Work, it’s a means to an end isn’t it?

A day in the life of a British postman


In October 2015, UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt asked if we were “prepared to work hard in the way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard.” Hunt inferred British people had lost their work ethic. It was insulting. At a time when work is being dehumanised even more, it’s important to shine a light on work, the people that do it and what it really means to them.

Beyond Work tells stories about humans at work, with no judgement or glorification. This is my attempt at unearthing the social, cultural and functional world of work, that’s become invisible to a lot of people. The kind of work you only see at 5am on a cold November morning when nearly everyone else is tucked up in bed sleeping, alarm clocks primed. You learn a lot about a person by shadowing them at work, and even more by observing them as they transition from home to work and back again.

The value in this project is in the looking and observing of everyday life, and in turn inspiring as many people as possible to be more aware and sensitive to the needs of humans at work.

From my observations and stories, I want the people that manage, create or have influence over our workplaces to think about people not as a resource to include in a profit and productivity calculation, but as daughters, dads, sisters, friends and above all else humans with needs way beyond money.

Andrew James — Indoor Postal Worker

This story is taken from a recorded interview and is transcribed with very little editing to preserve the details.

I was mates with a guy at school and his brother was a waiter. For some reason I got it into my head that I wanted to become a waiter, where this came from I don’t know. When we had careers advice, they said, “no no no, you don’t want to do that, be a chef.” So they talked me into going into further education, to train to be a chef. I got to the summer holidays and I didn’t want to do it. I said to myself, I don’t want to do this, I’ve been talked into this, I don’t want to do it. So basically I just didn’t do it, didn’t go onto further education. I think I just went out and got a job and started from there.

I don’t regret that, because I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to do it at the time, and I’m not interested in cooking now, at all, so it wouldn’t have been a good thing for me.

I now work at Royal Mail Brighton, I’ve worked here for 37 years. My job title is indoor postal worker. I work indoors in the delivery department, my special duties are dealing with special delivery items that are going out everyday for the east 1 and east 2 section of Brighton. I suppose because my dad was a postman, I had thought about it at times. I suppose it put the idea in my head to apply. My dad, when he worked on the Post Office, he was a union person, I think he was the treasurer or something like that for the union.

My work hours are normally 5 days a week and I work a 6th day as overtime. My hours are 6 till 2:15, something like that. At this time of year it’s not too bad, it’s nice and light, but once the nights start drawing in and it’s cold and dark in the morning, it’s sometimes a bit of a chore to get up and get out in it. But I’ve done it for so many years, you know, it’s fine.

You always get people that are not very happy with the Post Office. I suppose most people value the postmen. Since its been privatised, whether people will value you as much as they did before, I don’t know. Over the last few years a lot of changes have been made and people are receiving their mail later. I don’t think they value it as much as they used to.

I see work as something that you need to do to earn the money to live. That’s the way I’ve looked upon it all of my life, my parents did as well. You need to go to work to pay rent, to buy food. It’s a means to an end isn’t it? It’s something you do unless you’re lucky enough to do work that you enjoy doing that’s not exactly a chore, it’s a means to an end isn’t it.

I enjoy the chat with the guys and that, at work, that’s probably what I’ll miss when I go, is talking to people at work, but, that’s about it really. The work I do is not particularly demanding, it’s a chore, it’s something you go in and do, you come home and get up and do it the next day.

I have valued my job, but at the moment, I don’t value it that much because I know it’s coming to an end. Through the years I’ve said to myself, “you’re lucky to have this job, because its steady money and the overtime basically has always been there”.

I would like to find a little part time job, just to keep me occupied more than anything, but I’m not worried about finding another job because I will be financially ok with what I have. If I do find something I’ll be pleased I can just find something for a couple of days, just to keep my mind occupied, and to get me out, do a little bit of work. But it all depends on how my health is as well, because people are not going to employ people if they feel that they have health problems.

Help me spread the purpose behind this project

I’m looking for others to help this project grow and spread, if that’s you, please get in touch.

You can view more photographs and stories at the Beyond Work archive at www.thisisbeyondwork.com Prints and Zines are also available to buy.

You can learn more about the work I do in businesses, helping them see and understand their working lives at www.wearefieldwork.com

I’d love you to spread the word about this project and the purpose behind it. I really believe that making the working lives of others visible can go a long way to positively changing the world of work. Please use #beyondwork and @beyond_work if you share.