For writers and gig freelancers (especially during a pandemic), a seasonal job at a local package facility to earn some extra cash at the end of the year helps out. The particulars of the company don’t really matter that much; it’s just a way to make ends meet, while it also connects the artist to the attitudes prevalent in the culture; not a bad thing for a creative soul every now and then.
This blog comes out of one such experience. It’s also a general look inside the retrogressive ways many companies in the US of A treat their employees these days and the reasons behind so-called labour shortages and mass resignations. (It’s not a real labour shortage; it’s people taking a stand for mental health.)
Imagine showing up to a new place to work where there’s menial repetitive tasks with an expected number to reach after being trained and acclimated to the procedures. There’s a manager who wants the numbers to be good because in the corporate world it’s a reflection on their ability; they are his or her numbers. In this case, the number is 300 an hour, and the new employee finally reaches that regularly after a few weeks on the job. The next week, the manager stops by the new hire’s station. Is it to acknowledge the milestone?
No, it’s to give a reprimand and write the employee up, specifically calling them “incompetent” because there were 10 errors. That’s right, 10 errors; not for an hour, not for a shift, but for the whole week. 10 errors on over 6300 tasks; an error rate of approximately .00156! Except it gets worse. 5 of these errors were a repetition of the same error due to errant data in the computer; the other 5 errors could have easily been other computer errors or human error by someone checking performance. Let’s not look under the hood!
This isn’t a made-up example; it actually happened. The manager reprimanded the employee, called them incompetent, issued punishments, and then 10 minutes later mockingly wished them “Happy Birthday” over the text messaging system at their station. At the beginning of the next shift, the manager again wished a “Happy Birthday” in front of the group.
Luck intervened and the surly manager soon moved to another location, but imagine the silent ‘hostility’ hanging over a workplace where such things happen. Look around the building, and there are suicide prevention posters hung on bulletin boards and walls. Do the people hanging these posters feel any sense of meaning in their task? Do the people who rule over this workplace see any irony in calling people “incompetent”, blaming them for computer errors, and then hanging these posters?
Mental health as an afterthought for treating people as machines?
It used to be that a corporatized suck-up understood that their choices weren’t for everyone. Some people don’t get any sense of fulfillment from climbing a career ladder or slogging in a business man’s shoes. They just want a simple exchange of time and work for money to help them make it through. Now it’s considered ‘insubordinate’ if an employee doesn’t do the ass-kissing or talk the corporate talk — belonging to the’ family’ and loving the place you work and all that. There’s even punishments that take away earned benefits, and employees are forced to use earned leave to take off mandatory overtime shifts. (In times past, mandatory overtime was illegal).
Next time someone puts forward the idea that the so-called labour shortage and mass resignations happening in America are because people are lazy and don’t want to work anymore, consider another possibility. People want to get off the merry-go-round. The standards by which companies operate have shifted dramatically in the direction of shafting employees. Workplaces are unsafe, systems are full of glitches, infrastructures are failing, and human kindness is trending downward. Old folk remember better, and youngsters dream there must be better.
It’s not being lazy to stand up for mental health. It’s also not worth entering a systemic structure to complain or ‘make things better’ when that structure is rigged to wear people down and shut them up. Iceberg ho! Ain’t gonna turn the ship in time. It’s better to ‘not take it personally’, do the work, collect the paycheck, and be glad when it’s time to move on. …And maybe remember, don’t work on your birthday!