Thursday, July 10, 2008

Worked to death

The Japanese labor bureau reported Tuesday that one of Toyota’s top engineers worked himself to death under deadline pressure to come up with a productive hybrid model for the manufacturer’s Camry line.

The 45-year-old man -- his name’s being withheld -- was reported to be working up to 114 hours of overtime a month in the six months prior to his death.

With the exception that we’re both 45, it’s impossible for me to imagine two people more opposite than the deceased and I.

He held a prestigious position for one of the world’s most recognizable brands. My most consuming duty for the past month has been getting this journalistic equivalent of a lemonade stand up and running.

He had a steady job with a weekly paycheck that, I’m sure, included a comma in the number box. In my entire adult life, I’ve only had three steady jobs and one of them was at Pizza Hut.

His job offered him and his family health benefits, stability and the opportunity to justifiably seek a raise when sales increased. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve jumped out of my chair and shouted, “You got a deal!” when someone told me the job paid nothing, but would get me a free round of golf at a nice club.

He devoted his entire life to working so Toyota could report a bigger and faster profit. I’ve devoted my entire life to avoiding people like him.

He’s dead. I’m not.

I often wonder what would happen to a guy like him if he had him live my work life for just one week. I spend hour after hour in my little apartment above the tavern listening to music, improving my juggling skills, shooting paper wads at an elevated waste basket and trying to dream up something that’ll land me a working assignment.

How would that sit with someone like him? Would all the idleness unnerve him? Would he feel lost without a driving boss telling him what to do? Would the banging on the floor from the boys in the bar pestering him to come down and join them for a drink drive him crazy?

I wonder if guys like him think, while they’re grinding well past midnight on some minutia, that somewhere out there there are guys like me who’ve stitched together carefree lives without the hassle of having to endure endless toiling in the corporate ant farm.

Sure, there are times when it’s scary not knowing if or when you’ll get another paycheck, but there are so many people getting by with so much less than I. I’m sure many of those unfortunates would gladly swap with some harried executive if it meant a decent salary.

Not me. Not anymore. It would be impossible for me to survive in any corporate world where I’d have to work more than 40 hours a week.

That’s not surprising. Exposure to an idle life is addicting. What is surprising is that more executives don’t step off the treadmill to join guys like me in life’s sandbox.

Certainly they could afford to do it. They could teach. They could volunteer to help the elderly or the poor. They could open ice cream stands. They could learn how to fix bicycles and donate them to needy children. There are thousands of fulfilling and productive ways to make a stress-free living in a world that aches for a helping hand.

Yet they persist in endlessly toiling through joyless lives centered around achieving ever elusive goals that wind up rusted or broke.

Honestly, I wish I could help them. Maybe I could start a foundation that would educate busy white collar men and women into realizing how short and tenuous this fine life is. It would be worth it if I could save the life of one overworked executive from expiring in senseless pursuit of deepening some corporate coffers.

But that sounds like an awful lot of work for a guy like me.

And, besides, the boys have started pounding on the floor. Must mean it’s time for Happy Hour.

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