You are at least free to whittle your nibs

We’re not overly prescriptive in the ‘rules for all employees’ edicts these days. Casual Friday is now blurring into Laid Back Monday and Seriously Slobby Wednesday. When managers feel compelled to ‘say something’ about dress, hairstyles or body odour these days, they generally put it off for the fear of crossing the harassment line. Some organisations are strict about uniforms and safety workwear, but then the clothing is generally supplied. Of course, we care if some workers show up with drugs or alcohol in their system, because safety is compromised. We avoid, however, asking whether they got bladdered on their days off. When the boss asks if we had a good weekend, we know it is a social custom and not a search for proof of our dissolute natures.
I do not know the religious beliefs or personal circumstances of most of my colleagues. I do not need or wish to know. That’s a good thing. As Richard Glover points out in his recent book, The Land Before Avocado, it’s not long ago that in the typical Australian workplace, a woman might conceal the fact that she was married or pregnant in order to keep her job.
The standard working week in most Australian contracts is 38 hours by law, but in many workplaces, setting targets is the norm and clock watching is out. I was considering the changing psychological contract of work when I came across this wonderful list of workplace rules from 1872. It is either from the owner of a New England carriage works or a list of rules for teachers at that time, but it still reminds us of the changing nature of the workplace.
1. Office employees will daily sweep the floors, dust the furniture, shelves and showcases.
2. Each day fill lamps, clean chimneys and trim wicks. Wash the windows once a week.
3. Each clerk will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s business.
4. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to your individual taste.
5. This office will open at 7am and close at 8pm except on the Sabbath, on which day we will remain closed. Each employee is expected to spend the Sabbath by attending church and contributing liberally to the cause of the Lord.
6. Male employees will be given time off each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they regularly go to church.
7. After an employee has spent his thirteen hours of labour in the office, he should spend the remaining time reading the Bible and other good books.
8. Every employee should lay aside from each pay packet a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years, so that he will not become a burden on society or his betters.
9. Any employee who smokes Spanish cigars, uses alcoholic drink in any form, frequents pool tables and public halls or gets shaved in a barber’s shop, will give me good reason to suspect his worth, intentions, integrity and honesty.
10. The Employee who has performed his labours faithfully and without a fault for five years, will be given an increase of five cents per day in his pay, providing profits from the business permit it.
The next time you feel slightly daunted by the alarm clock, and the burden of scrubbing up reasonably for work, spare a thought for the bucket carrying, chimney sweeping office worker of 1872, who was permitted to go courting after work, if bible reading was satisfactorily completed, but was undoubtedly too exhausted from a 13-hour day to have a lot of fun.

2 thoughts on “You are at least free to whittle your nibs”

Comments are closed.