I don't understand the sacrifices people make for work


Just before I graduated from University, I went to a careers fair to help me decide what I wanted to do with my life. At one of the stalls was our local Police force1 - advertising the exciting new world of digital forensics2.

Here is - almost verbatim - the conversation I had with the recruiter.

Me: "Hello! What do I need to do in order to use my computer science degree to catch criminals?"
Them: "Well, after the physical, first you'll need to spend several years as a beat copper working on the front line. And then..."
Me: "Byeeeeeeee!"

Like, I can get that it might be useful to have practical experience of nicking scumbags and cracking heads. But I wanted to spend my days behind a computer - not getting roughed up, spat at, and being abused. I simply wasn't prepared to make that sacrifice. And certainly not for the salary they were offering.

There's a rage-bait story doing the rounds at the moment - Gen Z Cops 'Won't Work Weekends or Overtime'. Curse the youth of today! O tempora, o mores!

The reality is slightly more prosaic. A Police Scotland Superintendent said:

Young people don't want to come in and work overtime; they want their weekends off. They aren't like Gen X that came in before them.

It is not that Gen Z recruits are less inclined to work the weekends they have been rostered, but rather they are less willing to volunteer for additional overtime at the weekend and even less pleased when weekend or days off are canceled, as is often the case in policing

Well… duh!

Would you work for a paltry wage and risk your domestic relationships in service of people who didn't appreciate you? No.

I remember reading the book "The Secret Barrister" The author - a lawyer - complains about all the bullshit working practices, late nights, unrealistic demands on their time, and the crappy pay. All I could think of while reading it was "You chose this life. You knew what it was like before you got in."

I feel the same when I read about doctors and surgeons having their lives upended by work. I thought about trying to become a medical doctor when I was a kid3. But I took one look at the sacrifices I'd have to make - insane training hours designed by a sadist, zero control over my career, an uncaring management structure - and I noped out.

Sure, some people have a calling. They feel the need so strongly that it over-rides all other issues. But most people aren't like that, are they?

A startup founder might be prepared to sacrifice everything in order to change the world. Their first half-a-dozen hires might also drink the Kool-Aid. But after that, it is diminishing returns. Why would I work 80 hour weeks for your shitty start-up when I could get a job which gives me a pension and lets me clock-off in the evening?

The Chief Superintendent who made the comments about Gen-Z makes a reasonable point:

The Service must evolve its practices and systems of work to accommodate flexibility wherever possible, if we are to attract and retain people within policing

It isn't that the kids are wrong - they rarely are - it's just that the incentives are wrong. It sometimes seems like we've built a world that relies on the enthusiasm of true believers.

But once someone points out that the emperor has no clothes, it doesn't take long for goodwill to evaporate and systems to crumble.


  1. Yes, I have seen Hot Fuzz 
  2. Well, it was new back then. I am old. 
  3. I doubt my grades would have even let me operate a tongue depressor. 

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13 thoughts on “I don't understand the sacrifices people make for work”

  1. said on fosstodon.org:

    @Edent I feel the same way about teaching - why do people do it? The vocational aspect must have an enormous effect to counteract the long hours, low pay, underappreciation and verbal and physical attacks.

    (I come from a family of teachers so I've seen how much work they bring home - it's probably pays less than minimum wage once you factor that in)

    Reply | Reply to original comment on fosstodon.org
  2. Dragon Cotterill says:

    I had a similar experience with the Police recruitment... they point blank refused to accept my application in the first place as I have Asthma. Turns out I ended up working for them for a while in forensics as a civilian specialist contractor anyway.

    Reply
  3. said on bsky.app:

    When it comes to a lot of professional jobs like teaching, nursing, policing, defence law, etc - I assume there must be a strong vocational element.
    Would you have chosen differently, if working in computing was paid like these others? If so, what might you have pursued?

    Reply | Reply to original comment on bsky.app
  4. said on toot.wales:

    @Edent Really interesting, chimes with what Michel Roux Jr. says in this too. Despite the clickbait of the paper and its headline, really cool that he acknowledges that “If somebody only wants to work three shifts a week, well, let’s make it work. That’s three shifts covered, I’ve got another four shifts, somebody wants to do four shifts. Ageism was a big thing in our industry as well. You had to employ youngsters. Why?”

    Michel Roux Jr: 'Restaurants may only open three days a week because staff won't work the hours'

    Reply | Reply to original comment on toot.wales
  5. Natalya D says:

    I think one issue can be where conditions have worsened. Doctors are a good example, they used to get free/cheap accommodation and indeed food out of hours and were paid better but worked longer hours. Now the hours are a bit (not always) shorter but they are paid less cos it didn't keep up with inflation and they no longer get the useful resources like hospital accommodation or free healthy food during night shifts. The winner for this was that doctors had more likelihood of guaranteed work and high pay at the higher ranks (which is less the case now).

    I think a lot of people don't realise what the sacrifice will be before they start or what that will mean in real terms.

    Reply
  6. said on mastodon.social:

    @Edent There's been a bit of debate over phones in our workplace. We're going for a certification that means if we continue to use our phones for anything work-related we may have to have them audited by a third party. That's a "hell no" from me so I have to remove email, Slack etc. Any programe for them to provide me with a work phone (as used to be standard practice), err, no.

    Reply | Reply to original comment on mastodon.social
  7. said on mastodon.bentasker.co.uk:

    @Edent Funny, I had a similar conversation with the police too. I'm not sure I'd have fit well with them, though, so maybe it's a good thing.

    As you said though, I think the thing that put me off a lot of roles was the idea you'd spend time/money training for a job with only 1 real employer offering jobs, followed by a career subject to the whim of whatever government was in power.

    Reply | Reply to original comment on mastodon.bentasker.co.uk
    1. @edent says:

      My blog has never asked me to miss a friend's wedding because it needs me more.

      Reply

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