Will work for low-stress, healthy environment
July 7, 2010 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I’m a former academic who would like to focus on self-driven writing and creative projects, but I’m not ready for self-employment. I’d like to find a low-stress job that will leave time and energy for my creative work, but I have some health restrictions and complicating factors. What should I do?

I’m a writer, web geek and former academic with a jack-of-all-trades background. I have baccalaureate-level education in psychology, philosophy, and accounting, and my previous work experience is mostly academic, computer- and office-focused: light web stuff (mostly HTML/CSS coding), tax prep, psych research assistance, teaching assistance, proofreading, and administrative. I’ve also done restaurant work and home caretaking/nanny work back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Frankly, I’ve had my fill of academia, and conventional career paths are not for me. I’m clear about what I want: I’d like to focus as much of my time and energy as possible on my writing and other long-term projects that support my "green" values, such as learning permaculture and eco-friendly homemaking skills. At some point, I may be able to generate sufficient income through self-employment. In the meantime, however, I need another source of income, and am therefore looking for a job.

My priorities and preferences are: low stress, low public contact, light-to-moderate physical activity, job site accessible via foot or public transit, and a good working environment. The working environment is even more important to me than my job duties, in fact. For a really good employer – one with good management, fair pay, and employees that are capable, smart, and down-to-earth – I'm willing do whatever is necessary to get hired there: wash dishes, serve coffee, haul trash, you name it. If it's a "sick system" place to work, it doesn't matter if I’m paid a six-figure professional salary and am doing tasks I love all day long, because I know I won’t last long there.

I’m fine with lower status, repetitive tasks, short-term temp or contract work, and shift work or odd hours, and while I'd like to make decent money, I will accept lower pay if necessary. I live simply and frugally, have low expenses, am single and child-free by choice, and don’t need intellectual stimulation in a job since I get plenty of it through my autodidactic and creative pursuits.

Ideally, I’d like to work in an office, hotel/motel, private home, or restaurant, alternating among tasks like office cleaning, filing/sorting/data entry, or organizing closets or stockrooms. I love organizing! I also enjoy computer/tech work and computer geeks a lot, but since I spend a lot of my free time in front of a computer, I’d rather not spend my entire paid workday there as well. (Doing computer work for part of the shift would be fine).

I’m reliable, punctual, respectful, trustworthy, self-motivated, organized, hard-working, and a quick learner, and I’m good at finding pleasure in many different kinds of work. I’m confident that I’m a good employee, and I have good references. However, I have some factors that are complicating my job hunt:

1) I have a knee injury. While it doesn’t prevent me from doing most physical activities, I’ve been advised by a doctor that putting strain on it through repetitive stooping and kneeling isn’t a good idea, so this rules out certain jobs.

2) I’m asthmatic and I have allergies to animal dander, some kinds of pollens and particulate matter, and many kinds of scented products. This means I can’t work anywhere with indoor pets, I need to wear a respiratory mask for certain kinds of cleaning jobs, and as much as possible, I need to avoid workplaces where people wear heavy perfumes.

3) Job-related travel is not a possibility for me right now, since I’m living in a family-owned condo and have agreed to occupy and manage it for the foreseeable future.

4) I don’t drive or own a car – I get around by foot and public transit exclusively. I love living this way, and it generally doesn’t pose a problem since I live in the downtown core of a city (Portland, OR). However, it does pose limitations in terms of the jobs I can accept, since many job listings state that applicants “must have reliable vehicle.”

5) I’m very introverted and easily overstimulated, enjoy solitude and privacy, and have found that I don’t do well in high-profile jobs with heavy public contact or large groups of people. My job performance is best when I’m left to my own devices, or working with a small group in a back office or similar environment.

How should I approach job-hunting, given these conditions? What kinds of jobs should I be applying for, and what are my chances of getting hired? How much of my background should I reveal, and will I be considered "overqualified"? And in particular, how do I find a healthy workplace? Are there tell-tale signs of a “sick system” working environment that can be detected by outsiders who might be interested in working there, or are there other ways to find out beforehand what the workplace culture will be like once I’m inside?

Personal anecdotes are welcome. I feel kind of stuck in my job hunt right now, and I could use some encouragement and hope. If you have a background and priorities similar to mine, and are happily working in a job of the type I’m seeking, I’d love to hear about your experiences and how you got the job.

Lots of questions, I know. Thanks in advance for all suggestions!
posted by velvet winter to Work & Money (9 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you were location agnostic, I'd look into inns where they need cooks/general help and have staff housing (for free) with another job (e.g., nightwatchman). I did this a few years ago, and while I found it too lonely, it really meets all your criteria except living in the family-owned condo and maybe 1 (can you do general kitchen work?).

I find sick systems to be identified by their turnover rate. Each industry has different average turnover rates, so you have to keep in mind that if a restaurant's rate is way higher than an office's, the restaurant could still be better than the office. Some industries are "sticky," other aren't—it's relative.
posted by ifandonlyif at 7:33 PM on July 7, 2010

while I'd like to make decent money, I will accept lower pay if necessary

I think it would help to quantify this. Some people mean "lower pay if necessary" to mean minimum wage; someone else is thinking of the low sixties. Similarly, do you need benefits? These are the kinds of real-world criteria that bracket a more general question like yours.
posted by Forktine at 7:36 PM on July 7, 2010

Response by poster: ifandonlyif: Working at an inn sounds like a good possibility...and yes, I can do general kitchen work and would probably enjoy it, assuming good working conditions. If you'd like to say more, I'd be interested to know more about your situation - how did you get the job, what was the work like, and why did you find it too lonely?

There is a possibility that my family could rent out the condo I'm currently living in if I got a job that involved living on-site, so even though moving wouldn't be my first choice, I won't rule it out.

Forktine: Minimum wage where I live is $8.40/hr. In my current situation, I could survive on that, but just barely. I'd have no breathing room at all, and I'd probably end up moving in with my mother. (I might end up moving in with her anyway, if the recession continues as it has been). To make my situation sustainable for the long-term, I'd need to be making around $15/hr plus health benefits.
posted by velvet winter at 9:25 PM on July 7, 2010

I'm guessing you know the job market is really rotten in Portland right now--so having specific parameters makes things even tougher.

Have you applied to any positions at PSU? The temporary clerical pool might work for you -- you can do a job here and there for a short length of time at each one, and see if it might lead to anything more permanent. I know you said you don't want to be around academics, but there are plenty of back office happenings that have little interaction with faculty (I suspect). They also have some other positions open that could work--and the benefits are great.

I've heard Netflix is a good place to work. I don't know if they are max-accessible, but they seem to be hiring often, and perhaps they have some positions with limited human interaction.

I think you are asking for general, rather than specific suggestions, so my general suggestion is to try to get *any* job. It's really hard to know in advance if someplace is a healthy work environment (and at a big company, one department could be great while the another is a mess). And it's easier to find the perfect job when you have any job.

Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:12 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: bluedaisy: Thanks for the suggestions. Indeed, the job market here is far from encouraging. The longer I remain unemployed, the greater the possibility that I will end up moving in with family, hundreds of miles away. I love this city and would very much like to stay, but I'll do whatever's necessary to survive, of course.

About academia, I should clarify: I actually love my fellow academics, and I enjoy working in educational environments. When I said I've had my fill of academia, I just meant that I had no desire to obtain any more university credentials myself. I think two B.S. degrees and a post-bac is plenty. :)
posted by velvet winter at 12:48 AM on July 8, 2010

I would definitely agree with bluedaisy about looking at university (and college, like Reed and Lewis & Clark) support staff jobs. There's often little turnover, since the jobs are pretty good and people tend to stay, but if you can get in, perhaps as a temp, a lot of those jobs should work pretty well for you.

Similarly, I'd suggest applying for support staff positions at federal agencies (and quasi-federal ones too, like Bonneville Power). The process for getting hired can be ridiculous and is a real test of whether you are seriously patient (and again can often be temporary first), but the working conditions and benefits tend to be really good.
posted by Forktine at 6:09 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Home health aide for local seniors?
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 6:18 AM on July 8, 2010

velvet winter — I was a cook there when the nightwatchman left. Without anything better to do, I took over that job to save money (free room and board!). I found it lonely because I had to be there every night. That meant I couldn't really go out or visit friends in different areas.
posted by ifandonlyif at 5:30 PM on July 8, 2010

Response by poster: As I read over this post again, I got the impression that it comes across as too long and convoluted, and I'm thinking I should have split it into two different posts or otherwise reframed it. Oh well.

In any case, I really appreciate the suggestions...thanks everyone! I think my next step will be to apply at inns/motels, and I'll look into Netflix as well - I happen to know someone who works there, as a matter of fact, so I'll ask about it. I'll try again for university support jobs, too.

I'll post an update to this thread after I manage to get something worked out - hopefully it'll be good news!
posted by velvet winter at 10:32 PM on July 8, 2010

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