Sunday, September 23, 2012

Contractual labour pains

Hmm... that title should get a few interesting hits on google. I guess I am following a theme that I seem to have developed on this blog - whinging about my post academic work.

While I like the regular pay check, there is something missing in shifting from a something I regarded as my vocation, to simply being a warm body occupying an anonymous desk. I am still struggling with the loss of my professional identity as an academic.

Let's be clear - I don't miss the tedious bitching and moaning and budgetary crises of the modern university. What I miss is the intellectual autonomy, the teaching and the relaxed nature of academic life. Yes, I did just call academia relaxing. Nuts huh? Well, not really, when you think about how unstructured the average academic job is. Sure, there's a lot to do - reading, writing, publishing, reviewing, preparing for class, submitting grant applications, teaching, attending conferences, networking, dealing with rejection, admin etc. But in general, that workload is very non-specific. There is a wide variety of teaching methods, a lot of scope for writing, all sorts of research, too many conferences to attend, and a diversity of ways of addressing your administrative load.

Not so in an office.

There are meetings. Endless meetings. I don't know what purpose they serve half the time. Sometimes nothing it seems. But still, you must have an agenda and you must cover every item on that agenda, and then you must record resolutions against those items. And then write up those resolutions to circulate to everyone who was present so they can disagree about what was discussed. Then you can have another meeting.

There are endless forms to fill in. Whether you're out sick, on leave or having a day off instead of being paid more, there are several forms to fill in. These forms must be signed by the appropriate person. it's not enough that you are expected to do the actual work they pay you for, you must justify everything to everyone and get them to sign off on any decisions.

Then there is the actual work. Between the meetings and the forms, it is sometimes hard to find the time to actually complete anything. Doing actual work usually requires more meetings with different people, and more forms to be filled in too.

In exchange for attending meetings, filling in paperwork and, on occaision, performing actual work, I get a regular amount of money deposited into my bank account and then some days that are free of work.

Although this is what I signed up for, I am still chaffing at the labour hire process - the control that the work environment has over me. I have been told that this is in fact, the nature of work and I just need to get over it. Perhaps. Maybe I have had it too good for too long, and I am really being quite precious. In a way, I kind of wish I hadn't had all those years as a grad student/academic to make me soft. If I had done what everyone else I know did, I wouldn't be sulking about how crappy the whole work for a living thing is and would have a professional career that paid me properly. At this stage in my life, I would have been the boss instead of taking my forms in to get signed and justifying my decision-making to everyone else.

ah, if only I'd known... Anyway, at least grad school was fun. Now I know what kind of workplaces I don't like and what I will need to look for in the future.


  1. If meetings are a waste of time, why not write some sort of analytical argument demonstrating this? Maybe that is how you can prove that you should be promoted, by demonstrating clearly that your immediate superiors are wasting their time, and yours.

    I fucking hate meetings, I'd rather live in poverty than spend all day stuck in meetings. Seriously, you could work in some stuff about how extroverts just want to talk all the time, and they think everyone else should talk too. You could really make an argument that the workplace would be far more productive with less meetings. Anyways, whatever.

    1. Ah if only! The way things stand, I am the odd one out. I have tried a few tactics to highlight some of the more eggreious points, but so far, all to no avail. Maybe a treatise against meetings would work better. But only if I made a diagram about it and added a 1 page synopsis.

  2. Port Headland Rental
    i really enjoy this site cause its worth with the usefull info..thank dear

  3. Very cool, blog. I was wondering, what kind of non-academic job are you having now (I apologise if you already mentioned, I did not find that post yet)?

    One year ago I was doing pretty much what I am doing now: still searching. Yet the industry has not necessarily been much kinder in terms of offers. Only more interviews, leading to nothing.

    Where is that 9-5 job that can pay for my bills? Any advice appreciated.

    Best of luck,
    The Bosa Bosa Review