Thursday, November 25, 2004

As D.B. Echo awoke one morning from uneasy dreams...

I think I should be able to count as "work" time those hours I spend dreaming about work. And not just dreaming, but actually doing work in my dreams, including some fairly advanced mathematics (which is part of my job), particularly on the morning of a major holiday. Granted, I came to the same conclusions I had already come to yesterday, so I hadn't really accomplished anything new. But that's hardly a requirement; I can prove the same things day after day and still have to go back and prove them again.

The issue of whether or not I would need to go into work tomorrow (which is scheduled as a paid holiday, for me and for most Americans) was resolved when we realized that nothing that I had done yesterday had brought any of our projects to a conclusion, and nothing I could do tomorrow would either. The projects will get done just as quickly if I go in or do not go in. I choose not to go in.

At the end of the day yesterday, one of the people I work with ran a completed project down to another department for the next step of the process. Now, she and I are the two most high-strung people in the department, but that is where our physical resemblance ends. She is small and energetic while I am large and - well, surprisingly limber for someone as large as I am. But a minute after she left the security perimeter that surrounds our department, I heard a "Code White" - a medical emergency - being called in what I thought was the area directly outside, along the path that she would be traveling. Now, this was after 5:30 or 6:00 in the afternoon, when most of the people qualified to deal with medical emergencies had left for the day and the long holiday weekend.

I ran (well, walked vigorously - it had been a long day) out of our area and peered down the most probable corridor of travel for her. I did not see any large crowds of people standing around the body of a small attractive blonde woman, so I dashed down to another corridor and came up empty again. Death is considered a spectator sport in our facility, and even someone simply collapsing would be sure to draw a crowd. There were no crowds to be seen in either direction, and no telltale flow of people indicating a nearby spectacle.

I retreated to our area and decided I must have been mistaken. The call came out again - more frantic this time - and I realized it must have been in another area. A minute or so later my friend returned to the area and asked if I knew what the Code White was about. We laughed when I told her I had thought it was her, that maybe her heart or brain had exploded while she was running through the plant. We laughed some more, and then agreed that it is probable that this will happen to one of us in our department, and most likely that it will be one of the two of us.*

It's sad to watch a job that you once enjoyed become more and more stressful and less and less rewarding, but even sadder if you're experiencing it firsthand. The return per unit effort and return per unit time have dwindled in the past few years as the returns have remained constant and even dropped while the effort and time demanded by work have skyrocketed. This isn't too bad for people who are paid on an hourly basis who actually get paid regular time or even overtime for extra hours worked, which is why most of our staff is on salary. The more hours you work when you're on salary, the less you get paid per hour.

Sadly, this is not unique to my industry, which is part of the problem. Alternatives are limited. You can quit your job, but then where do you go? Use your skills and experience to land another job doing the same job somewhere else in the same industry, where things may be the same-but-worse, and you will have all of the same problems minus the seniority and built-up vacation time? Or chuck it all and go for an entry-level position in some other industry where maybe after a few years you can hope to work your way back up to the level of the job you left? This over-a-barrel situation is being exploited to the hilt by employers, who see no need to provide incentives to stay. Where ya gonna go, tough guy?

But such is the state of our current economy. And enough people benefit from having a semi-immobilized pool of highly-trained stagnating employees that it is unlikely that any industrial evolution will cause things to change. So I am increasingly leaning in the chuck-it-all direction. But if I do, then what? That's something I'll have to start to seriously think about.

*Update, 7/17/07: Ironically, on February 27, 2007, the company informed both of us that our services would no longer be required. Wheee! Let that be a lesson, kids, on where hard work, dedication, and a willingness to sacrifice get you in the corporate world!


Super G said...


Are you thinking outside the box? Things are not as limited as they appear in our economy, though things are turning against being able to get and keep a job for twenty or thirty years and retire. This means either you move as an employee or you can look for ways to step out of that box. Could you move to consulting in your area of expertise? Is there a way you could bootstrap up if you did - growing your business as you went? Have you worked at keeping connections outside your own company? Could you contract back into your employers company to get started? Are you in a financial position where you could take the risk for a year?

The economy may be tough, but there is tons of room for intelligent, hardworking, people that deliver in the clutch - perhaps in your business as well.

A few useful observations about life that may apply here are: 1) (Almost) nobody is going to give it to you unless you let them know you want it (applies to women too), 2) Following rules is often optional if you can back up what you say, 3) The big risks are simultaneously easier and scarier than you predict, 4) You'll be surprised at how many employers will help you to succeed if do a honest, decent job, at a fair price.

Good luck. Life is for the living and that should include work.

Super G

PS Hire the petite blonde neurotic girl. No brainer.

marc said...

I also agree, if you do into a business for yourself, do hire that gal you work with!!! Actually, it seems that whenever I do something workwise that is unexpected of me, good things tend to happen in the long run. I am really sorry that things are that sad at the "C"ompany and my heart goes out to all my former partners in crime.