I’ve worked for about 15-20 different archaeology companies in most areas of the nation. Those companies include small mom-and-pops up to big engineering firms and everything in-between. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky but none of the companies I’ve worked for have ever given me the sense of joy and excitement that my wife gets when she goes to work, talks about work, or pretty much does her work at home. I’d really like to change that, or see someone else do it, at the very least.
You see, several years ago my wife took up knitting again. She had been taught by her grandmother when she was a kid but didn’t do much with it for most of her life. As she started to really get back into it and started doing more complicated patterns, even attempting to design a few of her own, her passion for it started to develop. I wasn’t sure where this passion would go or whether it would develop further but one thing was certain: she didn’t feel that way about archaeology (did I mention that she is an archaeologist too?).
So, a few months ago a position opened up at the local yarn store. Well, it’s more than a store, really. It’s a locally based international online retailer of all sorts of knitting related items. She decided to take a huge pay cut and lifestyle change and got a job with the company. I’ve never seen her more happy! We went to the company holiday party last week and I was amazed at the outpouring of support from the employees and from the owner. People were moved to tears when they talked about how much they love working there and how much they love working for the owner. I think I’ve been in archaeology too long because it all seemed like something out of a movie. Do people really think that way about a job? Do they “love” their employer and what they do? Yes. Believe it or not, they do. This is no small company either. They have almost 40 employees all working out of the same building.
Now, I certainly love my job. I love talking about it, writing about it, and podcasting about it. What I don’t love is the work environment that many of us have to deal with. It’s a real spirit killer. How many times have you said to either new techs or people that aren’t in the business that this type of archaeology has a high turn-over? I’ve said it lots of times. That’s ridiculous! We have a job that many people would kill for! Of course, most people think it’s all fortune and glory and Indiana Jones but that’s beside the point. I think that we should feel passion for what we do and we should have a happy, up beat, and encouraging work environment. From what I know of leadership that attitude comes straight from the top.
Sometimes you never even see the person at the top that writes the reports, or at least signs their name to them. They’re there though and you can see their influence acting on and through their employees. Ever work for a crew chief or field supervisor that is a real ass and seems to hate life? Or, better yet, ever work for one that is only concerned with getting as many acres surveyed or sites recorded in the shortest time possible that they possibly can? That attitude comes from above, usually.
So, why are CRM archaeologists so seemingly unhappy with their jobs? Better yet, why do we continue to work for companies that piss us off or make us unhappy? I imagine for most of us it’s because we don’t want to give up that sense of security (money), and, we still love archaeology and will do anything to stay in the profession. I think that this dedication and passion should be rewarded by treating employees with the respect they deserve. After all, no company would be able to function with out it’s field techs.
My vision for a company that I’d like to work for involves intense collaboration and socialization. All of the employees would be working in a large, open space, with no cubicles or walls between them. The PI would be out there too. He/she would not be in an office down the hall where they are largely unapproachable. I don’t know exactly what the office would look like but I know I wouldn’t want walls. People need to feel like they are part of a team and I don’t think a sterile, quiet, cubicled environment is the way to do that.
I also think that giving more benefits to the employees keeps them happier. My wife’s employer is giving everyone in the company a health and wellness stipend starting the first of the year. It’s to encourage everyone to go out and be healthy. They are making plenty of money, why not spread it around?
How do you give more benefits to the employees in a cash-strapped field? Work smarter. I truly feel that by eliminating most paper, in the field and in the office, you could save a medium-sized company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. That’s not just in paper costs either. That includes maintaining copiers and printers, having people type up the forms in the office, and storage of all of the field forms for decades to come. Everything can be done digitally and last generation’s archaeologists need to realize that the digitization of our world is not something to be feared. Just remember three things about digital documents and data: backup, backup, backup. That’s it.
There are some companies that are not opposed to technology. I don’t know of any CRM companies that are using tablets in the field just yet but there may be some out there. There are certainly academic projects that have gone completely digital and are even drawing feature maps and rock art on iPads. We have the resources to be as technologically advanced a field as others, we just have to take that first step. When we start saving all of this money, while not lowering our prices to clients because we have to continue to value our work appropriately, we can start giving more back to our employees.
I also feel that professional development and intellectual development should not be treated like something that is secondary to getting that next survey done. I would love to see a company where people all the way down to the field tech level are rewarded for going to conferences, presenting papers, and attending local talks, or even giving them. The more we know about current research the better we will be on our own projects. I would reward people for giving local talks on archaeology and projects in the area too. What are we doing all of this for anyway? The public has a right, and usually a desire, to know about the archaeology in their backyard and in the state they live in. Tell them about it.
It would be great to see a year-end bonus structure that was based on a points system. Points could be given for presenting a paper, giving a talk, going to a conference, or anything related to communicating archaeology to someone else.
I’m trying not to make this into a huge rant. I love my field and I want to see it get better. I want to see people that are happy to be heading out into the field for one more session. I want to see people telling their friends and family that they wouldn’t want to work in any other field for anyone else and that they are very happy with their lives and with the decisions that they’ve made regarding archaeology. I just don’t see that right now.
Please, if I’ve just had bad luck and you work for a company that makes you shout tidings of joy out the windows of skyscrapers then leave a comment. If you work for an employer that makes you LOVE going to work everyday and encourages you to better yourself professionally and intellectually, leave a comment. If you are a venture capitalist and want to fund my new company, call me!