Do you like your work?

Norm Geras has a post up on Normblog about a survey which asked people in various occupations whether or not they liked their work. There was no occupation which claimed a majority of people liking their work–it seems most people who responded don’t like their job! But the occupation with the highest job satisfaction rating was–roll of drums–hairdressers, at 40 percent, distantly followed by the next highest, clergy, at 24 percent, chefs/cooks at 23 percent, beauticians at 22 percent; plumbers, mechanics and builders at 20 percent, and electricians, florists, fitness instructors and care assistants at 18 percent. All the professions bar clergy–not sure if that is classed as a profession or not?–scored lower than that, with ‘health care’ at 17 percent, media at 16 percent, teachers at 8 percent, accountants at 7 percent and lawyers at 5 percent. Lowest of all job satisfaction ratings was that of social workers, at 2 percent.
There’s a lot of questions you could ask about such results–first of all, is it really true that so many people hate their job, or are they being disingenuous? Why is it that it’s the trades that seem to rate their job satisfaction more highly–is it because many of them work on their own account, and are not in a ‘system’, or because they see the results of their work more obviously, more immediately?

I know that, as a customer of hairdressers, I love going there. It’s a chance to just sit back and let yourself be looked after–to be in a cocoon of never-never time when you can’t answer the phone, go to the computer or have demands placed on you–it’s relaxing, and the result makes you look and feel good (except on one memorable occasion when I was a teenager, when a hairdresser did an appalling job on me, though that was really my fault for wanting an unsuitable, fashionable style!). So the response of customers like me–the pleasure and gratitude of people–must have some impact on hairdressers, who I’ve always reckoned, otherwise have to work bloody hard. Plus they can actually make an immediate difference to people. Conversely, they can also have revenge on an unpleasant customer by giving them an unflattering hairstyle!

I’ve been thinking about the various jobs I’ve had since I left school, and which ones I liked, and didn’t like. My present work–the work I’ve always been working towards, the dream–as a writer is a huge joy. I feel so unbelievably lucky to be able to do what I was born to do, and not only to please myself but to please others as well. I can never understand the whining of so many writers who burble on and on about what horrid work it is and how they’d rather, oh, wash dishes for a living, or whatever. Rubbish. People say that because they want to discourage others from thinking of being writers themselves, or because they think that owning up to actually liking what they’re doing makes people think they’re not ‘serious’ writers, with each word written in blood..

Since I left home at the age of 17, after refusing to accept my authoritarian father’s strict conditions for funding me at university(and never after that, getting a single dollar from them–something I’ve been very grateful for in retrospect), I’ve had to earn my own living. I’ve been: a newspaper delivery girl; a cook in a pizzeria; a childcare assistant; a factory worker(Lifesavers sweets factory in Sydney–sadly, on the Quik-Eze antacid assembly line!); a shearer’s cook; a cleaner; a laundromat assistant; a teacher of French at TAFE; a journalist; a marker of university assignments(in French), a writer of brochures and pamphlets. All this was towards getting to my nirvana, becoming a full-time writer–which I am now, making a living entirely from my own pen, or rather, word-processor. And incidentally in between doing a fully self-funded university degree, both BA and M Litt, in staggered bits of time(Dad was sure I’d give up after six months; well, I’m fully as stubborn as he is, proved him wrong, and am now the best of friends with him and Mum!) Oh, and having three children too.

None of these jobs, including the journalism, which however came closest, had anything like the work satisfaction I have now, which is a satisfaction deep in my bones. But some were worse than others. Probably the ones I found most boring were the factory work and marking uni assignments–because they were both so repetitive! Obviously factory work was worse because it was so bloody noisy as well, but I really grew to hate those assignments too, as people made the same mistakes over and over and over. I didn’t much like being a cook in the pizzeria–because the owner was a sex maniac who’d quietly creep up on you, and what’s more he was ugly as sin and smelt horrid; I found being a shearer’s cook scary too because shearers are very very demanding when it comes to their food and would throw at you anything that didn’t match their standards of lots-of-big-roast-joints, baked spuds and lots of fluffy cakes–(and besides I was only 20 or so, and pretty intimidated by these big sweaty men in their blue singlets!). Looking back on those was fun at least, unlike the factory and the assignments.
Being a laundromat assistant was OK because though the work was dull–and I had to do ironing, probably the lowest of my not-very-considerable domestic skills, at least I had plenty of spare time to read. And it was fun watching people coming in and trying to work out their lifestories..Plus I was working on my own, the boss only coming in once a week for the takings. I did not like the cleaning, esp as it was usually for very pernickety old ladies(through a Home Care service) who followed you around to see whether you’d notice the dirty spot they had specially made to catch you out! ( My parents both laughed very hollowly indeed when they found out I was actually cleaning for a living; at home, I’d always been Number One at escaping housework!)
Teaching French was uncomfortable–though I’m a native speaker and have a good ear for languages, I’ve never been very good at linguistics, and so often could not explain why things were like they were. I felt like a fraud. Plus I’m too impatient to be a good teacher–though I do very much enjoy the sessions I have with kids, and adults too, about writing–that’s different, it’s more inspirational than instructive. I don’t think you can be taught writing, anyway, though you can be taught structure, the craft and so on–voice is something that can’t be faked or forced, it’s what comes naturally from talent.

Writing copy for brochures and pamphlets was dull, but it brought in good money, and it was independent–I didn’t have to go into an office to do it. Being a journalist (I worked on several regional papers and also did freelance work for national publications, though I never did any journalism courses) had its good moments, and its bad. I disliked being made to write about what the editor wanted me to write, and not choose my own thing. That’s why the freelance stuff was fun, because I chose my own topics and subjects. But being made to write about what I didn’t want to also had good points–I met people whom otherwise I might never have heard about, and heard about things that would otherwise have stayed closed to me, or unknown. Having my prose cut and hacked about also was a salutary experience, both in a positive and negative way. It taught me what was of value in it and what was not. It made me less incline to the purple yet also know that my writing wasn’t of the telegraphic Hemingway style. One regional editor I worked with was a fantastic guy, a thorough professional, who though tough as an old boot, recognised that I could actually write, that readers liked my stuff, and eventually let me have quite a bit of leeway when it came to actually initiating something.

But journalism isn’t really my thing, not really. Though I’m quite sociable, I prefer to work by myself, without anyone looking over my shoulder. I have no inclination for office politics. And I find the range of journalism to be too limited, even the very best. This work, of fiction writing with the occasional foray into non-fiction, suits me best. It’s a perfect match for my being. OK, it can be hard at times in terms of not always knowing where, or when, or even if, the next cheque will be coming from. But I actually like that element of risk too. I like the challenge it throws down to you, the challenge to your ingenuity, flexibility and boldness. I love beating the odds! And I love the fun of being able to dream out loud, and to create worlds into which your readers can escape from mundanity, refresh themselves, and maybe bring back with them to the ‘real’ world.

I didn’t see writers or other artists mentioned on the survey Norm quotes from. Perhaps it’s because surveyors don’t see such occupations as being real work, as being too much fun! But it would be interesting to see how the different artistic occupations differ from each other. Who, as an artistic group, has the highest level of job satisfaction in the arts–writers or visual artists or musicians or actors or film-makers or whatever?

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Tony.T
2022 years ago

I’d like it more if they brought back caning, detention and outright terror.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

The figures you quote sound really odd Sophie. Around 80% of people in developed countries describe themselves as ‘happy’ (~50%) or ‘very happy’ (~30%). Given that work satisfaction is one of the main determinants of life satisfaction, the numbers you quote seem really low.

Of course there are ways to target work satisfaction but we don’t really try. For instance, imagine if we required largish firms to regularly survey themselves and report on work satisfaction and published the results to job seekers. It would create a much better market in job satisfactionn than we have now. Because most people moving into jobs don’t really know whether they are moving into good workplaces or not. This would help them know, and put a new premium on work satisfaction. I wrote this idea out here – > http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/09/28/1096137237338.html.

They’re happiest in Iceland and other Nordic countries – so there you go! Or at least they think they are!

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Yes, I agree, Nicholas, they do seem rather odd and low…maybe it’s a reflection of the prevailing pessimistic character of Britain–or the kind of superstitious thing that won’t allow people to say they’re happy just in case the gods strike them down!
Either that, or people are not telling the truth–or they are interpreting the question oddly, or the question itself is ambiguous!

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Incidentally, I found your SMH article very interesting–being able to grade firms and jobs on work satisfaction before you took the plunge would indeed be very useful. Wonder if anyone will take the iea up, or if it’s too threatening to firms to be contemplated?

ctd
ctd
2022 years ago

In my area of work (law) there are a lot of overseas (US, UK) legal chat rooms that allow people to get some pretty good inside info and often allow you to link up to someone who actually works there. Large scale anonymous surveys are done and published about things like worker satisfaction, hours of work, diversity, pay etc (although all this info is generally limited to the 50 or so largest law firms). However, none of that exists in Australia.

I think a lot of people believe there are better jobs out there. But I am not sure they actually think through everything – eg I could never be like Sophie and work so much on my own. And its not like a lawyer (for example, at 5% enjoyment!) can’t become a dive instructor or a chef or pretty much anything else. They just can’t cope with the loss of income.

I have recently read several teachers complaining about how 25% of teachers drop out in the first five years after university; hence proving teachers are overworked, underpaid, have a terrible life etc. But no one seems to want support for the 50% or so of lawyers who drop out in the first 5 years. Makes you wonder if anyone cares about us . . .

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

The idea written up in the SMH sits on the shelf. Perhaps if they do it elsewhere it can be considered seriously here. But I hope I might be able to get some firms to adopt it voluntarily – firms who are trying to get the word out about their efforts (and who are not bullshitting like so many of them, but but actually trying). That would generate some interest and some momentum. Once it is ‘normalised’, a little, it should catch on. We engage in much more intrusive intervention. This is intervention to try to get the market to work better.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

The idea written up in the SMH sits on the shelf. Perhaps if they do it elsewhere it can be considered seriously here. But I hope I might be able to get some firms to adopt it voluntarily – firms who are trying to get the word out about their efforts (and who are not bullshitting like so many of them, but actually trying). That would generate some interest and some momentum. Once it is ‘normalised’, a little, it should catch on. We engage in much more intrusive intervention. This is intervention to try to get the market to work better.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

ctd,

Can you send some links to the practices of circulating information on large law firms. Is it just informal over chat rooms, in which case it could be subject to lots of bias, or is it more systematic than that?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

“But no one seems to want support for the 50% or so of lawyers who drop out in the first 5 years. Makes you wonder if anyone cares about us .”

This just has to be ironic, unless you’ve never read a lawyer joke.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

The profession with the highest suicide rate in Australia is dentistry.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Well in my job, I like the money and power, the excellent access to stuff I’m interested in and the perks.

Could do without the actual work though.

I read somewhere that it was top scientists, conducters and film and theatre directors that really glowed from the inside out with job satisfaction. Basically blokes getting very good money and peer and public acclaim to direct teams to execute their own vision.

ctd
ctd
2022 years ago

For Nick Gruen (who I think might have taught me once at ANU?)

Anyway – the leading law site is http://www.infirmation.com/bboard/clubs-top.tcl (also called greedy associates). Following some political ructions there is also one called greedyassociates.com. It started pretty much as a way to publicise salaries, until the US firms decided to get in on the game and use salaries as a marketing tool during the dot com boom (indeed, most large US firms now publish the salary an associate will receive up to about 5th year). Someone publishes an annual survey of law firms, but I just can’t locate the link at the moment.

The only UK site I know about is http://www.rollonfriday.com. Its not quite as serious but does have some inside info.

(ps: my ‘no one cares for lawyers’ joke was ironic. Even I dont feel sorry for lawyers and I am one. But also to point out that teachers are not the only ones who have massive drop out rates)

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

mark – I’ve always liked the tale that the highest suicide rate was, dentists, psychiatrists, gynecologists and proctologists.

The theory why these professins have such a high rate is that spending all day gazing into the deep dark recesses of humans is soul destroying.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Makes sense, Francis!

Might also be because no-one wants to socialise with people who’ve peered into… etc.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Well I suppose if there’s a hole in your life, day after day after day… And handy access to a supply of drugs.

We had a family doctor who committed suicide. But that’s because he was dying of Parkinsons (back in the seventies where the level of treatment was nothing like it is now) and decided to go out on his own terms with a bit of dignity.