Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hard Work, Easy Work

[For this essay/observation, I'm referring only to white-collar, office jobs. For anything that involves physical labor, physical risk, or extreme stress, all bets are off].

Being two weeks away from leaving my current job, and then thinking about a lot of different alternatives down the road, has led to some thinking about various types of employment -- what might be good, what might be bad, and what might be temporarily bad but okay (i.e. something somewhat menial but that allowed for a lot of downtime/side projects on company time).

Separating easier jobs from harder jobs, there are two major points that come to mind:

(1) Is the job asking the employee to *generate* the work proactively, or is it a passive, reactive-type of position?

People in the latter category may not know how good they've got it, but if you can come in after a crazy night, make a pot of coffee, hide behind your desk and sort of ride the clock out, there's something inherently easy about that. If your job, however, requires YOU to creatively produce -- whether you're a writer, a presenter, a teacher, a computer programmer, a planner, or some type of performer -- that puts you in an entirely different category. If you're on the hook to create, and ESPECIALLY if you're on the hook to create something you're going to present to others in a visible fashion, that means you can't just phone it in. Taking a 'light Friday' isn't an option with these jobs, and you can't just make yourself unreachable if, say, you've got to turn your game face on and teach a room full of kids five times a day.

(2) As an employee, do you have the certain guarantee that no matter what, you're leaving at the same time every day...or is there no option of quittin' til the workin's done?

Again, people on set schedules may not realize how good they've got it. But if your contract legally wraps your workweek into a set chunk, say 40 hours, you can't be overworked. No matter what you're doing for those 40 hours, if you absolutely know you can drop everything and run out without waiting for the door to close behind you at the strike of 4:00 p.m., you have a special sort of luxury that many others don't know. For you, someone dropping by your desk to spend 20 minutes telling you about their weekend, or to ask your opinion about new movies, or whatever, just means you're now 20 minutes closer to going home. To someone in the latter category, however, that casual 'drop-by' has just served to add 20 minutes to your workday. Really changes your perspective on those things, huh? To tie it back into the first criterion, it tends to be jobs that rely on people to create or produce that don't give employees the luxury of just riding the clock out on a tough day.


C R Krieger said...

This captures it.  One of the reasons I took the job I did here 15 years ago was that the hiring boss told me he would find the work and all I had to do was execute.  I loved that aspect of the work.  Sadly, and not because of my interest stated above, he passed away some time back.

On the other hand, the work isn't over until the job is done. Eight and Five have nothing to do with it.

Regards  —  Cliff

The New Englander said...


Even though you were executing someone's orders, there's still an element of difficulty thrown in when you know you can't just pack it up at the stroke of five (or four, or six, or whatever the prescribed time is).

I would never say the gross pay disparities in our society are in any way *fair* to those on the lower end, but it's no surprise that jobs that require leadership, direction-giving, and work generation tend to be a lot more lucrative than the types where people can just say "tell me what needs to be done and I'll do it."

The job I have now has opened my eyes to a lot of the good and bad sides of the public sector. There are plenty of perfectly well-meaning, perfectly-capable people who work jobs with predictable timelines that depend on answering trouble calls, record-keeping, or some other form of customer service. I don't think most realize how good they've got it..