When I had my little breakdown earlier this month, I went and had a dreaded chat with my boss. You see, in the ultimate twist of irony, my job is the good thing in my life. And needing to run away meant I was putting that at risk. It terrified me. It’s like I’m stuck on a little bridge between two sides of my life–the life I want to have an the life I’m trying to make my peace with. The very fact that I have a life to make my peace with is something I am grateful for; that it is one in which I am appreciated is just a bonus. So the very thought of unbalancing that was enough to make me gibber. My boss of course turned out to be a rock an extremely supportive of the problems I have, possibly because she went through something very similar herself at my age or a little younger. The entire experience, aside from taking a ridiculous load off my min that I didn’t even know was there, made me reflect a little on how different my workplace is from the last place I worked.
It struck me then that for some reason employees an employers seem to think of each other as mortal enemies. Popular culture only reinforces this idea. Think horrible Bosses and Office Space. Employees can’t wait to find a way to shaft the employer, and employers are always watching and squeezing employees to make sure they extract every last iota they can from them. Vacation is not seen as a right; you are expected to stay late but that doesn’t mean you can come in late; you have to put in hours whether you have work or not; you live in constant terror of your situation being destabilized, whether employer or employee; you live in terror of taking a sick day! Why is this? I wish I knew.
However, it did occur to me that my workplace, where if you’re ill you are sent home with a stern command to work from there if you must but not return till you’re well, and if you haven’t taken your vacation for the year you get a lecture, is British, while Toilet and Douche is American. Maybe that’s the difference. Maybe there is a difference because of the extremism of the Quaker work ethic that built America. Maybe it’s a distrust of immigrants. Maybe it’s because mine is not an industry where it is not easy to retrain and replace people, so you treat them like humans. Maybe it’s because my office is small enough for people to have personal relationships an so neither employee nor employer is a symbol or a representative–we are all people. Maybe it’s because it’s the kind of industry where you’ll only stay on if you love the work because you’ll always be poor, and people who love the work can be trusted to not stick it to the man. Maybe this constant tension is the reason people move jobs so much.
I just feel bad that one’s livelihood is a space of such stress over things that are small and should really be guaranteed.