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Jack Knox: Never mind the perks, how does your job make you feel?

It’s hard to recruit nurses when your slogan is: “Come for the long hours, stay for the lunatic-fringe protesters.”
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Jack Knox writes that figuring out what kind of job you want to do should start with the question: What do you want out of your work? Is it just a means to pay for the rest of your life, or do you want the work itself to be fulfilling? THE CANADIAN PRESS/Evan Buhler

I took a tumble recently, the weight of my great big giant head having momentarily thrown me off balance.

It meant I got to ride in an ambulance, though, which was cool, even if they wouldn’t let me drive or work the siren. (Must have been an insurance thing.)

The paramedics were great, which didn’t surprise me. I once asked my paramedic friend Bonnie how she could do such a high-stress job, racing from one Code 3 emergency to another. “Are you kidding?” she said. “I get to help people.”

Actually, all of those I crossed paths with at Victoria General Hospital, more than a dozen people in all, were everything you would want health-care professionals to be: skilled, efficient, human, friendly.

Again, no surprise, as I had a similar experience the last time I staggered into the hospital. That was in 2001, when I burst my appendix in a successful attempt to get out of Christmas with the in-laws.

It has to be hard, though. Chronic staffing shortages afflict the hospital system, which can only make the work less appealing, which can only make vacancies tougher to fill. It’s hard to recruit nurses when your slogan is: “Come for the long hours, stay for the lunatic-fringe protesters.”

The labour crisis doesn’t just apply to health care, of course. This month, the Times Colonist has, in addition to stories of temporarily shuttered emergency rooms, carried pieces about distraught British Columbians left hanging by a lack of 911 call-takers, ferries docked by a shortage of mariners, recreation programs threatened by a dearth of lifeguards, and airport chaos blamed, in part, on the absence of baggage handlers, customs agents and security workers.

“No takers yet for $25,000 new-doctor signing bonus,” read the headline on a July 5 article, number 6,789 in a series on B.C.’s vanishing family physicians.

Really, there are shortages everywhere. (B.C. even has an opening for a new premier.) In June, RBC Economics estimated Canada had about 70 per cent more job postings than it did pre-pandemic, but far fewer people available to fill them — unemployment is at its lowest level since at least 1976.

This means job-seekers can be pickier. The TC’s Andrew Duffy had a piece in Wednesday’s paper detailing the extent to which employers must now accommodate workers: scheduling around child care or rush-hour traffic, providing mental-health benefits, even paying for pet insurance.

But here’s a basic question: What do you want out of your work? Is it just a means to pay for the rest of your life, or do you want the work itself to be fulfilling?

Every couple of years, the U.S. site CareerCast.com issues its Jobs Rated Report, which ranks vocations according to such factors as income, employment outlook, physical demands, stress and working environment.

Here, starting at number one, is its latest top ten: data scientist, genetic counsellor, statistician, medical services manager, mathematician, university professor, operations research analyst, information security analyst, actuary and software engineer.

At the opposite end of the scale, wallowing at the very bottom of a list more than 200 jobs long, edging out logger as the worst job of 2021, was — wait for it — reporter.

This last bit surprised me, seeing as A) I once saw a job posting for a “vomit collector” at an amusement park with a particularly terrifying roller coaster, and B) I have spent most of my working life in journalism, feeling like I won the lottery the whole time.

I mean, I once got paid to interview a porn star in the nude (her, not me). Barack Obama phoned me four days before he was elected president. Stephen Harper offered to hug me. What’s not to love?

“Never get trapped in a job you don’t like,” my dad once said, shrewd advice from someone who took early retirement as soon as he was eligible, studied theology for four years, then happily spent the rest of his years as a penniless priest, hanging out with people on the hardest days of their lives.

This is what you want to remind those just setting out in life, wondering what to order off a menu that is now a thousand pages long: It’s not just about the pet insurance. It’s about how it makes you feel.

Maybe it’s even about being able to say: “I get to help people.”