the work crush
April 18, 2003 12:19 PM

I've been reading (see the little picture to your right and down the page a bit) a book about the lives, particularly the working lives, of working class women. I like Johnson's goal - to look at the real experience of gray and pink collar workers apart from the standard organizational behavior survey questions.

The women she interviewed talk a lot about autonomy in the sense of not being penalized for being 5 or 10 minutes late, and being able to dictate when you go to lunch. And their tendency to report on job satisfaction has a lot to do with hygiene factors (coworker relationships, level of supervision, cleanliness of work, etc.), less so with the softer things like fulfillment and personal growth. Not that they don't think about these things; what Johnson's book is slowly revealing is that a lot of what we think about workers' satisfaction is heavily influenced by varying worker expectations.

These women's thoughts on job satisfaction have prompted me to reflect on the things I value at work. I expect near-complete autonomy. I haven't worked at a job that required attendance from a certain hour to a certain hour just because since I graduated from college. My schedule is constrained by meetings, my customers and my personal preference (generally in that order), but I don't consider that level of autonomy as a factor that makes one job I consider better than another. I just expect it.

What makes me happy or not at work is what I call the work crush. It's the hot new thing - be it a coworker, a project, a new technology or idea - that makes me feel all middle school ready to get up and go in the morning, thinking today I get to work with X [where X is object of crush]. I need it to be satisfied with my job.

For awhile, that crush was career-focused - specifically, I was crushed out on project management. I loved thinking of things in terms of process, loved learning enough to have others think of me as someone else who knew. I loved every team I managed, except for this one guy I could have killed.

I've also had crushes on the whole collaborative open source movement, making tape backups, the ability to dye my hair purple and paint kanji on my skin and still be considered competent at work, unpersonable developers in general and specific, Fresca and my officemate. Not in that order. Each of these things ceased to be a presence in my life for whatever reason, and was replaced with something else.

Or worse - not replaced at all, which was roughly what happened when I was exiled from the dotconomy (just in time, though). Being crushless at work is just like being crushless in a seventh grade study hall. Life-threatening.

Lately, my crush is collaboration. I went quite awhile thinking I was a better leader than I collaborator (I may be), then I worked alone so often that I forgot the satisfaction. Now, I have new team members, and the first thing I do each morning is go say hello. When they're out of the office, I feel quite the same as I did in middle school when a certain boy wasn't in school, capable of being glimpsed across the quad.

I know it's overly precious to describe my enthusiasm for work in terms of juvenalia, but this is how I think. And I may be communicating "like a woman", but I am a woman and so - however I communicate, it is like a woman. [I paraphrased that from something Alison said about dressing like a teacher some time ago.]

In any case, I find it interesting that there is this gap between working class women's and middle class women's job expectations, but Johnson's book is peppered with their references to good jobs as ones where they like their coworkers - and my current work crush is exactly that, my coworkers. And I'm happier at this job than I have been in a year and a half.

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