Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to Tell when You're Tired (copy)

In these sad economic times emphasis is being placed on work or more importantly the lack of work in our society. Looking for a history of work, I found Reg Theriault’s How to Tell When You’re Tired: A Brief Examination of Work. It is less of a history and more of Theriault own experiences having entered the work force during the depression as a crate maker for fruit. The book chronicles his life among fruit tramps then eventually becoming a longshoreman.

Theriault has a work ethic I admire and found my head nodding in agreement to most of his statements such as, “Poverty and hard work are twin plagues; education is the vaccination against them,” or “I work with an acceptance that it is easier to do the job than to fight it.”

Growing up my Dad had a mantra, “If you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself.” As one can guess, I probably made a lot of mistakes but I was always eager to please. My father also had an aversion to child labor laws; thus, I worked. From the time I was tall enough to stand behind a lawnmower, I earned my own income. The funny thing, I liked work and although I grumbled stacking wood or vacuuming offices I found it satisfying.

Now, I have one of those cushy white-collar jobs where cushy describes my physique. Theriault might have a problem with me. He writes of many disputes between blue-collar and white-collar workers where he favors the laborers, but oddly disagrees with unions. He cites many examples but my favorite has to be the worker’s study.

College students decided to study a group of workers and separated them into two groups. Production was monitored as the different groups were subjected to a variety of music and variations in lighting. One group was given a 5-minute break every hour and the other a 15 minute break after three hours. This study continued for three years and during that time production remained within normal parameters. After a year into the study, one student stayed late to gather his numbers when he noticed the factory empty. He could hear voices and followed the noise down the corridor to a back break room. Upon opening the door he saw all the workers either playing cards, knitting or socializing.

The college students were left in charge of the factory and they clocked out at 3:15 p.m. leaving the factory unmonitored. At 3:30 the workers relaxed until the five o’clock shift ended. One could argue the blue-collar workers out smarted the thought-to-be smarter college students.

Written in 1995, this book offers wisdom for many who still do back-breaking work and for those who manage them.

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