Bring back the Boring Job

Written by Janet Smith, Page 34 in the “Modern Office“, circa 1985


You want a job with prospects, challenge, stimulation and higher status? No way? Take heart. Management could soon be looking at you with new respect, no longer writing you off as an unmotivated sod or a victim in need of liberation.

According to psychologist Sushanna Evans of Chandler Macleod in Melbourne, the world is suffering from an oversupply of people whose personal identity vanishes the moment they quit the office each day. And she is not talking about the modern-day version of Dr Jekyll, who turns into a subway stranger or sexual predator by night.

All the professions are feeling the pinch of competition, bureaucracy and technological change,” she says. “Not even a suburban bank manager can afford to take it easy these days.

What usually befalls the hyper achieving workaholic, the committed ladder-climber, is something much more mundane. To wit, falling asleep in front of the television whiles his/her dear ones struggle to maintain normal lines of communication.

Even if this kind of person works out at a gym or has a stack of dinner engagements, it’s generally work-related, a duty rather than a personal indulgence,” says Evans.

This is a sad state of affairs for human relationships, and on which is becoming more serious as the prospect of a leisure-orientated society looms. But now, as psychologists turn their attention to what they might call the impoverishment of the social fabric caused by over-identification with work as a status-definer, it seems help is coming for the major symptom of this malaise. Namely, the men who hang around the house when they retire, and whose self-esteem flies out the window when they’re retrenched.

A check through history shows that despite the evils of the Puritan ethic, there was no shortage of people who managed to get their priorities straight.

As a country doctor in the days before Medibank, when 90-year old peasants could be safely left to die in peace instead of being put on lief-support machines, Anthon Chekov felt no anguish about not making it as a brain surgeon or President of the Russian Medical Association. His real satisfaction came from wearing his other hat, that of playwright and storywriter.

Similarly, Herman Melville did not hanker to be Chief of Customs in the State of New York. Not while he was fresh enough at the end of the day (or maybe during coffee breaks) to knock out Moby Dick.

No, you can be sure, did Constantine Cavafy campaign for a grander title and a bigger office at the Egyptian Ministry for Irrigation. Had his office been hauled into the 20th century, he’d have been far too pressured to Cavafy the poet, cruising the gay bars of Alexandria by night in search of inspiration.

But not only would the world be a poorer place without these luminaries. It is already becoming grimmer and less sociable because millions of other lesser souls no longer hang up their hats at the end of the day and go home, not to be assistant office managers or records clerks, but leading authorities on cultivating roses, or Morris dancing, or campanology or whippet breeding or bird watching.

True, posterity has not writ their name large in the history books, but you can bet they did not fall asleep in front of the television too often. And that on retrenchment or retirement, they did not slouch around reading the obituary columns and telling their wives how to iron hankies.

In their humble way, such people enriched the world in which they lived.

But consider the situation today. The more menial and non-demanding your job, the sooner a collection of well-meaning frightfully qualified folk will come homing into upgraded it into something more thrilling, challenging and impressive, thereby killing forever any hopes you had of coming home to give your attention to he real reason you were put on earth.

Women suffer especially from this rampant urge to endow their jobs with more status and responsibility. It’s been many years now since any of us dared to say we just wanted a job to fill in time until we got married, but look at the result – millions of us sitting around filled with admiration for people who now DO speak fluent French, play dainty Chopin nocturnes after dinner, and are past-mistresses of petite-point.

True, we keep hearing about various superwomen who do it all, in between attending global conferences and heading Royal Commissions, but most of us, I suspect are more likely to be snoozing before the television. Or worse, pressuring our children to achieve these goals for us.

Not long ago, the world seemed full of interesting, fulfilled people who weren’t a bit ashamed to say “Oh, well, it pays the rent” while they conserved their strength more important things.

Perhaps, who knows, they even had some energy left to strike up meaningful conversations which eventually led to old-fashioned enduring relationships, something I doubt happens too often while you are engrossed on your 54th push-up.

As the 1970’s class, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“, kept telling us…

It is only when the mind is allowed to lie fallow, or at least idle at regular intervals, that real innovative breakthroughs are possible, whether it’s better poems, better mouse-traps or the solution to the structure of the benzene ring.

Keeping a few of these quiet backwaters, on the lines of game serves for endangered wildlife, not only creates a more civilised society, but makes financial sense as well.

Today, artistic achievement and scientific innovation are increasingly funded by taxpayer’s money, not just as grants to individuals, but in the formation and maintenance of endless Committees – generally headed by Phillip Adams.

Whatever you may think of Cavafy’s poetry, the good citizens of Alexandrina were never asked to finance them via the Egyptian Literature Board or the Upper Delta Gay Liberation Front.

Compared with the cost of the inefficiencies resulting from not giving the poor chap a database or a work station, that’s an awfully big saving.

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