You’re a Terrible Co-Worker, but I Envy Your Laziness

We’re paid the same, yet you always do the least. How in the name of capitalism is that right?

Photo: 10'000 Hours/Getty Images

AA spoonful of scorn, a touch of anger, and a smidge of smug self-congratulations — these are the ingredients you stir inside me when I see you idly waiting for your time to leave. Sometimes I can feel your gaze on my back, lurking as I do the job we’re both assigned to do better and faster than you ever will. It took me a while to figure out, though, that there’s another ingredient to this resentment cocktail: envy.

I don’t know you. We only interact because we work the same job in the same establishment. But when you ask me for help — or when you don’t, and my managers tell me to go and help you anyway — it’s difficult not to struggle with those feelings. Helping you is extra work for which I won’t earn more money, but I still feel a weird sense of pride knowing that I’m useful, knowing that my managers consider me valuable enough to teach you. Then you clock out the minute your shift is supposed to end, and anger consumes me.

How are we paid the same (very minimum) wage? I ask myself. I ask it often. We signed the same contract, but I somehow work twice as much as you, if not more. I wish I didn’t think this way, but when we’re lucky enough to be paid extra for working overtime, I don’t understand why you’re so eager to leave. Crunch culture doesn’t only plague the video game industry or the broader tech world — it’s everywhere, and capitalism makes it very hard not to take the bait when living in poverty is so expensive. So when I see you not trying to improve and not working overtime, it seems like you don’t need this job at all. When you leave everything you’re working on to hightail it out of here, it makes me think you have better career options, that being here is just one of many avenues you could have taken, and you realized too late that it wasn’t a good one.

I don’t know anything about your life outside of this establishment, so it’s easy for me to paint you as the privileged person I can’t be.

For my sake, I need to admit that I’m projecting, that you’re only a villain version of myself. Don’t get me wrong; you’re as annoyingly real as they come. But I don’t know anything about your life outside of this establishment, so it’s easy for me to paint you as the privileged person I can’t be. Granted, I don’t know your life story or what brought you here. Just know that I don’t want to be here either — and I don’t have the luxury of choice.

My more senior co-worker told me the other day, “If I’m gonna have a shit job, might as well have one I already know everything about.” She earned a law degree and is now studying to pass the exam that’ll make her a judge. She’s still here, though, using this job as a stepping-stone that can pay the bills, already aiming for something higher. I wish I could follow her path, but I failed law school and earned a B.A. in English instead — not exactly a fast track to big paychecks. I can claim that I’m using this job as a stepping-stone before my writing career takes off, but deep down I know better.

The thing is, this way of life is supposed to be glamorous — if you work hard and hustle harder, you’ll end up having a cushy life: office work, something less taxing on the body and soul. At least, that’s the narrative capitalism unspools for us. But when I see and experience the damage it does to millions of workers worldwide, whether they live in developed countries or not, I realize it was a trap all along. Not only does the system fail so many, but it breeds people like me who grow to despise those who don’t work as hard as I do. Capitalism doesn’t elevate us — it pits us against one another.

Elusive terms like “savings account” and “dream vacation” become obsolete when — and I can’t stress this enough — poverty is so expensive. Living “the dream” doesn’t help when the last month of rent is due, the lease can’t be extended, and landlords want me to earn three times the monthly rent.

So here’s to you, my less competent co-worker. The next time I see you staring at the clock, or disinterestedly at me, I’ll think about this essay. But I can’t promise it’ll ease any of my resentment — of you, or of the system that put us both here.

English graduate student and freelance writer based in France. Words at Level, Elemental, Gen, Human Parts, etc. Email: abderemane.m.assad@gmail.com

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