The Idler Magazine

Why I Quit the Day Job

From Mr Jonathan Penny, July 2010

Posted in Readers' Letters on 24 October 2010

Dear Idler

I am writing to tell you about my experiences in the modern workplace during a sustained period of employment spanning from the early nineties up until earlier this year.

During this time I worked as an Architectural Draughtsman which involved working alongside architects and engineers, and producing architectural drawings for building projects.

When I first started this work almost twenty years ago, technical drawings were done on a drawing board using pens, compasses, set squares and scale rules. The work involved dexterity and bodily movement, and great care was needed to produce accurate professional looking architectural drawings.

Due to the considerable size of the drawing boards, you would also be given a special stool to sit on. The stools were much higher than a typical office desk chair, and when seated on one you would be elevated so that you could see above the whole office. You could raise of lower your stool depending on which part of your drawing you were working on, or you could push it to one side and work standing up if you felt like it.

There was something about this way of working that encouraged interaction between fellow workers. With everybody perched on their stools you could see what was going on, who was in the office and what they were up to.

Another benefit of this method of working was that you could see what other people were working on as their current drawing would be laid out on their board for all to see. You could take an interest and this could result in more discussions about their work and how it was going, which resulted in a congenial supportive atmosphere in the office.

Around the time that Tony Blair and New Labour took over, our drawing boards were replaced with computers and new drawing software called CAD (computer aided design). Lines were now to be drawn digitally with the click of a mouse rather than with a pen and ink and skill.

Working at a computer workstation is very different from working at a drawing board, the work is more insular, your whole focus is on the small rectangular screen in front of you, the work requires very little bodily movement, work spaces shrank, dividers went up and people stopped talking to each other.

Also the increased ‘efficiency’ of computerised draughting resulted in tighter deadlines and the ability to edit drawings more easily on a computer resulted in more changes, more demanding clients and more work. When I first started work, firms were run by the partners and the over-riding culture within the office would be to do a good job and hopefully to make a bit of money at the end of it.

The noughties were a period where many firms embraced a more corporate culture changing from partnerships to limited companies.
Firms are now run by managers, accountants and the human resources department and the result has been that the workplace has become more oppressive, soulless and joyless.

In the corporate world, fees are the holy grail. All hours worked have to be allocated to projects and if the time spent on a job exceeds what was allowed for it (which is often woefully underestimated when the fee quote is originally prepared at the start of the job), you’ll be invited to a sour faced meeting with the directors to explain the reason why.

Fortunately for me, this is a world I no longer inhabit, as I was mercifully made redundant from my job in February this year.
I was also fortunate that my redundancy coincided with our moving out of the city a couple of months earlier, when we rented out our small terraced house in Manchester and moved to a rented farmhouse in the Peak District.

The house we now live in sits on a hill surrounded by other hills. To the north west, in the distance is the city where I used to work. At night it is lit up in a sea of tiny shimmering street lights and the sky has a permanent orange glow, if you look in the opposite direction to the looming hills of Kinder Scout, Brown Knoll, and Mount Famine, the skies are black and star-filled.
In the daytime the landscape and sky are the dominant features, there is so much sky up here that it is a little overwhelming, these skies are busy with circling buzzards, gangs of rooks and jackdaws, swooping swallows, and lapwings to name but a few of the locals. Across the valley is a stretch of the Manchester to Sheffield railway line, trains pass regularly between the two cities and at night they are a streak of light through the darkness.

I know we shouldn’t pay too much attention to politicians but I have decided to make an exception in the case of our new deputy prime minister: “We have an opportunity of a lifetime, a once in a generation chance to change for good, there is hope for a different future, a different way of doing things, if we’re brave enough to make a fresh start,” Nick Clegg, |May 2010.
I have been blessed with the gift of redundancy in my fortieth year, my old profession is dead to me now. I cannot go back to that environment. When the building industry finally recovers it won’t need me, there’ll be plenty of younger, cheaper new recruits to become idealistic cannon fodder. I have decided to embrace poverty and walk away into the sunset of lower paid, less hateful work.
Thank you to The Idler for being a beacon of light during dark times. It is so easy to be overwhelmed by the fear-mongering and negativity of those who would enslave you for their own purposes, and The Idler has been an oasis of sanity for me in a desert of corporate consumer bullshit.
Very best wishes to you.
Yours sincerely,
Jonathan Penny.

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