I have had many bosses in my time, and have been bullied by a few of them. I’ve been made to do things that were not in my job description, and I’ve been treated like dirt and even driven to resign more than once. None of these bullies even come close to the worst boss of all – me.
Since I went freelance and self-employed a few years ago I have fallen foul of the worst kind of employer treatment. I am a hideous employer. The worst. I almost never give myself a day off and even insist that I work on public holidays like Christmas. I forced myself to work through weekends, birthdays, family occasions etc. On the rare occasions I do take a holiday, I still work through. I get no sick pay, or holiday pay, and even if I am sick… I still work. If I ever take a break I spend most of it feeling guilty for not working, and know that when I return to my desk everything will have stacked up so I’ll have even more to do.
Working from home means that I don’t have a staffroom, or colleagues around me. Facebook is my staffroom and I love nipping in to have a chat and a cuppa. I look at people’s photos and “meet” up with old friends and make new ones. Twitter is one of my workspaces, and over there I campaign for libraries and literacy. There I support library workers and writers, and stay in touch with everyone else working towards similar goals. I love a bit of social media and, if you work it well, it can be a wonderful tool.
But it eats up time, and the more you do it, the more it requires of you. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – it is always there, and people need replies quickly.
I had to be quick.
But this wasn’t about the real world, it was about me and most of this was in my head. This was actually me putting pressure on myself to be perfect. To work harder. I wasn’t getting either emotionally or financially rich doing this. The harder I worked, the poorer I seemed to get. I was not only getting sick, but I was doing most of my work for free, and was not being as useful to anyone as I should be. I was overloaded with things I’d agreed to, and I wasn’t finishing things. I was late with deadlines, and was forgetting important things. I was getting sicker, and depressed, and angry. I had to find a way to change this.
My mental health was being torn apart by my need to keep going and to reply to every message, and every email. I was gradually breaking down. Without realising it I was becoming sicker physically too. I hadn’t paid attention to my own physical health and had failed to deal with a medical problem that might have killed me.
(Spoiler – it didn’t.)
Lots of things made me reassess the kind of employer I am. I was a union rep for a long time in my workplace and if any of my colleagues had come to me with the kind of grievances I have, I would have recommended a formal complaint followed by a tribunal. Why was I doing it to myself? Everyone knows that a happy employee performs better, so why was I trying to drive myself into the ground?
I knew I had to do something about it, and in January 2018 I decided I had to force myself to take back control of my life. I decided to look at my life just as I would a real job, and to try to treat myself with more dignity and respect. I wanted to reassess my life and give myself some more quality time.
This was not easy. Library campaigns and writing deadlines don’t go away at the weekends. Things happen that need replies, government documents sneak out late at night or just before bank holiday weekends, tearful library workers email late at night and they deserve replies, huge stacks of board and committee papers won’t read themselves, journalists ask questions that require immediate answers or they say something else. Things happened that I felt I had personal responsibility for.
But something had to change
I went offline for a day. I had to hide first of all because I knew my mean-assed employer would nag me until I weakened and went back to work. That meant that I had to go somewhere I knew I had no signal. My first escapes were windswept and rainy places where I was absolutely sure that even if I totally guilt-tripped myself it wouldn’t make any difference.
That little “no signal” thing is surprisingly liberating.
That thing worked, and it started me on a bigger thing.
As I mentioned before, I’m not rich. In fact, I’m far from it. I looked on social media at all the things that other people were doing to relax: fancy holidays, shopping, spa days, makeovers, meals in expensive restaurants…. I couldn’t afford those. I don’t drive, so my escapes were limited to where I could walk, or what I could afford on the train. I can’t afford lavish meals out, but I can afford a sandwich, and I can afford to fill my little flask with tea. I don’t have the money to travel in the lap of luxury, but my old walking boots have new laces, and they’ll do for me.
Now, every weekend I go offline and shift from the virtual world, to the actual one. I don’t switch on my laptop, and I don’t open emails. I’m not saying I threw out social media altogether. I’m still a solo worker so I still want to chat to people. I spent a few months sorting out my Facebook and made an announcement stating that I was shifting most of my campaign work to Twitter and that people should follow me there if they want only that. I warned people that my Facebook might now become a thread of “books, reading, hedgehogs in baskets and sarcastic jokes”. People seemed fine with that. At the weekends I now avoid emails and Twitter, but I still hang around Facebook a little bit.
A very little bit, because mostly I’m up a hill, or a cliff, or slightly lost in a forest.
This brings me to #SandwichOnTheKnee
I started taking pictures of where I was eating my little sandwich because I wanted to encourage other people to stop being crappy employers and to treat themselves with a little more respect. I wanted other people to take time for themselves in any way possible. I’m pretty sure we would all make a stand against people treated poorly by their employers, why do we treat ourselves worse?
Join me in my #SandwichOnTheKnee campaign. You don’t have to sign anything, or pay anything, or make a banner – all you have to do is make time for yourself in a simple way. Doesn’t have to be a sandwich; it might be a bit of fruit, or a bar of chocolate, or just a bottle of water. #SandwichOnTheKnee is more of a symbol than an actual sandwich (although I will still be making my sandwich). It’s about climbing your own hill and taking time back for yourself. All you have to do is remember that you matter, and that it’s time you took back time! Drag your eyes from the screen to the horizon, and feed your brain with a blast of fresh air.
Tweet me your photos using the hashtag, and let’s get out there!
Dawn Finch is a children’s author and library campaigner. She is a trustee of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and a member of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators committee.
You can find her on Twitter as @dawnafinch
Current campaigns include: CILIP’s Great School Libraries which works towards every child’s right to have a quality school library, the many ongoing campaigns to support your right to a comprehensive statutory public library service with paid library staff, and the Society of Authors campaign for fair dealing for writers and illustrators. Superb author and illustrator, James Mayhew has written about the campaign here.