Organisations running and participating in the job market force workers to think of themselves as commodities. Contractually, one can take up a temp job and leave it when one chooses. It can, supposedly, be used as a stepping stone or as a trial. The job market creates the illusion of people and work as both being disposable and without cost, except time.
The reality is that not all work and work environments fit this mould. Work that involves significant training, support or responsibility cannot simply be treated as disposable. Frequent turnover of workers will diminish quality and damage morale.
Even if roles require limited training or support, people have emotions and economic needs that makes itinerant work difficult for most. Organisations understand this and the supposed flexibility of work, especially, temp work, is, often more true for the organisation than the individual.
Once a worker is on a temp contract for a few months, financial and reputational requirements may mean that they have to suspend their search for a secure job. Leaving too soon can affect their chances in the future. Moreover, workers have emotions and will feel a duty to colleagues and themselves, especially, when welcomed and trained by supportive peers. Only the most strong-willed or emotionless can dispose of a job, however mundane, without a sense of repaying or contributing for the opportunity. There is fear too, of a negative reaction from disappointed managers and colleagues.
The job market asks workers to be commodities and to treat colleagues as disposable commodities, to use as stepping stones. It is almost unavoidable, especially, in situations where one is finding it difficult to find secure and suitable work or one is uncertain about their career path. One may resort to temp or zero-hour jobs that are more readily available than secure, longer-term work. It may also offer the promise of less commitment and flexibility. Someone with health or confidence difficulties may seek a role as a stepping stone to test their capability. One can find themselves trapped in temp work, deferring long-term commitment and self-development.
I have found leaving jobs suddenly, even though it is within my contractual right, painful and lingering. There are surely significant mental health impacts on individuals in environments of constant change – both those who leave and those who are left behind. I have been in a job where people have come and gone regularly and it damaged my morale. I became less supportive or interested in bonding with others. Each worker becomes an isolated individual or part of a clique. Support networks to assert and protect rights weaken. It becomes easier for organisations to reduce worker conditions and to hire and fire. The most vulnerable suffer the most.
The commercial retail sector is, I believe, an environment where workers are sometimes considered commodities and such are the low work conditions that people transit through regularly. My few and brief experiences of working in commercial retail were isolating and difficult. I recall finding it difficult to receive training or support from colleagues. The environment felt something like that of survival of the fittest.
I am in a temp worker bind now. I started a job and am now emotionally invested and bound in colleagues who have been extremely supportive in training and welcoming me. However, I also have a new job, offering more secure, longer-term work, to start next month. I must, if I am to take that job – which, is in a different town, which is causing me severe anxiety and disassociative inaction – leave this role soon, within a month of starting. Given how unsure I am about the new job, relocating and, also, telling my current work about leaving, I have done nothing. The earlier I tell them, the more time they have to replace me before the workload increases again.
Contractually, I can leave at any time, but emotionally, exacerbated by mental health issues, this is proving a very difficult prospect. I feel that I have fallen into the job market trap of treating them as commodities. I will have taken advantage of their support and welcome and not offered any meaningful repayment.
When I applied, I didn’t realise how short-staffed they were and how much they need support, or how friendly and supportive they’d be, nor, how much training the role requires. The short-term job market relies on intense self-interest. It would be easier if I hated everyone. I assumed the job would be a basic support role in which colleagues would mutually consider others disposable.
The organisation should not have recruited my role as a temp position. They should have advertised for a permanent member of staff and sought someone with a longer-term commitment to provide a meaningful contribution to a team under intense workload pressures. Yet, it seems, organisations are keen to casualise the workforce and turn worker against worker – in a selfish race. In the meantime, they hire temps to do some of that community breaking for them.