Not In The Past

Looking forward from 30

Bad jobs

I’m legitimately angry about Jim Flaherty’s insensitive and condescending comments about the proposed changes to EI.  “No bad jobs” he says?  This is a man whose experience in lower-end positions was guaranteed to be temporary at best, to help him get between private school, university and law school.  His comments also discount the possibility of damage to someone’s career momentum,  that the company or  boss treats their employees poorly, or that some people just aren’t suited for some occupations.   It comes across as offensive as a happily married marriage counselor telling a battered wife that there are no bad marriages.   Diane Finley’s clarifications about people being matched to their jobs in their area don’t provide much comfort: to someone who is looking to make a career change and relocate to a city with a stronger economy, it’s scary to think that the government is going to force you to take a position that would pay so low that it would be impossible to save money for a relocation, or that your skills and education would slowly be mooted with time spent in a lower-status job, or underperformance in a field you weren’t suited to.

The Conservative Party of Canada seems to be taking their policy inspiration from Futurama.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they implanted people on EI with career chips in the future.

Of course, Flaherty and Finley will never have to worry about being forced to take a low-wage, low-skill job outside their field even after the voters toss their sorry asses from Parliament next election.

I worked in the call centre industry for six years.  Looking back, I would say it did help me develop a number of skills, but it was so hard to see that for the longest time because of how miserable I was.  Anyone who tells you that’s an easy job clearly has never worked in a call centre job for very long.  You often feel like you’re caught in between the middle of the customer and the company.   I liked my co-workers, and I wasn’t bad at it: I surprised myself with how well I did at sales, especially considering I don’t have the “killer instinct” needed for that kind of thing.  But by the time I left one of my jobs I was completely burned out, and felt like my life existed solely so I could take calls from upset customers.  I felt like skills I had developed at school were beginning to atrophy and that my life was disappearing from me.   There was a poor selection of shifts offered, there was an “attendance bonus” that was really a further penalty for needing to take an (unpaid) sick day.  It felt like I was sacrificing so much for an employer that wouldn’t even provide references for its employees.  It didn’t help that I felt like I couldn’t get involved deeply in anything outside at work lest my schedule changed.  The next centre I worked for had a much better atmosphere, but I still felt like I was biding my time.  For all the other stresses of call centre work, it’s really the repetition that gets to you.  When you’re having dreams that you’re on vacation but realize you need to be at your next shift, and spend the rest of your dream stressed about even showing up late, it’s not a good thing.   Neither is dreaming you’re taking calls on your cell phone far away from work.  It never helps when you’re surrounded by people who are even more depressed about their job but feel trapped even further: that kind of thing weighed on me.  I guess I’m being hard on the employer. There are types of people who can thrive in call centres; not everyone does, though.  And it’s one of those places where not thriving can make you feel like shit.

I worked as a dishwasher one time between years of university: definitely not something I did pretty well.  But does my lack of dishwashing skills mean I would not be competent in a higher-status position?

It helps to have more distance from a job to see what you got out of it and where your skills lie.  I’d be hard pressed to find positives about call centre work if I was still there, and I worried about being a “lifer” who never achieved much higher than an entry-level job that I didn’t even need my degree for.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like repetitive and passive work, but after writing out exactly what my duties were for everything I’ve done in the working world, I do see some transferable skills in a lot of what I did, and I’m more aware about what skills university gave me.


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2 thoughts on “Bad jobs

  1. Ah, the Cons??!!! These are the same people who want to privatise prisons and then proceed to put everyone in prison!!! They are insensitive and self-righteous
    and no, they don’t know what bad jobs are, obviously, if they did, they wouldn’t make such statements. It pisses me off, we pay for UI and they act like Lords of the Manor distributing, badly and cheaply, OUR money, jerks!!! and I’m being polite:-)

  2. I worked in a bank call centre back in the late 90s and boy did it make me feel sick. The forced “sales” aspect – which has only gotten worse in the last ten years – added even more pressure, where it was no longer good enough merely to help customers who phoned, you were expected to foist insurance on them as well.

    I was on the receiving end of much abuse while there from customers, and I’ve done my best subsequently to curb my temper when dealing with companies over the phone – I know it’s not the employee’s fault, and they are often powerless to help.

    My partner worked there too, and then continued to work in different call centers for the next ten years. He eventually had to take time out and do no work for six months in order to recover from the pressure.

    I’d call them middle-class sweatshops if I didn’t think it demeaned the experience of people in the Third World making iPhones.

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