After the last couple of months and suffering a recent crisis in employment, I found myself both needing a job and also a boost of confidence, suffering a betrayal at the hands of someone I once considered a friend.
There’s been a lot written in the UK media about the lack of employment opportunities in the United Kingdom, certainly there is perhaps written more about Universal Credit and other forms of income benefit. At the time of writing this piece there is a debate in Parliament and among the people about whether a scheme like Universal Credit can work for those most in need, or whether it actually causes more problems than it answers. Examples in mainstream media include a woman named Keeley Sheppard who found herself both pregnant and sanctioned by the Job Center for attempting to move into a new home and start a family.
Unfortunately for some, I’m not here to talk about that debate or answer those questions in this article.
What I can tell you is that I spent about a month on income benefits this year before finding a job in a call center. I signed on because I had no other form of income, no savings and more outgoings than incoming. There was no question that I depend upon a regular income in order to be able to function on a basic level. Many debt collectors will call this priority billing, things like rent, water, gas and electric. These are the fundamental building blocks which society will see as you needing to have covered before you can afford to have a pint, watch a film at the cinema and buy a copy of South Park Fractured But Whole on XBox One.
The so dubbed Brexit hasn’t helped either, and asides from British PM Teresa May saying everything and yet nothing about Britain’s ongoing negotiations to leave the European Union, the reality is that those on the front line of poverty – those who need help the very most – are nervously waiting to see whether their indefinite leave to remain is upheld, whether their average cost per month rises or whether that job is still able to operate lucratively in the UK.
What I’ve been hired to do in the call center and who I’ve been hired to work for is irrelevant. In any case, I’m almost sure I’ve signed a document which prevents me from disclosing that publicly, least of all my background in Journalism means that it would be hugely inappropriate (and most definitely litigious) to give any indication about the nature and cause of my work. On the contrary, I’m actually very grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded me by my new employer. It is a job, and a wage, which has allowed me to attempt to rebuild employment and confidence and it is certainly better than remaining unemployed. It also helped prove to me that for those willing to work there are jobs to be found, jobs which are open to members of the public from all backgrounds and jobs which will given consideration as long as you are willing to work hard and be honest.
But instead of focusing on that, this article represents a look at some of the individuals I work with, those who remain unnamed and certainly unidentified in anything but trait and demeanor. I list some of these characters here because they have presented me with a rather whirlwind tour of the world in the past few weeks and I’ve encountered probably the most diverse and complex group of people I’ve met in my entire life. From ex military and ex convicts to those who are returning to work after a long absence, the diversity and difference in each and every individual has left me honestly mind blown. And I’d like to share some of my favorites with you now.
Recently out of the armed forces, and possibly returned from a tour of duty overseas, the military man is both dutiful and curious. Punctual to a tee he is almost always too early, and will blame excuses like his drill sergeant for teaching him good habits. He will rarely speak about his service, especially any active combat duty, but will reminisce with stories of unusual situations or awkward encounters (such as communal showers). He is also a wealth of knowledge for both his chosen discipline (Air Force, Royal Navy, Armed Forces etc) and knows a lot more about the other disciplines than any “civi” you’re likely to meet. Follows orders and is especially grateful you’re not all getting frog marched through a field or turning over your bunk.
The Ex-Convict, or Penitent Thief
Much like a scene lifted from the Bible (Luke 23:40) the ex convict sits to your right and tells you why a life of crime doesn’t suit him anymore. It reminds me of an interesting ‘Breakfast with Frost’ episode I once saw when I was far too young to realize it’s importance. David Frost was actually broadcasting from live within HMP and his co-hosts were serving prisoners.
The thief always has a number of stories about times when he just managed to evade the capture of the law. He has convinced himself this job is beneath him from the moment he turns up, and he might even be right, but does the job to a tee from the second the clock strikes. His language on the phone is polite as a vicar addressing a Sunday sermon and afterwards he smiles and boasts that the people he’s talking too don’t realize what a danger he was once declared upon society, sitting in the dock while he brandished a knife towards the judge. Of course, whether you believe his stories or not, you’re likely to engage as the fiction is more entertaining than the work you should both be doing.
It’s unlikely you’ll ever speak directly to the addict. The two weeks training before the job are probably about as much time as you’ll collectively spend with him. When it comes to actually doing real work the addict is useless. He (almost always he) finds the job overwhelming, beneath him, disgusting or whatever adjective lets him leave – possibly by assaulting a supervisor or stealing equipment – claiming to his adviser that the two weeks he spent there were actually a month and that creative differences prevented him from continuing. Creative differences being that the company operated during the hours of daylight and asked you to wear both trainers to work every morning. Will also attempt to add you on XBox Live randomly at somestage.
The Return to Work
Confidence is key. The middle aged, possibly divorced, mother of three returning to work has a lot of confidence. It’s also potentially misfiled under helpfulness. You’ll see photographs of her children and hear stories about her last holiday abroad while being amazed she can bring such a well prepared lunch to work every day. It’s healthy and nutritious and a lot better than those “Starbar’s” you keep purchasing from the vending machine. The return to work mom is normally with an agency, who have gotten her this job so that she can have weekly wages while you agreed to monthly. It makes you wish you’d joined through an agency and also that you miss your mom.
The Hipster Teen
Having accumulated a massive amount of savings in unexplained wealth, the hipster teen is not the subject of a CAB inquiry, but rather the one person who simply doesn’t need to be there. It normally takes the teenager three weeks to realize that nobody else is working in this job out of choice, and that given they themselves have a choice, decide to depart for another job at the earliest opportunity. Besides, they’re young, don’t need to pay bills and live with their parents. The idea of a job is good on a CV for UCAS applications (which they’re making late after deciding to take some time out, really find themselves) but a number of jobs embellished to make it look like they’ve held three in the space of 18 months (at an age where that would be advantageous) means you hate them about as much as their denim dungarees, Taylor Swift haircut and their ‘appreciation’ for Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad, to be serious for a moment, is a critical masterpiece and has changed how we think about television. It is not – not – simply an art project.
Breakdown can take many forms. They can be someone who starts crying at the person on the other side of the phone randomly during a call. For no reason. They can be someone who stands up, smiles politely and then puts their fist through the computer monitor screen causing serious damage and a nasty cut on their hand. Or it can just be that person who casually mentions on a tea break that you’re the first person they’ve spoken too as a friend since the doctor declared them sane and released them from the hospital. I want to be clear, I’m not taking pot shots here at anyone with mental health difficulties, as I know returning to work can be a distressing and awkward time. Actually, those who are so honest as to make these admissions are among my favorite colleagues to work with, people who are the most human of everyone and don’t let work and regulation rob them of their basic honesty.
Ultimately, it all these people and more who have made me thankful to still be with my current employer. When I originally wrote this article I was attempting to define myself into a label through which I fit, but at time of writing realize that in reality the ability for me to succeed – and even grow – in my current employment is because I represent a portion of all these labels (yes, even the convict). A BBC article in October 2017 quoted Paul Farmer, co-author of the Thriving At Work report, as saying that “In many instances, employers simply don’t understand the crucial role they can play, or know where to go for advice and support.”
So it is with the warmest sincerity that I thank my employer for the normality and sense of normalization I have found working with them. Not just removing me from the financial uncertainty of most self employment and unemployment but also providing me a real way to continue to improve and build upon my most recent achievements.