A Sick Day in Time Saves Nine

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I’m not a material hoarder. I don’t have a mental illness that attaches me to things, assuming I might need it one day so I can’t get rid of it now. I’m a little bit wrapped up in frugality with unease towards debt, which has always been the case but got deeply personal when I was out of work for many months.

That’s not an uncommon or unhealthy way of thinking. It’s usually just called “good judgment” along with ageist complaints that Mi*****ials don’t have any of it. But I digress. The mentality behind this is separating what accumulates and what is bound by use-it-or-lose-it restrictions.

I switched from a job that allowed five paid sick days per calendar year to one that accrues about one sick day per month and carries forward. In the job that had five paid sick days, I knew I had to use them up, and did so strategically. Now that I can keep building on a bank of sick time, I am determined to use it less – in case I need to use it more in the future.

But the purpose of employers offering sick time is so people get rest when they need it to improve their overall performance. It’s so diseases aren’t spread around the office. It’s so brief illnesses aren’t dragged out to impede productivity and the whole, you know, wellness of a human being. So I did go home early yesterday after dryheaving all morning to sleep all afternoon. And I did come into work late today to sleep in a bit more as my neck was stiff and head was heavy after showering as per my usual routine.

But I took neither day off in full, because – to end this with another variation on an overquoted proverb – sick time saved is sick time earned…when you’re allowed to save it.

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Ambition and Oblivion

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Whenever I get excited about a little moment of clarity about something I’d love to do with my life, a place I’d love to go in my career, it’s followed shortly by a wish that I just ceased to exist at that moment. This is absolutely a reflex of a fear of failure – dream big, but die too early to be held responsible for not achieving those dreams. That fear of failure – as successful people will certainly tell you if you pay them enough money in front of a big enough crowd at a TED talk or some bullshit – is what will always impede me from succeeding. This makes me want to die even more.

This isn’t so much a suicidal thought. It’s not about killing myself. It’s not even really about dying. It’s about erasing my consciousness. Never existing would be just as good as dying – I won’t exist, why would I care – as would being in a coma. Vanishing would take too much work and I’d always have to keep a few steps ahead of the people who care about me and/or whom I owe money (which is nobody, but maybe people will lie and say I do because I won’t be around to defend myself). I don’t want pain and suffering, so I’ll pass on kidnapping, or any kind of violent death, really. Perhaps luckily, all of my brain problems will work together for a shutdown before I can feel anything.

There is so much about my goals that are beyond my control, and I could be laughed at for working so hard at the things I have the chance to do without being able to make the decisions that get me anywhere. I could be laughed at by people who got ahead of me for whatever reasons they had to their advantage. I could be laughed at by people who stayed where I’m stuck, but never tried to go any further because they decided complacency was easier to deal with.

Strong people don’t care about getting laughed at, but I’m not strong. Every time I get something wrong or say something stupid, it sticks with me for days, weeks, possibly even years even if it is the most insignificant thing that everybody else has forgotten. If I do get places people will tell stories about mistakes I made in the past, no matter how true they are or whether given proper context, to belittle me and my successes. I either stay little or be belittled.

This is why I just don’t want to exist.

Money and Martyrs

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In the more menial work I’ve been doing over the past few years of my career, I’ve seen just how much some people are willing to work in overtime. Not only do they work this overtime, but they don’t not work it later – or, in less unnecessarily confusing terms, they get it paid out instead of banking it to take off another day.

The Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30, or whatever your local economy’s culture deems standard business hours, is a very artificial, and modern, construct, but it’s been fought for. It’s been fought for by the proletariat through unions and legislation, to ensure that they can not only afford to feed their families but spend time with them as well.

You should never have to choose one or the other – “full time” work of 35-40 hours per week (well, I think that should roll back even farther to be maybe 28-35) should cover basic needs and some wiggle room for personal or family priorities. Bertrand Russell’s “In Praise of Idleness” portrayed his ideal of 20-25 hour “work” weeks with “leisure” time spent on deeper things, however naive it was in assuming some of the luxuries of upper class white lifestyles could/should still be kept in place.

A lot of people still have to work more than full time, either overtime in their jobs or additional jobs juggling shift schedules every week, to keep their heads above water, and that is not okay. The labour movement for living wages in today’s jobs of the working poor is causing enough of a ruckus to gain momentum, as it should. But what I’ve seen in both private and public sectors is cultures that glorify excess working hours. It isn’t just corporate cultures enforced upon employees by intimidation to keep working harder and harder and longer and longer. People choose to go into fields, sometimes literally, where the work schedule is taxing but the wages are high. Some people go in with a plan: put in a few years in able-bodied youth, make six figures, save up as much as possible, and coast through the rest of life with slacker jobs but slick luxuries. I don’t know of many success stories, but that may be more my fault than the fault of the logic these people use. I tend to tune out from hearing about the lives of people who have very little in common with me, to the extent that their choices conflict with my values. Call me out for keeping myself sheltered from other people’s truths.

Oil sands, mining, trucking, prisons – people can earn a lot of cash in these fields if they overexert themselves. And it may be out of fear that there might not always be work for them. I can only guess that the mentality is quite different for physically tolling blue collar jobs than it is for people who are educated into cultures of high-prestige work – lawyers, doctors – that demand higher billing hours out of not just money but competition for status. I find neither of these cultures healthy.

I’m not in a particular position to judge, as I’m also not in a position to understand. I can, however, analyze and speculate from my fake ivory tower that the culture of the Protestant ethic, and competition, and a woe-is-me race to the bottom, and conflictingly just flat out capitalist/consumer greed all interweave to make people feel bad for working less. It makes me hate talking about this, because so many will play the martyr, and so many will pitch the hard-work-pays-off shpiel, all to shame the person who sticks to working hours 40 or less as having such luxury and privilege. Well, I do have privilege that has enabled me to sustain this on a living wage. I also think everyone else should be entitled to it as well. Nobody should be looked down upon for being lazy for wanting to own more of their time, and glorifying the overworked is encouraging unhealthy – as in, medically studied and confirmed over and over again to be detrimental to well-being – behaviour.

If we pick apart the culture of money and competition, and jealousy and righteousness, perhaps we can all come to an understanding that an individual’s assigned meaning to what and how much they do in their work is their choice to be respected. The ultimate value of work can’t be measured in time and the ultimate value of leisure or rest can’t be measured in money. It is the myth of capitalist patriarchy that overworking is macho success and it’s doing none of us favours.

So yes, I am taking my lunch break today and going home on time.

White Collar Feminism

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My brother’s girlfriend has much higher earning potential than him and he’s comfortable with that. That attitude is not uncommon anymore, as it’s held by several other men I know in heterosexual couples where the women do or will bring home the bacon. But my sample is a biased one. I don’t interact with people who are the epitome of the problem. I can, however, see what’s in plain sight.

Women have entered the workforce and are here to stay, yes – that news is decades old and not worth comment on its own. Women are increasingly becoming breadwinners, although it’s not an achievement of women’s rights when that’s the case because the manly blue collar jobs in manufacturing aren’t around in our local economies anymore. These women, of working class families, are likely to hold devalued pink collar jobs. They’re not outearning their partners because of higher achievements in career and education; they’re merely keeping their families’ heads barely above water by working in unappreciated jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Even women who do make gains in higher paying careers are often pressured into acting more like men than the men are. Women work harder than their male counterparts in these prestigious positions, according to [hemorrhages millions of recent studies], in order to make roughly the same (read: slightly less but close enough) as men. Professions like business, finance, medicine, and law still value aggressive authoritarian working styles over collaborative solutions, and those working characteristics are highly gendered as socialized from the moment we’re born. When women work like men to achieve almost-equal status, it is very far from equal and very, very far from feminism.

The gains that women have made in the middle range of earnings and status in jobs have dyed the collars pink. I work in an office that’s 95% staffed by women. It’s lower elsewhere in the department, but on the whole I’d shoot for 80% women, including management roles. But like the human resources field as a whole – unless it’s manly labour relations positions negotiating with manly industrial unions – it’s been belittled as softer, gentler women’s work instead of the keeping-shit-together-and-going-forward-strong work it actually is. The public sector in general, after a few decades of specific programs aimed at narrowing the gender gap (among other victims of systemic discrimination), women are widely represented in fields where they may not be in private industry because of this outreach. And now these jobs are both leeches on taxpayers AND underpaid relative to the private sector equivalents held more disproportionately by men. Women who achieve things in environments where they’re empowered to are somehow not as deserving of success, or the recognition they get falls short of the work they do.

There have been great strides towards making predominantly feminine occupations get more respect than they did previously. Nurses are better educated and have more responsibilities than before, and have made leaps in how much they’re paid for that (although not nearly enough for the literal shit they literally clean up on a literally daily–hourly–basis). But they will never have people kiss their feet as so many do with (or is expected by) doctors. Other medical professionals – pharmacists, mental health professionals, massage therapists, physiotherapists, dieticians – with high women memberships get overshadowed by the egos of doctors who go by the patriarchal values of power and authority more than they do the Hippocratic oath. The value that increases in pay, recognition, and responsibilities of these professions doesn’t change the broader rule that to be successful at anything you must be an overworking asshole. Attempts to further the status of these undervalued jobs falls short of changing what is valued overall.

I’m very happy for all the women I know who are striving to reach their highest potential in challenging fields. In our individual lives that’s what we have to live for – it’s the choices that we can make within the constraints of reality that exist whether we agree with them or not. But let’s not use women-holding-manly-jobs as a symbol of inching closer to equality. Beyond the token value of one women’s success masking the ninety-nine men in the same or higher positions, it’s reinforcing the incredibly flawed basis of analysis that equality is measured by how close women are to becoming men. This maintains the patriarchy, it maintains the class system and further gap of wealth, it maintains the racialized justification as if oppressed people are oppressing themselves. The means we use to measure the status of women is insufficient and counterproductive. Let’s not get too comfortable now.

Strawgoat

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Here’s one way to demonstrate that things like employment equity/affirmative action/any reparative initiatives meant to equalize the systemic imbalance of wealth, power, and dignity are necessary: the people who complain about them would’ve complained about the results they bring anyway.

It doesn’t take policy for people to notice that perhaps they work with non-white individuals, or down the hall from someone with a cane, or report to a woman manager. The policy reminds the people hiring employees (or accepting students or whatever else has a similar program) that there are untapped human resources that the status quo working population generally doesn’t notice – until they do get hired.

Making that observation without an alliteratively named policy would lead to the same decisions, and these same people would make the same complaints – questioning where these people came from, why they were hired, and why they’re robbing the futures of our promising white children. But shake your world view and realize what monster this continued ignorance creates for our society: Rob Ford.

Back-Breaking Work

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I learned in an absolutely THRILLING ergonomics presentation at a work seminar recently that office chairs are designed for six foot tall men. This was particularly hilarious for the ergonomist giving the presentation – he himself was 5’11” and so not that far off, but through his work he was well aware that the typical person using an office chair is a 5’4″ woman. Dimensions and proportions are very different throughout the human population, and perhaps most different among roughly 5’4″ women (or, say, women in the 5’2″ to 5’8″ range).

I get to be assessed by this ergonomist to determine the ideal seating arrangement at my new desk. While I’m slightly above average in height, on the five-foot-seven side of five-foot-six, I have stubby legs and a long body with a high waist. This makes no chair fit me whatsoever.

People get amazed when they have to sit in my chair to clean up some sort of problem I created at how low it is. A lot of people don’t follow the wisdom that yes, the height of your chair should be set so your feet touch the ground. I’m also misleadingly average in height because I have a very long body, meaning the backing to the chair needs to be raised as high as it can be. Even still, since most chairs aren’t designed with a woman in mind, the groove built into desk chair backings doesn’t meet the small of my back as I’m also high-waisted. I would love to sit with the feet at the end of my short legs touching the ground, and a two-finger width of space between the edge of the seat and inside of my knee. I like my elbows bent at almost a right angle when typing on my keyboard, with arm rests spaced at their narrowest, most close to the seat. These are all things I’m doing right according to the ergonomist’s presentation. When I’m getting assessed perhaps I should hide my tendency to change positions in monkey-like ways. (Perhaps I’ll get credit for always moving around, which helps alleviate my doomed future as a hunchback.)

Another interesting part of this presentation was the ergonomist describing the right way to pick things up – the way a newly walking toddler does. The toddler’s head is too heavy and back too weak to bend over in the sexualized fashion, and so the toddler intuitively squats with the knees to pick up toys. The ergonomist described this as the way our bodies were “designed” to work, neglecting to acknowledge that nobody “designed” human bodies and rather we evolved with our large heads and a certain kind of spine to support our bipedal posture that together just happen to work best with bending knees. Nobody chose to give us these features, but I digress. Having been taught through 1980s PSA commercials to lift things up with my legs, I’ve gotten in the habit of doing this already and find it far more comfortable – AND FUN!

So to all the commentary spat out about my generation turning back into unerect apes because of the hours we spend in front of a computer – fuck you. There’s been enough advancement in understanding human posture for me to have been taught these things while habits could still freshly form. Typewriters, telephones, and television predate what I was raised on and were just as major contributors to sedentary lifestyles a couple generations before mine. Computers have at least enabled an acceleration in research and awareness pertaining to ergonomics – and older generations are just as bad at sitting in a chair for eight hours as us young’ns. Look in the mirror and call yourself an ape too.

Getting to the Working Overtime Part

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I think today is the first legitimate paid overtime I’ve ever worked.

I say “paid” because nobody likes the person who mentions that she actually did have to stay back another 15 minutes that day, particularly young women who are lucky to have a job! Being paid overtime isn’t a real measure of how much or how hard someone works. What if they’re just efficient? What if they make fewer mistakes? What if they don’t sit there and talk about how much work they have to do for valuable amounts of time that could’ve been spent doing that work? Can I claim overtime for all of other people’s complaining of workloads I have to endure?

This was a different kind of overtime. It was prearranged work on a weekend that my department needed several volunteers for – mature, dedicated hard workers who could be counted on. It was physical work, beyond our actual jobs but a necessary step in adapting to a changing world. I had to sacrifice my precious Saturday morning of lying in bed, which I generally bemoan to waiver. But living close and not having a family or any other obligations besides my spoiled self-indulgence tipped the balance to doing the right, selfless thing. (Well, not quite selfless. I banked double the hours to take off work later.)

It was a bonding experience. It was exercise. It will make this coming week at work easier. It compensates for overeating alone on the couch for the rest of the day. And night, as I’m doing right now.

It was, all in all, the right thing to do.