toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

June 09, 2010

silly job titles

Parise is 48, single and childless, and she recently returned to work after spending thirteen years caring for her ailing mother. Of all the changes she notices in the workplace over that time, none is sillier than job titles.

"I was given a fancy job title - records administrator - but I'm nothing more than an old filing clerk," laughs Parise, "and it’s amazing how the simple act of changing a job title can seemingly change a boring, menial job into something that not only sounds exciting and important but, more amazingly, can actually become someone's dream job if reality can be suspended on a permanent basis.”

"In the thirteen years I was out of work caregiving, I've seen machines take over a lot of intelligent work that humans used to do," confides Parise, "so it won't be long before the only jobs available are going to be the dirty manual jobs that machines can't do. We'll all be Sanitation CEOs scrubbing out toilets or washing decrepit bodies in nursing homes!"

"I feel very sorry for caregivers who return to work out of sheer necessity because their futures are bleak," says Parise. "The job situation is bad what with offshoring and so many foreign workers, and I see it getting a lot worse."

"Of course," winks Parise, "these silly job titled are all done with smoke and mirrors, but a lot of people with the so-called 'right attitude' buy into it. When you're poor what else can you do? It's either buy into the emperor's clothes phenomenon or scream with frustration at the paucity of intellectually challenging jobs."

While a lot of job titles have been invented in the past thirty years simply because the technological revolution created jobs that just did not exist way back then, a great many established job titles have also changed to reflect the sea change that has overtaken the workplace along with the technological revolution.

"Of course," says Parise, "in that time period, too, there have been huge social changes - especially relating to women - that have had a big impact in the workplace. Political correctness also changed a lot of job titles. It is really not good enough these days to call someone a ‘typist’. They are keyboard operators. And that's probably because just as many men as women are typing for a living these days and ‘typist’ has a feminine ring to it that the guys dislike."

"While chairperson, waiter and actor, for instance, are now widely acceptable substitutes for the sexist titles of chairman, waitress and actress," says Parise, "it's still an uphill battle trying to catch up with everything I missed out on while looking after my mom."

"I suppose it won't be long before a lot of the new-fangled tech jobs are done by machines, too," predicts Parise. "It's an historical fact. The human race is forever progressing, and who knows what new jobs will be created in the future."

"It's interesting, though, how so many of the ancient jobs are still preserved in our surnames. Cooper, Farrier, Smith - to name but a few. Of course, people are still making barrels, shoeing horses and working with iron, but these occupations are not so widely practiced as they once were, are they?"

Because Parise spent so much time with her elderly mother she is an expert on old job titles. Her mother talked about milkmen - real people who delivered fresh milk to homes - and coalmen who delivered coal for fires And rag and bone men who went around suburban streets in big carts picking up anything you wanted to get rid of. And bus conductors who walked up and down buses taking money for a bus trip.

"Mom remembered the days when there were huge telephone exchanges employing hundreds of telephonists," says Parise. "Imagine speaking with a human telephone operator who connected your calls for you. It's all done automatically now, just like a lot of other functions are."

"One of my very early jobs in the 1970s," explains Parise, "was as a telex operator. Telex tickertape was the precursor of email, and I was chatting online with people from all over the world long before people even knew what a computer was. If you want to know where the signoff TTFN (ta-ta for now) comes from, then it’s an old telex operator code!"

One job that Parise feels is soon to be relegated to history is the postman or postie or postal worker.

"It always bothered me why somebody had to deliver mail to our letter-boxes," explains Parise, "when we could just as well pick it up ourselves. Now that just about everyone has e-mail, or fax, I really think the postman’s day is nigh."

The most interesting change in job titles Parise has noticed since returning to work has been the re-titling of traditional jobs.

"The growth of teamwork has led to staff being required to be multi-skilled," explains Parise, "and acknowledging that we now work as part of a team, rather than as individuals, requires a subtle shift of emphasis in our job titles. Secretaries and Clerks, for instance, have always attended to a multitude of tasks but now it is fashionable for such jobs to be given fancy titles such as Team Leader, PA, Executive Assistant, Project Officer, Customer Service Representative, etc."

"Also," says Parise, "libraries are no longer places where librarians work. They call themselves Knowledge Managers or Information Scientists. Which begs the question: Why don't they call libraries Knowledge or Information Banks? Consistency is important!"

When Parise last worked the Human Resources Department was called the Personnel Department and employees were treated as persons rather than resources to be mined and exploited.

"You name it," laughs Parise, "from offices to shops, factories, professions and fields, there has been a revolution in the re-titling of jobs. Why bother? What was wrong with the old titles? As far as I can see it is a subtle movement to get us used to a future when all but people management jobs are going to be menial. Already, machines are doing surgery and architectural plans so even professional jobs are under attack."

Parise accepts that some job re-titling reflects more accurately what people do, but most of it reflects a desire to upgrade the image of a menial job.

"A Resources Officer sounds a great deal more important than a Mail-Room Attendant," laughs Parise, "and I do applaud those who can turn a menial job into a meaningful job, but we all know that the guy in the Mail-Room is no more a Resources Officer than I am a Records Administrator."

"The greatest of all job re-titling I’ve seen since returning to work, though," says Parise, " is that of a ‘Consultant’. Back when I was last working a consultant was a professional, usually an architect or an engineer, but with the massive unemployment we’ve seen lately it would appear that every Tom, Dick and Mary has ‘consultant’ in his or her job title. If I were doing temporary work, for instance, I could call myself a Consultant Records Administrator. Silly isn't it?"

"I really don’t know if calling myself a consultant would make me feel any better when I know I’m really a temp filing clerk," laughs Parise, "but if it boosts the self-esteem of the unemployed to reinvent themselves as consultants, then go for it. It won't be long before even Sanitation CEO positions are rare, requiring a whole swag of people willing to call themselves Consultant Sanitation CEOs."

"Unfortunately, " explains Parise, "a lot of former caregivers, or should I say 'domestic servants', aren't as well-off or as lucky as I am. They are now unemployed and down-and-out as a result of devoting their lives to caring for a family member. I can laugh and say 'mirror mirror on the wall, what job title will I have next Fall?' but had my mother not left me property and money I would be in real trouble now. A filing clerk's job barely pays my transport costs!"

"Actually," adds Parise, "with an increasing aged population and decreasing employment opportunities it's likely that care giving will become the main employment avenue in future years. Parents will be employing their children to look after them in old age, or the government will have to pay the children to look after their parents. But where will the government get money from if machines are doing all the real work?"

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