I was recently drawn to an interesting article (see below) in The Vice where Ruby Lott-Lavigna asked; “how do you reclaim power in a job market that gradually wears down any modicum of self-respect?”
Destroying Your Self-respect?
I suppose much of Ruby’s particular question depends upon (a) how you perceive ‘work’ as a concept or (b), why you’re feeling that you need to ‘reclaim’ the job market and finally (c), how one defines self-respect and what does it mean, for you as an individual?
self-respect (noun); pride and confidence in oneself; a feeling that one is behaving with honour and dignity. “I want to work again to keep up my self-respect”
But, what is the true meaning of the phrase self-respect? Mahatma Gandhi once espoused that “Self-respect knows no considerations” and many others would also hopefully agree; respect is one of the most important human qualities in our relationship with anyone, not least ourselves and without exception. But, when it comes to the relationship with have with ourselves, we often flounder.
For me, self-respect encompasses a multitude of ideals, but it also involves holding a strong sense of self-acceptance. How confident are you about being the kind of person you are satisfied with? Are you confident enough to display this person to the world? Are you constantly endeavouring to be that someone that you (and those around you, that you care about) can be proud of?
If, like me, you happen to subscribe to the basics of Stoicism i.e. events and/or people don’t and can’t make you think in a particular way. Ruby’s thoughts (personal or journalistic) have resulted from choice and therefore, it is irrational to suggest that… the ‘job market’ has, in some way been responsible for destroying her self-respect.
It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.(Epictetus)
Not so and not possible; this particular belief (assuming it to be held) was born from that search to find some convenient reason/excuse, one that could ‘logically’ explain and quantify those feelings. Ruby has chosen to explain and justify how she feels (about a particular situation) by apportioning blame which is then passed off and possibly now accepted as fact.
Self-belief & Self-worth
Usually, having a sense of dignity and worth are important traits for most of us however; respecting yourself also involves respecting others. It is also worth remembering that; self-respect and self-esteem are actually two different things.
Some people find it extremely difficult to summon up positive feelings of self-worth. Some people also argue that poor levels of self-esteem are inherent traits within many of us. Perhaps we were are all Born to be Worthless, as Prof Kevin Solomons, a South African Psychiatrist has suggested. He does however provide us with hope in the fact; our low levels of self-esteem can also be harnessed, to provide us with ‘hidden powers’, when we accept and understand the causation factors that lead to our beliefs process (more here). .
While self-respect and self-esteem are intricately intertwined, there are differences, and you need to pay attention to all aspects of both to achieve and maintain the positive feelings about yourself that they provide. (Dr Kevin Solomons)
Self-worth is not just about the positive feelings you have about yourself, as an individual (self-respect). It also involves valuing yourself in the context of your personal interactions with others; how you value your capabilities and your skills (self-esteem) amongst your peers and within the wider world?
“Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim” – Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you. (Ovid)
In addition to the self-respect aspect of this story, but perhaps just as importantly in the context of this piece, especially if you are actually the employer; is it ever really OK for an employee to devote so much time and effort into something that is primarily designed to ‘outsmart’ their boss – or the organisation that employs you?
If so, could it be that some people have unsatisfactory working relationships with their current employer? Could this be where all the problematic issues stem from? Could it be that too many of us are actually beavering away in the wrong job? One that doesn’t provide us with that sense of purpose or self-satisfaction that we are looking for? If so, why aren’t we devoting more of our (personal) spare time into securing a new position or career?
When Dolly Parton released the great, anti-capitalist anthem “Nine to Five”, she had no idea how good she had it. In 2020 Britain, working an eight-hour workday is the least of your worries – if your day even is that short. (Ruby LL)
The ‘Happy’ Workplace
Today, finding work (that you are happy to do) isn’t always an easy task. Ruby is correct when she highlights the “proliferation of zero-hour contracts” within an arguably “insecure job market” and yes, many of us are “working for less money than ever before”, at least in relative terms.
The Millennials of Generation Y, now face being the first generation in decades that are (arguably) poorer than their parents (see here). The pay-gap between young and old (see here) shows little sign of levelling out any time soon and yes, many are understandably angry. But, pay-scales are both relative and subjective but something always of greater concern for me is, why are we so fixated on cash and apparent wealth, as the sole measure of our ‘success’ or even, the prime driver for our existence?
This increasingly common-place anger is, at least in part. I believe this almost inherent belief is mostly unjustified. Our financial ‘wealth’ clearly depends upon our age, and at what point along the scales of financial progression/regression we believe to be our correct position… as part of our individually perceived ‘human rights’ belief structure.
Work Life Balance
Again Ruby is correct, technology has undoubtedly “blurred the line between work and free time” and as a consequence, some employers will drop that “Could you take a look at this?” email into your inbox at an unsociable hour. However, just because it arrived at “11 PM on Thursday”.night, do you actually need to deal with it then. On that day, or even the next day. How about dealing with it next week, after your weekend off… assuming you actually get one?
Probably easier said than done, for some people. So many of us now are apparently ‘living in daily ‘fear’ about our job stability and security. But again, is this ‘fear’ real? Possibly. Is that fear justifiable? Probably not, it’s simply another one of those perceived and constructed social narratives.
Does the ‘fear’ of not answering the email actually come from the possibility of loosing our jobs or, is that worry based in our personal career aspirations? Are we actually worrying about not being seen as that ‘important’ proactive and productive employee? The ‘valued’ shining example of that team-player, the person who is prepared to go that extra mile for the organisation and hopefully; is the one who is actually worthy of an imminent promotion (and more money)?
I suspect the latter is often the most prevalent cause of our worry and the foundations of those ingrained concerns. In any case, answering the email at 11.00 PM is hardly going to make-up for your 3hrs of ‘productive’ work in your 8hr working day… unless you’ve previously enjoyed significant levels of success at hoodwinking your boss that is!
Living To Work
Balance in life is always the key to our contentment. Irrespective of your age, try asking yourself a relatively simple question, all be it one with a rather complicated answer; “Are you living to work or, working to live? Too many of us tend to believe that we are being ‘worked to death’ but are we? In general, we also believe that we don’t actually earn enough money, for what we do and as a consequence, tend to constantly be looking for more. But, is our pay really as bad as the newspapers tell us to think it is? Possibly not, according to ONS data, but I suppose that’s a subjective assumption which is relative to the individual.
Statistics show that we spend around 33% of our life at work and, amongst the UK workforce, our efficiency and productivity is currently in the ascendant (ons.gov.uk). That said, what proportion of any worker’s toil is ‘productive’ is something that is often disputed, depending upon the individual.
The current cohort projections for life expectancy suggest that; a man born in the UK today will live for nearly 90 years, while a woman’s life expectancy would be over 94 years (ons.gov.uk). Apparently, according to numerous sources; “the average Briton will spend 3,507 days at work over the course of their lifetime” and, contrary to common belief; our life expectancy isn’t falling (fullfact.org)… at least for now.
I hardly think that attending work for one third of your life, where you’re only ‘productive’ for around 37.5% of that time, could reasonably be seen as being – “worked to death!”
It’s well-known in business circles that most of us aren’t actually as hard-working as we believe we are. Indeed, research has shown; most of use (in the commercial / industrialised world) are rarely productive for more than 3 hours during any 8 hour working day.
The average Brit works for 8 hours every day but only spends 3 hours actually working: recent OECD statistics showing that British workers are on average 8 percent less productive per hour than workers in the US, 11 percent less productive than French workers and 14 percent down on Germans. And a new recent study shows one reason for it might be simple – our office culture. (read more)
We all endure (or enjoy) different working patterns, we have different ways of learning and engage in diverse working practices and systems. We perform differently as individuals and we have differing personal work ethics and drivers. Those factors alone make comparisons problematic but also, tend to create issues for many business managers; those people who are tasked with ensuring that we, as employees, are productive. Again, productivity is often/mostly a subjective commodity.
For me, one of the most frustrating aspects of any work environment is where the majority of your effort is expended in feeding the system, rather than, actually producing the products and providing the services of that particular system. This is something that is sadly omnipresent within so many of today’s working environments.
Organisations often get mired in burdensome administration and management process. Our employers tend to be risk-averse and operate with insular bureaucratic business process. Their procedures and process are constantly ‘overseen’ by rafts of hierarchical self-protecting management teams, where people have fancy titles (and fancy pay), but it’s difficult to quantify how they contribute to the overall purpose of the business entity. A factor that has long been particularly prevalent across the public sector.
Often, these teams of people, who are tasked with ensuring organisational productivity, tend to grow exponentially. Organisations reach that point where widget production is impacted by a 75/25 manager/worker split, or worse. The efforts of so many are sustaining the system, rather than producing the widgets and failing to realise organisational objectives. But I digress towards the subject matter of a different blog, for a different day!
Referring back to individual productivity capabilities; additionally, most people are unable to concentrate on one specific task for more than 20 minutes at a time, so perhaps our 3 Hours of productivity is actually reasonable (unless you are the manager)? But, increasing people’s productivity should never simply be about working harder or for longer’; either from the perspective of the employer or the employee.
Increasing our capability to work much smarter is the key issue here. Hopefully allowing people to work in jobs that are suitable for all of us as individuals… carrying out tasks that we are capable of and happy doing. Productive workplaces usually benefit from;
- Working environments with high levels of mutual trust, between the employer and employee.
- The reduction of unproductive and pointless meetings.
- As with the meetings, adoption of robust management around email communications, with clearly defined purpose and objectives, understood and applied by all employees – from top to bottom in the workforce hierarchy.
- Good employers should always strive to provide the necessary training and personal development opportunities for their employees
- Employers who fail to listen to employee feedback, and act upon it where appropriate, are destined to suffer long-term productivity issues and/or poor organisational outcomes.
But, with all the above said, how much work is not enough? Or for that matter, too much? That’s again subjective, a question that will attract some diverse answers… dependent upon differing individual perceptions. The answer will always depend upon where a person sits (or wants to sit) as an individual within the workforce structure… and the overall ‘job market’ of employment.
So, my answer to the original question, posed in the title of this blog is; not necessarily always yes, but perhaps too often it actually can do!
Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting or arriving at any conclusion about the work ethics or productivity of Ruby Lott-Lavigna, the author of The Vice article. Neither do I intend to imply that she may, in any way, be ‘lazy’ or unproductive, in her employment or position as a journalist.