Working Our Brains To The Bone

By Bernie Bell

I was talking with a young person, about the tyranny of the machine in today’s society, and she told me that she picks up messages on her phone, from work colleagues, which have been sent at all hours of the day and night. And not personal messages – work messages, sent at maybe 2 in the morning.  She explained that it’s because in today’s world of work, people feel that they must be ‘productive’, and they must be seen to be productive.  And not just productive – but 110 % productive. So, they work at all hours.

She is a sensible girl, who is in bed asleep at that time, or out enjoying herself!  I don’t know her as a work colleague, but I do know that she is hard working, as well as being interested in, and committed to, what she is doing, and I’m certain that she makes a  good job of what she does.

She picks up the messages, when she is ready to – but does not let herself be dragged into the madness.

We were speaking of how this atmosphere can change a workplace, and, in fact, be counter-productive.

I told her of someone I know who works in a government department, where each individual doesn’t actually have a desk of their own to work at. They are expected to arrive each day, and those how get there first, get the ‘good desks’.  The idea seems to be, that, with the new technology, paperwork is minimum, it’s all done on computer, so, all they need is their laptop.

So, they are expected to clear their desk each evening, then get in as early as possible, to claim a desk the next day.

What a way to start your working day – getting up extra-early to get there early enough to take part in a scramble to get the ‘best’ of the desks.  Apparently, this is known as ‘hot-desking’ and is becoming reasonably common-place.

It can’t be productive – it has to be counter–productive.

Once again though – the machine dictates – the idea is that the work can  be done on a machine, a portable machine, and so, the human can carry the machine with them, and where they are situated, doesn’t matter.

Lap top and mobile phone B Bell

Partners in Crime.

But I believe that it does – people are human, they like to have a ‘nest’, even at work. They like to have some pictures around them, maybe a plant, maybe some kind of little gee-gaw which just makes them feel – comfortable – connects with their own life, outside the work place. I honestly feel that this is something we need, and something which helps us to feel more comfortable at work, and therefore, I believe, more productive.

Years ago, I worked at a job which I really hated, mainly because of the atmosphere there, which was one of tyranny and bullying.

I purposely and consciously made sure that I didn’t have anything personal on or in my desk. The idea being  that, if I ever was in a position which meant that I simply didn’t have to go into work there again, there would be absolutely no need for me to do so.

That isn’t right – that’s not how you should feel about your work place.  Surely it’s more natural for us to want to take something of ourselves,  and our interests, into the workplace with us?

And what happened?  Eventually, I resigned, after telling the boss-man exactly what working there was like, for the lower grades of workers.  He sat in his office all day, and had no idea what was happening.

Today even universities are being run as businesses – the emphasis on learning and enlightenment, seems to have become lost in a maze of ‘procedures’ and networking for funding, to pay for any research that is being  done.

It took a while, but Academia is catching up with big business.

I’m not saying that they shouldn’t ‘pay their way’, but – something is being lost, somewhere along the way.

One ray of hope is – that these situations always turn around. These situations creep up on people, without them noticing, then, they reach optimum, and the boil bursts, or is lanced, and people become human again, or are given the space to be human again.

There are parallels with political situations, I think.

But meanwhile. The madness creeps in, and people are expected to work their fingers, and their brains, to the bone.

And folk are wondering why there is so much more distress and what is referred to ‘mental health’ problems.

I believe we are sane enough, in many ways, as a species,  but the way society is going, produces insane situations, which we react to sanely by becoming insane for a time. Ref. the character Orr in Catch 22 by Joseph Heller – . You have to be mad to take part in the war, but going mad because you’re taking part in the war, shows that you’re sane……….Catch 22.

So, where do you go from there.  How do you get round that?

Plough your own furrow – do your job – do it well, so that no one can complain of what you actually ‘produce’ – but don’t live for it – try not to let it take over.


If you find yourself at 2 in the morning, working, on a regular basis – not because that’s when you happen to function best – which can be the case – but because of some kind of fear of not appearing to be ‘productive’.  Finish the sentence you’re writing, turn the bloody thing off, and sleep.  That, is productive, in many ways.

End of rant.

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4 replies »

  1. Bernie, that wasn’t a ‘rant’ it was telling how it is for too many people. Way back in the year dot-splash when I was still living at home and it was the year Celtic won the European Cup the major employer in the town was IBM and they were worried about absences with the old shipyard excuses of ‘Grannies just died’ etc so they arranged for the largest TV’s of the time to be installed in the factory social club, laid on snacks and allowed all staff who wanted to watch the match to go and view it. Later when management checked the day’s and the week’s production figures all were up, despite the loss of about two hours production. As you can imagine a lot of people didn’t believe it but at that time IBM was very much a staff oriented company and knew that if you treat your staff well then they’ll respond positively. A lesson that many employers might do well to follow in this day and age, as my old director used to tell people, being at work for 10 or 12 hours does not mean 10 or 12 hours of productive work, in fact, it probably means a lot less, most people need a balanced day of work, relaxation and SLEEP.

    • Here’s a plan for people working in ‘hot-desking’ places –
      Get together, decide which desk ‘belongs’ to who, then, use those desks, and tell the Powers That Be, to go………..

      At one time, Unions wouldn’t have allowed this to happen – but whatever happened to Unions?
      OK, Charlie, I know what happened! I lived in Wales during the Miner’s strike.

  2. Addendum……………………….

    by Philip Larkin

    Why should I let the toad work
    Squat on my life?
    Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
    And drive the brute off?

    Six days of the week it soils
    With its sickening poison –
    Just for paying a few bills!
    That’s out of proportion.

    Lots of folk live on their wits:
    Lecturers, lispers,
    Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
    They don’t end as paupers;

    Lots of folk live up lanes
    With fires in a bucket,
    Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
    they seem to like it.

    Their nippers have got bare feet,
    Their unspeakable wives
    Are skinny as whippets – and yet
    No one actually starves.

    Ah, were I courageous enough
    To shout Stuff your pension!
    But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
    That dreams are made on:

    For something sufficiently toad-like
    Squats in me, too;
    Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
    And cold as snow,

    And will never allow me to blarney
    My way of getting
    The fame and the girl and the money
    All at one sitting.

    I don’t say, one bodies the other
    One’s spiritual truth;
    But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
    When you have both.

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