Sunday, 9 March 2008

A Tale Of The 9-5

I am a couple of chapters into Joshua Ferris' novel 'Then We Came To The End'; a darkly funny tale of a Chicago ad agency where not very much happens; where the workers strive to avoid actually doing any work by attending pointless meetings or huddling in co-workers' offices to hear the latest gossip. And of how their insecurities grow as people around them start to get fired. It reminded me of what people 'can get away with' working for big employers, where accountability is measured by visibility, i.e. managers are more interested in whether you attended that meeting, or replied to that email rather than your productivity. In my early 20s I had a short period working for an employer where I didn't have much to do and I quickly got bored of trying to fill my day with not very much. The tedium frustrated me, so I went to my boss and asked for more to do. I am sure we've all had experiences of being in jobs with not much to do; I remember a friend who in his early career used to take an afternoon nap in the toilets. Now it seems we are at the other end of the spectrum, always too much to do and complaining about never having enough time to get it all done.

'Then We Came To The End' chronicles the struggle to survive that tedium of office life. As people are fired, morale suffers and depression sets in, but the workforce still hang in there. Few workers have the courage to leap themselves, they wait to be pushed.

"When someone quit we couldn't believe it.'I'm becoming a rafting instructor on the Colorado River' they said. 'I'm touring college towns with my garage band'. We were dumfounded. It was like they lived on a different planet. What would they do about car payments? We got together for going-away drinks on their final day and tried to hide our envy while reminding ourselves that we still had the freedom and luxury to shop indiscriminately".

Working for yourself can seem like a planet away from 9-5 drudgery; I miss quite a few things about working for someone else but I sure don't miss the tedium.

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