Job Satisfaction

Voice Card  -  Volume 29  -  Suzanne Card Number 7  -  Sat, Aug 14, 1993 6:52 PM

This is a response to VC 28 John 7 ("Wage Slaves")...


I guess it's clear that organizations aren't going to structure jobs based on fulfilling the fantasies of their potential employees, but on the other hand I don't believe that jobs are created with the specific intention of making the people who perform them miserable. Some of the bosses you've had lately, though, sound like desperate, unfulfilled individuals who probably don't relate too well to anyone else who isn't.

Sure, when you work for a large corporation you're at the mercy of whoever you work for and whoever they work for, and on and on, and many bosses don't treat their employees fairly, to varying degrees, and don't do what they could to make their employees' work lives more bearable. But maybe they figure their work lives aren't all that bearable either, so why should they care if anyone else's might be?

Isn't the problem also one of feeling unappreciated, or unacknowledged? But if you work for someone who you think of as an ogre, then without being conscious of it you're going to treat them like you think they are and they're going to treat you like they know you think they are, and no good is going to come of that.

I think one of the keys toward the banishment of job slavery is in finding someone to work for whom you can relate to. If, say, you worked for someone you liked, then this would make you more likeable to them and they'd be more likely to be more amenable to any suggestions you might have about the workplace or changes you wanted to make to your job. If you work for someone you can't stand, then why would they care about whether you were happy or not at your job?

If jobs exist to pay you for doing what they want done, not what you want done, then why not look for a job that wants what you want - with a boss you at least sort of like.

I think it's a mistake for anyone in a work situation to decide they're a victim. Primarily, it's not good for the out-of-control way in which they see their own fate, and secondly, they leave themselves open to further abuse through a passive posture.

In the hypothetical example of abuse you used, in which Holly's boss tried to seduce her, rather than cowering to him because she needed the job in order to keep her children off the streets, she could claim sexual harrassment (which this certainly would be) and probably keep the job and collect a settlement for her damages.

Many times employees endure other kinds of mistreatment and actually have some form of legal recourse but choose not to go that route because they do feel so much like victims and don't really believe anything could change that. But every time someone does try and succeed, it contributes to increased corporate fear and respect for the power of employees, and more monitoring of fair employment practices.

I'm going to ramble now for just a moment on working conditions in Kenya. The minimum wage there is 50 Kenyan shillings per day (when we arrived the exchange rate at the airport was 82 shillings per dollar). However, many employers get around this by providing housing and medical care. The "housing" usually consists of primitive huts with doorless doorways, no windows, dirt floors and thatched roofs that attract malaria breeding mosquitoes.

The political system works on bribery, and it has become the accepted way in all walks of official-dom for individuals to supplement their income. So if some complaint is registered against an employer, the employer then bribes any investigating officials and then things go on as they have before.

In Nairobi, the largest city, life in employment seemed a little more civilized - since there was more of a demand for employees, they had more power and the pay scales were better. But in the countryside, there was almost no industry. Jobs were scarce, people were incredibly poor and happy to have any job at all. Most wore tattered clothing and survived on a diet of corn meal, maize and occasional milk.

At one of the places we visited, a sisal factory, the workers made seven shillings per day, or about eight cents. (It cost eleven shillings just to mail a postcard, and the cheapest bottle of pepsi I ever found was ten.) Many of these people had relocated for their jobs and were expected to send money home toward supporting their families.

What really surprised me about these people who worked in the rope factory and many other people we met who worked under similar conditions was that they seemed happy. They smiled a lot and those who spoke English were eager to talk about anything at all and show us with pride what it was they did. Of course some of this may have come from their managers instructing them to be friendly, but at the same time their smiles seemed so genuine.

I've thought about why this might be and the most reasonable explanation I could come up with was in their attitude toward their own place in the world around them. In the local culture, the individual is not important. A person's identity seems determined more by the various groups to which he/she belongs and one's contributions to them. The future is not something to be planned for but something that just happens and is to be accepted. Whatever happens, life goes on is the accepted attitude.

So it seems like a lot of people there live entirely in the present, for the pleasures of the moment. Satisfaction comes from a good meal or a new shirt, whereas advancement is a concept that can't be touched or felt so it's not quite real or as valuable as other, much smaller rewards to be had at that moment.

I don't have any advice to pose from this experience. I mean, maybe somehow the poor Kenyans are more joyful about being alive than a lot of Americans who in a material sense at least have much more than they do - but attempting to adopt some form of Kenyan-esque philosophy would be a scary prospect for me. I mean, not worrying about my future? Maybe a little angst isn't such a terrible thing after all.