“Stitching a New Garment” Through Performance Management
The way in which we work was not working. We now have an opportunity to change that, but will we — can we — seize it?
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.” — Sonya Renee Taylor
EMPLOYEE PERFORMANCE PLAN 2021/2022
Employee Name: Simone Samuels
Report start date: February 1988
Report end date: When work kills me or when I die — whichever one comes first.
Goal 1: My goal is to have more flexibility in my work.
I feel like everyone who is only now embracing working from home is late to the game. I’ve been advocating for this ever since I first entered the workforce.
When I was in school, people would tell me, “Enjoy it now. When you start working, you will wish you were back in school.” I hated my studies so that never happened. But I do miss the schedule I had while in school.
While I didn’t have full control, at least I had considerable control over my schedule and how I worked. I was able to choose to take classes in the afternoon when I was far more awake and when it was easier, traffic-wise, to commute to campus. I made sure to not have back-to-back classes which allowed for extended lunches and laps in the pool on campus. I managed in most years to not have classes on Fridays. And a 20-hour course load meant more work was done when I wanted and where I wanted (usually at home) — always on time of course, but at my leisure. I made my schedule based on how I worked best and the assessments in which I would excel (essays!).
I think this explains why I excelled in my studies and rather have flailed and floundered in my career.
As soon as I had my first real job, I was in for a rude awakening. I no longer had considerable control over my schedule and how I worked. I wasn’t able to work when it was most optimal for me (at night). I could and still cannot fully control whether my meetings are back-to-back, which sometimes does not allow for lunch let alone a walk around the block. I work a five-day workweek, including on Fridays, and I work at least forty hours a week.
Apparently, as an employee, you have to be at work, every day, at the same time every day, regardless of commute. And if there are meetings to which you have been invited where you question the necessity of your attendance, you still have to be there. And many times they will be back-to-back and consecutive and so frequent that you hardly have time to do the work that emanates from these meetings. And even though you may only be productive (for whatever reason) for six or five hours during the day, you are still required to be there for the full eight. And employers needed a note or a “good reason” — permission — to work from home, and it was considered a privilege, and if you were one of the few lucky ones, you would be asked to docket the amount of time spent on each work activity while working from home and provide a report at the beginning and end of your day. And if you work better and are more alert in the evenings like I am, you would be questioned on why you were sending an e-mail at 9 pm.
Needless to say, getting to work on time consistently was a problem, no matter when I set my alarm (I may not be a morning person, yes, but I blame the unpredictable TTC more, and the fact that when everyone in Toronto has to get to work at the same time, we will not, in fact, get there on time). I was chided for being unprofessional and took this to heart, only later to realize that time is a colonial construct and professionalism is steeped in White supremacist beliefs on what it means to be a good employee — concepts that prejudice racialized workers. No wonder some of us do not want to return to the office.
It took a worldwide pandemic for us to do the work from home that employers told us could not be done from home. So ingrained in our society is this idea that work must be done in specific places and under specific constraints — constructs. While I lament that this transition to telecommuting has meant hyper-productivity for some, it is not lost on me that the employers’ call for returning “to the office” is more honestly undergirded by a vain attempt to regain the control and surveillance they once had over employees. One should be happy that work is getting done, but apparently one also wants to know how work is getting done and when work is getting done and control how work gets done. I, for one, do not intend on aiding or abetting anyone’s control issues.
I could never understand why it seemed like I was the only one struggling with the inflexibility of full-time work, and why it seemed like everyone else seemed to relish their commute, thrive in their cubicles, and were content to coral around the kitchenette with their fake smiles and fake laughter and cheap coffee and inane small talk about their weekends.
At the risk of sounding like some kind of entitled, delicate desert capitalist flower, it was hard to keep my head above corporate waters in the “before-times.” When it was announced that we would all have to work from home indefinitely due to the pandemic, even my body rejoiced. My menstrual cycle returned. My hair grew.
The way in which we work had always seemed abrasive to the point that my body had interpreted it as low-grade chronic stress. I have never believed in work-life balance, the demarcation of which is artificial. The majority of our day is spent at work — work is life, unfortunately. But what if my work and my life could be more of an interplay — a fluid, natural exchange between labour and leisure? I believe in the work-life blend. With my walks on breaks sandwiched between meetings and quick, powerful, lunch-time naps, I have relished the opportunity to be able to take more time for pause and rest.
This brings me to my second goal:
Goal 2: My goal is to rest as much as possible. I was introduced to the idea of revolutionary rest by the Nap Bishop and her Instagram page The Nap Ministry. As a descendant of chattel slavery, my ancestors have done enough work for all of their descendants, including me.
This world is so used to witnessing Black pain. This world is so used to seeing Black women crying about the murder of a son or brother, or complaining about microaggressions. This world is so used to seeing Black women fighting and struggling. I want them to also get used to seeing a Black woman at rest. That too is disruptive and activist and revolutionary.
Rest is a form of resistance against capitalism and White supremacy. If capitalism values us for our labour and productivity, rest replies with a nonchalant, unbothered, “Nope.” Rest says that my value is inherent and is not tied to what I produce or how much I make. And rest is restorative so I have more energy to live the life I was created to live, separate from my output. Rest takes power back. Rest allows me to “reclaim my time.”
Rachel Cargle puts it beautifully: “My rest, my pleasure, my joy, my ease. As a Black woman these are also my activism, these, too, are part of my revolution.”
It pains me when I see people around me utterly exhausted but unable to rest because they cannot afford to. Can you imagine that? Living in a world where you cannot do that which your body is calling you to do — needs you to do? That’s like living in a world where you cannot pee — and yet I’m reminded that there are workplaces that don’t give their employees time to do even that.
I’m beginning to think that it’s a ploy of the master — this inability to rest, or to rest just enough (so that we can still work) but not too much so that we can revolt.
I’m reminded that exhaustion will not create liberation.
When George Floyd was murdered, the Black Lives Movement and calls towards racial justice were finally galvanized in an unprecedented way because there were less work-related distractions and people had more time and energy to actually pay attention. I dare say that amongst all of the sourdough bread baking and toilet paper hoarding, people had time to rest.
That’s why capitalism makes me angry. Not only must I give of my labour to survive, but it also usurps my time so that I don’t have time to dream. How can we even hope to imagine a new normal, a new future, or even freedom if we don’t even have time to rest?
We need to set our sights higher. We need to be able to envision a future that doesn’t involve capitalism.
This leads me to my third goal…
Goal 3: I want to be free. I define freedom as self-mastery and self-possession and self-ownership. Freedom is the ability to control, but not in the way that employers do.
Black enslaved peoples in the British colonies found ways to have laughter and joy. They sang. They danced. They played musical instruments. But at the end of the day, no matter how much levity they tried to infuse into their lives, they were still owned. They still had a master and they still were slaves. Their labour and their very lives were not their own. In fact, for the longest time, that’s what we called them — slaves — because we saw their superimposed social status, their labour and their economic value more than we did their personhood and humanity.
While I am very thankful for employment and I don’t attempt to intimate that I am an enslaved person like those in chattel slavery, I believe that the ability — the luxury — to select a path for my life and choose how I spend my glorious time is freedom.
Arguably, we are enslaved in other ways. Debt — much of which is incurred through no fault of our own but rather as a necessity to “move ahead” or at least stay afloat — keeps us chained to banks and governments. Mortgages. Student loans. Necessary debt to succeed in capitalism. Modern-day economic slavery.
Many of us are a slave to our jobs, rendering self-determination and full autonomy a fantasy. Most of us work to live because we have to.
It is not lost on me that working to live — to survive — is a product of sin.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam worked as an extension of his purpose on earth — as a steward in the garden. He named the animals, but he didn’t do this out of some dogged desperation to keep alive and pay his rent.
It is only after sin entered this universe that the Lord dictated that, “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread.” Every curse from the Lord is a blessing in disguise, but our freedom was the cost.
Ironically, I got my first job as a teenager as a way to be free, but work has since meant otherwise.
I read stories of people dropping off their sick kids at daycare during a pandemic because they couldn’t afford to take a day off. The luckiest of us have eight days during the year in which we can be sick. Many of us have none. And forget using a sick day or a personal day to take care of one’s mental health. In many places, that is still frowned upon.
And because capitalism rewards productivity at all costs, or at least the appearance thereof, in the before-times we all had people going into the office while fighting a cold as if it was a badge of honour and sign of dedication. So twisted is our idea of value that we felt guilty for even daring to call in sick.
Why have we created so much work for ourselves that we have night shifts, knowing full well that humans have circadian rhythms and need to sleep at night?
So many people (so. many. people.) peel themselves out of bed every morning to do work that they hate; imagine if everyone was able to do the work that they loved and felt called to do? Imagine how our world would be? Instead, we have mismatched employees and misaligned workers. We have doctors driving taxi cabs and engineers working as janitors and optometrists working as personal support workers. We have creatives stuck in corporate jobs and we have entrepreneurs with bustling ideas chained to their cubicles — and we, as a society, are the poorer for it.
We have created a system that doesn’t work — or rather, a system was created and imposed on the rest of us. My greatest fear is that this pandemic has taught us nothing and in our feverish attempt for a sense of normalcy and predictability, for control and for certainty, we revert back to what was not working, having learned nothing.
Timeline: For the world, it will take some time to do differently. For me, personally, preferably sooner than later. Working to live is no life at all, and I intend to live.
Factors Affecting Performance:
Capitalism. Racism. Misogyny. Sexism. White Supremacy.
As people at the bottom of the racial hierarchy, clawing our way upwards, intersectionality dictates that Black women must not only fight racism but also sexism, misogyny and misogynoir.
By going against the status quo and refusing to accept the edicts of capitalism, I will be seen as unprofessional and weak and lazy…that I am allergic to hard work or that I don’t work hard enough. I may be cast as unproductive and insubordinate because I raise my voice. I may be penalized because I choose not to participate. There may even be forced participation. Capitalism is a hamster wheel and to some extent, we are socialized that if we can’t beat them, we must join them in order to make a living, perhaps becoming capitalists ourselves.
I am reminded of who sets the standard by which I am measured. This liberation comes at a cost to my career and my livelihood, and it’s a high and unfair cost to pay.
Alignment with Corporate Values
Capitalism will not be happy with me.
As someone once said, “I do not have a dream job. I don’t dream of labour.”
“You may say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.” — John Lennon
I echo Cargle in saying that we are capable and often times responsible — if only to ourselves — to reimagine what normal looks like. What always has been doesn’t have to be what always is.
The ill-fitting cloak of capitalism is itchy. This pandemic has given us an opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that includes the colourful threads of each of our unique experiences, one that fits all of us and conforms with our true nature…our true being. We need to rip the needle from the clutches of capitalism and weave something that finally fits everyone. That is the true meaning of equity, and I want an equitable future. We are in an “unprecedented time”; let’s be brave and bold enough to do things in unprecedented ways — ways that recognize our shared desires and humanity.
Date: August 24, 2021
[Left Blank. One wonders if they will ever sign]