A dark shadow looms over the land. An oppressive power holds the people in chains. Lives are crushed at a whim and the power that symbolizes it hangs in the sky like an ever-present reminder of doom. No, I’m not talking about a science fiction classic. I’m talking about a job.
I’ve been driven to write this due to my friend’s job that is essentially ruining his life. My friend has worked in the corporate headquarters of a major retailer for the last 5 years. In order to keep costs low he was essentially hired to do the work of three people and this has hardly changed since then. On average, he receives 400+ emails every day** and works 50-60 hours a week. He puts in a full shift in the office and then takes it home with him for another 2-3 hours after that.
This has had consequences for his social life. Whenever we want to get together it invariably takes three attempts to get on his calendar – either because of work or because he needs to visit the chiropractor to fix his back from sitting at a desk all day. I like and am willing to put up with it, but he has grown distant from his partner as a result of the pressure.
The need to be in touch with the office also intrudes on his time away from work. He is traveling to Mexico soon to relax…but is torn about bringing his laptop with him. He spends thousands of dollars to recuperate from the office, then undermines it all by bringing the office with him, which subsequently requires more work to earn money for another vacation (which he’ll promptly undermine as well).
Naturally, all this has a cost to health. Besides needing to visit the chiropractor and often falling ill, he has packed on the pounds. When we first met he was a string bean who weighed 40-50 pounds less than me and now he’s got 10-20 pounds more than I do. He’s hardly been able to work out or go running due to work, so he doesn’t have any good routines to fall back on to bring his weight under control.
He’s a natural hypochondriac at the best of times, now his body is finally going where his mind is leading it. I would not be surprised if he had a heart attack in the next 5 years.
In exchange for all of this, he’s paid extremely well and spends a lot of money on creature comforts. When he moves to a new apartment, he gets all new furniture. When he wanted a car, he got a Mercedes Benz. He eats out all the time at restaurants, pays for parking downtown and starts his day with Starbucks. As a bystander, it’s horrifying to see just how little money he’s saving due to the consumption trap.
So what are we to make of all this? All this time lost, energy wasted? Certainly the company has no interest in his maintaining a health work-life balance. Despite their words to the contrary, he’s a replaceable cog in the machine. If he burns out they’ll simply replace him with another fresh face and it’ll be as though he never existed. They don’t care if his friends and support network fade away from neglect so long as he manages his depression and keeps up his polite façade in emails. If he becomes overweight, that just means he may die early and cost the company less in the long run. If he wastes his money, that makes him that much more dependent on the company, and thus more dependable when management is picking who to screw over when the next fire that breaks out at 5 o’clock on a Friday.
What this all means is that we must keep reality in its true perspective! We must understand that in the battle between the corporate grind and our personal needs, that our personal needs must come first once we’ve fulfilled our basic obligations. Companies can live forever if they’re managed well. People do not and must make the most of the time allotted to them. Individuals are replaceable at companies, but our friends and family are not, so we must prize and nurture them the best we can. Companies can make astronomical amounts of money based on some new product or service, but for the majority of people the amount of money that they make is tied to how long they labor. We must maximize our efficiency by making the most money using the least amount of time possible. We must realize that there is always another job out there, even if you have to invent it.
To make a long story short, if you aren’t planning an early retirement (or at least an escape plan), you’re planning on screwing yourself over. You’re letting someone else manage your life and determine your fate. My friend never imagined that he would have to drag his work laptop with him as he traveled to fun places around the world. He never imagined he’d never have the time to see his friends. If we live our lives right, then that oppressive horror will remain the fantasy it should be.