Not working & Social Worth

When (and where) I was growing up working was one of those things everyone did. Sure, there were unemployed people around me (largely out-of-work builders which are a special sub-category) but they were always between jobs or at least full-time single mothers looking forward to going back to work. People started working young, finished working late and people never failed to ask you what you did for a living or what you were going to do when you grew up. The rhetoric of benefit scroungers hadn’t begun – though everyone knew at least one person ‘doing the double’ – if you could afford to not work you were probably some rich layabout, toff slacker but in essence the idea was similar – if you weren’t working you weren’t contributing to your family or to society at large.
This attitude to working that categorised it as a) only being real if it was paid b) a defining part of your personality and c) a measure of your human and social worth snuck into my subconscious very young. Interestingly though, the amount one was paid was never considered an important factor and there was some kudos attached to working very hard for little pay to feed your family and see them or choosing vocational roles like nursing which traditionally are poorly paid. What it did was teach me that my value as a member of society and as a member of my family is based on the amount of time and energy I put into supporting them through paid employment.

By not working I have transformed myself from being slightly feckless to a burden on those around me. I immediately become a fundamentally lazy and thoughtless individual (doubly so because I have the physical capability to work); my opinion matters less; I forfeit my right to welfare; I am simply not trying hard enough.

The political landscape in this country has increasingly reinforced these ideas – idle benefit scroungers are a daily feature of the news, (Today: Freeze unemployment benefits – which only last a few months anyway – but not working tax credit…), there is an idea that people who don’t work only ever hang around in pubs and cause crime and that there is a right sort of work  [often ‘not pub work’]. This means that a graduate who refuses a job in a supermarket is a scrounging snob but ‘that kid over there with the brightly coloured tatts’ behind the counter at the supermarket twice a week is too lazy to get a full-time job… damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Oh and overlaying it more strongly now (and perhaps here – now I am in a town not the sticks) is an anxiety about spending enough to dress right, to have the appropriate gadgets but not to spend so much that you look profligate and reckless; about saving for a holiday but not necessarily a pension; about telling people you have no money so they won’t hate you but spending enough so you don’t seem stingy or like you really have none because you didn’t get paid very much/work hard enough to earn ‘enough’.  Work harder, spend less, prove you can support your family, work harder, don’t ‘look’ poor…

Its all reassuringly liberal-capitalist: work hard and you’ll go far; count your success with your pennies and your consumption; useful = worthwhile;  pay some taxes in (but not too much) don’t expect anything back; Earn it – Deserve it

As with many of these things I find myself stuck behind my own double standards – I fundamentally believe (intellectually) that one should be able to contribute to society and family in many ways, including voluntary work, political campaigning, house-keeping, etc. . I believe that I personally pay my taxes in order to provide schools and hospitals and nursing homes regardless of the work-status of families – I am proud to pay taxes to support people less fortunate than myself (though that doesn’t mean I don’t also believe that encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and work towards an appropriate degree of self-sufficiency isn’t a goal of that support; or that some people do take the piss and don’t try to support themselves financially).
I also (emotionally) believe that I personally do not work hard enough and that by not being paid to work and therefore bringing money into our household I am of less use and thus worth. No amount of housework or emotional support or admin support or financial planning on my part will ever be as much of a contribution as being able to pay the bills and the mortgage and buy the food. Sad but true.

Resolutions 2013 reprise

So its June now and that must mean its about time to reassess my goals for the year.
As might be expected I am not wholly pleased…

  1. Weight – 12 stone or less
    Actually this is one area I have started making progress in. W has started a low GI diet and it is helping me drop closer to my target.
  2. Exercise – 5x brisk 20 min walks/ week; 1x 30 mins swimming/week; 20 sit-ups 6x/week; 5mins shoulder stretches everyday & 5 mins knee stretches everyday
    Sigh. Such good intentions- such regular failure. I do manage to walk most days of the week but if I manage one set of sit-ups and one of either knee or shoulder exercises per week I am doing well. I am still failing at swimming
  3. Mindfulness – restart some meditation practices
  4. Housework – This will also involve a schedule, scrubbing & hoovering
    Um I do housework… but it remains ridiculously disorganised and I still have managed to get back to my 2 house rota
  5. Conferences & Publication – 2 Conference papers, 2 + articles, monograph proposal…
    I have given 1 paper & rewritten it to the extent I let some other people read it. The next paper will be this weekend. I started writing an article but don’t think I have written fast enough to get it in the journal I wanted so may have to do something else with it. Feeling guilty about not having submitted a monograph proposal though
  6. Job – at least 1 application per month
    I have applied for 2 fellowships and 3 other jobs so far this year. Both fellowships were no gos, neither of the office jobs even asked me to interview and I’m not very hopeful about the brewery job either. Sigh.
  7. Holidays – At least 1 new Munro (with B?) & 1 city-break with W
    So far the 3 of us went to Cornwall together and I have a hol in Scotland (with mountains) booked with B. Finding schedule/time to do something positive with W is proving harder
  8. Irish – Start learning to speak it..
    Um occasionally I think I have learnt a new word – but actually I feel guilty about neglecting my greek and latin so am going back to them a bit more often

summer crazy

So, post week with my parents in Italy and a trip to the Olympics, I have planned a week with my in-laws (w’s parents) then a trip to scotland for all three of us and visits to the paralympics. Plus all of us are still working: W is doing online stuff from the olds (muchos stress), i am at the pub and b is delivering as per normal and I need to crack on thesis-wise and get a ‘real’ job for money reasons

as you might expext i feel a little like i am losing it round the edges, not actually broken but the cracks are wider than they should be; but hell what’s life without a challenge and i have a fab family to keep on wrapping me up and reminding me they love me.  plus puppy always wants love..


Shift Patterns

Have you noticed how the world is still organised around most people working a 9-5 mon-fri job?

Do you work that sort of job? See I don’t know many people who do – even those who work in offices now routinely work flexi-time hours. I am not just talking about people who have taken a specific arrangement to allow them to arrive late because of dropping off kids at school and make up the hours or who have complicated arrangements to allow them to continue working despite illness/disability or caring responsibilities. Increasingly I find most of my friends use work-from-home arrangements and routinely shift their hours to start before 8 in the morning or finish after 8 in the evening in order to compensate for complex projects or odd sleeping patterns. And that’s before we get into shift workers and service industries…
So why do we maintain the fiction?

Well first off I think there is the fact that everyone needs one day off a week (and lets be honest 2 is better) but a core set of hours is essential for real conversations because there are some things that can’t be done by email so why get rid of the ones that we already have?

But the second reason which we admit less often.. is that we also want core socialising hours. We want time to fit in those hours of meeting friends- days when plenty of people can go to weddings and funerals, parties and gigs.
Who wouldn’t?

So what do those of us whose job it is to cater to people socialising do? Those of us who decline invitations due to work commitments 3/4 of the time? Who work mostly evenings and weekends? When do we organise our parties? And how do we make our shifts more compatible with the vagaries of modern family life?
Yet perhaps as the world begins to shift to a more flexible model it will be possible to break out of the 9-5 mon-fri pattern and to still keep both work contact hours and core social connections – its complicated and it doesn’t work all the time but?



I atent dead

Will be glad when the crazy rounds of extra shifts and still not enough money are done. It will be good to relax come Jan. when the mrs comes back from seeing her parents and dealing with her grandfather’s decline and the boy has finished his Xmas work.
Meanwhile I am trying not to put weight on over the festive period and to get some sort of sleep pattern established; oh and work out how to make the numbers add up after buying presents… I think I might need some luck.

Workplace Bullying

How do you deal with a manager who makes your life miserable?
What ways are there to fight back in a “your word vs theirs” scenario? Especially if your self-confidence is low and assertiveness is merely a word in your personal development manual..

The wife’s boss is somewhat making life difficult at the moment. The main consequence of which is that W feels that the cumulative effects of bad management and lack of support that led to her taking time of work because of “anxiety and work-related stress” (as noted on her sick-line) are entirely her fault. Support that she asked for from Occupational Health is unlikely to be given, especially since she has been told that the DDA doesn’t apply to her. [The consequences of this for me largely consist of feeling like a useless lump of poo and bursting into tears a lot]

One problem with bullying and harassment (other than the basic making you miserable issue) is deciding what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and what is merely having high expectations. W feels that it any accusation of bullying would immediately be countered by an accusation that she is incompetent and excessively absent. I, of course, disagree with her assessment of her ability and believe that she is meeting the obligations of her employment. I also know that in this instance it is not single acts of disregarding W’s concerns or difficulties, or overloading her with work or denying her leave but the cumulative effect of repeated poor treatment.

I just don’t know how to help..

ETA- Disclaimer: I accept that this is my opinion, it does not represent an attack on an institution nor should it be considered a professional attack on the reputation of the people involved. At this time I have no evidence and am not making a formal complaint and unless that is done all rants must be considered personal in nature.

Too Angry

Somedays I am really disappointed in people.

I am sad that people think its ok to split the bill at an expensive restaurant without considering the people who have held back because they are broke. I think it especially sad that it neither bothers some people nor makes a difference to their continued consumption of drinks on the combined bill.

Today though I am more sad that a friend thinks it is ok to insist I discuss my personal feelings on the basis that they affect my professional conduct rather than being able to separate the two. I would rather accept a reprimand and docking of pay than the insistence that I discuss my life when I am clearly not able to make rational discussion about it – and indeed say so.
Its not your fucking business to know everything that goes through my head – especially if I tell you it is not to do with the pub and I’d rather discuss it at a later point when I am feeling less angry.

I thought after being friends for 8/9 years you had more respect for me than that.

I’m sorry. I don’t know how we will together again right now. I am so hurt by your lack of respect for my need for privacy and space I can’t even begin to work out how to speak to you. I was only angry and perhaps foolish and inappropriate according to your rules for the pub and yet in telling me I had to tell you and because I had said anything in your pub it was your business you betrayed my sense of safety and respect. I realise now I am just a member of staff and need to have no feelings or else by being my friend you believe you have earnt the right to instant knowledge of my mind and control over when and where I express them. I’m sorry I can’t do that.

Is this a serious break? I don’t know. I am too hurt to know.

On My Mind

So, I’ve been afk for a few days and have a whole host of things swirling round in my head to talk about. These may or may not make it into separate posts in due course..

  • Going to see the sea – its awesome
  • I really want to move back and my beloveds are keen to move with me. How reasonable and feasible is it? Can I formulate a business plan and generate a regular income? how soon?
  • Supervisors – They both seem pretty pleased with where I am at, which means with some solid effort I can get this beastie submitted and maybe even published
  • I really do have to tackle my conclusions and face up to rewriting the dreaded literature review/first chapter and I have to really smash it.
  • Workshop on publishing research- clearly they had never met most classicists… still maybe there is stuff I can take through the conference paper into getting it published
  • Drs. – at some point I am going to have to face up to going to the quack to get more painkillers ( I always feel like they aren’t doing anything until I haven’t taken them for a few days Ouch!) – and admit I quit my anti-depressants cold turkey cos I was fed up of getting fatter as the effects got weaker and even the sleep deserted me again. Not sure where I’m going from here though
  • waiting for a friend to die. No more words
  • Worried about various friends and their coping..
  • Glad the Mrs. has finally got her boss to see some sense (with the help of her Dr and HR) lets hope we can take it a bit further.
  • Fingers crossed for my sister
  • Praying for W’s family

That’s all for now. Hope to be more coherent soon.

Negotiating work-place policies

It so happens I have been doing research of late on good practice in the work-place relating to reducing work related stress and managing mental health difficulties at work.
I have found an array of words saying how important stress risk assessments are and about the need for good back-to-work interviews, phased return and reasonable adjustments. I have read paragraph after paragraph about the importance of managerial responsibility and frameworks of good practice and the importance of having inclusive and supportive policies. I have read almost nothing on what to actually do!

I feel this is a related problem to my experience of student disability support – the ideas about mental health support were related to having it not doing it. So what can actually be done to support people?

Lets start with return to work. Why not start with prevention? Well in a nutshell because I believe it doesn’t work, there just isn’t a way to prevent people generally going mad, what works for you might not work for me etc and sometimes no amount of positive working environment can prevent your family from dying or screwing you up or your brain flipping over into pretty colours and delusions. So anyway you had a breakdown, you are basically nuts but you still want to earn a living (possibly a sign you are truly crazy) and you go back to your employer.. I have seen 3 different responses.
By far the worst was a simple statement of  “OK. so now you have to make up the hours you were off”; on the next scale up we have the “I see that we are obligated to follow your Dr’s recommendations about working hours so how about you do a few weeks just days then go back to shifts”; and finally we have the best which included meetings with line manager to discussed progress, consultation with a company appointed Dr and more than a month of reduced hours plus continued expectation of requests for some extra breathing space.
It seems so simple to see that for someone who simply isn’t coping with the process of living, that both returning to work with its structure and purpose and keeping the pressure light and the hours short should be positive steps to self-management so what stops company’s from doing this? Its not the policy statements that follow governmental guidelines and industry standards it is simply the hassle and cost of arranging work-cover and negotiating time limits (which is not to suggest that these things are not difficult especially for small businesses nor is it meant to suggest that there might not be financial repercussions for a constructive dismissal case but simply that a lot of managers can’t see past this issue)

Alright so you go back to work, under whatever arrangement you make with your line manager, and you should be given a hand to make the transition back. If its an ongoing issue or you are away from work for a significant amount of time you are pretty much covered under DDA and therefore they can’t sack you for being mad and you are entitled to ask for reasonable adjustments. I am fairly clear on the sort of adjustments you can make for a blind person but I am a little hazy on what those might entail for someone with ongoing mental health issues.. Here are some thoughts:

  • A quiet space to take breaks in
  • flexible working hours (esp useful if meds make you woozy or public transport in rush hour reduces you to a quivering heap)
  • mentoring
  • clear goals and targets
  • sensible office lighting ideally including daylight
  • An external neutral party – to discuss issues with colleagues, work etc

What Have I missed?

Office Moving

Today I have Mostly been packing boxes for My beloved wife. W has been kicked out of her office (which I’m sure we only moved her to 18 months ago) so the admin staff can have a separate office for the photocopier. It feels like we have been productive but it probably hasn’t been the best use of either of our time.

We have packed a dozen or so boxes of academic textbooks to be moved by the porters tomorrow and carried computer equipment upstairs. I have also tried to catalogue more of her remaining books that live at her department… largely computer law, admin textbooks and queer theory books.
It always strikes me how different our fields are;- she gets a lot of textbooks (both because she is a lecturer and because of the particular topics of her teaching and research) and academics bring out new editions of texts all the time in those topics, but for me monographs trickle out, new editions of texts are ten years in the making and textbooks are short on the ground. I think the difference is not simply that the text Classicists work from are comparatively static (some emphasis on comparative is worthwhile however…) but in the mode of teaching. We are not encouraged to memorise facts and figures, even dates can be glossed over if you can remember the basic order things happened, the emphasis of classical teaching both in history and literature is in analysis and contextualisation. This means there are fewer definitive interpretations & accepted norms to form textbooks and that academics don’t want to re-write each others work they want to argue and engage with it.

So… anyway books..lots.