Literal slavery is a horrible practice that still persists into the modern age. But, I want to talk about another form of human exploitation–employment slavery, which can also ruin a person’s life. Generally, I consider this a self-inflicted slavery because it’s ultimately a person’s choice to work under such conditions—but I also understand that brainwashing can occur, creating the illusion that there’s no way out.
Slavery (in general) exists because of the inclination among people to obtain the benefits of human resources, while providing little (or nothing) in return. Human work is the most intelligent, efficient way to create a system of wealth and power. For the morally bankrupt, such benefits are sought for free.
Employment, in the best case scenario, is a business deal of mutual benefit. But in other instances, the company is expending such minimal resources that they are taking advantage of you. In the worst case scenario, through a combination of slave-driving principles and psychological techniques to break you down, such a job can morph into something very similar to actual slavery.
If you don’t know any better, it’s easy to fall into slavery conditions. Here are signs that your sense of freedom in life is totally gone:
You Work at Minimal Wage for a Big Company
Because of the way employers conveniently ignore yearly inflation, today’s minimal wage is not enough to maintain any semblance of a normal lifestyle. Minimal wage makes some sense in small businesses just starting out. But, In America, $8.25 an hour, or less, from a large, billion-dollar corporation is inexcusable. In this case, your annual wages cost a second of the company’s hourly profits. In other words, your hard work is a very bad deal for you, and a killer opportunity for the suits upstairs.
You’re Told You Can’t Do Any Better
“You’re lucky you even have a job!” is a psychological taunt that bad employers use to try and keep their wage-slaves from believing they can do any better. Such statements are made to maintain a sense of control. Understand, voluntary slavery is not a rare phenomenon. It happens when a person is brainwashed into the belief that they have nowhere else they can go.
If your manager uses psychological put-downs like this to denigrate your professional abilities–understand that it’s being done for a reason.
You Can’t Move Up
The idea of getting a raise and a promotion may be dangled in-front of you, but you’ve seen no evidence to suggest that it really happens. In fact, only a very small percentage of your co-workers ever obtain this goal, and they tend to be the cronies of upper-management. If this is the case, then what exactly is your reason for working at this company?
They Engage in Scheduling Abuse
Inconvenient hours are inevitable in jobs, but some companies will abuse the system. This ranges from illegally denying overtime pay, to scheduling month-long bouts of “cloping” (working until closing hours late at night, then opening hours the next morning) that leaves the employee physically and emotionally drained.
An employee in this system may feel the intense pressure by the bosses to conform to abusive hours, under the threat of being denied promotions or even getting fired for seeking better treatment.
Vacation Time is Discouraged
America’s two-week annual vacation time is one of the weakest in the Western world, and American workers tend to not even use it. This is because many employers will hint that vacationers are likely to end up on the shit-list of not getting promoted. They may even hint that unruly vacation-seekers will be the first to get laid-off or fired at the earliest opportunity.
A system of slavery does not allow free-time for individuals to maintain their own lives outside of their work. This could cause dissent and break the system of total control. An unspoken methodology among abusive managers is to destroy the lifestyles of employees so, instead of tending to family or hobbies, they work at full capacity.
You’re Terrified of Your Bosses
Feeling motivated based on high-standards and being scared to go below those standards is one thing, but being genuinely scared of the people you’re working for is another.
Slave-masters maintain systems of fear, to break down their subjects and perhaps—in time—build them back up. For the best example of this—please see Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.
Psychological and verbal abuse is usually what occurs. An abusive employer understands exactly what strings to pull to generate feelings of shame or guilt, and they’ll use the professional context to destroy a subject’s sense of self-worth, perhaps by implying worthlessness at the vocation they’ve devoted their life to.
In other instances, the abuse is very overt and could include yelling, tantrums and even physical assaults. But the outcome is the same: the employee living in a constant state of paranoia, fear, and subservience.
The Workplace Exhibits Cult-Like Conditions
Read carefully the ten warning-signs you’re in a cult by the Cult Education Institute. Some of these that could be very applicable to a workplace include: absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability, no tolerance for questions or critical inquiry, the leader (boss) is always right, and former followers (employees) are vilified as evil for leaving.
If the job feels less about, you know, getting the job done–and is more about the influence, charisma and infallibility of the boss—then get the heck out of there. This means the person in charge is getting a side-benefit to running or managing the workplace: power and dominance.
You Work as an Intern
The number one sign you’re a slave and not an employee is that you’re working an unpaid internship, and it’s not for college credit. You may be promised great benefits and valuable “connections”, at what amounts to harsh workplace conditions, long hours, and zero pay.
A huge mistake I see young professionals make, and it really irks me, is naivety about people’s intentions. I went to film school for my bachelor’s, and many students I knew lusted after top internships at film studios or with big names in the entertainment industry. Such internships are often offered regardless of college credit.
When a person is blindsided by their desire to “make it” and get in with big names, they are likely to make bad decisions—and unscrupulous employers will prey on this desire.
Internships are great IF it’s part of a student’s actual curriculum. It means hands-on work and real experience versus useless classrooms. But, the questionable non-credit “internships” I warn about also exist to lure young people into systems of slavery. It’s gotten so bad these types of arrangements are quickly becoming illegal in California.
The reality of such internships is that the slave-drivers only desire one thing: unpaid work. There is NO promise that you will “move up” or land any type of a paid job. When your internship finishes, they will discard you and find the next victim.
The biggest reason to avoid internships is the mentality behind the deal. Imagine a law firm or a film studio that is a multi-billion dollar operation. How hard would it be to throw their new recruit at LEAST minimum wage? The fact such a company would, despite their huge profits, still desire unpaid labor is indicative of a slave-driving mentality that funnels wealth to the top at the expense of the people on the bottom making it possible.
As a professional, it would be best for you to avoid doing any type of business with any individual or company that possesses a philosophy like this.
Employment-slavery situations are common. Very common. But ultimately, the biggest factor in determining how bad it is, is a single question: are you happy?
If you are happy at $8.25 an hour with no benefits, because you like the people you work with, you like the nature of the work, and you feel it’s moving you somewhere you want to be—then it’s not slavery. You’re making an investment that’ll either pay off, or it won’t—but at least you enjoy what you’re doing.
However, if you are miserable in your current conditions, it’s quite possible that the uneasy feeling in your gut is your intuition telling you that someone is taking advantage of you.
Employment is supposed to be a business contract, and an exchange of services. Never a system of control. Sometimes, just the willingness to walk away is your strongest defense against a terrible job situation.
For more about avoiding systems of employment-slavery, please see my short books: Freedom: How to Make Money From Your Dreams and Ambitions, and How to Quit Your Job: Escape Soul Crushing Work, Create the Life You Want, and Live Happy.
(For more books, also check out the Developed Life bookstore, www.developedlife.com/bookstore).