Work hard and smart
Overtime ka na naman, buti sana kung bayad ka (You’re doing overtime again, good thing if you’re paid for that).”
Some years ago, this was a recurring thought whenever I stayed in the office past regular work hours. Our office does not allow monetization of overtime; we can only offset the extra hours and add them to our leave credits.
There are terms for such an employee culture. In Cavite, where there are many factory enclaves, laborers (mostly contractual) have what they call “Galawang 373.” They’d say: “Huwag masyadong sipagan, Galawang 373 lang,” or one should not exhaust themselves since they will only get P373 (the daily minimum wage in Region IV-A) at the end of the day.
There is also the “quiet quitting” among Gen Zs in Western countries—or working only to comply with the bare minimum. There’s the Italian term “sciopero bianco” (white strike), which is an organized protest movement to limit work and reduce production output.
In the public sector, they have “magtrabaho ayon sa SG (work only based on your SG or salary grade).” My friends at work with civil society and development sector backgrounds also have a running joke that we all should not tire ourselves with office tasks since “hindi pa rin naman magtatagumpay ang rebolusyon (the revolution will still not triumph).” Activists have “kaisipang empleyado (employee mentality)” to call out those who only perform tasks like eight-hour workers and act without regard to organizational discipline after work hours.
But what does it take to be an employee? Employees go to work for eight hours, clock out, go home, take off their uniforms, and attempt to shrug off all the obligations. One could feel happy and content every payday, then rant about the tedious work or lament the low salary while waiting for the next paycheck. This routine is exhausting, and it is even more draining with meager pay and no security of tenure.
It is taboo to be “outstanding” in the workplace. Being excellent at work could mean more tasks without proper compensation. Those who excel are also the talk of their fellow employees, most of the time in a negative light. And those who are too good in the workplace often become too critical and find themselves in trouble with their bosses.
For a long time in my professional experience, I had such an employee mentality. I am currently a contractual employee. So I work and perform tasks just enough to get paid and renewed in the next contracting period. I play it safe and do not want to get too involved in the workplace.
So here I am, four years and counting. Not being too nosy or caring with most of the people and processes at work, merely surviving in between paychecks, and having not much progress in my career too.
I am demotivated and in desperate search of a fresh start and better career opportunities. Months ago, I applied for a higher regular position in a different agency. I passed the screening and preliminary exams and went on to get interviewed. I was asked by the panel about my achievements in my current work, so I responded with tasks I was involved in. But one of the interviewers pointed out that I just spoke of what “we” accomplished. She then asked: “What were your personal or individual achievements in your current work?”
Obviously, I did not pass the interview and that question still haunts me. It dawned on me that I still have zero things to be proud of in my four years of employment. My personal growth has been stunted because I’ve been too preoccupied with being a mere employee—getting satisfied with mediocre work, and ranting endlessly about outdated or even wrong practices in the office while not getting any courage to speak about it in the proper venue.
We need to recognize that there are different contexts for why we are demotivated and just performing the bare minimum at work. There are organizational problems that cannot be solved, even with numerous seminars/webinars on good work ethics and mental health care. There are working relations that cannot be fixed by having employees read dozens of self-help books. And there are problems such as low pay and other unfair labor practices that should be referred to the authorities.
As long as you, the demotivated worker, are still working in your current position, I urge you to be better and begin pursuing excellence. Start being active in identifying problems, formulating solutions, and addressing criticisms through proper channels. Remember to be respectful at all times since we want to convince people to change for the better, not to antagonize them.
Be outstanding, but at the same time, do not forget to define your boundaries. Remember to protect yourself from professional guilt tripping and gaslighting. There will always be things that are out of your hands and accountability, be wary and try not to reach out for these things.
Grab all the chances that you can for your personal and professional development. Sign up for all training and learning opportunities your office will offer. Do not hesitate or even try thinking that you don’t deserve these, relax, and let the authorities duly evaluate your competence. If you’re not picked, it’s fine; the next opportunity could be yours.
Do not just be an employee—work hard and smart. Regain your dignity and excel, whichever field you are in.
Gian Siapo, 28, is a contract-of-service employee and unionist in the public sector. He also sells fried peanuts.
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