The Joy of Work
By Chris Wilson
For most living forms or animals there is little or understanding of the concept of work. For most life is a question of pure survival, where our complex notions of both are replaced, by the deeper and more urgent needs of food, water, territory, and reproduction. It is true we see immature animals or forms of various species learning adult skills through play, and it is fair to say that survival is often hard work for all concerned but, of course, we have to be different. As normal we seemingly need to think and analyse what we are doing, once more we have to utilise our mind.
Does it bring us comfort, security, joy, and peace of mind; certainly it can do, but it can also cause confusion and pain, and as such we need to understand what is going on. The deeper practical and philosophical complexities of work could fill the worlds libraries many times over, and such is the remit of this book, that I will be leaving such academic if worthy treaties to greater minds than mine, but what we can do is to explore the concept of work and to relate our subsequent actions to life that surges around us.
Unless we are given, or steal, a very large sum of money or skills from a variable range of natural or man-made sources, it is safe to assume that once adulthood is achieved, we wi
For most of us this involves the procurement of employment and, if possible, the attainment of a career path by which greater reward may be obtained as both years, and individual needs, inexorably increase or go by. It would be easy to assume that with our magnificent brain we would all be able to find employment that realised our full potential, and a subsequent career structure that amplified such natural or acquired skills to the full. Regrettably this is rarely the case, and most of us fall into an uncomfortable middle ground where ease of access to such rewards is severely limited, and where compliance to an alleged greater good rules the roost over freedom and self-expression.
It is to this world we turn to now, in all its sad yet, at times, comical unnatural idiocy. There as many different jobs as there are ways to perform then, and we cannot possibly cover them all, so what we can do is to choose two examples in order to demonstrate the working lives we lead. Both will be examined in isolation then brought back together to form a common theme. So it is we begin, and first we turn to the solitary worker, who is apparently self sufficient for all his needs.
The idea of self-employment is very simple and dates back to the days when we crawled out of the evolutionary slime. When we first hopped on our two legs, our needs in life were still very much the same as all life around us. Our job then was survival, and our work was simply to grab whatever we needed before any other beggar got there first. Once gained we learnt how to use and protect our prize, and sussed out that no matter how cute we were, or how good the prize was, we had to be aware of how we, and our prize, related to the environment around us. Our methodology wasn’t very cultured and, like all life, it could be cruel, but it did the job and, as a result, here we are now.
Since then we have progressed, and now we stand tall and intelligent, casting such primitive behaviour aside; or do we? Regardless of the final product we wish to utilise for our personal gain, have we really progressed from such a position in life?
Our solitary man may well argue that he has moved on, for he can make or utilise what he wants at a time or place of his choosing, and that he is free from such restrictions, but is he really as independent as he seems? Self-sufficiency can rarely be pursued in isolation, as in our modern complex lives, some form of co-dependency always seems to occur. What if the final product is offered for transference, either through donation, bartering, or sale? You might produce such an item in isolation, but then others have to be involved. In doing so both working parties need to be aware of what others around them need, or are prepared to buy, or at the very least they must take into account what the land, or other occupants of that land, are happy to give them.
So it is that freedom of expression and intent begin to be eroded by forces outside an individuals control, but this is nothing compared to the actions and deeds of a town or city commuter; their lives and working patterns can be truly absurd.
Imagine we are average suburb to city commuter, and we have been instructed to convince a group of neutral bystanders or students of the supposed wisdom behind our working day, how would we fair? For those who hold good jobs, or follow fully fulfilled successful careers, what follows may not apply, but for most of us our working lives are just a little different.
Let us say that where we live and work is in two different places, often miles apart, so we have to commute to and fro. We leave our safe and secure territory, and join a complete group of strangers, also outside of their normal patch, on a crowded, noisy, transportation system where the air quality has often been severely compromised, and where any notion of personal space or privacy has been destroyed. Then we clamber out of such systems, and fighting our way through a cacophony of noise and additional pollution, we arrive at work.
This is where we wish to be, we tell our audience, this is where we can show self-expression and independence, and this is where we can truly fulfil our dreams.
How many of us can really say any of this is true, and even if we believed this to be so, what would our line manager or senior managers say? We go on to tell the group that the reason for going there is not only such self-fulfilment, but to earn money by which our ambitions outside of work may be pursued, but again what is the reality for most of us?
Do we not go into a workplace, which we view with at best indifference, if not hatred, so as to earn money so we might go back into work and face the same stupidity the following day? There is hope though, for we can build a career, and still enjoy days of and holidays. A career can be good, for it may be both mentally and financially stimulating and beneficial, but what of increased freedom of expression?
That may be a possible benefit, but it may be the case that the higher we climb the more careful we need to be. Those below us may become envious; those above you possibly scared, and given any chance, both might pull us down. I will deal with holidays and relaxation in the next chapter, but as regards days off we may well be probably be too tired to enjoy the first day, and too concerned about returning to work to enjoy the second day to do the same. So it is we will go to bed, potentially drunk or drugged after a night on the tiles, only to start the whole dull and pointless cycle over again.
Is there any relief from this endurance trial, generally yes, for in some form or another, do we not often enjoy going to the annual office or work Christmas party?
At first glance this seems a wonderful mechanism as senior management can thank their employees for a good years work, team building and team membership can be dramatically enhanced, and finally everybody in the company can let their hair down in an atmosphere of complete and utter freedom, in thought, word and deed.
Oh that this were true, but the reality is very often so very different from this pleasant Yuletide dream.
To begin with how much do senior management generally know about most of their employees, and how much do they really care about them? I suspect very little in a lot cases, so almost immediately the concept of the party is compromised, as very often finance is sourced as a matter of expediency rather than actual desire.
What of team membership and team building, how do such notions fare at such a time? Are not such goals nurtured and developed through careful planning, training, monitoring and reassessment? If this is so then what use is a works party, when noise and chaotic disorder generally prevail, and most of your team members are probably blind drunk or downright paralytic.
Never mind, the powers that be decide to have a party. They find some money, book a suitable location, and if we are lucky, lay on an appropriate level of food and drink, very often the latter being of infinitely greater importance to the swarming minions below them. The happy day arrives, and all is set for a wonderful, relaxed, and remarkably convivial evening. Everybody piles in wearing their very best come on and get me party or yuletide outfit, and hey presto it’s Christmas, the evening, and the fun, quickly gets underway.
Yet is there really any break from the office hierarchy that everyone has laboured under for so long?
When you realise that nothing has changed, is this not made worse when such a realisation is suddenly heightened by excessive intake of alcohol, both by yourself and, even worse by your overly obnoxious colleagues that you have managed to avoid for most of the year? Suddenly you see them in a completely new light.
Normally decent guys suddenly chase every girl or woman around the room, a sprig of wilting mistletoe desperately clutched in their unpleasantly sweaty hand. Normally intelligent girls brainlessly twitter and shriek over this year’s Christmas punch, or over this year’s must have concoction or brew, and older employees sigh, slip, slide, sag, then slump into carefully placed seating, reminiscing about how much better things used to be. If this was not bad enough the food arrives, and so the annual food fight begins.
On mass we all swarm over the congealing mass of food laid before us, desperately trying to tell ourselves that, this year, things will be different, and that, for once, food poisoning will not occur. We are wrong of course, we always have been, and just to make sure this is so the DJ plies his trade. Yes folks it is time to dance.
We have already poisoned your bodies with alcohol, and God only knows what else, then we have consumed excessive amounts of partially or wholly indigestible food, so why in heavens name should we wish to start dancing so as to stir the whole unpleasant mess up even further? Even worse most of cannot dance if we are sober so what hope do we have when we are drunk? Worse is to come though, as suddenly we see the boss, all his cronies and his derriere cleaners, and all his up and coming young stars.
They are, of course, still in full control, smiling and smirking at us idiots cavorting before them, while we, poor saps that we are, still dance to their tune. How does such an evening progress, well we’ve all been there, so we all know. The boss makes a speech, which his acolytes applaud, but which we all ignore, at least one individual is verbally honest or amusing in a highly entertaining but utterly dangerous way, whilst others parties slip away to various bedrooms or alleyways of their choice.
In all cases though there is a price to pay, and as dawn rises on the following day, so does last night libations, and alongside both comes the hangover, and the appalling memories of what might have happened, or defiantly did happen the night before. Such is the office party, such is the treat we have anticipated for so long. If we were to present such a sequence of events to an invited audience, and state our own personal volunteer involvement, would not our audience think we were insane?
They may well think so, but in doing so they would miss, or ignore, the real meaning of so many Christmas parties.
Some are pure and simple good fun where senior management sincerely thank their staff in the best way they possibly can, but behind so many others is there not a covert and rather cynical assessment or appraisal by management of all the staff who are attending? In addition is such an assessment done at a time when staff are at their most vulnerable? During the course of the year they generally remain sober and cautious, both in word and deed, but get them drunk at a venue and time of your choice and all manner of interesting facts soon begin to emerge.
All manner of office politics emerge from the shadowy depths of sobriety, some physical, some mental; and, if the company’s management team remain reasonably sober, revenge, generally served cold over the following days and weeks, can be very sweet indeed. Are party indiscretions forgiven, sometimes yes, but generally no, and are there any lasting consequences from the drunken one night Christmas stands, of course there are, sometimes nine months down the line. If this is what we have achieved over so many years of trying then maybe we should question our intelligence let alone our sanity, for do not such work patterns seem to be the concepts and the dreams of a fool?
The stupid thing is that we do need to follow such a ridiculous path, for in many working groups the team and work dynamics could be, and very often are, very different indeed. After all who is really in charge, who really has the ultimate power in nearly any organisation? Most of us have grown up believing that the all powerful company boss or director sits at the top of the tree, whilst most of us scurry around at his command, via several tiers of variably graded management teams. This is not an uncommon situation, and under certain most circumstances this would seem to be true.
Yet what if we stand back from such an assertion, how much validity does it hold then?
We all hold different jobs and all, of us have different responsibilities, but at some point in time we will probably need to sell or transfer our product to at least one customer, if not more. In doing so it could be said we have become part of a broader service industry network, and if this is so then does not our long established valuation of hierarchy soon begin to fall?
Let us say that we are part of the multi national grocery chain, and in the premises where we work, we offer food for sale, in either a cooked or uncooked state or condition. Who has the real power in such an organisation?
Classically we would say the managing director, and those who sit by his side, but what of the humble and much derided cleansing operative who listlessly mops by our side, or who mechanically wipes the shelves when we relax at home.
If that operative fails to do his job properly, the food might be contaminated. If that food is bought then eaten by the customer, the customer may become ill, decline to shop with us again, and probably dissuade others to come and shop with us.
So it is that one lowly cleaner could easily cripple a company, and so it is that we might say that it is the cleaner who ultimately has the greatest power.
Reality though is somewhat different, but even in the real world are not all workers within an organisation co-dependent on each other, and in any service industry does not the customer ultimately become an integral part of our team? If this co-dependency exists, would it not be sensible to explore and utilise such a factor to the full?
Currently how many workers on the shop floor or office think their management team is a bunch of lazy illegitimate beggars of dubious descent, with little or no intelligence, and how many managers think the same in reverse? As regards how we view customers, do we regard them as honorary members of our team, or do we regard them more commonly as pains in the derriere, that we would much rather not serve at all?
Look in any management textbook, and we will see something called the self-fulfilling prophecy. It basically states that if you think that a worker is rubbish, you will treat them as rubbish, and if so treated the member of staff, will always remain so because they feel undervalued and unappreciated, and think of you with equal dislike in return. If this continues sabotage or even open warfare may develop, to a degree where nobody emerges unscathed.
Conversely if you think your staff are good and treat them properly, they will feel appreciated and valued, resulting in much better work being done. Of course there will always be the occasional bad apple lurking somewhere in the barrel, and they will never respond in a positive way, but if we think back to the passage that runs “As ye shall sew, so shall ye reap”, might not such a message apply here? Such a passage may have been written a long time ago but surely it holds a lesson for us all
For some individuals, especially in the poorer third world countries, there is little life beyond work, as such a luxury cannot be afforded, but for the rest of us retirement eventually beckons. T
his should be wonderful time, as if we have worked successfully, we should be in a position to enjoy financial security and independence, and to do so in full receipt of a lifetime’s knowledge and experience. If we still have a decent body or mind you can, or if our best years have not been left in the workplace behind us. Working times, for some, have improved, and greater and earlier potential for relaxation, as well as security, have come into play. Under such circumstances there can be wonderful rewards, but for most of us retirement may be more problematical.
For us humbler souls uncertainty rules the day, and the prospect of happy retirement are often blunted by increasing age, declining health, years of subjugation, or potential poverty. Not only can these factors cause concern, but also, for many, a seemingly empty life lies bleakly before them. Exhausted by a lifetime’s work, and ill prepared for a new life of anticipated pleasure, the fear of potential loneliness and isolation creeps in, as well as the fear of a ever changing, and possibly dangerous, society and/or community around them.
So it is that afraid, scared, confused and concerned, may of us face our retirement to come and, despite increasing life expectancy, nobody seems to know what to do. We all know there is a problem, both the old and the young recognise this, but we seek avoidance rather than resolution. Like children playing at a dysfunctional or dying party we still want to pretend that everything’s fine and that we are still having fun, but this is one party that must end. Quite simply this is one problem that simply cannot and will not go away. Mercifully we do still have some fun though, and so it is we now turn the page, and enter the thoroughly enjoyable world of play.