Friday, 9 April 2010

Work as a vocation

Do we take work too seriously? Is it now all too often seen as a vocation rather than merely a means of gaining money? Two pieces of anecdata. Here's AW's 'illustration of idleness on the Mirror in the 1960s' (it concerns Roland Hurman, the paper's industrial correspondent):
Roland ('Roly')...would arrive at his office from deepest Surrey at half-past 11 or so to find his assistant, Len Jackson, who was older than he was, already hard at work. Hurman would flick through the morning papers, perhaps even make a telephone call... Then Roly would look at his watch. 
'Bless my soul, it's five to 12 already. I must rush.'
And Roly would stroll down Fetter Lane... He would reach El Vino's at midday. At three, when the bar shut, the company would cram themselves into a taxi or even two taxis and make for the Forum restaurant at the top of Chancery Lane... At half-past four or so the company would disperse. Roly would make the short journey to his office to find Jackson still hard at it. After a few inquiries about progress...Roly would look at his watch.
'Good heavens, it's five to five. I must dash.'
And he would amble down to El Vino's again, where he would remain until between seven and eight, when he would take a taxi to Waterloo.

I wonder whether Len felt he worked in an atmosphere of 'idleness'? Was the luxury of some supported by the hard graft of others? Could be. But then Fleet Street's printers also had it extraordinarily cushy.

And noted here, some anti-work sentiments from the 1980s that although subversive, nevertheless went as mainstream as you can get:
I always think of Wham Rap as the flipside of UB40's One In Ten; another great song about unemployment but so miserable and whiny. I'm not going to suggest that Wham's response to joblessness is more accurate or valid, more reflective of the reality of recession and it certainly shouldn't be the basis for policy - but when you were 16 and surrounded by unemployment you didn't need telling you were 'a statistical reminded of a world that doesn't care', you needed showing that you could get an incredibly cheap holiday to Fuengirola and buy espadrilles. And in a Thatcherite world a statement of pride in joblessness was somehow radical and certainly appealing.

I'm certainly sick of being piously informed how hard-working some band or other pop artist is. What happened to messing around and lucking out? I thought that was part of the point of pop glamour.

Anyway, it's all quite puzzling. We work harder (very often the two of you, if you're in a couple) and we are richer. But because everyone's doing it, we live in a state of stressful competition and appear to get less for our money.

My own experience of work only really kicked off in the 90s - perhaps some older readers might suggest how they feel things have changed?


worm said...

"anecdata" - love it!

My father was a vet, and he tells me that until the early 90's, everytime a drug rep turned up, they would bring a bottle of whiskey or wine with them, and the two of them would sit down in a back room and get pissed for the rest of the afternoon. My father reckons that a possible reason why people were able to do this and not suffer financially was because businesses in those days were able to pocket a lot more cash under the radar of the taxman.

Wishing I had a time machine right now!!!!

Recusant said...

You're right about the vocation aspect. When I started, back in the late '70's, it was generally acknowledged that most work was a necessary evil and should be treated as such. More recently,it seems, one is somehow supposed to be fulfilled and find meaning through one's work - a role we thought was provided by friends and family -a view that seems to be crammed down the throats of girls in particular.

A wise old personnel director I knew once advised me: "There's those who have jobs and those who have careers; never forget the difference". The trouble is that everyone is assumed to have a career now and therefore feels obliged to treat what is actually a 'job' with a seriousness and humourlessness it doesn't deserve.

Having said all that, I am the laziest person I know, and getting lazier, and I don't feel in the slightest bit guilty about it. My mother insists that I've never been lazy, I've just "lacked application". I'm still trying to work out the difference, but appreciate the PR.

Gaw said...

Worm: I can't take the credit for 'anecdata'. I came across it the other day (not sure where) and thought it was very useful.

Great story about your vet Dad. Reminded me of James Herriot's books, which I loved as a child.

Recusant: I suspect that the cult of work - like those of youth and celebrity - has something to do with the death of religion.

Good for you. I'm beginning to see the advantages of laziness, though this is mostly as it's been forced upon me somewhat. What I am beginning to realise is you don't necessarily have to flog yourself to get on.

Recusant said...

"What I am beginning to realise is you don't necessarily have to flog yourself to get on."

You are becoming wise, my son. Eighty to ninety percent of what people do at work won't put bacon on anybody's table. Fifty percent of it might, but a little bit of thought tells us that the other 30-40% never will, so don't do it.

The important thing is to be intelligently lazy.

Brit said...

Ever noticed how the blogs go really quiet in the evenings and at weekends? Bank holidays are completely dead.

Most people who work 9-5 in offices could comfortably do their jobs in a couple of hours a day. The rest is dossing, chatting, making tea, drooling and staring at the middle-distance.

worm said...

the idler magazine is good for all this kind of stuff (something that I firmly believe in by the way - I have made it a point to always have fun in my life and work, and I am still making roughly similar amounts to any of my contemporaries, only I had a whole lot more fun than them getting here)

elberry said...

In my experience of office jobs (about 20 places over 5 years), most people can't do more than about 3 or 4 hours of decent work in a day - so if you have them there for 8 hours, half of that will be spent staring into the middle distance, blogging, chatting, or just trying to do more work but failing because the brain doesn't want to. The exceptions tend to be women from India, China, Eastern Europe - those i've met and worked with can work every minute they're there, at high speed, without complaining. i find this peculiar and alarming.

Peter said...

One factor is the presence of far more women in offices today. Men behave more responsibly in the presence of women--doubly so if she is the boss or a competitor. Women simply work more intensely and don't put up with too many "good old boy" practices. Look what happened to poor old fun-loving James Bond when Judi took over M's job. It's hard to imagine Roland getting way with his dissipation in a mixed office.

A second is the speed of communications. One simply can't get away with "It's in the post" anymore. E-mails often demand near-immediate answers. I know I tend to measure my own productivity, not so much on crafting stuff, but on getting things out before the recipient starts to whine, which is often not much more than an hour away. Once I'm at the point where nothing more has to go out that day, I slow down measurably, even if I could make the next day easier by getting a head start.

I do recall that sometime in the mid-eighties, office fashion changed from as much 70's schlep as one could get away with to upscale suits and well-coiffed short hair that bespoke energy and single-minded purpose. Damn the young!

But, Gaw, I think your inner old fart is getting away with you. All in all, it's a good thing on many counts. The pressure may be tedious and we all miss the two-hour liquid lunch, but it's not like we've been sent back into the mines.

There are lots of upsides. If Brit was getting pissed over the noon hour every day instead of taking his politically-correct, government-approved midday constitutional, we never would profit from the rich wisdom of the Local Character.

Gaw said...

Recusant: I shall push myself tirelessly towards the goal of intelligent laziness.

Brit: So reading blogs isn't so much a wholly voluntary leisure activity? It's merely a not unpleasant way to fill in time at work? So we compete with Solitaire, random Google searches and looking out of the window.

Worm: I've heard of that and must look into it. Thanks for the reco.

Elberry: When I used to work in the City I would sometimes work for a day and a night and a day, working (with functional breaks) the whole time. It was a nightmare but it is do-able.

Peter: That's all very well but can't we blame it all on the Americans? I'm pretty sure it all really started in earnest following the arrival of US banks in the City.

Peter said...

Of course you can blame it on the Americans. That's what the Americans are for.

Gaw said...

I knew you'd understand.

zmkc said...

I think people who have something they love doing - a vocation, if you like - are happier than those who find time something they have to fill. The trick is having something you love doing that also brings in an income. The man who lived in the village near my grandmother's house and covered his whole garden with a little town he made out of matchboxes never got that bit right. Don't know what he used all the matches for either. Perhaps he had a day job as an arsonist.

Gaw said...

He couldn't have been a very successful arsonist if he had all those matches left over.