making what personal changes you can, but I acknowledge that not everyone gets much control over how and when and where they work. Not everyone can go self employed, or can wrangle to work from home. Personal shifts alone won’t deal with things that are ingrained in our culture.

I also note that I wasn’t fantastically useful for much of that time. I’ve done a lot of public facing, events, retail, front of house kind of work – which can be sporadic – quiet while you’re waiting for people to show up, and intense when they do. But in terms of quality of work done for time spent… I wasn’t great. Compared to what I get done in a few hours working quietly at home, I wasn’t very productive. In some ways that’s the nature of this kind of work. But, how many people are turning up to put in the hours every day, and not paid based on what they do? How much time, life and energy are squandered while people show up for the required hours?

One of the great things about being self employed is that most of the time, it’s about getting the job done, and not about how long it takes. Unless your job is primarily about being available to help other people in some way, then time spent is meaningless for most work. How many workplaces will let you go home when you’ve done what needed doing? How many employers will reward speed and efficiency by simply expecting you to do more?

There’s only so much you can do as an individual to change any of this. I feel strongly that we need to be talking a lot more about why we work, and how we work, what we reward, and what we expect from each other.

Reimagining the revolution

Imagine what the industrial revolution would have been like around the world if the aims had been different. Imagine if the developing technology had been all about freeing people from drudgery and improving their quality of life. Not children working twelve hour shifts in factories, not working humans routinely maimed and killed by machines, and not squalid slums for workers to live in. Imagine if the industrial revolution had been all about making life better for everyone.

Of course with the kind of technology we had, this would have been difficult. The city smogs were caused by air pollution from coal burning industries. The whole thing depended on human lives sacrificed for coal, sacrificed for building projects, cut short by horrific illness caused by exposure to pollutants. Around the world, industrial revolution has meant a dramatic plummet in quality of life for the working poor.

What if that wasn’t inevitable? What if that wasn’t progress? What if the ‘gains’ made for the already rich and comfortable weren’t actually worth the price so many paid for it? 

If progress meant better quality of life, we wouldn’t have people living in poverty. No one would have to choose between heating and eating. We have the resources to take care of everyone, but not the political will. What if we saw no virtue or value in tedious jobs and cheerfully handed those over to the machines to give everyone more time to live rich, full and rewarding lives? What if we didn’t create an impoverished underclass who could then be pressured into working miserably in order to barely survive? 

We could have done that with the first industrial revolution. New technology could have been harnessed to serve the common good, not the profits of the few. This is always an option, and never the one that gets priority. Meanwhile we celebrate and idolise the wealth that costs most of us, and the planet an unbearable amount.

What if we stopped imagining that work is the key to human existence, and started considering some alternative ways of thinking about ourselves?