At my internship, I can see that there are at least 3 people who work 12-hour shifts  (or longer) five days a week, not because they have to, but because they feel compelled to. They’re all salaried so they don’t get any overtime pay. Judging by how they look at the end of the day, I can’t even conclude that they enjoy doing their jobs. It’s not that these extra work hours will earn them more money or win them awards, and it’s not that they find it fun, it’s simply that they’re driven to finish what they have to do, determined to help one more homeless individual/family receive the services they deserve.

Workaholics, that’s what they’d probably be labeled as.

What drives them so, I’m not quite sure, even as I myself have many of the proclivities of workaholism. Honestly, I’d argue it’s actually much better for the worker and for the overall quality of the work that we all stick to our regular hours and not overwork ourselves. Do we want to somehow convince ourselves that we’re inspiring or that we’re heroic?

Probably one of the most common statements about these folks is that their style of working is not sustainable. That they’re likely to burn out soon or experience compassion fatigue. That sounds about right to me too, so often I am concerned about my future self.

The three people that I know at my internship though, they’ve been working that style for years and years, one person, for decades. It just seems to be that’s how they do their jobs, at the site hours before their shift is to begin, leaving hours after their shift was to end. They get enough done during their normal 8 hours shifts that for them to do so many extra hours logically seems unnecessary. Maybe that’s how they got the executive managerial positions they’re in, but there are so many other executives in the place who don’t overwork themselves like this. And I believe to expect people to work like this to be promoted is an exploitive expectation.

I can see that they care about their work, are really proud of their work. They don’t expect others to work the way they do (cause that’d be unfair), but it does make me wonder how it is that they have such workaholic drives and moreover, how they can sustain it. Should I be inspired by this, or bothered?

The narratives about social service workers or public servants seem to come in just two folds: (1) that they’re lazy and will refuse to do anything outside of their job descriptions, and (2) that they’re overworked and overburdened. I’ve certainly witnessed personally those narratives in the flesh, but they’re still the extremes in reality. All of us have lazy moments, and all of us do certainly get overworked. A lot of us are ill-equipped and ill-trained. We have to work inside and navigate around broken systems, all while trying to remain as optimistic and hopeful as possible. We strive for the best as often as we find ourselves giving up. Even when we’re not workaholics, we wonder how sustainable all this is. Even when we’re not workaholics, we want to somehow convince ourselves that we’re inspiring, that we’re heroic.

And I think a lot of us are. I mean, that’s my ever-optimistic self kicking in overdrive, but even so, I do think we are.

Our jobs are to be human beings who work to help other human beings.

Some of us do it to make rent payments, some to jumpstart their careers, but nonetheless that’s what we’re all asked to do, expected to do. It drives a few of us (or maybe it’s lot more than I think) to be like workaholics.

I don’t really have a point in saying all this. Just that I know at least 3 people in my internship who typically work 12-hour shifts five days a week though they’re only required to do 35 hours a week. Seeing them regularly makes me think these kinds of things.

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