By Alex Andreou, Guardian newspaper, London.
There comes a time in every man’s life when he needs to stand up and be counted; when he needs to take a shrewd, critical look at himself and come out. This is that time for me. I am tired of living a lie. It is time to admit it to myself and to the world: I am not naturally hard-working. (Cue hissing from the crowd, ladies fainting, shouts of “monster”.)
That is not to say I have never worked hard – I have. My working life has fallen, largely, into two categories; either doing what I love, sometimes for money, or doing something I don’t love strictly in exchange for money. In the case of the former, when I am writing, acting or directing and getting paid for it (yes, it happens), it never feels like hard work. In the case of the latter, I go about my work professionally, enthusiastically and with gusto, but I do precisely what I am paid for – no more.
Hard-working is just not my natural state. I know very few people for whom it is. My ex-partner was one such person. Even on holiday, he used to bound out of bed at 6am, so full of energy that I wanted to shove his face into my grapefruit. When I am on holiday, I spend hours frolicking in the waves, looking at starfish through a mask and reading the same paragraph of a terrible thriller for hours. In the evening, I might mix a cocktail which involves vigorous shaking, for exercise.
There has been rather a lot of talk recently of hard work: the mythical individuals who are thus wired – from politicians to Hollywood stars, households of folks so hard-working they sometimes drop the hyphen for efficiency. But there has also been a deliberate and cynical smudging of the link between working and getting paid, with workfare programmes that ask the jobless to stack shelves in order to avoid sanctions, unpaid apprenticeships and internships. The link between national economic growth and salaries is being eroded.
If we lose that link, if we lose sight of the fact that work is a mutually beneficial commercial arrangement consisting of an employer paying an employee to do something and the employee doing it in exchange, what is left is not hard work, but hard labour.
At no time is this more evident than when examining government rhetoric around a strike. “The economy has lost X billion pounds”, pronounces some sage. How can this be? If individuals withdraw their labour and do not get paid for it, the only plausible explanation for that billion-pound figure is that it represents the difference between what they are paid for their work and what their work is actually worth. Which is the whole point of a strike, really – to demonstrate that gap; that margin for negotiation.
The average UK worker does roughly seven hours and 20 minutes of unpaid overtime each week. That is effectively a return to a six-day working week. If you work fulltime, over a year, you will have worked the entire months of January and February before your employer starts paying you. Two months of hard labour. We have been suckered into a race to the bottom with each other – who can do the most for nothing.
Beneath this, there is the obnoxious notion that people owe their employer loyalty, gratitude and even love; tug your forelock and go “the extra mile” for an employer who may show you no loyalty and dump you as soon as you become old, pregnant or sick.
For an employer who, with one phone call from his private yacht in the Côte d’Azur, will close an entire plant just to teach you a lesson about accepting pay cuts graciously. For an employer who works extra hard at hiding their earnings in tax havens in order to avoid contributing to the system that provides them with a healthy, educated workforce, protects their property and provides the roads, rail tracks, phone lines and runways through which they peddle their product and make more profit to hide.
Enough. If an employer hires me to do a job, it means they have deemed me qualified to do it. If I cannot complete the task required in the hours for which I am paid, I am being conned. I will exchange my labour for money or not, if I choose to, for there are of course other reasons why I might choose to work hard: because I derive satisfaction from the work itself, to advance in some other way, to help people less fortunate than I, to educate myself, as an investment in my future. All those reasons are valid, because they are gainful in some way. But I will not exchange my labour solely for the approval, respect or love of corporate entities.
I am not naturally hard-working. But if you pay me, I will do a good job. That’s the deal.