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Slackers Can Make You Sick

, , , , | Working | April 12, 2022

When I was in my early twenties, I’d mostly worked short-term temp jobs. I had very low confidence and (at the time undiagnosed) severe social anxiety. I’d had many job interviews, none of which had led to job offers, and some of them had felt like rejections even before the interview was over.

Eventually, I’d been unemployed for so long that the jobcentre insisted I had to go onto a work placement, essentially two weeks of working full-time for zero extra money — just the regular £40 each week — or I’d lose my benefits. My advisor was sympathetic and agreed that my problem wasn’t a lack of initiative, like with many of her clients, but a lack of confidence. She suggested that even though it wasn’t the work I was looking for, I should try a placement in retail as working with people might help me develop more confidence and social skills. I was terrified, but she promised me that if it was too much for me, she’d write me off as sick after a few days and make sure I didn’t lose my benefits as a result.

On the first day of the placement, I really was sick. I had to phone the shop I was placed at and let them know. The man who answered the phone took the message in a clearly sceptical tone. I’d later learn that the previous few people the jobcentre had sent had been useless and most hadn’t even shown up, some not even phoning.

The next day, what should have been my second day but was my first, I managed to get to the shop and go through some basic training, and I was told to shadow one of the staff for the morning and that I’d be put to work in the afternoon. I was still very nervous and soon felt quite ill. I went to the manager.

Me: “I don’t feel well. May I go home?”

She rolled her eyes.

Manager: “Maybe I’ll let you leave early if you don’t slack off.”

I walked back toward the till and suddenly threw up all over the shop floor. The manager, the customers, and the other staff were all suddenly trying to help me, and I realised that it hadn’t been a lack of sympathy but a certainty that I was feigning illness to protest being forced to work.

Obviously, I was allowed to go home as soon as I felt well enough to leave, and the manager even insisted on it when I offered to work after all since I felt a bit better. The whole thing made a bizarre ice breaker, and I was soon made to feel part of the team and was told stories about my useless predecessors. By the time my two-week placement was finished, I’d already been hired as a part-time sales assistant, and I ended up working there until the company went bankrupt several years later.

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