The Idler, Tom Hodgkinson’s spunky little journal extolling the virtues of the profligate lifestyle, should be a must-read in business schools, if only to coerce the doomed students to wake up and drop out. Especially in his most recent book, How to Be Idle, a manifesto for living the sane life of leisure, Hodgkinson offers impeccable arguments that the working life is a sucker’s bet at the very best. Now comes The Idler Book of Crap Jobs, assembled by Idler deputy editor Dan Kieran, which gets down to the tragic specifics of exactly how much jobs suck.
Sure, the maggot farmers, the pig wankers, they’ve got it bad. But they’re not alone, by a long shot. Take the job I’m currently performing, for instance. The journalist featured in Crap Jobs made $12 an hour. But the “junk mail copywriter” made $28 an hour. As superior as I’d like to feel to such craven scribes, I’d gladly word-process a mile in their shoes for a $16-an-hour raise. Even a guy who cleaned sigmoidoscopes—that is, devices “for looking up people’s bums”—pulled down $14 an hour. That is to say, my job is worse than a literal shit job.
But, of course, the lure of money is what keeps us in our places. And Crap Jobs is a first-person account of the many ways humans will leap at that golden bait, based on anecdotes sent to the Idler website (http://idler.co.uk). Icons categorize occupations as “dangerous” (battery breaker, salmon-head slicer), “disgusting” (tampon-factory cleaner, koala stuffer), “humiliating” (aquarium cashier, traffic counter), “futile” (data inputter, chili-sauce bottler), and the like, most earning at least a couple of damning decorations. Christian-book stacker, for instance, qualifies as humiliating, futile, soul-destroying and immoral.
The horror stories are accompanied by horrifying statistics and factoids about the working life from the past century or two, proving that jobs have always blown. Consider this 1845 description of the life of the cotton-mill worker:
“The supervision of machinery, the joining of broken threads, is no activity which claims the operative’s thinking powers, yet it is of a sort which prevents him from occupying his mind with other things. We have seen, too, that this work affords the muscles no opportunity for physical activity. Thus it is, properly speaking, not work, but tedium, the most deadening, wearing process conceivable. The operative is condemned to let his physical and mental powers decay in this utter monotony, it is his mission to be bored every day and all day long from his eighth year.”
Sound familiar, cubicle boy? What’s sad is that the cotton-mill gig was likely a coveted position among those poor wretches forced off the bucolic farm and into the big, fetid city by the inexorable march of the Industrial Revolution.
That’s only one depressing facet of Crap Jobs. Compounding the fact is that The Idler is a British publication, and those damn socialist toffers can afford to lie about in the bed-sit sipping afternoon tea. We Yanks are constitutionally compelled to keep our noses to the grindstone as we pursue our constitutionally mandated dreams of happiness. So damn Kieran, Hodgkinson, & Co. for reminding us what a nightmare that dream really is. About the only comfort one may take is the frankly lame argument that at least we’ve got the Web to surf for eight hours while our souls are being stolen. Now excuse me while I check in with Defamer.
This review was reprinted with permission from the Washington City Paper, where it was originally published.
Crap Jobs author says, When you think of it, all work sucks
Dan Kieran is deputy editor at The Idler, a British magazine dedicated to the idea that, as he puts it, “the only way to live is to find a way to make money doing something you would do even if you weren’t getting paid.” Pull that trick, Kieran says, and “the whole concept of work vanishes.” His latest assault on the world of work is The Idler Book of Crap Jobs. In it, he edited real-life stories of awful work (think call center operator, pill flicker, pig wanker, maggot farmer) into a Top 100 list. Taking a break from so-called work, I reached him at his apartment somewhere in England to ask him about employment’s worst deals.—Cathy Harding
C-VILLE: Since this has been published, has an even worse job come to your attention?
Dan Kieran: I think we’ve pretty much trawled the depths of the world of work as much as is possible. The worst jobs are the ones where people spend 40 years staring into a computer monitor having their minds bleached.
Have you come across any generational trends? Is a crap job different for 20somethings than for people who are two or three generations older than them?
The whole way we work in the Western world basically comes out of the Industrial Revolution. Before that we didn’t sell our time. Benjamin Franklin inventing the light bulb, the only reason he did that was finding a way to make people work when it was dark.
I think that was Thomas Edison.
Was it? O.K., well, it’s that kind of idea that the industrialized world has changed the way we work. Generationally maybe they’re not so different, but in the last few hundred years things have radically changed. It works out that the average American works harder than the average peasant did in medieval England.
I was disturbed to see that No. 95 on the list was journalist. With this information out there how do you expect a kind treatment from the very media that you need to promote your book?
Because we tend to take a huge part of our identity in how we make a living, we don’t want to really admit they’re rubbish. Journalist is one of those jobs where there are so many people that want to do it and it’s so difficult to get involved in—the idea that once you get there it isn’t really that great is kind of vital information to get out there for people who are training.
I have a job opening on my staff right now so I’m going to censor this part of the interview. Anyway, some of these crap jobs are not bad in terms of how they’re paid, but I guess you’re saying money isn’t everything.
Yeah, well, the only thing I learned from this book is that all jobs are crap. It doesn’t matter what you do. It’s rubbish.
According to the U.N., work kills more than war and drugs and drink combined. We’ve declared a war on terror, but work is killing far more of us. And it’s work that keeps us away from our families and from living, I think.
I’ll have to start doing more drugs. I see from the book that the worst possible combination is a job that’s soul-destroying, humiliating, futile and immoral. Broadcast executive and Christian book stacker have all four.
The better paid you are the closer you’re getting to those things.
I’m calling you when it’s mid-afternoon in England. What have you done for work today?
I’m writing a book at the moment so I’m trying to write, but my brother has just popped around so we’re watching curling on the winter Olympics.
Nice work if you can get it.
Movin’ on up
Land a better gig by learning these job-search tips
Sometimes jobs are like lily pads—you’ll find yourself hopping from one to the other. No matter how stable your field, most people will change jobs up to 12 times and go through three to five career shifts in a lifetime, according to career counselor Elly Tucker at University Career Services at UVA. Whether you’re starting your career or just hopping companies, here are some common mistakes job seekers make—and how to avoid them.—Meg McEvoy
1. Adjust your attitude. Some people expect to be romanced by a company. But JFK phrased it best: Ask not what the company can do for you; let employers know what you can do for them. “Asking, ‘How many weeks of vacation do I get?’ is a question for after you’re hired,” Tucker says.
2. Get specific. When it’s time to find a new job, many people use the shotgun method, sending out resumés to hundreds of employers. Tucker says it’s a shoot for the stars hoping for one of these to work because “there’s a resumé graveyard out there…some companies get thousands of resumés a week.” A better way is to research and target a few companies you’re interested in and follow up with an actual person.
3. Bypass the Web. Another pitfall is to depend on Internet sources when looking for jobs. According to Tucker, only about 20 percent of jobs are gotten through Internet listings. Networking is still the way to go, with 70 percent of jobs landed through connections and word-of-mouth.
4. Do your homework. Do use the Internet for researching companies before an interview, a step that many skip over. “Anybody can look at the mission statement and the home page,” Tucker says. But knowing specific details about the company and being able to ask questions at the interview will really impress employers.
5. Dress the part. With a new century come new rules for interview attire—sort of. Tucker says career counselors used to advise women to take their earrings off for interviews. Now, she advises, applicants should gauge carefully and shoot for slightly more conservative than the company’s standard. So, if you’re applying at a tattoo parlor, feel free to show ‘em how you’d fit in. But, Tucker says, “If you’re in investment banking, you’d better have a suit.”
Only about 20 percent of jobs are gotten through Internet listings. Networking is still the way to go, with 7 percent of jobs landed through connections and word-of-mouth.