Thoughts on Work Part 1
During the course of my career (1986 – 2016) I have worked in numerous complex social environments. I worked for the UK civil Service and saw the final days of very traditional, formal employment hierarchy. There were people with academic titles such as Doctor or Professor and there were also those with honorary monikers such as Sir. I even met an ex-army officer who clung to the old school etiquette of still being referred to by his former military rank (which was Captain). I was later employed at the London corporate headquarters of a global Indian company. It was fascinating to see the cultural differences along with the class structure and prevailing social dynamics. Over 30 years, I’ve worked for numerous high-profile organisations such as HP, Fujitsu Siemens and Symbian as well as other smaller businesses. All provided gainful employment, acceptable financial remuneration and an opportunity to learn more. However, all of them suffered from two of the most common faults found in contemporary employment; namely office politics and problematic members of staff.
When I first started working, I embraced the reality of being the most junior member of staff. That’s not to say I liked it, because I didn’t. But you don’t just turn up to a job at the age of 18 and expect to know everything and go straight to the top of the pay scale. So, I listened, learnt and did what I was contracted to do. But it quickly became apparent that like everything else in life, the work environment was not a level playing field and did not function on logic or even merit. Being competent and reliable was not enough. If you wanted to get ahead it often came down to who you knew, favours owed or cashed in and whether your face fitted. I won’t go on but I’m sure that anyone who has the merest inkling as to what I’m like as a person will know that none of this sat well with me. The old boy network, office politics, dealing with the management bully is all bullshit as far as I’m concerned. I went to work to do my job and do it to the best of my ability. I’d also be civil and diplomatic, not always through choice, but because it made the process more efficient. But this not the way work is by default. All jobs end up employing a percentage of those who cannot or will not do what their contracted to do. And certain types of jobs and position attract the emotionally and socially dysfunctional.
Over the course of my working life, for every three pleasant and agreeable work colleagues, I’d always find another who was either a bully, institutionally racist (or some other kind of irrational prejudice), incompetent or basically just a shit who wanted to make those that they could, utterly miserable. As I’m not a big fan of monolithic hierarchies and chains of command, I looked to see if I could find a means by which I could insulate myself from the iniquities of the modern work place. I ultimately resolved these issues by changing disciplines, electing to move from admin and management, to working in IT. Furthermore, I did this at a time when there was a rapid growth in technology in the workplace. Because I enjoyed this line of work and thrived in it, I progressed from old school, hands on, first line support to IT management and all that came with it. Procurement, change management, network planning, security and recruiting staff for the IT department. The latter was a key element to job satisfaction. I’ve always been happy to be a team player. But it’s much better when you get to pick the team yourself and ensure that those you work with are reliable and sound.
For a while I held several fulltime positions, ran modest sized departments and had the pleasure of focusing on my work, enjoying the intellectual challenge that it offered and kept myself out of the fray that is office politics. In the late nineties there was still an element of uncertainty regarding technology and where it fitted in the hierarchy of the office structure. Were those in IT just jumped up “oily rags” or were we skilled professionals? Most of the companies I worked for erred on the side of caution and favoured the latter. Essentially, as long as the network was running and the technology worked, I found that I was left to my own devices and senior management contented itself with sniping at sales, who would then blame marketing or some such similar permutation. But after the Y2K debacle, the pendulum shifted, and people started wondering if we were not only “oily rags” but con artists as well.
In 2006 I decided to move into contract work as I’d had enough of corporate culture. Pursuing short term, targeted work was not only financially more lucrative it negated a lot of the social and competency issues among work colleagues, or so I thought. Turns out that even on short term contracts you’d find an engineer who seemed to have slipped through the screening process and was useless or problematic in some way. However, what I did find in this work environment was that if a problem was identified, it was dealt with quickly. If someone wasn’t pulling their weight and it got noticed, then a phone call to the agency that supplied them usually remedied the situation. Overall, I enjoyed working in this fashion. If a contract wasn’t especially engaging, I had the piece of mind to know that it wasn’t forever. Broadly most of the work I undertook was enjoyable. I worked on several major system upgrades and new software rollouts for various government departments. However I found working in hospitals the most satisfactory. Helping out the staff in A&E was especially rewarding.
In early 2011, I decided to draw upon my network of colleagues that I’d built up over the years and set up my own consultancy business. The idea was to provide a one stop solutions service to the myriad of small and start-up businesses in The City. I would handle the work that fell within my purview and I had associates who would cover more bespoke requirements. Broadly, it worked. It didn’t make me rich but it was a living and from a work perspective, it was on terms that I felt were equitable. And I believe that’s the most that many of us can expect from our “careers”. Some folk do get to do their dream job and thrive in it. But for many of us, work is a necessary evil and one we try to accommodate as well as we can. It often feels like battle of wills between our own needs and that of the employers. Occasionally you may find yourself in a situation were both parties are in accord but that seldom is the default state. Having now left formal employment to be a carer, I’m often asked if I miss traditional work. I sometime hanker after the intellectual challenge and the satisfaction of problem solving. Also the human element from time to time. But I don’t miss the politics or the “drama” that goes hand in hand with the contemporary work place. That is something I’m pleased to be rid off.