Some Random Labor Day Thoughts

Upward bound. Somewhere in Seoul (photo credit: Bealuz Villavicencio)
Upward bound. (photo credit: Bealuz Villavicencio – taken somewhere in Seoul)

Thought balloon of the day: Progress (or profit) is built on the bent back of workers.

For those of us who work, every day is labor day. But some of us get one day off a year from our usual jobs to celebrate it in whatever way we choose to.

Labor Day for me has always been first and foremost a much-welcome break from the daily grind. I don’t think I really have some particularly strong feelings about it. But I think that it’s an important occasion and I admire those people who continue to be at the forefront of the fight in protecting workers’ welfare and rights.

  • Labor redefined (in my mind) – There’s labor you actually do and the work you make others do. I was a lousy manager when I worked in the food industry. I realized long ago I’d probably suck in corporate managerial roles, especially when I have to deal with contractual workers. A realization triggered after working as a supervisor in a food manufacturing company over a decade ago. I can usually deal with any challenge, but my heart bleeds every time I have to end a worker’s contract. That’s when I thought I probably didn’t belong in that line of work and  yet found myself doing it again.
  • Conflicting beliefs and internal battles – One of my greatest challenges as a manager was the fact that I worked in an industry that demands too much in exchange for too little from its workers. I wasn’t being idealistic for thinking that. I just found it sad that the reality is far more harsh than anyone outside of it could imagine. But I believe that it’s not limited to that particular industry alone. It’s more commonplace and already part of the norm in most, if not all, workplaces. It’s the reality everyone has to live with, including conflicted managers. Employers need to squeeze out every productivity they can get for the lowest possible amount of investment.
  • Gaps in expectations vs reality – I find it admirable but sad to see contractual employees going far beyond the extra mile for the slim chance of being regularized before the 5 or 6-month contract ends. I used to wonder how other managers feel every time a staff’s contract draws to an end. Especially if the person showed great promise or after demanding so much from them despite knowing you’ll end the contract anyway since there’s no vacancy in the regular positions. I’m sure my former staff have no idea of how much it pained me to end a contract. That’s probably why I never really tried to get too close or to show that I cared too much. Another reason why I sucked at what I did.
  • Blind eyes or rose-colored glasses – I also used to wonder just how much the government knows or understands about workers’ plights. I came to thinking that it’s either those who should act as champions are seeing things from blind eyes or from rose-colored glasses. Still, I dreaded every time I have to request that every worker be present for general cleanings and such knowing that they won’t be paid for it anyway. I have always felt that whatever labor agency in charge of monitoring those sort of things would apprehend me. Yes, I was just paranoid that way.

I was never a good manager because I was miserable to begin with. It’s hard to be happy in one’s job that involves constant conflict between what needs to be done and what personal, long-held values dictate.

But in the end, it’s all about choices or lack of them. I left a job that demands too much from myself and others in exchange for too little (at least for the others). It was sad because that work paid really, really, really well. Instead, I chose to labor on the kind of work that demands much from me (like all jobs are wont to do), but doesn’t require me to demand too much from others. It’s a life-altering decision. And yes, I sorely miss the pay. But I feel more at peace with myself.

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One thought on “Some Random Labor Day Thoughts

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