diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 25, 2007

There are two different types of job:
jobs where you time your work
jobs where you work your time

Some people time their work. They're given a task to do and told to get on with it, and they get paid as and when it's done. Their income relies solely on them getting the work complete, so they have an impetus to knuckle down and get on with it. They might work fifteen hours a day on some days, or just five hours a day on others, whichever is more appropriate to the job in hand. And when the work's done that's it, they head home, that's their choice. Living job-by-job like this makes long-term planning difficult, but some people appreciate the independence of timing their work.

Some people work their time. I'm one of them. I'm paid a salary for what I do, and my contract says I work a set number of hours a week. Sometimes I end up working longer than that because there are "things to be done", but on the whole my working day is a similar length each day. I have plenty to do to keep me occupied, and any manic periods are generally balanced out by lulls and pauses at other times. I can plan my life, even six months from now, because I have a pretty good idea how my work is arranged. I like a bit of stability, and working my time gives me that.

Most of us work our time. We have a start time and a finish time, at least roughly, and it's our job to be available and productive between those times. Or at least available. Sometimes being productive is more difficult. We've probably all had those days where we have to be in the office, or on call, or whatever, but there's absolutely nothing to do. That usually means staring out of the window, or trolling the internet, or tackling the sudoku, or making another cup of tea, or planning your next holiday, or rearranging your email folders, or anything else that makes you look busy when you're not. Thankfully these days are few in number, for most of us at least.

But for some who work their time, there's a lot more time than work. It's their job to be ready to work, should the situation require it, but most of the time there's nothing to do. Absolutely nothing, except to wait. These people come to work at a set time, and they go home at a set time, and they get paid even if nothing happens inbetween. They're the clock-watchers left to their own devices to keep themselves awake and alert. You know the sort of people I mean...
... Firemen (who, unlike their other 999 counterparts, play a lot of volleyball)
... Shopkeepers (notably those in specialist boutiques which nobody ever seems to visit)
... Security guards (who spend almost every shift waiting for absolutely nothing to happen)
... Office temps (has anyone got any photocopying for the office temp to do? no? sorry)
... Village postmistresses (I wonder if anyone will come in and buy a stamp today)
... Art gallery staff (who do nothing but look at people looking at art, in case one tries to nick it)
... Waiters in not-very-popular restaurants (yes sir, we have several free tables)
... Understudies (oh damn, is the leading actress still fit and well? ah never mind)
... IT shift workers (because someone might ring with a technical query at 3am, you never know)
... (you must be able to think of some more)

It sounds great, getting paid to do absolutely nothing most of the time, but I bet it isn't. I couldn't do it, not week in, week out. Even for easy money. I'd be bored out of my skull if my job didn't engage my brain, leaving me to twiddle my thumbs for most of the "working" day. I'd hate having to sit around for hours, waiting for a real task to come along, until hometime finally came around. I suspect you may be the same. Because an unengaging job is an unsatisfying job, and sometimes avoiding tedium is more important than gaining salary.

As we shift further and further into a service economy, increasing numbers of people are going to find themselves forever poised to offer support that nobody requires, waiting around all day, in case they're ever needed. Because some people do time, rather than doing work. I salute you - sooner you than me.

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