The standard of professionalism
Actress Kim Chiu was in the news last week after gunmen opened fire at her van while she was on the way to work. According to reports she was rattled but unhurt, and still went to work at her scheduled taping. It must have been a harrowing experience for her, but trust Filipinos to find some levity in the situation; mere hours after the news broke, memes were already shared about how the actress is the “gold standard” of “professionalism.” If an actress who was shot at still went to work, what excuse would we have to be absent?
It’s funny, and also shows a commendable amount of composure and dedication on the actress’ part. Yet it’s also a dig at the way we’ve come to look at our workers and expect them to prioritize workplace productivity above all things, including personal health and safety.
Much effort and research is expended in studying how to increase productivity in the workplace. On the one hand this can mean strategies to increase employee satisfaction and incentivization; on the other hand this could also mean designs to prevent slacking off, time spent on social media, and so on. Last year a British company was reported to have designed a slanted toilet that would make it painful to sit on for more than five minutes, targeted at workers who rest or use social media during bathroom breaks. Whether the toilets were purchased by companies is uncertain. Similar news items included “smell checks” — procedures to check on employees who have been in the bathroom more than 10 minutes — and contract inclusions that stipulate how many minutes can be spent on toilet breaks.
These examples might seem extreme and even funny, but they reflect real design “solutions” that reinforce poor working conditions, and a lack of concern for employees. They illustrate how much companies may be willing to sacrifice the morale and comfort of low level employees, and reinforce the idea that we should always be working, no matter our personal circumstances. We have come to relate personal worth with productivity, and it shows.
Today, hampered by difficulties like the transport crisis and traveling under the threat of coronavirus, companies are encouraged to allow staff to work from home. Understandably, this is not possible for all industries. Yet not all who could allow it, do so. We expect people to come to work despite flooding, natural disaster, horrendous public transport and fear of contagion — while still expecting them to put up with less than stellar compensation, understaffing, and other problematic work conditions.
Now we joke that we should expect workers to come in, as Kim Chiu has done, despite threats to her life and real trauma, dangling her example over the heads of employees who are struggling with troubles of their own. I doubt that any employer worth their salt will actually use Kim Chiu as an example to their employees, but I don’t doubt that similar high expectations are placed on employees every day.
For instance, the health service industry everywhere suffers heavily from understaffing, where the unplanned absence of one person can mean disaster for the rest, and blame is placed on the employees rather than the employer. This means personnel might, say, be entitled to sick leaves but never take them, due to fear of placing undue strain on the rest of the team, and ensuing backlash from the rest of the staff. It goes without saying that this wreaks havoc not just on staff members’ personal lives but also on the safety of their work, and yet, as with any service industry, it’s not the employers who take the blame for not hiring more staff in the first place.
Filipino workers may battle through more mundane conditions than gunfire as they go to work, but they can be just as heroic, struggling as they are in a culture that values the work more than the worker.
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