Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Happy Worker - Or How Work Was Sabotaged (2022) Film Review
The Happy Worker - Or How Work Was Sabotaged
Reviewed by: Sunil Chauhan
Using as its not entirely convincing jump-off point a manual issued by the OSS (the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA) to instruct resistance fighters stationed in Europe on how to cripple the enemy, The Happy Worker sets out to answer why a fifth of surveyed workers say they are actively working against their employer, why CEO salaries have rocketed while worker wages have only slightly increased, and why so many employees say they are dissatisfied. Director John Webster traces modern office practices back to early factory models, explaining why managers want staff to personify well-oiled cogs in the machine, even if for many, this obeisance comes at a cost.
Mostly though, he wants to find out why most workers just aren’t as happy as they believe they’re meant to be. Assembling a globally sourced group of workers to share their office-inflicted sorrows and wounds, Webster looks to better understand stress, burnout and general workplace sadness. He wants to show how for many, health and safety issues aren’t physical obstructions like a poorly positioned ladder, but mental ones brought on by trying to meet the demands of professionalism, and knowing that ultimately, you are probably not irreplaceable.
One lawyer confesses that at her lowest point, work became such an ordeal that she hoped to have an accident on her commute so she wouldn’t have to worry about whatever awaited her at her desk. Another explains how she first started to feel the weight of impossibly high expectations in an after-school tuition class as a teenager. Work, they understand, is not just for adulthood, but what our lives are angled towards from a very young age.
These testimonies and observations form the heart of The Happy Worker, but Webster also relies on authorities such as Bullshit Jobs: A Theory author David Graeber and burnout researcher and psychologist Christina Maslach to offer factual nuggets and analysis. Designed to provide academic insight as well as some sardonic levity, reinforced by a series of flippant cutaways on subjects such as pointlessly long meetings and middle-management, the cross-cutting between these three strands mean the film ends up becoming tonally unresolved, stuck a little awkwardly between heart-on-sleeve candour, humour and attempts at creating a rollicking, carefree air of cool knowingness. Maybe that’s not that far off what many office workers do: trying to take their work seriously while also wondering why they’re doing it. But The Happy Worker could have done well to commit to its subject of unhappy workers the world over a little more seriously.Reviewed on: 15 Jul 2022