I work for that dirtiest of dirty words, a quango. There are times when I think, yes, we are actually achieving something positive. And other times when it’s utterly frustrating, like any other job, I guess. But the worst thing is the constant surveillance, the constant looking over your shoulder, the worry that anything you say or do is watched, reported and eventually used against you. What happens most often is that the person who thinks you’ve been inappropriate, or negative, or opinionated doesn’t tell you to your face or drop you a friendly email but goes over your head and drops your boss a friendly email instead. Or not so friendly. And if it comes out, which of course it does eventually, and you get told, “well this isn’t the first time we’ve had comments about your conduct…” you sit and wonder why on earth someone didn’t have the balls to come right out and say so months ago. The culture of fear by that time has, of course, affected everyone and your boss spends half his time petrified of you voicing an opinion because he knows people are watching his performance as well and so it goes on, right up to the top.
Perhaps it’s an overinflated sense of our own self importance – we’re in the public eye so we must submerge our personalities and needs in order to serve. Our opinions and thoughts, especially when it comes to politics and how we work, must be buried beneath a bland exterior, a corporate clone achieving value for money at all times. And yet who else is best placed to comment on how we work but ourselves? On one hand we have politicians telling us we have the right to choose our services, we must get involved and shape our communities and our destiny, on the other hand we have a working culture that tells us to be quiet in case we get into trouble.
Our view of public sector workers is utterly skewed anyway. One of the more ridiculous cries during the MP expenses scandal was the call for all MPs to live in dormitories or small one room blocks like student accommodation – serving the people should be reward and privilege enough, went the argument, so why not police their every move and every expense? And that permeates down into every level of public sector working – don’t spend money on good computers, pension schemes or even tea and milk for the staff fridge because it’s the tax payers’ money and you should make do with what you’ve got and be grateful. Don’t spend money on things that improve performance and morale, that achieve positive culture changes – it’s public money and austerity is our goal.
As a society, especially with the impending cuts in government services, we’re all in this culture of fear, looking over our shoulders in case someone catches us doing or saying something we shouldn’t. Listening to political conversations, on TV, in the street, on public transport, it seems everyone is scared. Government influence has permeated every aspect of our lives – watching what we eat, what we wear, what we say, our parenting, our waste disposal, our travel. The private sector and small business, just trying to turn a profit and pay the bills like the rest of us, aren’t much better. Working the hardest in Europe with fewer days off, blamed for dulling both these things by drinking hard and pulling sick days, quick to point the finger, easy to misunderstand, we seem lost in a mire of confusion and lacking compassion. Just about the only thing we’re good at, it seems, is making each other unhappy. I don’t pretend to understand it or be able to offer any conclusions, I’m just as lost as the rest of you. And sick of it.