Creative Labor Issues: No Easy Fix

In the creative economy, ideas are power. Workers want offices that are compelling and environments that allow them to produce their best work. It has been said that workers are willing to sacrifice pay for flexibility, but this statement ignores the fact that some people simply cannot afford to make that trade.

I want to examine two workplaces that address issues with creative labor, including giving up a job with better pay for more flexibility, and workplace environment issues.

“Working Anything but 9 to 5” chronicles how scheduling technology has wreaked havoc on the lives of low-income workers, mostly in the service sector.  The article follows Jeannette Navarro, a  22-year-old Starbucks barista with a two year old son, pursuing a bachelor’s degree. The scheduling technology that determines her life relies on a complicated formula that takes into account all of the store’s franchises and other data. Navarro learned her schedule as little as three days in advance generally. Unable to afford childcare, she would have to beg family to watch her son at the last minute.

This technology could be considered a “new form,” which would make it a creative enterprise according to the definition used in The Rise of the Creative Class. Ironically, this software was most likely developed by a coder in Silicon Valley, someone who can prioritize flexibility in their own work environment, while inadvertently (or intentionally) depriving others of this same pleasure. While Florida praises the innovation and creativity of those in the creative sectors, it seems out of touch when applied to this scenario, which is the reality for many people. Navarro’s job is her livelihood, and her way to provide for her son. Her workplace does not encourage creativity, and it is not her main concern. For many, creativity is a privilege, one their environments do not allow for. Harkening back to a much older take on this, Virginia Woolf has explained, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Not everyone has access to an environment that allows for creativity.

Jeanete Navarro, courtesy of New York Times.

Jeanete Navarro, courtesy of New York Times.

In Seattle, the founder of Gravity Payments, a credit card payment company, took a 90% pay-cut to be able to raise all of his employees’ salaries to $70,000. This was a new form he wanted to implement to enhance the creative working environment. However, as Florida mentioned, the myth of meritocracy is so deeply ingrained in American psyche that employees were actually offended because they felt the increase applied to people who hadn’t been working as hard.

I chose these two examples because I believe they show the challenges of adapting to creative workplaces, and that the solutions proposed may have harmful side effects. I’d be interested in everyone’s thoughts about these labor issues.

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