Wednesday, January 20, 2010

that "dissatisfaction" thing.

There was a report over the New Year's break, stating that Americans' "job satisfaction" levels were declining.

Now, granted, there is possibly some media hype in there. Or possibly some fudged statistics. But I can tell you that in the past semester - the past year - my satisfaction with my job has gone down a bit.

And it's all "external" factors - things over which I have no direct control. I can name three big things. These things may also be true of other people who have started doing things like reading books on going back to the land (something I do periodically. And no, I don't think I could actually do it.)

1. The whole country feels somewhat unstable. I feel like I'm waiting for another big shoe to drop - tax-wise, regulation-wise, who knows. (Though I feel like maybe that shoe will be a bit less heavy given yesterday's election...) I keep waiting for the next big plan that will tax us to death. I look at my own finances - I am doing comfortably well for now, but I'm not really left with a whole lot at the end of the month. I put away $700 a month in a TIAA-CREF account (that is before I ever see the money). I just about tithe at my church, and I give small amounts of money other places, like the Salvation Army. I can cover my utilities bills, and I have the "good" cable package (though I see now that they are jacking its price up again). I have enough money to buy sufficient nutritious food and even to eat out once or twice a month. And I buy books and embroidery floss and quilt fabric and suchlike.

BUT: if there were some big new tax levied on me, or if a VAT on top of our income tax was shoved through (I have no problem with the concept of a national sales tax IN PLACE OF an income tax, and in fact I think that plan might have certain things to recommend it), I'd have to cut back somewhere. Not sure where. It doesn't make sense to me to cut back on retirement savings, because I have no trust that the government will be able to afford to even pay me back what I paid in to Social Security (and even though I'm a prof, and we often aren't covered, some of my taxes taken out do go to them). And cutting back on nutritious food feels wrong: why should I endanger my health because of taxes? To think that I might have to eat Kraft Dinner instead of the fresh spinach I buy, just so I can pay more taxes, makes me angry. And cutting back on giving also feels wrong.

I suppose I could cancel my cable, but that's one of my few forms of entertainment. And I couldn't even get the weather then, without having to go to the internet for it.

So I think a lot of people feel very unsure about what's going to happen: what are we going to be bailing out next? What new crap sandwich is going to be served us on a silver platter, and we are told to enjoy it because it's good for us?

2. This is somewhat related to #1: On the job, people are unsure about what's going to happen next. In a lot of cases, one person is doing the work that two formerly did. People are tired. But a lot of people feel like if they speak up, they may be the next to go. I have friends who say they feel "fear" at their jobs, because of the cuts.

And in my own profession - well, I am lucky in that I have tenure and unless we were really to have terrible, unbelievable budget problems, I can't be let go. (They can "RIF" - "reduction in force" - people if they are in danger of having to close the school. And yes, even tenured folks). But - we are operating on a smaller budget. Things have been cut to the bone. I mentioned I am working without teaching assistants - they usually worked as lab preparators for me, or they took some of the pressure off during lab by answering student questions so I was not run ragged in my big labs. This year, there's little money, and frankly, the gross anatomy class needs a preparator far more than I do. But it's going to hurt....I'm going to have to take a couple extra hours each week to do that stuff. (And woe unto ANY student who leaves unwashed glassware on the bench! I get on to them for that when they do it when there's a TA who technically would make more money (because they spend more time working), but it's really bad to have a prof have to wash glassware "on her own time.")

And speaking of "on our own time" - there's now a push for, I think it's called, community engagement? We are "expected" to do public service volunteer work. And we're "expected" to get students involved. It is not a requirement as of yet but I could see it becoming one. And we're expected to write an annual report of our activities. And we see, as far as I can tell, no benefit from doing this report. I suspect the admin who thought up the idea may win an award sometime down the road, and it's us who did all the work on it.

Don't get me wrong: I don't object to doing volunteer work. Hell, I do quite a bit. But I do object to (a) being told to harass the students - some of whom work long hours to pay to go to school - to do the same (b) having to write up a report and (c) the intimation that only 'certain' work qualifies - that my working at a church-sponsored food bank might not count because of the religious connection.

Oh, and the biggest objection? The sense I get - and I realize this is very much an "I feel" statement, but I feel like the university is saying "I OWN you. Even on your time off. And I can make you work for me."

And I think a lot of people are feeling that - that their careers are creeping into the time off that they have, and that they can't say "no" to it.

And a lot of time we get asked to do stuff - write additional reports, go to meetings, go to workshops - and often we are given very little turnaround time. We are told about something for the first time maybe 24-48 hours before it is due (in some cases). And I know we "only" have 12-14 "contact" hours, but that doesn't mean the rest of our time we're sitting in our offices, and that we will merrily pipe back "I'm free!" like Mr. Humphries when someone asks us to do something. No, more often, if it's me, I'm doing the lab prep I don't have a TA for, or grading, or prepping for teaching, or trying to get a little research time in, or advising students, or helping students. Getting an e-mail at 3 pm that says, "OH HAI YOU NEED TO DO THIS BY 5 PM TOMORROW" is only going to make me angry. And overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed a lot these days, to the point where I actually snapped at a student once.

3. The third reason I think a lot of people are struggling with job dissatisfaction is other people. It seems to me that the "speshul snowflakes" - the people who feel entitled to anything and everything they want, because, dammit, they're SPECIAL - are taking over the world. I've had more demanding e-mails in the past semester - demanding stuff it was not my place to provide. Asking for stuff like extended due dates when I already told them I didn't take late papers. Or doing stuff like just e-mailing me the paper late (two no-noes there) and expecting I will happily grade it. Or coming and complaining to me. Or telling me "You need to make it so I can attend a different lab." (Um, buddy? I have no authority over labs even if I wanted to do that).

And that's even before you deal with the people who want to text in class. Or who take up three students' worth of space with all the crap they carry around - laptops and loaded backpacks and extra sweatshirts and their laundry baskets and who knows what. And they get cranky if someone asks them to move something so they can sit down.

And there are the people who walk-and-text. I've nearly been mowed down several times in the hall by flocks of students punching away at their cell phones, and just expecting that any oncoming traffic will get out of their way.

And that's just MY experience. Friends who work as receptionists at doctors' offices, who work in different offices-that-help-people, that work retail, have even worse stories.

(And I admit: yeah, it's possible to have a bad day. I had a problem with a check and had to go down to my bank to straighten it out and I melted down a bit (got teary and loud) when they told me they couldn't help me. But I realized I was losing my stuff, and apologized, and said I had had a hard day (it was true) and straightened up)

It's like a lot of people have forgotten how to live in community. It's like they have forgotten there are other people around them, like they think they are the only ones who matter.

And so all those things together...well, they make me want to cocoon up in my house (the fear about what's going to happen re: government, and also the rise of the speshul snowflakes) and also make me worried and twitchy about the future of my job - both in terms of "how bad is the budget going to be come fall" and in the sense of "will there come a breaking point where I will say, "I cannot do this any more"?" either because of piled-on responsibilities, or because of sense-of-entitlement people making my life hell.

And so I think it's not so much dissatisfaction - I still love teaching, still love doing research - as a vague worry that eats at my ability to be perfectly content in my career.

I'd like to see things change. I'd like to see people wake up a bit and realize that they are not a COW (center of world). I'd like to see some backing-off on added duties, ESPECIALLY considering that some of us are working without TAs, and that those of us who teach lab science get 1 hour credit load for two hours in lab (which also might include an hour or more of prepwork and clean up). And I'd like to see the government step off on its intrusion into our lives.

sadly, I don't see any of that happening soon.

1 comment:

Maggie May said...

Ricki, I am a bit late to the party on this, but have been behind in my blog reading. Anyway, from a tax planning standpoint, I predict there will be sweeping changes this next year. Many provisions from the Bush Administration's first big tax bill are set to sunset in 2010, which means that if congress does nothing at all, tax rates will return to what they were during the Clinton Administration. The top rate would go from 35% to 39.6%, and the other brackets would increase as well. Many other tax saving vehicles would also sunset.

I don't know for sure what congress will do, but I will be shocked if they manage to keep things where they are today, without raising the rates at all.

This is just a theory, of course, and nothing you should hang your hat on, but if you prepare for the worst, maybe you will be pleseantly surprised.

I know this is not news that will help your general feeling of dissatisfaction. I am sorry about that.