You may have just glanced at the title of this article and felt the need to reach into your computer, grab me by the neck and give me a firm shake. What kind of foolhardy little squirt decides to leave work in these bleak economic times? Am I unaware of the recession and the skyrocketing unemployment rate among graduates of age group? Am I so entitled that I thought my job beneath me? Do I think that sponging off the now very stretched welfare system is a better option?
No, no and thrice, no. But it may take some explaining.
There is a stigma attached to the quitter these days. Where once, walking away from something that did not suit you was once met with hearty congratulations, it now seems vulgar to throw in the towel when so many are struggling to even get a glance at it. You are met with suspicion and the assumption that there is ‘something lined up’. You couldn’t possibly just give up without an immediate fallback plan. But tough as it is, yes you can.
Graduates these days aren’t filled with the giddy thrill of entering the real world and bounding into a semi-decent job the second their robes and hats are returned to the rental place. They are all-too aware of the trial ahead, and rather than being fast-tracked to the top of your chosen profession, a staggering number of us sit dejected in the dole queue when not churning out application after application for jobs you neither particularly want or fully understand. Us Arts and Humanities graduates in particular are often met with derision and scorn for our choice of what can to some seem like a bit of a pointless vanity degree with no grounding in the ‘real’ world. What use is the ability to quote Proust when there are databases to maintain, right?
While I disagree entirely with this assumption, it is another argument for another time but suffice it to say, I know of many an Arts graduate who has been languishing, overlooked in the job market for over a year now. Talented, hard working people who, due to the distinct lack of jobs and sheer volume of supposedly better suited applicants, i.e brandishing degrees in Business or Communications, have not been given a chance. As a result of the masses of increasingly desperate graduates on the hunt for work, a number of somewhat unscrupulous employers have smelt the sweet, sweet odor of cheap, or even free, high-quality labour. There has been much said of late about the trend for unpaid internships particularly in the media and fashion industries, internships with absolutely no guarantee of employment afterwards that lay a staggering amount of work onto their interns for nothing in return but the odd Pret sandwich.
In addition to this, companies looking to tighten their belts are offering more and more ‘self-employed’ roles, offering us hapless graduates positions paid at considerably less than minimum wage with no contract, no security, no holiday days and an ambiguous job description. How they must rub their hands with glee. Don’t like it? There will be hordes of desperate graduates all too eager to fill your shoes if you leave. So here I am. After deciding that working for a pittance to essentially run a business, work daily overtime (with no actual overtime paid) and no chance of a raise to something I could feasibly live on wasn’t the best move, the proverbial towel has been thrown in and I find myself once more out of work. This was not an easy decision. After months of barely contained dread upon arriving at my workplace each day and endless internal debates on the pros and cons of my employment there, I finally decided to take the plunge and leave.
The solitary upside of a contract-less job is that once you decide to quit, you’re gone then and there and don’t have the excruciating month-or-so notice period to grit your teeth and smile through. Lovely. I’d like to think that my former employer will be hard pushed to find another graduate willing to take on my role, but with youth unemployment hitting a record high this October (as can be seen in this sobering interactive graph courtesy of the Guardian – there will, sadly be a lengthy queue.
It is a real shame that well-off businesses have taken advantage of the unemployment crisis in such a fashion, but when desperation among graduates, saddled with debt takes hold, they frequently have no other option. The ‘self-employed’ employee essentially has no rights, they can be treated in whatever manner their boss sees fit, meaning a fluctuating workload and amount of responsibility. The threat of losing their job, with no consequence whatsoever to the employer, hangs consistently overhead.
The decision I made was one to put my personal wellbeing above financial stability. The job hunt with all it’s pitfalls and disappointments has begun once again, and while this is familiarly frustrating there is a great deal of relief in knowing that my time is no longer being taken advantage of to save an already extremely wealthy business a spare bit of cash by paying below the national minimum wage, let alone the London minimum.
With the bit of my money I managed to save, I can function on value noodles and minimal expenditure until I find work again, this time hopefully with an ethical organization who treats employees with the base level of respect that we all deserve.