You can tell it's the weekend, when I have had time to opine about two different stories in one day. I stumbled upon this alarming story on the BBC news website.
Twenty-Three employees of the French telephone company, 'France Telecom' have committed suicide since the beginning of 2008. Twenty-Three ? I would have thought that one would have been one too many. It appears that this is 'explainable' as being the national average.
Explainable ? Well, statistically, they point to the fact that in 2000, there were actually 28 suicides within the firm. So this is an improvement, right ? This is progress. There is apparently a lot of stress in the company, specifically among those that worked for the company prior to its privatisation - they are finding it hard to adjust.
Was such 'Thatcherism' met with fatal reaction from employees in other privatisations ? If the company, are really trying to convince people to leave, or accept new conditions, to lower the number of workers, without actually having to sack them, then good news... at this rate, it will only take them 44 years to get rid of all of the staff. Assuming, of course that they do not replace any of those that take this most permanent form of leave.
I find it disturbing that there is such a human cost to the world of business. Oh, I know that it is the people that get short changed and are the first to fall at any hurdle the business faces, but this ?
To know that a female member of their staff leapt to her death off the office building last Friday, or that another member of staff, who is still alive, and in hospital, had plunged a knife into their stomach after being told that they were being transferred.
Bloody hell, and I thought things were stressful in my office.
Underlying all of this, is the sadness that these people feel that work is so bad for them, that they see the only way out, is to exit the world entirely. I have to be honest and say that there have been times in my career, when I've felt very desperate, and not known which way to turn. But I can honestly say, I haven't linked the feeling that 'I can't do this anymore' to 'I don't want to live anymore'. I don't know if these people had families, loved ones, or even children. But it must be terrible to find yourself in a situation where you can imagine no other way out. Is work really that important ?
If you exclude a paper round, I have only worked for three companies. The first, in numerous roles, but for 17 years. In the end, it was, ironically much longer than my marriage would last. None the less, it took great courage to leave that first employer. Despite how miserable I had become working there, and how I was convinced that there was nothing else that I could do, having left school with few decent grades. I had spent half of my life working for the same company. I had grown from a teenager to a man with a house and family whilst in their employ. The blanket that was strangling me, was the same one that kept me warm, protected. I was safe in the security of the misery that I knew. Oh and know the misery I did.
I had never really been serious about leaving, despite many, many, times saying that I would leave. How would I find something of the same wages, move out of that field (food retail) when I had no experience at anything else, and no education to help me ?
It was this that had trapped me for so long, and then in a fit of unreasoned logic, I figured that I would find something, if the pressure was on, and I had to in order to pay the bills. So I handed in my notice, and took holiday for all of it. Effectively, despite making myself ill with so many pressures in, or out of work, I added one that I would rise to.
So I left. I got a job, on a much lower wage, working in a call centre. The work wasn't particularly stimulating, but the people were nice. It was good not having to deal with the pressures of leadership. Even the reduction of nearly 50% in my salary didn't stop me feeling more free, and alive than I had done in years.
After 6 months of that, I got the chance to go work for another company, in a management role, with wages closer to those that I was getting originally. The conditions and hours were much better than before.
Now nearly three years on from that move, I find myself considering that it was not the right decision to have made. I find that where the work once left me excited, elated and energised, that I had strong belief in the organisation I work for. Now I feel drained, incapable, impotent. Unable to add anything of value, and straining to deliver even the smallest achievement. I have lost faith in the company too.
I don't expect that work should be an exercise in skipping through the tulips, but should it really be that bad that it leaves me feeling drained and exhausted. I can't see the wood for the trees anymore, but I don't think the solution is to chop down all the trees.
My Mother's always said to me that we 'work to live, not live to work'. It has taken me far too long to really understand the true meaning of the phrase. Stupid actually, as it's not exactly cloaked in hidden meanings. I've proven to myself that I can survive on less money. I've proven to myself that status or power are not the things that I crave. I've demonstrated that I am not trapped by the environment, and it is in fact my decision if I stay or go. It only needs now, that leap of faith, that jump off the edge of .... well, not cliff, but it feels more like a moving ship. Jumping off a moving ship. Before the anticipated crashing into the icy waters below, I anticipate a floating on the gentle, embracing sea air first. That'll blow away the cobwebs.
Glass is half full, or glass is half empty. I'm not getting any younger. No, but if I leave it longer, I'll be older then. What would be the point of that ? Why make things harder. There are things that I have wanted to do my whole life. Things that I have always known that I was destined to do, and should at the very least have a bloody good try at doing them, before I take my leave of this world. It's not a return ticket after all.
There's no coming back on the same journey, but really, I suppose, there never was.