My first day back in the office after annual leave always makes me want to go diving in a wood-chipper.
Yesterday was that day for me.
The last two weeks were glorious. I slept in every day, watched sport, played Left 4 Dead campaigns with my girlfriend, and binge-watched Game of Thrones until even a close-up of a beheading couldn’t make me flinch.
But that is over now. I am being a responsible grown-up again – a contributing taxpayer.
That’s a good thing, isn’t it? So many people are unemployed, you should feel lucky that you have a stable job.
I’m not so sure.
This morning when my alarm went off to get up in the freezing cold to go to work, I didn’t feel lucky.
When I was stuck in traffic that was moving slower than a glacier, I didn’t feel lucky.
When I had 650 unread emails in my inbox when I arrived, I didn’t feel lucky.
When I consider that I have 45 years (at least) left of this before I can get out of the game if I play by the traditional rules, I don’t feel lucky.
To me, feeling lucky is getting the last parking space at a busy mall, a sunny day when the forecast said it would be rainy, winning the lottery.
But selling the majority of my time to be chained to a desk, and then taking a phone home with me in case I’m needed while I’m sleeping? There is nothing lucky about that. It’s a business agreement where you are guaranteed to lose. But we are told to feel lucky to have it.
Don’t get me wrong – if you love your job and you have no idea what I am talking about, you are in the “lucky” minority. I’m not going to pry your joy away from you.
But a growing number of people detest the idea of being a drone for 50 years and being left with no pension (I doubt it will exist when I retire) and eating noodles for dinner in a rented shoe-box apartment that you can’t afford to heat.
So let’s cover some truths about employment in the modern, corporate world.
1. Your boss doesn’t give a shit about you. Sure, if you’re lucky, they will talk to you by the water-cooler about the game on the weekend with a corporate smile plastered on their face, but behind the veil of small-talk and catch-phrases, they don’t care about you, your development or your well-being.
You only mean one thing to them. You’re a lemon and they run the lemonade stand. They are judged by their boss on how much productivity juice they can squeeze out of you for the lowest price possible before tossing your dry, lifeless husk on the refuse pile.
2. Your co-workers hate you. And why wouldn’t they? You are their competition!
They might pretend to like you. But the reason they “like” you is completely self-serving. They want to look friendly so that they appear to have “people skills,” which will help their bid of being promoted ahead of you. If they are given the chance to climb the ladder at your expense, chances are you will have an ice-pick in your back before you can say “workplace synergy.”
Welcome to the Corporate Games. May the odds be ever in your favour.
3. The middle-class is a dying construct. We’re in the midst of a robot revolution. I’m sure that’s what the cardigan brigade will call it when they look back at the early 21st century in the future.
If you work in a manual labour job, you are likely to be replaced by a robot in the next decade or so, if you haven’t already. If you are an intellect mercenary like myself, the replacement process may take a bit longer, but don’t fool yourself. As artificial intelligence becomes more and more advanced, we will be replaced as well.
The middle class, with the suburban home with a white picket fence and a double garage that you have a mortgage on for 20-30 years, is gone. That is out of reach for a lot of people who would have been considered middle class a generation ago.
More people are entering the upper class and more people are entering the lower class than ever before. The line is through what used to be the middle class, and the factor that determines which side you land on in the new world is your adaptability.
Innovation and ideas are the new currency. Slogging it out in the corporate world for 50 years just isn’t a viable option anymore.
4. You will never be paid what you are worth. Just stop for a minute and think about some basic economics. Companies do not spend money unless they expect a higher return than their original investment. ROI is rule number 1 of business. If it’s a company that is good at business and turns solid profits year upon year, they will have quite a fluffy margin on you.
So it doesn’t matter what you earn – $15 an hour or $150 an hour, if you are employed by a company, you are adding more value than you are being paid.
That’s not an inherently bad thing, but most people don’t think about it. Why do you work for a company when you could earn so much more by cutting out the middle-man (your employer)?
I’d suggest it is a combination of things. Convenience is a major one, as most people would prefer to feed from the platform that has already been set up by their company than forge their own.
The other one is the illusion of job security.
5. There’s no such thing as job security. In my grandparents’ generation, it was fairly common to see out an entire career with one company. The company did offer job security, and employees reciprocated with loyalty.
These days, people change companies more often than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends (with marginally less drama.) And if you do try to stick it out with one company, they will probably make you redundant long before you see 10 years of service, never mind 50.
6. You will always wonder “what if?” If, like me, you have always felt a yearning for something more than the 9-5 slog until you die (or are so old and sick that you may as well be dead), but you deny yourself something greater, that old wolf, Regret, will come barking.
Take action today. I’m not saying quit your job today, but start working towards something new. Something you can monetize that you will enjoy.
7. It makes you stupid. After stepping away from my work environment for 2 weeks, I am amazed at how asinine and pathetic most of the corporate mentality is.
These are people who own houses, raise children, and are for all intents and purposes “adults.” Yet, so few of them are capable of problem solving, initiative, or any other basic life skills. It is like kindergarten for adults.
The more time that you expose yourself to this sort of environment, the more you will become like the overgrown children who populate the offices. Before long, you won’t be able to express an original thought of your own, if you can come up with one.
8. You can’t be truly free. For as long as you have a corporate job, you don’t really have freedom. Sure, you get 2 days out of 7 if you’re lucky, where you can pursue whatever hobbies make the coming week bearable. But you can’t really have much autonomy in your life.
Have an event coming up that you need to be out of town for? You’d better burn some of that annual leave so that you can go. Want to stay a day or two longer? Tough! There is lemonade to be made!
9. You have to lie. Anyone who has a LinkedIn profile or access to a corporate intranet will be well aware of how incessant lying is in corporate life. When was the last time you saw someone respond to a LinkedIn article with “That doesn’t even make sense!” or a CEO’s blog post with “I think that’s a load of shit.”
Enjoy unemployment. Being honest in these contexts is considered unprofessional and voices of dissent are hushed.
So instead, everyone says things like “I love this idea and the way that it promotes collaboration across departments! I look forward to implementing this with my team.”
No one cares about (or hopefully, believes) the CEO’s blog posts about how his kid made carrot cake on the weekend and how a light-bulb went off in his head while he was watching a 7-year-old bake a dry cake in more time than it would take a blind, one-legged dog, which inspired him to take his company in a new direction. No one is looking forward to implementing his new initiative with their team.
It’s all bullshit.
10. You must become a crappy person to progress. I had my performance review with my boss a month ago. He had set up performance criteria for me the year before that I was supposed to aim towards, and now we were reviewing it.
I was giddy. I knew that I had met the criteria for “excellent”, which meant a healthy bonus and the possibility of a pay rise. I had all of my documentation that proved I had met my objectives, and now it was time to make it official.
An hour later, I was leaving the meeting room seething. I got shafted. Despite his agreement with my accomplishment of the “excellence” objectives, my boss decided that I was “satisfactory”. Apparently, it was “too easy” and I had “really achieved an expectation, no more”.
Why play a game where the goalposts can be moved with impunity if it looks like you might score a goal?
His job is the rung on the ladder above mine, and frankly, I don’t want it. To progress in the corporate game, you have to screw over the people you are supposed to support, or feel the wrath from above for recognizing achievement fairly.
It’s a lose-lose. You either lose your job, or you lose your integrity.
Or you stay at the bottom, being marked as “satisfactory”.
Bugger all of those options.
So if being a wage-slave isn’t your idea of a fulfilling way to spend your visit to this planet, what are the alternatives?
Contract as a Free Agent.
If you trade your intellect for money, consider selling your services directly to businesses who need them. Rather than working for Consultancy Inc. and helping Company A, see if Company A would pay for your services directly. Sure, you will have to be careful of restraint of trade clauses, but self-employment is one of the most viable ways to escape the corporate carousel.
It’s not as hard as it sounds. I’m convinced that everyone has a book within them, ready to be written. It doesn’t really matter what it’s about – do you like playing Dungeons and Dragons in your spare time? Write a book about the best strategies and characters’ (or whatever they are called) strengths and weaknesses. Do you play tennis? Write a book about tennis strategy.
It doesn’t have to be something shiny and sexy like “Cure Cancer and Achieve World Peace in 10 Minutes a Day.” Hell, I’m writing a book at the moment about driving manual-transmission cars.
Is writing not your thing? Create art. There are so many freelancing websites these days that you can join up to and just take on creative projects for people, and get paid to draw in your pyjamas.
As always, please feel free to leave your honest feedback below. You can even say it’s a load of shit if you like. This isn’t LinkedIn.