TV is driving me a bit crazy at the moment. I stopped watching for a few very busy weeks, and now that it’s raining and I’m at home more, I’m being re-exposed to the madness. To wit, a 4 Corners doco last night on Telstra call centre workers. Telstra has been steadily changing its labour practices over the last five years — making sales of new services a part of ordinary customer service work, instigating sales targets for ‘customer service’ workers, then increasing the sales targets to unrealistic heights, for example by 200% in 2005-6. Two Telstra workers have committed suicide in the past year, both suffering from depression due to work-related stress.
What was striking about the stories of these two people is that they were both so-called ‘high achievers’ at Telstra, and both became disillusioned, and finally suicidally depressed, after having apparently believed in the dream. It appears that if you have the resources to create an emotional boundary between yourself and the workplace, you can survive inevitable harassment much more easily than if you identify with your job, and the company you work for. Anyhow, it sounds like a scary place to work, Telstra. The team leaders go on training camps where they are taught to group trouble-makers into three distinct behavioural patterns: dragons, the people that actually oppose the smooth distribution of team efficiency and/or obedience, like union reps; submarines, who pose an obstacle to increased sales by ‘flying under the radar’, ie underperforming just enough not to attract attention; and savages, those recalcitrant types who don’t give a rat’s arse.
We can all go away now and work out our own individual under-performing personality type. I would totally be a submarine. In a moment of supreme pop-politics geekdom, A. pointed out astutely that all the talk of ‘flying under the radar’ on Big Brother actually references this corporate lexicon. We spent hours a few weeks ago watching Sunday night nomination while waiting for Ugly Betty to start, trying to figure out what it meant when one of the housemates nominated someone for eviction for ‘flying under the radar’. It’s like the worst Big Brother sin; every eviction, at least three or four people are nominated for it. So, mystery solved: housemates accused of ‘flying under the radar’ are not meeting their corporate duty to perform, as housemates, in the workplace that is the Big Brother house. That is, according to their peers, and/or self-appointed team leaders. Weird.
(The existence of Big Brother is enough in itself to make me want to break the television, yeah. On the other hand, Big Love Season Two just started. Who could refuse the mixed pleasure of re-acquainting oneself with Bill, the hick polygamist with a heart of gold, and his three ambivalent wives? Not forgetting Wanda the AWESOME serial poisoner.)
Sometimes you get so angry you just have to imitate David Byrne’s lamp dance.