By Aislinn De'Ath

By Aislinn De'Ath
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Monday, 19 November 2012

Cause I'm freeeee, to do what I'm paid to do...

Reader, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my spangly, sequin wearing shoulders. I have left the jobbing job at the callcentre of doom. Never again will I try and sell wine or other goods over the phone to patronising men who call me 'dearie'. Never again will I have to explain that, yes, if the customer wants 4 crates of booze delivered, they will have to pay for the delivery. Never again will I have to fake-laugh at the awful joke of 'is it free?' when I tell them there's a deal on. Nor explain that fruit and veg goes off if you leave it next to a radiator so we probably can't give them a refund for that.

Fingers crossed anyway.

As well as the acting malarkey going quite well at the moment (by which I mean fairly regular auditions and little paid jobs, sadly no juicy feature film, west end work or tv parts as of yet!), I've been doing some work in HR. It's being a pretty interesting swap, from working in a job where my brain was slowly rotting with every minute I had the exact same conversation with someone on the phones to a job where I need to essentially learn a whole new working language and be up to date on all the legal, cultural and employment news asap. It also makes me laugh a fair bit. On reading lots of journals and magazines on HR, I have come to realise something. People think that workers on zero hour contracts are basically people who couldn't get any other jobs due to visa issues, lack of education, poor work skills or other random failings. I've got to tell you folks, that most certainly isn't the case. Yes, being on a zero hour contract is crummy. You have no paid time off, no sick leave (meaning if you are sick you have to decide between not being able to pay your rent and recovering, or feeling like death every day for a month and scraping by), no maternity leave, no bonuses for hard work, no sense of stability, no right to notice of dismissal and added to that it's rarely connected to anything even remotely interesting. But nearly no one in the call-centre of doom did it because they couldn't get any other jobs, on the contrary, they were bright, fully educated people (more often than not with more than one degree). Our lunchtime conversations were often about feminism, culture, writing and theatre. We simply sacrificed having job satisfaction because it's the only way to earn money whilst trying to reach your dream career. The thing is, it's limited. Anyone with half a brain can only do it for so long before they suddenly go 'I work really bloody hard for a job with no pay-off apart from flexibility. I get patronised and yelled at by the same customers who willingly gave us their numbers and asked us to call them. I get told not to complain by the management because of the economic climate and because 'it's just the way it is' and my talents are completely unappreciated. I can't do it any more or my head will fall off.'

I've seen at least 10 people I really respect and got on with in the last 3 months or so leave for just that reason. Two things finally tipped me over the edge (apart from the pure joy of getting more paid acting and HR work).

 1) One of my best friends at the company got let go, for a really really silly reason. Doing the job without his dry humour to keep me going just felt a bit...well...crap to be honest. He'd worked for the company for two years, but was shown no loyalty, nor given any notice. It made me start to think about what I'd do if put in the same position, and I realised that I almost wanted to be fired.

2) A new rule came into place. Nothing was allowed on your desk. No books, no scripts, no crosswords, no pens and paper. Nothing. Which meant staring at the same screen for hours and hours on end. We were allowed access to a couple of acting and news websites, but let's be honest, there is a limit to how much you can read off a computer screen without your eyes going a bit dodgy and/or the call of the wild beckoning . I did a few days with a bare desk, and I've got to tell you, 8.5 hours a day of the same conversation over and over with no real distraction makes a gal go a little psycho (not dressing up as my mother and attacking soapy people psycho, more glaring at my managers, eating the contents of the vending machine and biting my nails sort of psycho).

3) I ran 5km (raising £1,300 for charity and beating my fear of my asthma), organised a legal training day for a small group of people who had collectively saved the U.K. billions of pounds, had a script which more than one production group want to produce, auditioned for a L.A. television pilot and had two requests to blog for film/casting companies. I suddenly realised that I could do better than being a phone-drone and that I was doing myself a disservice by doing a job I hated, selling for a company that I had started to question the ethics of.

The thing is, I saw a huge shift in how the job was when it started (a bit crap, but a lovely, small team with lots of incentives and very flexible) to how it was becoming (rules on top of rules, bloated workforce, lack of communication between clients and management and again between management and employees, no incentive apart from a very small amount of money, no sense of team spirit). And in that, I also saw a huge dip in morale. Every conversation I had included someone saying 'I wish I could leave' or 'They're cheating us again' or 'I might just lie and go home early'. I realised that I felt sick at the prospect of having to go in and kept searching for excuses not to work. Which is silly when I need the money so badly.

But now I'm free. I'm delighted! And working in a mentally stimulating job! Which is still as flexible as the old one! And I get paid more for it! And I won't have to get a monthly travel card any more! I am full of relief. I guess the lesson here is one for employers: It's all very well giving your workers flexibility, but when that comes at the cost of any semblance of job satisfaction, you will find yourself with a disloyal work force and a bad reputation.

Now Reader, I'm off to bed. I have to be up early tomorrow to research Employee/Owner's and George Osborne's ideas on giving up employment rights and then in the evening I have a rehearsal for a play I'm doing. I'm rather looking forward to it.

Until next time,

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