The New Work Ethic Redux


Inspired by a recent blog post I read (yes, I occasionally retain and rethink things I’ve read, thank you), I got to thinking how my brief stint with a 40-hour work week epitomized the idea. Let me elaborately digress;

I somehow got a job at SVSU in the Communications Department shortly into the Spring semester of my first year there. I must’ve indicated an interest in art when I applied for Work Study via Career Planning due to my enjoyment of photography in High School.

Well, one nice spring day, doing some yard work, I received a cell call from Craig at University Communications asking me to come in with my portfolio. I had none, but brought in some of my photography. I guess I must’ve impressed them in the interview, for I got the job.

From there, I taught myself how to use the Mac OS, Illustrator CS1, Photoshop and  Quark then eventually InDesign. I worked there for about 4 years all together. However, as it was a work study program, my hours were limited to a) time between classes; b) time between my other job; c) the school/government imposed 20 hour workweek; d) the office budget and the ratio of number of hours to number of working students.

Still, I made a decent amount of money between the two jobs and I learned a great deal working in the office environment. I gained a great deal of practical experience I didn’t obtain in the classroom and had the opportunity to apply what I learned to a real-life job.

Granted, as students, we got the small jobs that the real designers thought we were capable of and were thus generally fairly simple. However, as we worked longer, we gained more experience and were given larger and more difficult projects.

This, for me, culminated in my boss getting pregnant.

When I began, there were three other student designers in the office (to compliment the 2 full time designers). Two of them I still keep in contact with. However, this was their last semester, so as I was the newbie, I got taught the ropes by them as well as being groomed to be the senior-most student designer.

Throughout my years there, quite a few student-regime changes took place. One thing stayed consistent, however (and this begins to tie in with the Elgan article): there was always a limited amount of work for the students. That meant, even with as few hours as we had, there were many times that we had no work. We had to use the hours, though, for if there was a surplus in the student hours budget, the department wouldn’t have as large of a budget the following semester, meaning less money to pay the student employees. Hence, a lot of homework, MySpace-ing, and FaceBook-ing went on amongst the bored students.

As I was senior-most student designer after my first semester (!!), I continued to be so. When my immediate supervisor got pregnant, I was the most obvious choice for a temporary replacement.

Imagine my excitement: I was a Junior in college, getting a full-time summer job with an office, more responsibility, a hefty pay increase (albeit temporary, as well) and more potential for creativity! Granted, I was a bit nervous, too, but once I got into it, it was amazingly similar to the student position.

Aside from one aspect: I did have more work to do. And that meant less time for Social Networking. Somehow, though, I still found the time. In fact, there were days I had nothing to do but read Gizmodo and StyleFORVM and create papercraft iPhones.

This was a fact that did not go unnoticed by superiors. Though I conveniently had my computer place so that the monitor was facing away from the door, I was several times caught “goofing off” as it was. I first blogged about this on my LiveJournal [I assume since I can’t find the post on my Xanga (on a side note, I am surprised that is still up! I haven’t posted since aught six, and it hasn’t been taken down yet. Interesting to see all my thoughts from back then. Like a journal or something. 22-yr-old Nick. You’re welcome)]. Let me paraphrase since I cannot find the original:

Apparently, it is now a crime to be efficient. I just got a lecture from my boss about how I am working too fast. WTF? I thought I was being efficient! Just because there is not enough work for me to do doesn’t mean I should be punished! Isn’t is YOUR job to find work for me to do?! I’m just a temp!

Suffice to say, I was pissed off. It seemed an incredible injustice. My work was not deplorable, but my bosses actions seemed so. What I failed to see was this: I probably had the same workload my boss did. I was just able to work more efficiently. This had nothing to do with my personality. Rather, as I was technically just a student, I had protection.

My office phone was forwarded to my boss. Meetings with off- and on-campus clients were handled by my superiors and digested then handed down to me. Proofs and dealings with other such items were either mediated by a superior or done without my presence. I had a filter. Thus, I was able to get things done with no interruptions.

Sure, the internet was an ever present distraction. But when you are only reading one blog and all your friends are in class, there isn’t enough activity to keep one from finishing their projects in a timely manner.

I suggest that one can simply unplug their phone for an hour or two a day. Or, do like Jill (maternity boss) did and close the door when deadlines loom. Eliminate distractions (visitors) before they have the chance to become a nuisance and the efficiency of your day can increase ten-fold.

Then again, it is entirely possible that I was doing something truly wrong, but I’d like to think my boss was peeved that I had no distractions.

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