How long were you in your job before you had a right to be there?

How long were you in your job before you had a right to be there?  For how long did you think you were taking too long to learn the role?  For many young workers, starting a new job can be a nerve-racking experience, especially if it’s their first job.  The belief that you haven’t earnt your position, nor the right to regard yourself by your job title (e.g. engineer, postie), is not only common but encouraged by pressurised workplace cultures that constantly require efficiency and speed above that of which even the seasoned veterans are capable.  A by-product (or even intended consequence) of this culture is that young workers are constantly feeling like they have to work unpaid and set aside safe systems of work to meet the speeds of those around them and those set by management.  This includes coming in early, skipping meal breaks, and finding faster methods of completing tasks which endanger the health and safety of themselves and those around them.

This belief that any success one has is due to a mysterious stroke of luck or a mistake, and that they’re sure to be found out soon is known as “imposter syndrome” or “imposter phenomenon”, and it’s more common than you might think, especially among women, in whom the phenomenon was first described back in 1978.  And while businesses may claim to be concerned with the mental health of their employees, that won’t stop them from exploiting the anxiety caused as a result of this syndrome.  Workers who, correctly or not, fear that their employment is precarious will go over and above their contractual obligations just in order to keep their livelihoods.

In truth, there is an extent to which we as colleagues don’t do enough to discourage this.  We show frustration when paired with a new-starter, we forget how we felt when we started and fail to reassure our fledgling comrades of their job security and the pace of their development in their roles. If they are to become the allies in the labour movement we require, we need to show them the true meaning of solidarity: we work together to build a company, an industry, and a world where the threat of dismissal doesn’t hang over us like the Sword of Damocles for any minor infraction or failure to live up to unreasonable standards.  And when we stop making unfair demands of new-starters and stand firm with them, we can join together and fight back against the unachievable demands made by management of all of us.

Going forward we must introduce ourselves to the new-starters and recent recruits in our workplaces, whether we’re reps or not, and show them the support that our employers won’t, show them the solidarity that our schools don’t teach us about, and show them the strength that workers can only achieve by working together for their common interests.  Show them The Power of a Union.