Against Work

“Nothing is fun when you have to do it – over & over, again & again – or else you’ll be evicted… I’ve always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it’s a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs.”
Hunter S.Thomson, “Sleeve Notes for ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’”

Work has been a facet of human life since the earliest times; it’s just that there’s a lot more of it now. In caveman days, a few hours grubbing round for roots and berries was probably sufficient to keep you in the style to which you had become accustomed. However, this ignores time spent running from sabre-tooth tigers and other predators, keen to clock off early themselves, and said “style” largely involved huddling round fires, with a spot of cave-painting for entertainment.

Nowadays, the average citizen will probably spend the equivalent of 15 years of their life at work – roughly what they’d get for murder, except there, you might get time off for good behaviour. And unless you are happy with a diet of nuts ‘n’ shoots rather than kebabs, the odds of getting away with murder are better than getting away with not working, accidents of birth and lottery jackpots notwithstanding. The best way to relate to work is treat it as a chronic illness; it’s something you’d rather not have, but you’ve just got to handle, and hopefully, it won’t have too much impact on your life. The question shouldn’t be “how do I not work?”, more “how do I deal with work?”

For there is a major difference between working and working. It’s largely one of attitude: cynicism with a capital C is required, in massive quantities. Screw all those people who try to install a “work ethic” or get you to “take pride in your job”; they don’t really care whether you do or not, they just want to increase productivity and keep you malleable. A ‘happy’ employee is a controlled employee, and better still, one that will make no demands on his/her employer.

Fear is the key, on both sides, and the whip-hand rests with whoever shows it the least. Economic recession is great for bosses, as the worries of redundancy and unemployment mean they can turn the screws on their wage slaves and pare benefits to the bone. Conversely, in boom times, whether for an entire country or just a specific industry, employees can call the shots. No-one in the computing business, for example, need fear unemployment this side of the Millennium. You can happily slack off, safe in the knowledge that any replacement for you will a) be hard to find, and b) probably be even worse at the minimal amount of work you did. In most non-manual jobs, active incompetence is required to get fired, mere non-productivity is rarely deemed sufficient grounds for dismissal.

As Thomson points out in the quote above, it’s near-impossible to enjoy work; those who think they do are simply deluding themselves. You may like the people, or the money, but don’t confuse these. Even if you enjoy the task initially, the drudgery of having to do it will soon grind away the pleasure. Back at school, I happily gave up my free time to tinker with The School Computer, an Apple II. Nowadays, programming would come pretty low down my list of preferred pastimes – somewhere between ironing and self-mutilation.

Mastering e-mail.

Although the “paperless office” is a myth, the art of electronic communication is a crucial one in today’s workplace, being both a boon and bane to the employee seeking to escape effort. It is a lot easier to lie to someone when you don’t have voice inflection or body language to give you away – but that cuts both ways. Here are ten rules to allow you to make the most of this fearsome weapon in office politics.

  1. Send your messages to as few people as possible; this reduces the risk of interference from the dangeously competent. However, include one completely irrelevant person as a recipient, just to worry them.
  2. Refer frequently to previous, but completely nonexistent, communications. Most managers are so snowed under with email, they’ll assume they deleted it by mistake.
  3. Pitch your writing at the wrong level; technical jargon (fabricated if necessary) bewilders many people, but they’ll never admit it. Similarly, mentions of departmental stationery budgets will confuse techies.
  4. When you need to stall for time, ask for clarification of trivial points.
  5. Pop into work on the way home from the pub, and send a few random messages to give the impression you were there till 11:30pm.
  6. Mark all your unimportant emails with FOR IMMEDIATE ATTENTION, and ask for replies to hideously complex issues by the end of the day. Or better still, the end of yesterday.
  7. Keep everything. With a hundred departmental monkeys banging away on their keyboards, eventually you’ll have a collection of messages which can be used to “prove” any statement you want.
  8. Attach documents which are either pointless, or in an obscure computer format not used this decade.
  9. Conceal essential information in the middle of a very long, very bland message.
  10. Write messages, and don’t send them out – just keep a convincing-looking hard-copy of the draft.

And if anyone queries you about anything, look blank and blame the system…

Incidentally, this applies just as much to any field of employment. “Wouldn’t you like to be a professional film critic?”, people sometimes say. “No” is the answer, because I’d then have to sit through turgid Meryl Streep chick-flicks – the cold truth is, no-one will pay sufficiently for the weird stuff.  As a freelancer, I’d have to put out roughly the equivalent of TC every month to bring in my current income. Churning out that kind of volume would no longer be a pleasure.

“Work smarter, not harder” is the key; the pinnacle of this being when you can delegate your entire workload to other people. In the modern, interconnected world, there is almost always someone else around who has a legitimate interest. [If not, then the task can safely be ignored as trivial.] Ensnare them by asking their opinions, then give them info under the guise of “keeping them informed”, and finally offer to help them if they get stuck. Hey, presto. Your work has become theirs.

This technique does have its drawbacks, however, in that you may be seen as a manager. This is risky: while everyone knows they never do any work, people will start inviting you to meetings or copying you in on memos – before you know it, you’ll be staying late to catch up on the paperwork. Aim to keep any areas of actual responsibility minimized as far as possible.

By using these simple guidelines, you won’t be able to stop actually working, but the required effort involved will become less, thereby making the whole ordeal less unpleasant. Or, perhaps to extend Hunter’s simile, we are all prostitutes – the issue is finding a method to handle living with our pimps…