Thanks (in advance) for the day jobs

A Writer lets go.

I’VE had my share of day jobs, those pesky positions that keep the bills paid and the artist fed while keeping dreams alive.

This week, my latest contract came to an end – a one-year editing position perfect for a writer, covering a colleague’s parental leave on a national news website.

After twenty-two years in a wild variety of day jobs, I’ve noticed some fundamental shifts.

You rub me the wrong way

Today’s workplaces are so understaffed they’ve become like skeletons with no cartilage – everyone’s grating right up against one another, and there’s plenty of friction. Back when my day-job career commenced, workplaces had enough staff to soften the blow between competing personalities. Now, there’s so few people on deck that the old workplace standards – like consultation, notice, give-and-take – seem to be lost forever. Feeling friction at work? That’s the new normal.

‘Flexibility’ means you’ll be stretched

These days we’re expected to do our work and that of other people, every day of the week. This is because there are not enough staff and/or several are on leave (invariably a result of overworking). Maintaining the right to prioritise your own work will signal your lack of flexibility, whereas once it was an indication that the human resources department needed to place several job ads for extra staff. Jobs are becoming less specific every year – you are expected to do anything for anyone, anywhere, anytime and for any amount of money. Limber up, peeps.

‘Manners’ mask incredible insults

I can’t watch the Australian series Utopia for the same reason as I could not watch Ricky Gervais’ groundbreaking series The Office, simply because it’s all too close to the bone. You’re more likely to be told: “Thanks in advance for doing it this way” than “let me know how you’re going with this” from bosses, desperate in their ‘right first time’ mentality, an outcome best achieved by a robot not a pesky human being. I found myself writing “thanks in advance for…” in one of my last work emails, but after trying to be polite, this way and that, it turned out to be the only phrase to telegraph to the recipient that the conversation was over, and a low point in my communication abilities.

Training is ‘all intuitive’

Back in the day, a quick instruction session from colleagues about how to navigate the pathways of the internal computer systems was all it took to start the job. Now, workers are hard pressed to find anyone willing to give even a hint of training, and the catchphrase: “It’s all intuitive” has come to signal: “I don’t know”, “I’m not telling you” and/or “work it out for yourself”. If you get instructions at all, it’s likely you’re being told the way a colleague would prefer you do your job.

Silence is the new no

Haven’t received a reply to that email you sent your boss asking for the passwords for Google analytics? Didn’t hear back about your leave application? If silence is the only response, you can take that as a clear “no”, and move on accordingly. The reason for this unwillingness to reply in the negative can be put down to a need for colleagues to avoid a firm paper trail on anything. No paper trail means: “You can’t pin me down”.

PIPs stick in my throat

While the concept of IQ is on the mat in its death throes and emotional intelligence is on the rise, workers are increasingly prone to being hauled in for Performance Reviews (yes, they are important, so they deserve Capital Letters) or worse, threats of Performance Improvement Plans (PIP). The former is now considered highly questionable as a way to improve any workplace, and the latter signals: “I want to sack you, and this is how I am going to achieve that, thanks in advance for signing this”. A PIP is unlikely to appear in any workplace contract, so never sign or agree to one, although your annual Performance Review is a time-wasting dance you’ll have to endure with your boss until your workplace realises just letting people do their job is probably a better use of everyone’s time. Phone conferences fall into the same category.

Equipped for solo work

There is one plus in the modern workplace for journalists, and that is the tiny equipment it takes to do the job. It once required three strong people to carry the average camera and sound kit. Recording a print interview once resulted in hours of transcribing quotes. Now, the same work can be done with hardware smaller than one of the batteries we once had to keep warm with our body heat on remote hillsides. There is a payoff, however: all that digital technology has stripped workplaces of staff, so you’re likely to be left to shoot, record, present, write, edit and promote the work all by yourself.

If you survive that, subject yourself to a Performance Review, give yourself top marks, and take the rest of the day off. 

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

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