Dispatches from Corporate Britain
By Yolanda Winston
New Year, New Career? If you’re contemplating a job in the big-bad city when you finish your season, our woman on the outside says think again!
There’s an unspoken secret in the working world. In the towering glass buildings dominating the London skyline. In asbestos-encrusted roadside office blocks where spider plants sit dehydrating. In “co-working spaces” where tiny-hatted MacBook users are filled with oat milk, existential dread and app ideas (CarpentR - ‘it’s like Shazam but for wood!’). All these good people beavering away the whole day through and no one mentions that not a single member of the workforce really knows what they are doing.
Now, of course, doctors, engineers, architects, vets etc have a fairly solid grasp of their respective subjects, due to years of training, pressure not to endanger human/animal life etc etc. But even at the early stages of these professions, there’s a fair amount of bullshit in the guise of knowhow flying around. This is equal parts terrifying, as you realise everyone is internally screaming most of the time and no one is really driving the ship, and reassuring, as it’s clear that even you, permanently baffled little you can join the fun. In this article, I’m going to show you that swapping your low-key life on the slopes for the thrills of the rat-race isn’t as hard as you think.
I’m not going to tell you to get a degree because everyone’s got one now. Oh big whoop Miss M.A. in Biochemistry, haven’t you heard? People don’t like science anymore, nerd. Why learn facts when you can just make stuff up online? I’m not even going to tell you to be nice to others because if you want to ascend the slippery pole of success, you better be willing to use your teeth and nails to cling on and crush your friends. Look at our world leaders. Nice is out guys, get nasty. To win this Late-Capitalist game of making enough money to survive in this godforsaken system, you must con people into believing you know exactly what you are doing and follow these simple steps below:
Step 1 - Be wealthy and well-connected!
Call up old Jonty, Daddy’s nefarious younger brother - better yet, have a chinwag at the old boys club. Ask about getting a little jobbo in his firm. No one knows quite what they do there save for batting away sexual harassment suits like they are cricket balls but everyone’s called Monty or Jonty and they all drive nice Jags. 35k starting salary? Jolly good, Uncle J!
Step 2 - Spice up your job title!
If the shop assistants working at Apple stores are allowed to call themselves Geniuses, then we all should have the power to grossly over-inflate our employment history. I was once employed as an “Innovation Officer”. My job was literally to be the youngest person in the room and infuse projects with my nascent youth by simply being there and nodding youthfully.
Embrace the power of language. Don’t blend into the crowd and call yourself a bartender. Gosh, how basic of you! No, today my friend, you can call yourself a Beverage Dissemination Officer. Didn’t you spend summer 2012 blowing on a whistle and occasionally fishing a rogue poo out the pool - as a Lifeguard you say? Wet Leisure Attendant has a much sexier corporate feel, don’t you think? Painter/decorator? NAH SON, you’re a Colour Distribution Technician now! Working in a nightclub as a cloakroom attendant? WRONG. Look in the mirror. Do it now. You see that person, staring vacantly back at you with those tired baggy eyes? Who nightly drapes a forest of unwashed coats on shit hangers only to haul them out whenever someone fancies a smoke/barf. That’s no “cloakroom attendant”. No. You’re looking at a true Warden Of The Overgarments.
Step 3 - If you can, try being white, male and able-bodied!
Despite cries from the right of tokenism and “reverse racism” (a concept as non-existent as the Easter bunny I’m afraid) - diversity and inclusivity in the UK workplace is far from the norm. Minority ethnic groups in London earn 21.7% less on average than white employees. The current disability pay gap for all employees stands at 15.5%. This pay gap means that disabled people effectively work for free for 8 weeks of the year. The gender pay gap? Still a thing, with the UK’s economic gender gap coming in at a paltry 58th worldwide.
Still here? Then clearly you’re not from a long line of Eton-educated, hunting/shooting Theodore von Dick-Wads. Well, bummer for you. Life’s going to be quite difficult. You’re going to have to try a bit harder. Because if you don’t succeed, there’s no ancestral dosh stashed away in tax havens to cushion the fall. If you slip through that net, you might have to rely instead on a crumbling benefits system and join the one in 50 households below the poverty line who are using food banks to survive. And it’ll be all your fault for not just being rich. Why don’t you just BE rich????
Step 4 - Never rest!
Back in 1980, sweet Dolly sang a song about the 9-5 workday. In the catchy song, she complains about the work/life balance. The lyrics are pretty cutting but, musically, she keeps it jaunty and melodic. If Dolly Parton was temping at a financial firm in London right now, this upbeat country song would be released as bleed-from-the-eyeballs thrash metal. There is no 9-5 anymore Dolly. The workday has no end. Oh you sweet, naive country gal, we work to infinity o’clock now.
There is no jauntiness to be found in a routine that begins at 7.00am with an hour commute spent sandwiched between an armpit and a sweaty Pret egg roll. There is nothing upbeat about eating your own sad Pret affair at your desk because it’s office culture to feel ashamed of taking a break. Even you, oh perky Dolly, wouldn’t have any pep left in you, if this same culture of overwork forced you to stay in the building until at least 3 hours after the working day is officially over because you need, you really bloody need that promotion and those who go home at 5pm clearly aren’t committed to the great cause of making heaps of coin.
Leisure is now something to feel bad about. After work, don’t have a lovely alfresco beverage with friends commes les français during apéro. No, you need to binge drink in a chain pub with shit carpets to drown all that internalised guilt you feel for not working every second of the day. Sure, it’s the “weekend” but don’t even think of popping back home for a fulfilling and nutritious Sunday roast. No no little worker bee, you need to cry into a pot noodle, open your inbox of shame and reply to all the emails you’ve ignored since Saturday morning. Because thanks to the dawn of the smartphone - we can all carry our jobs around in our pockets at all times. Money doesn’t rest, little bee, so nor should you!
Step 5 - Craft a killer CV!
See below for an example: