toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

December 16, 2006

abominable conditions

Brandy is a single mom and an independent contract worker taking on various assignments throughout the year. She sees abominable conditions in some workplaces that make her glad she doesn't work there permanently.

"I choose to do contract work because I've never, ever come across a company that I'd like to work for as a permanent employee," explains Brandy, "and it also allows me plenty of time between jobs to be with my kids."

"I earn good money when I'm working," explains Brandy, "but I work like a slave for it and I couldn't do it 365 days a year like some poor women have to."

"Contract work has its downside," says Brandy, "but it’s ideal for single mothers because it pays well - giving you enough money to support yourself between jobs - and if you come across a really toxic job you don’t have to put up with it for long."

Brandy feels very sorry for women trapped in permanent jobs where the people or conditions are abominable.

"I do word processing," says Brandy, "and I'm often working in a team where one or more women are really suffering from the plague of word processors - eye strain."

"Even with hourly breaks to prevent eye strain, the strain of dealing with fine-print or highly detailed work takes its toll on word processors," says Brandy, "even on young eyes like mine."

"I've been in places where older women are practically blind because employers refuse to inject a bit of variety into their jobs to protect their eyesight, and they're too scared to complain fearing they'll get sacked."

Another problem for word processors is poor lighting. In one place where Brandy worked the lighting was so bad that she had to use two lamps on her desk in order to see what she was doing.

"As a result of the heat the lamps generated I was hot and bothered all day, and when I asked to be moved I ended up with a glare problem."

"Some workplaces are just not designed with adequate lighting, and some employers are so mean that they refuse to provide word processors with glare-proof monitors," says Brandy, "so I'm glad to get out of those places real fast."

Another problem Brandy has is working with really old files.

"You get to handle a lot of old files doing word processing and in one job I not only had to inhale the dust all day but I also had to put up with dust mites eating me to death," laughs Brandy.

"Also I had to cope with the fumes of document chemical treatments - to which I am highly allergic. I went home every night with red eyes, a runny nose and an allergic rash all over my arms. Talk about toxic jobs - that one was awful - and I felt so sorry for the women who are being literally poisoned at that job day in day out."

"Anyone working in museums, libraries, archival or records management situations or musty old law firms has to deal with this problem." explains Brandy. "My experience has taught me that there doesn't exist a dust-free environment wherever stacks of books or printed material abound."

Another place where Brandy worked had such abominable bathroom facilities that the local authorities closed the place down shortly after she left.

"There were only two toilets - one male, one female - for a staff of seven males and three females, and a countless number of visitors," explains Brandy, "and quite often the men had to use the women's bathroom. How's that for teamwork?"

"More disgusting, though," laughs Brandy, "was that the place had no provision for towels and replenishment of toilet tissue and soap. I wouldn't want to work in a place like that permanently."

Notwithstanding environmental work hazards, Brandy has also experienced psychological hazards.

"When you have small children at home you imagine you're not short of company," says Brandy, "but I once accepted a six-month contract working totally on my own and I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I refuse to work on long-term contracts now. A month at any place is quite enough!"

"At first it was bliss working alone - out of bitchy teamwork environments," says Brandy, "but as time wore on I became incredibly lonely and believe it or not but I started talking to myself. That shows you how stressed I was."

"It was bad enough not having anybody to discuss my work with," says Brandy, "but when you’re a single mother with young kids at home you really depend upon work to give you some adult conversation. Being in solitary confinement for eight hours a day with just the telephone for company was a really sad working experience."

A lot of government work is done on short-term contracts these days, and this presents Brandy with another sort of problem she would not want in a permanent job.

"Most contract jobs require me to sign a non-disclosure agreement," says Brandy, "but some government jobs are so secretive that they are scary. Imagine not being able to tell your friends and family what you do, where you work or how your day went?"

"Unless you enjoy living a cloak-and-dagger existence," Brandy laughs, "you really want to avoid accepting a job where the work is so secretive that you cannot tell family and friends what you are doing."

"I also hate jobs where I don't have enough work to do," says Brandy, "because what usually happens is that I end up being seconded to help someone else with their workload, thus putting me in an inferior position."

Normally, Brandy only likes to work for a month or so at any place, but she recently accepted a three-month assignment because it was a newly created job. It sounded interesting and she accepted it. Unfortunately, being given no job specification and told the job was special was merely a ploy to get poor Brandy to do a whole lot of duties that she would rather not do, and nobody else wanted to do them either!

"Even with a job specification some employers will insist that you change duties somewhere along the line," explains Brandy. "They can do this because a little clause at the bottom of your job specification says: 'other duties as required'."

"If I find myself filling-in for a receptionist who never returns from holiday or sick-leave - or if I am promised a good project that is given to someone else - I get wise and move on," laughs Brandy.

"It's really important at the start of a contract job to ensure that you're being employed as X and don't want ‘other duties as required’ to end up employing you as Y," says Brandy.

"One of the good things about doing contract work," explains Brandy, "is that you’re often given autonomous work and can get on with it without fuss. In my present assignment, however, I have to make daily decisions requiring an okay from the boss and he is never available!"

"When your boss or supervisor is inaccessible you are unable to do your job properly and misery sets in fast," says Brandy. "If you go ahead and make a decision on your own bat, you risk being slammed for taking initiative."

"I admit that as a contract worker I probably experience more stressful work situations in a year than someone in a permanent job experiences," says Brandy, "but to me it is far less stressful to experience a variety of stressful working situations than the same stressor day in day out - and besides which I get to take off loads of time between jobs to rest up."

"Also, guessing what my next problem is going to be at my next job has become a bit of a game," laughs Brandy. "It never ceases to amaze me how inventive employers can be when it comes to devising miserable or toxic conditions for their staff."

"I’ve never had a nice, stress-free job and I don't believe one exists," says Brandy, "and, let's face it, works sucks and I’d rather be home looking after my children."

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