by David D. Horowitz.
“Just five years, six months, and fifteen days until my retirement!” So begins Office Worker’s day as she trudges onto an elevator to travel to the twenty-eighth floor of a reflective-glass high-rise in the middle of downtown America. “I’m in hell still, but in 2,023 days I’m climbing out!” And off she goes to type, file, photocopy, collate, staple, fax, learn version 6.4a of some software upgrade, and by mid-afternoon sip four cups of coffee and down two Advil. “Good news, good news, retirement’s a-comin’, and they’re comin’ to take me away,” she giggles to herself. But it’s only eight a.m. on a chilly, drizzly Monday. She sighs; toasts two sesame bagel halves and lightly spreads butter substitute on their browned flat sides; spends three minutes working on an online crossword puzzle and one minute perusing headlines on a celebrity gossip website; and, then, unavoidably: WORK. The brute WORK! HELL!
Indeed, I spent many mornings not so differently during my years as an office temp specializing in data entry and ten-key. I, too, struggled with boredom; eyestrain headaches; mumbling sales spiels and data-entry codes (e.g., “87546”) in my sleep; and enduring a blunted, blurred, delayed sense of life-purpose. I eventually found my way to a job and life I love, but who hasn’t felt trapped by a job, by conventions, by expectations and demands? And it can feel like HELL!
Work is rarely going to be paradise, but why not dream of at least a moderately engaging, decent-paying job around co-workers with diverse interests and some sense of ethics. Yes, those jobs can be found. And while they’re not the ostensible paradise of a prosperous retirement, they at least make life comfortable enough, a sort of employment purgatory. And during one’s off-hours one can write poems and songs, play the violin and piano, travel to Tualatin or Timbuktu, study political issues and join a campaign, donate time and money to worthy charities, volunteer as a coach for one’s daughter’s soccer team, master five new yoga asanas—in essence, craft a meaningful balance and rebel against television-watching, website-browsing passivity!
Sure enough, I’ve spent months marking time until vacation or retirement. I’ve endured rather than enjoyed. I’ve yawned rather than yelped. But some instinct inside me screams to wake up, laugh and sing and dance in the moment, while not letting tedium at a job dull my ethical commitments. Now, employers: spend some more this year on the company summer picnic and holiday-season party; offer some flex-time; be radical, and, if possible, don’t cut employee health coverage; offer an occasional surprise treat, like ten-minute massages by a professional massage therapist or a complimentary pizza-and-salad lunch; cross-train and sponsor seminars and events to help employees stay engaged with their work; promote supervisors who genuinely consider complaints; and refuse to tolerate managerial retaliation and harassment. And many of your employees will LOVE you for it and will feel they are in PARADISE after the HELL of their last job! That hell yielded the purgatory they’re in now, but soon, good news: they’ll relish sitting at their work stations. Retirement will arrive when it arrives; it can wait. They’ve got work to do, and the office is starting to feel like PARADISE!