Confessions from Prison by Cindy Haney
I have a confession to make. I’ve hated almost every job I’ve ever held.
Ok, maybe hate is too strong of a word. I have felt deep resentment and frustration, and alright HATE, towards every job I’ve ever held.
I haven’t hated the work itself or (most of) the people I’ve worked with. I’ve had some great times with some really great people and I’ve done some really great, even outstanding work. I’ve even been recognized for it. That, in itself, is rewarding.
But what I despise, what I truly hate, is the confinement, or what I like to call voluntary imprisonment. These prisons usually come complete with heartless wardens that police your every move and issue random pointless restrictions, rules, and regulations designed to kill what’s left of your individuality and your very soul.
But what I hate most is my cubicle.
I wish I could climb into a time machine and go back to visit my college self, back when I was trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life. The conversation probably would have gone like this:
40-Something Self: “Hey, college self, let me ask you a question. How would you like me to lock you up behind prison bars in a tiny, grey windowless box for 8 hours every single day, for the rest of your life?”
College Self: “Um, hell no, not unless you put a gun to my head.”
40-Something Self: “What if you got paid (very little) to do it, would you still do it?”
College Self: “Um no, like, are you are crazy?”
But millions of us do this every day, voluntarily! Like most middle-class Americans, I wake up when it is still dark, even when I don’t feel like it, and commute in god-forsaken traffic to go sit in an ugly grey cubicle all day long. Literally, my entire office is devoid of sunlight or clean air and has grey fabric walls, grey industrial carpet, grey painted walls and grey ceilings. This is exactly like the inside of a state prison, which is designed to lull you into submission and kill what’s left of your personality. Except prison cells have more space, the inmates get to see more daylight, they have some reading and craft-making time, and office politics is a non-issue. I get none of these perks.
Why do we line up like Zombies after college and beg to get locked into the corporate office space dungeon? Because that’s what we were taught. It’s herd mentality. Everybody’s doing it. So I and the rest of the brainwashed sheeple follow the leader right over the cliff and into The Matrix in the name of making a living and paying our bills. What choice do we have, really? We were told we weren’t smart enough or rich enough to start our own business, so the prison cell is your only choice.
“Don’t take risks.”
“Don’t make waves or buck the system.”
“Be a team player, do what you’re told. Smile and pretend like you enjoy it.”
Ever since I became a responsible working adult, I’ve always had this nagging feeling that human beings were not created to spend their lives in a sitting position, in a grey box, sucking in nasty chemical air, in total office silence, staring at a blinking screen. I’m pretty sure this is not at all what God intended when he created the complex, moving parts of the human body. We were created to bend, move, walk, jump, run and interact personally with other human beings. Now recent reports in the news confirm this suspicion. The shocking increase in obesity, heart disease and depression, especially among women, is now positively linked to 40-hr-a-week office workers. I’ll bet this doesn’t surprise anyone. Since I started working, I’ve become a depressed, obese office worker with high blood pressure who does what she’s told, squelches any hint of individuality, and keeps her mouth shut (but not in this blog!).
What I’m wondering is, when are companies and corporate managers going to wake up and realize that The Prison Cube Farm concept is outdated, unproductive and inefficient? In my office, for instance, I am forced to sit here all day, even if it’s a slow day and there’s hardly any work to do. For a huge chuck of my 8 hours, minus a 30-min lunch break and few potty breaks, I sit and stare mindlessly at the internet pretending to be busy, just to fill in a timesheet. There’s something really wrong with this picture, people. Companies are paying untold numbers of workers every day for doing literally nothing for hours and hours. And what’s crazy is that upper management actually has no idea that this is going on. I suspect that lower supervisors know this is happening, but they ignore it because they are afraid to lose their gravy train as well.
As American workers, we ought to be fed up with these claustrophobic fabric-padded cubicles and demand change. We ought to find the courage to ask corporate owners and managers everywhere these questions:
1) Why do we have to sit here for an arbitrary 8 hours each day? Why not 7 or 4, who cares, as long as the work gets done? Why not give the assignments each day, and when they are done, reward the workers who are faster and more efficient and let them leave early, instead of twiddling their thumbs for the rest of the day? Or better yet…
2) Why do we have to sit in a cubicle, ten feet away from you, anyway? Don’t you trust us? Or do you just enjoy cracking the whip and making up arbitrary rules for us to follow? If you don’t trust us, why did you hire us in the first place? We live in the 21st century now, everything can be done by computers FROM HOME! Why not allow employees to tele-commute, saving you millions in unproductive down time, insurance, electricity, heating, etc. Hire only people that don’t require close supervision, give them their assignments, and let them complete them by deadline. Who cares if it’s done between 8 and 5? We have the internet now, so everything is measurable and traceable. Isn’t this a better idea for productivity?
3) Do you have any interest at all in having employees who are happy and healthy? Imagine if you did. Imagine the difference in productivity and profit if all of your employees were happy and healthy? If your employees worked from home, they could go to the doctor during actual office hours instead of begging for time off and being silently sneered at for missing work. They could pick up their children after school and play with them or help them with their homework. They could plan, shop for and cook healthy meals for their family. They could exercise regularly at a decent time of day. They could volunteer at school or help their community. The possibilities are endless for happier, healthier workers. And happy workers logically make better workers.
Companies today need to embrace new ideas and new ways of working. Stale grey cubicles rob wonderfully talented people of their energy and creativity. There’s something truly pathetic about the way Americans workers now spend the majority of their waking hours, hunched over, totally isolated, peering at our screens, trying to appear productive.
I know, in fact I predict, that changes are in store for the future. I believe that the current generation, including my teen daughters, won’t put up with this kind of soul-killing cubicle way of thinking. They are the internet generation, used to doing everything with their laptops and smart phones. They will not tolerate sitting in one specific spot and doing everything in one specific place. Someday, cubicle offices will be a novelty relic of the past, a thing for the history books like 8-track tapes, floppy disks, video cassette players and phone booths.
This generation is going to change things. And thank God for that. I hope I live long enough to see it happen.