By Troy Headrick
Earlier this week I read “The Shame that Keeps Us in Our Jobs,” an article by Paul Millerd, one of my LinkedIn contacts. Millerd’s piece, about work, work culture, and money, got me thinking about a whole bunch of topics. This blog is the result of that rumination.
I want to begin with something I’ve wondered about throughout my career as a college and university educator. We like to ask kids in their late teens to decide on a major, while studying at postsecondary educational institutions, as a way of deciding what sort of work they want to do and what kind of people they want to be for the remainder of their lives. So, at a moment when they have little to no work experience and are just finding themselves, we ask youngsters, many of them rightfully confused about nearly everything, to make a profoundly important declaration about themselves that will shape their lives for many decades. Given this reality, is there any wonder that so many people become disillusioned and have mid-life crises when they get a bit older?
As I began to think about the world of work and money, I realized that we carry around all these binaries in our heads. There’s full-time work and part-time work. There are those who wear “white collars” and “blue collars.” There are salaried employees and wage earners. More specifically, at the place where I’m currently employed, there are faculty and staff—you’re either one or the other. (I’ve received the label of “staff” because I supervise others, yet I also teach, which means I look a lot like “faculty” too; thus, my actual duties are much more complex than this labeling allows for.)
My point is that these binaries force us to think in over-simplified ways about how we earn money and put food on our tables.
In the United States, in almost all the cases I’m aware of, only full-time workers are given benefits, such as health insurance and the like. The decision to organize ourselves this way is completely arbitrary and political. Powerful interests have created this nonsensical system, and it will take powerful political mobilization to undo and reimagine it.
We begin with the given that forty hours of work per week is standard and that anything less than that is “part time.” And then anyone working less than full time is penalized by not receiving benefits. That’s a catch-22 if I ever saw one. What would happen if we gave workers the option of being both full and part time? For example, one week they would work forty hours and then the next week they’d work fifteen or twenty? That’s the sort of thinking that needs to become more commonplace as we move deeper into the internet age.
Back when I was faculty, I came and went at my workplace as I wished. That’s because being successful at work meant that I did all those things that needed doing. I set my own schedule and was trusted to complete my work. Staff members are required to stay on the job for eight uninterrupted hours per day, Mondays through Fridays. Such an environment is far more regulated than the kind of work I used to do. Does this differentiation make sense? Sort of.
I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of those things I’ve thought about these last few days. My next installment, published a week from today, will go a bit deeper.
Thanks for reading!
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.