Art Worlds

Workers Are People, Too

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Art labor and working conditions have been on my mind lately–perhaps it’s because I installed at the recent art fairs, where art handlers get access without influence.* For example,  installers at Frieze receive exhibitors’ class “C” passes—which are good only for entry before or after public hours.

A recent op-ed on NYT (Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath, “Why You Hate Work”, May 30, 2014) states what many managers, HR people and executives seem impervious to (but anyone with a shitty job already knows):

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

…Put simply, the way people feel at work profoundly influences how they perform.

This seems so obvious to me, yet some excel in failing to consider that workers are people. (In a particularly dense example, I’ve had to explain why “feeling valued and appreciated for [one’s] contributions” means not treating workers as interchangeable and
replaceable by firing them willy-nilly.)

…Partly, the challenge for employers is trust. …many employers remain fearful that their employees won’t accomplish their work without constant oversight — a belief that ironically feeds the distrust of their employees, and diminishes their engagement.

The worst example of this is requiring some workers (but not white collar staff) to use a fingerprint scanning time clocks. (Workers were allowed to choose which finger to scan in with. Guess which one it was?)

Of course, many supervisors get it, and are generous and humane. Their employees are happier and more productive for it, and likely so are they.

* “[Preparator] work gives the perspective of an insider without the credibility of one,” Torreya Cummings, as quoted by moi in “Portrait of an Artist: Wily and Engaged,” Art Practical, May 4, 2011.

 

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