Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 14 October 2011

Lost, stolen or strayed - the work ethic

It's something that seems to be sorely lacking in Britain today; any foray into the area of health, social services or local government is likely to furnish an abundance of examples of the sort of worker whose output approximates that of the office rubber plant.

It's nothing new; thirty years ago, as an office temp at the local council, I was taken aside and warned not to complete more than a (derisory) set amount of work in a day or the unions wouldn't like it. However, many among the increasing numbers of working mothers (by courtesy of Harriet Harman) have taken the ethos to their hearts, allowing them to concentrate on important matters like arranging their children's birthday parties in office time.

Having had reason to deal with several of these agencies recently, I have overheard far too many office discussions about 'Barbie theme or Disney?' or whether Hayley should have Ugg boots at eight; one woman filled in a vital form in front of me (wrongly) while booking her daughter's haircut on the phone. When I called to complain about the resulting problems (which took me several months and £5,000 to remedy), I was told she had been promoted.

That is not to deny that there are many hard-working and conscientious public sector workers out there. I wonder, though, whether the idle have more time to spare for office politics; those who make the others look sloppy might well find themselves first in the firing line. And as proponents of the procrastinatory art travel further up the food chain, it becomes the office norm, until our public sector makes the notorious 1970s print workers look like a colony of ants.

All this musing was prompted by a recent exchange at Subrosa's on a delightful parody by Tedious Tantrums , which reminded me of this favourite of Pa Peachum's:

The stouter I cobble, the less I earn
For the soles ne'er crack nor the uppers turn;
The better my work the less my pay
But work can only be done one way...


  1. "examples of the sort of worker whose output approximates that of the office rubber plant."

    Unfair to rubber plants surely. I've come across people with even less to contribute than a rubber plant.

  2. This sort of attitude is nourished in schools where the work ethic should be taught, from the age of 5.
    Our schools instead teach children how to get by without fulfilling their obligations. We reap what we sow.

  3. Even rubber plants produce usable oxygen...

  4. Good point, AKH/Julia; perhaps I should have stipulated a plastic plant as sold by cheap and tacky office suppliers - although recent news stories have shown that, when the taxpayer foots the bill, no expense is spared: remember the greenery surrounding Harriet Harman's green glass 'peace pods' at the Dept. for Communities and Local Government and the Equalities Office?

    Mar Lizaro, welcome to the Tavern! You are absolutely right; schools have encouraged this attitude to the point where it becomes the norm.

    Matters educational being something of a Leitmotif here, I'll be posting on that in the near future.


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