Jeff Dowsing
Melbourne, August 2013 – June 2014

It’s mildly remarkable that one of the catchiest riffs I’ve heard in contemporary music was composed in 1937.

I say ‘mildly remarkable’, for when the artist is Morrissey, nothing should surprise. Not with his trademark penchant for mining the classic, obsolete and obscure for inspiration.

A string sample from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony (1st Movement: Moderato) opens The Teachers Are Afraid Of Their Pupils in ominous fashion and provides a recurring, menacing backdrop to the 11-minute opus.

Having acquired most of Moz’s back catalogue over recent years, this one residing on Morrissey’s Southpaw Grammar album (1997) somehow slipped by. But it found me at a particularly pertinent time.

Whilst the track is an atypical Morrissey take on the English education system, applying the lyrics to my then work scenario struck so many chords.

There’s too many people
Planning your downfall

Despite runs on the board, my job security had taken several unexpected and unwarranted hits. I wasn’t alone, and countless others would abandon the sinking ship. With staff morale independently measured at an unprecedented low, management’s response was to turn the screws. Those not perceived to be on board Team X had their card marked.

When your spirit’s on trial
These nights can be frightening

A number of incidents took a toll on my physical and mental health. Oh how I tried to get out of that soul destroying place with my own manager working alongside (no) People & (no) Culture to push me over the edge. Alas, free falling without a crash mat wasn’t an option.

Sleep transports sadness
To some other mid-brain
And somebody here
Will not be here next year

Several colleagues did lump for unemployment over the pervading bullying culture. Others suddenly and mysteriously vanished without farewell. ‘Everyone is replaceable’ was the mantra known to have been espoused by certain executives. Survival meant playing the game or playing a drone.

Of course listening to this song on repeat did nothing to help my mindset, but I found its bleak parallels too compelling to ignore.

After sleep deprivation and heart palpitations lead to anxiety issues, Christmas Eve 2013 was spent on an ECG treadmill to test for a possible heart defect. Thankfully it was prognosis negative.

When I returned to work in the new year I was called in to discuss my employee assistance counselling and weeklong sick leave certificate which cited a stress related condition.

So you stand by the board
Full of fear and intention
And, if you think that they’re listening
Well, you’ve got to be joking

One surreal meeting lead to another, their tone lurching from faux concern to gobsmacking disrespect and upping the ante. I circled my wagons and they circled theirs.

Oh, you understand change
And you think it’s essential
But when your profession
Is humiliation…

I asked for a redundancy package since technically my original department and position had been made obsolete, and the WorkCover or legal road would be a lose-lose for both parties. Their unattractive proposition and my inability / unwillingness to make good on my proposition left me in limbo.

Say the wrong word to our children…
We’ll have you, oh yes, we’ll have you

The cross to which I was nailed in the first instance dated back to a team meeting where I dared to question the new strategic plan, in particular its laughable vision statement (later expunged). My newish manager had already switched sides but I’d been too slow on the uptake. Cue farcical performance review. Truth be told, my role as ‘pupil’ was untenable from the get-go. In this toxic environment I was another barnacle that needed scraping.<