Let’s just say it: work doesn’t work

A few days ago, I was looking through an early cut of my East meets West immigration novel. It was full of the usual writer fails: adverbs, self-indulgent speech tags – and this protracted rant form the anti-heroine:


We have that in the Wild West, too.

Except here, we chain ourselves up to a working culture that despises the basic human rights of self-care and preservation.

We sleepwalk through 10-hour days. We’re scared to ever turn off email in case the white-collar psychopath thinks we’re not committed to the cause.

We revere bullies, who churn their way through cannon fodder that gets referred to as ‘human resource’.

It is beyond sick. But it’s all sanctioned under the ideology of ‘success’. 

That’s not success, it’s self-sabotage. And I just find it strange when we point to the ‘other’, scratch our heads, and say: ‘I don’t get why someone would destroy themselves like that …?’

Yes, you do.

We all do.

This passage didn’t make the cut in the end. Too raw. Too real. Yet via the unabridged character of Kate, I realised I was trying to express something that we are never, ever supposed to say: 

I hate work.

And not work defined as: contribution from a productive member of society, who does something meaningful and engaging in exchange for a market competitive salary (in itself a bit of a head-scratcher).

I hate the toxic culture. The cult of work that’s become the centre of the human experience in modern Western democracies.

GDP is now the key metric of our collective humanity’s success. Big business – or even small business – is a psycho sanctuary. Being a stress head is a badge of honour; a competition. And rates of psychological disturbances churn in wider, ever-more vicious circles around these centrifugal facts that none of us can escape.

And it’s not just me saying it. 65 percent of Americans cite work as a top source of stress.

Researchers from the London School of Economics found that, in the UK, the misery of work is second only to being sick in bed; and if I had to guess, I’d say with a bout of double-ended gastro, Exorcist-style.

Jokes aside, there are a few elements of toxic work culture that deserve to be called out for their contribution to the dire state of things.

The people

We need to deal with the fact that business attracts stealth sociopaths who do psychological harm. I don’t think I’ve ever met an executive who wasn’t a walking designer bag of personality disorders. The type to ‘thrive’ on stress, and dole out unlimited shit sandwiches to prove that they’re not defective.

We need to get them help for their issues, or get them out of positions of power. 

I really don’t mind which, so long as humanity again becomes a requirement for entry into management and C-suites.

The inflexibility

The mindless hierarchy of management must have its days numbered. The concept of one human adult babysitting another, managing their time, is truly crazy. And it doesn’t make sense that the manager-employee relationship only flows one way, from the top down. When a boss asks, ‘what are you working on?’ The answer should be: ‘no, what are you working on? You’re the one whose decisions and time allocation impact the bottom line’.

The small stuff

Last, but not least, are the psychological paper cuts work leaves on us each day; the ones that sting like hell but on their own don’t warrant any fuss: think office politics; open plan gabbing; torture-level lighting; inane fridge wars; being made to feel less-than if you want to leave on time to be with your kids/dog/partner/project – or really anything that brings some boundaries and balance to your life.

Ultimately, modern work is an ongoing existential crisis that affects us all. It’s pressing on us more and more. And it’s coming to a cultural head, like an infected spot.

You know this is true when even Katy Perry is depicting the Rat Race in her music videos. So I was watching Chained to the Rhythm on the treadmill at the gym the other day; trying to push my heart rate up to the 145 bpm my doctor says is needed to avoid being depressed by It All.

Anyway, I saw those little rats, spinning on the wheel, and had a bit of an internal giggle.

Cute. I thought.

And then I felt sick.

Because it’s not cute. It’s dark (for Katy Perry). And it’s the perfect metaphor (for us): we have to keep the wheel spinning because we’re addicted; because stopping – even for a split second – means our legs get caught and ripped out from under us.

That’s not the ‘freedom’ we all pat ourselves on the back for. It’s not a life. Or a choice of any kind.

The question now is: how do we change it?

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