Work Life has changed dramatically over the last forty years. Back then in the UK, the political world was about to witness its first female prime minister and trade unions were at their peak in terms of membership and power, so working conditions were generally pretty good.
One of the first jobs I had was working for a small import/export firm whose head office was in Paris. There were four of us in the Coventry office, including the boss, and we took turns in the morning to make ‘milky coffees’ for the team. The work consisted of general office tasks such as taking phone calls, typing up correspondence and filing. It was a stress free atmosphere with friendly co-workers.
At Christmas the owner would come over from Paris with a crate of Champagne, a bottle for each employee and then take the team out for a meal, all paid for, of course. On top of that, the Christmas box was a bonus in your wage packet – an extra months’ salary! Does any firm do anything half as generous, these days?
Later on, I secured a post in Local Government in the City Architect and Planning Office. I worked as a copy typist in the typing pool. There were ten of us in the office and we typed all day. In the recent film, Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman, there is a scene showing a typing pool. It was just the same with the constant click clacking of keys hitting the roller, as pages of typing were rattled off.
There was hardly any conversation while we typed, that was reserved for break time. We had two half hour breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It was ‘tools down’ at break-time and drinks were made, conversations had, knitting done or books read. I recall reading pretty much the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy during those breaks! If anyone came in with work, well, they just had to wait!
Smoking was still acceptable in offices back then and going for a drink Friday lunch time was okay too. At Christmas time we would set off at noon to a nearby hotel for our Christmas lunch. Around two hours later we would rock up back at the office, stuffed with food and a bit worse for wear after having one too many liqueurs with our dinner. Nobody thought anything of it.
Carbon paper, tippex and erasers
Everything was still paper based when I started there, work being typed up using a big old manual typewriter. That was soon upgraded to an electric typewriter, but we still used carbon paper, bottles of Tippex and pencil erasers. Quite often the document to be typed would be a form with many copies, all self carbonated, so if a mistake was made, you had to correct all the copies before continuing. We all worked hard and nobody really moaned about having to be at work.
After the electric typewriter came the dedicated word processor followed by very basic computers. At that point, there was no mouse, just a keyboard, which probably sounds odd today. Commands were done using two or three keys, such as Ctrl + B to make the words bold or Ctrl + U to underline. In fact, most of the commands done today using a mouse can also be done on the keyboard. Back then, there were not as many commands and the ones there were, had to be learned. There were no prompts at the top of the screen, as you get now with Microsoft Word. One of the first word processing packages we used was called DisplayWrite. WordPerfect was another word processing program, better and easier to use.
Computers, laptops, tablets and iphones
That was the beginning of progress in the area of information technology (IT). It was only a matter of time then before everyone had a computer, then laptops, tablets, iphones, etc.
It certainly made working life easier in a lot of ways but any progression inevitably brings with it a different set of problems. The use of electric typewriters and then computers with their keyboards, meant a touch typist could reach speeds they couldn’t have imagined with a manual typewriter. Unfortunately that extra speed also meant conditions such as RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) were more prevalent. Constant repeated movements, as in typing, resulted in many cases of shoulder, neck, arm and wrist strain; eye strain and headaches were also reported.
Changes on the way
Along with progress in IT, there were other changes on the way, too. From 1979, the next twenty years saw trade union membership shrink by nearly 50%. It was the beginning of the end of the easy going conditions we’d enjoyed in the 70s and early 80s.
In the typing pool we had a time and motion study where we had to record, down to the minute, every single use of our time during the working day. This resulted in our morning and afternoon breaks being cut down, (what a surprise) and eventually taken away completely. We were to do non-keyboard work but as there wasn’t really any work other than typing to do, filing tasks were concocted, just so we could continue ‘working’ through our previous break times.
It was just a taste of things to come. The wheels were in motion for what was soon to become a pressured work life, as many workers today will recognise. As workloads increased following redundancies, the feeling of not having enough time to complete work or having to pick up someone else’s work, soon became commonplace.
I stayed in the Local Government post for 18 years and then had several jobs over the next decade, the longest lasting about four years.
I am so glad I had the experience of work life in that era when time off due to stress was rare. Most days you could go home feeling satisfied that you’d done a good job because you had enough time to complete each task, the correct equipment that worked and procedures that everyone followed so you knew you were doing it right. On top of that, the pay back then was good, too.
Why I Quit to Write for a Living
Today, so many people are in jobs they hate with pay they feel is lower than they deserve. Many do long hours and gain little or no job satisfaction.
For me, the choice to quit and write for a living was a no-brainer. I’d already done quite a bit of freelance writing in the past and had started again, getting pieces published here and there. I also wanted to get back into fiction writing. Being over fifty helped as I’ve got money in the bank, a small mortgage and a local government pension due in a few years. I couldn’t see how I could get the kind of job satisfaction I could get from working for myself, by staying in paid employment. I thought about the next ten or twenty years, working for someone else and I couldn’t imagine doing it. So, the decision to quit was made.
Although not for everyone, for me it was the best decision I ever made. Now my work life has meaning, every day I’m doing the things I want to do and pushing forward with goals and dreams that have been in my head for a long time.
Do you dream of quitting your job to write full-time? Are you over fifty and not sure what your options are?
Please do leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for some useful tips on writing, why not download my free e-book, 50 Ways to Kick-Start Your Writing.