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Dear Co-Workers, Work Less

I spend a lot of time thinking about the intersection of disability and labor. Sometimes it’s from a lens of “productivity” where the goal is to work less and live more, and sometimes it’s from a lens of labor and shared responsibility. Today it’s more of the latter.

As a disabled person who works alongside other disabled people, I often think about what it is that we owe to each other. I try my best to peel it away from capitalist ideas of what we owe our jobs or our employers, and capitalist ideas about what “equality” looks like. We should not have to prove ourselves just as capable as our abled peers to receive the same compensation. Accommodations should not be about making us just as “productive” as our peers, because sometimes (often) that’s just not an option. And it shouldn’t be the goal.

When I think about what I want from my co-workers, I find that it is not: for them to do just as much work as I do, work for as long as I do, or “work as hard as me”, even if that could be measured (which it can’t). The best thing my co-workers could do for me, and the best thing I think I could do for my co-workers is to be realistic with work capacity and protective of boundaries around that. That means not taking on more work or responsibilities than I can reliably handle so that I don’t risk dumping that on my co-workers if and when I can no longer handle it.

That is certainly not to say that we shouldn’t be expected to help each other out. But it is easier to offer help when we’re not over capacity ourselves and to ask for help when we know the other person is not over capacity.

But what should being “at capacity” look like? Well it shouldn’t look like more work than we can get done during working hours. It also shouldn’t look like just enough work to get done during work hours. Capacity should be set at a sustainable level below the amount we can feasibly get done. We need to be taking into account the unexpected work that pops up once in a while, the emergencies that need all hands on deck, and the occasional covering for each other when life happens. Because life will happen, people will always have personal emergencies, take sick days, and take vacation time. And for the rest of the team to be able to cover their workload without negatively impacting the team or their customers, that extra bit of capacity needs to be there.

So, the best thing you can do for your co-workers is not take on more work, because your employer will always find more for you to do and increase their expectations of you. You are doing no one a favor by taking on more work than you can sustainably handle just because you think you should be taking on the same amount of work as someone else. The best thing you can do for your co-workers is provide consistency and extra capacity, so that they can rely on you when they need your help and expertise. It is more valuable for you to be able to continue to handle your workload consistently and sustainably so that it will not fall on someone else when you inevitably surpass your limits and burn out.

Not to mention that setting a lower bar allows everyone else to work a little less and find their own sustainable level instead of having everyone racing each other to an early grave by working more and setting a higher bar for everyone else.

Do yourself and your co-workers a favor. Work less, encourage your co-workers to do the same, and take care of each other.


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