A Sunday Reprint. Bad workplace negotiations.


Working 24/7 and slowly going insane? Join the club? No Thanks!

I was rather shocked when I listened to a person from a company that makes all kinds of electronic products the other day.  She made the pitch to me that her company helped stressed out, over-worked moms by making products (like phones and tablets) that would allow a frenetic mom to "disconnect from her office" and be able to "take her work along with her" so that she could be present for her children's activities.  From what I could understand this person believed in the 1990's mantra of "multi-tasking" which has been so thoroughly discredited by psychologists and process experts over the last decade.

The idea was that, between tweets, urgent e-mails, progress reports and modifications to mission critical spreadsheets, the newly unfettered mom would be able to look up from the screen and instantly enter into her child's world just at the moment when Sally hit the game winning home run or when Poindexter cinched the national Spelling Bee with the correct spelling of "Delusional". 

The more grievous idea I came away with is that now it's no longer good enough to give a company a stress and anxiety filled 50 or 60 hours of your week.  No.  The new norm is total ownership.  The excuse is that now so many people in finance, tech and commodities work in a world market and they must be accessible to their counterparts in Malaysia, must not miss the opening bell in Berlin or Kerplakistan, must be electronically present for those important clients in Kathmandu....

I have a sneaky feeling that chronic unemployment is not caused by a lack of jobs but that many jobs are being handled by one person.  The manically compulsive super workers are stealing more than their fair share of jobs.  And they are training their companies to expect "work till you drop" dedication that trades health, family life, hobbies, community involvement and the basic richness of existence for quarter by quarter profitability.  And here's the kicker:  Those super employees aren't being compensated for doing the work of three, they're giving their employers undeserved charity.  

In the self employed world we read books on negotiation.  We learn that you never give up something without getting something in return.  That's the foundation of good negotiation.  And as self employed people we never work for free (unless we are donating our time, services, goods to a needy and beneficial cause.)  But that's exactly what the super workers of today are doing.  They are giving it away for free.  And, of course, their companies are encouraging them.

It's time we took a good long look at the American work ethic and got rational.  The unions got it right back in the coal mine strikes and the meat packers collective bargaining days:  Forty hours a week is the most you can work in a reliable and sustainable way.  And by that I mean being able to preserve your personal dignity, your physical health and the health of your family and relationships.  

If you are routinely working 60 or 70 hours a week and you don't OWN the company you work for (and, in my mind, even if you do) you might consider that you are your own "scab" and you are in some ways responsible for the downward spiral of the American dream.  That spreadsheet WILL wait until monday.  Your real life can't always be on hold.  If it needs to be done over the weekend your company needs to hire a weekend shift.

So, this is a photo oriented blog, why the hell am I talking about workplace issues?  Because from time to time I write columns that talk about some of the outrageous schedules I work.  But the difference is that my projects stop and start and there's lots of in between time for rest and rejuvenation.  Joy and pleasure.  Family dinners together and weekends puttering around helping Ben with homework and Belinda with some gardening.  Couch time with a novel.   If a freelancer in a struggling industry can do this and keep his head above water then so can the valuable employees of all sorts of companies.

The electronics that we seem addicted to are also a secret weapon that helps bosses (and clients)  suck more and more from their people by blurring the lines between what is and what isn't work.  The cellphone is not referred to as "An Electronic Leash" without good reason.  

It's all about setting limits.  Isn't that what we tell our children? 

The shot above is of Belinda in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  The way I negotiated a series of projects in the Islands was to work for a week, for my usual rate, and then go back later with Belinda for a second week of vacation and downtime.  No phones, no internet, no emergencies in Patagonia.  The vacation opportunity defrayed the travel time and longer working days of the actual project.

Shot with a Rollei medium format camera on Tri-X film at a place called "The Pork Pit."  Really good pulled pork.  A quiet week by the sea.

Added half an hour later:  I read this on Kim Critchfield's FB page and loved it.  I sent a copy to Ben and to a friend who needed to read it.  I'll post this on my wall, just to the side of my computer.

One evening a Cherokee elder told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, the battle is between the two 'wolves' that live inside us all.
One is Unhappiness or Evil - It is anger, jealousy, fear, regret, greed, arrogance, sorrow, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, false pride, superiority, weakness and ego.

The other is Happiness or Good - It is joy, love, hope, serenity, benevolence, peace, empathy, kindness, generosity, truth, humility, faith, strength and compassion."

The grandson thought about it for a while and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed." - Cherokee Elder


Ken Driese said...

Great post--I fully agree with you on all counts. There's a sort of mass insanity in our work and electronic culture that too many of us buy into without really analyzing what it does to our lives.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Check the comments from the original post. We are not alone in knowing this...

Lanthus Clark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lanthus Clark said...

Good article, and very true. I think mostly the whole system has been designed to enslave people more and maximise profits. Very important to get the balance right and live happy instead!

Have a great week Kirk!

Anonymous said...

"...And they are training their companies to expect "work till you drop" dedication that trades health, family life, hobbies, community involvement and the basic richness of existence for quarter by quarter profitability. And here's the kicker: Those super employees aren't being compensated for doing the work of three, they're giving their employers undeserved charity...."

I think this is absolutely 'spot on' and I am afraid many people don't realize that this is what is happening. For example, putting schools together, like they seem to be doing in New Orleans, with nothing but gung-ho twenty somethings who will 'work till they drop' and for no job security, and then proclaiming that this is the way to run the school systems of the future. Or putting universities together with nothing but adjuncts who receive miserable pay, and then maintaining we don't need tenure and all that.

Things don't bode well for our economic future.

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

Bravo Kirk - written as if you were an insider...

MartinP said...

Regarding priorities and work-ethics, this link might be interesting . . .


cidereye said...

Aye, so true Martin. Live to work or .... work to live?

Claire said...

"If it needs to be done over the weekend your company needs to hire a weekend shift".

Billiant. Just brilliant.
The culprit is our own greed, as a race. This unextinguishable desire to *always* get and own more than we can -or should- actually use. I'm guess I'm guilty of this as anybody else, because it is such a strong trend in today's society it's easier to do it than to resist it, and there is a twisted, addicted side to being able to "have". Thankfully, I'm saved by my natural, healthy laziness, born defiance of authority and hierarchy, and total comittment to my family and my own fullfilment. I'm with you in the mines unions and meatpackers strikes, that was the only dignified way to handle the increasing pressure, which has come back full force, but in ever sneaky ways, via the electronic leashes of all sorts.
Keep swimming Kirk, keep bringing beauty and joy to us via your intelligent writing and compelling portraits. I'll do my part by keeping working out, photographing my kid like there's no tomorrow, and watching over my sanity rather than any corporation's quaterly results. Screw the shareholders, let the billionnaire do the work if they wish, I'm gone fishing (photographing, dancing, swimming, insert any joy inducing activity of your choice).

Jim Tardio said...

You've touched on one of the reasons unemployment is still so high. When companies "downsized" they realized they could force one worker to do the job of 5 workers. And it gets done because the one person fears for his/her own job.

I know unions have been set up to be the bad guys...and some of the public employee unions do go too far...but you can thank them for the 40 hour week, as well as many other benefits. It's too bad the laws have been stacked against them, and the public opinion of them has soured.

It used to be a person could make enough money to buy a modest home, take a few vacations and put his kids through school...you know the middle class. Most of those folks had union jobs which are now gone.

But there's no point looking backwards. All we can do is hope that people wake up and take back their lives. I just returned from a vacation with a couple who couldn't be without their smart phones for 2 seconds. What a waste.

theaterculture said...

Timely repost for the dawg days of summer - although you should probably expect to find yourself on a blacklist maintained by those people in American life who love to point and scream "socialism!" at any public expression of anything other than the most Darwinian neo-liberal capitalist competitive spirit.

Sadly we're at (what I hope is) the height of a trend that started in the 70s of automation and computerization. These things in and of themselves aren't bad, but the narratives and myths that have grown up around them are culturally poisonous. Because a very small number of people (the Jobses and Gates of the world) got incredibly rich doing a job with technology that was basically their hobby, we're now in a cycle of using technology to replace our hobbies with work and call that "productivity."