Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyApril 3, 2022

I dream of a lanyard

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Lanyards are the uniform of the office. Which is exactly why Sharon Lam wants one.

A lot of people seem to be quitting their jobs lately. In the US, where “the great resignation” was coined, four million people left their jobs in a single month, and according to some reports, about half of employed New Zealanders are actively considering quitting their jobs. What do people want? A decent salary. Work life balance. Professional fulfilment. Must be nice. Nice in the same way that a castle, the ability to fly and abs must be nice. You know what else would be nice? A lanyard.

Lanyards appear to me as mystical medallions, promising belonging and affirmation of a professional identity. I’ve only started to think like this recently. Corporate neckwear was once the last thing on my mind, I was hopeful that I could do some social good working in the architecture sector – design thoughtful, affordable housing, or at least something cute like an Aesop. As it turns out, it’s hard to do either. I didn’t go to a big-name university, I don’t know what the secret font of the month is to put my CV in, and my network consists of the imaginary person I talk to in the shower and the humanoid presence that emanates from the bedside pile of clothes between the hours of two and four am. In other words, I cannot be a chooser, and the bulk of architecture jobs are neither cute nor socially good.

As I become jaded by the hope of job satisfaction, job distancing is the new dream. And so, the lanyard lust grows.

If you don’t like your job, the next best thing is to cut yourself completely off from it. The you at work has nothing to do with you as your own person. This is the premise of TV show Severance, where employees undergo the titular severing procedure, cutting off their work memories from their personal memories. In theory, achieving perfect work life balance between their “innie” and “outie”. And yes, the office innies are always wearing lanyards.

In lieu of actual severance, a lanyard may be the best tool one can have to distance themselves from their job. A uniform, a disguise. If I had a lanyard, I would lean into it completely. Work would become a daily ritual where I cosplay as a company employee. This is my desk, this is my coffee mug. My lines are “what did the client say” and “I’ve emailed it over”. Work would become novel and light. I’d be a better employee because I wouldn’t have emotions and life-thoughts invested in each minor failure or success. It would just be a wacky thing I did to keep the roof over my head separate from my parents’ roof. At the end of the day, I would take off my lanyard, go home and forget that world completely as I pursue my real, wonderfully unmonetisable passions.

And so these days, whenever I see people walking around with lanyards, I am blinded by what I don’t have. The light bounces off the plastic, glowing brightly as professional amulets of protection. Lanyards say: I have a stable job. I have a place I go to and do my work and that place of work has a la-dee-dah electronic security system. See this? That’s my face around my neck. Just under my real face. My existence is twice that of yours.

My singular face has only appeared in offices of singular rooms. The companies these mystical lanyards come from, with “HR departments” and “IT people” and finance teams” seem like giant machines. Metallic ecosystems so unnatural that it would be impossible to mistake “myself” for “myself at work”. The smart casual attire, the elevators, the signature reception desk, everyone is in on the joke! The commitment is inspiring! And of course the lanyard is the key prop – the Phantom’s mask, Hamlet’s skull.

Without the corporate set or props, it’s harder to distance oneself. I’m in my own clothes among only a handful of other people also in their own clothes, there is nowhere to hide. In part, I blame the field I chose, which for whatever reasons comes with the implication that if you pursue it, you must also have some love heart-eyed passion for it.

As a supermarket worker, I was very happy turning a 25kg sack of brazil nuts into 10 smaller 2050g bags of brazil nuts, and no one ever expected that brazil nut arrangement was a passion of mine that creatively fuelled my existence. As an architecture worker, there is the implication that architecture is important to me beyond a job, which the industry exploits. Esteemed architects like Junya Ishigami use unpaid interns who work twelve hours a day, six days a week, and even post-internship, irregular hours continue. A nine-to-five is architectural bliss. No matter how much “passion” one has for their field, there are only so many unpaid overtime hours you can work before interest becomes resentment.

All of this is compounded by working from home, where everything leaks into the other. There can be no “innie” and “outie” when there is no workplace to go in and out of. Your bed is the office, your toilet is the office, everything is the office. Your actual office might be downsized, and people create terms like “hotdesking” to make investing in less space and furniture sound innovative rather than cost-cutting. Those sashaying around town with lanyards become even more revered – they still have an office to go to! Would new employees even get a lanyard, or just a peasant PIN code?

Retreating to the woods, or to a co-working space in Bali, wanting a lanyard, it’s all the same song. Exchanging labour for capital sucks. Except for when we’ve found a place that allows us be really good at said labour and lets us grow as a person and you get a lot of capital in return, in which case, it’s actually good? #bossbitch? But a lot of the time, we aren’t that lucky. As a Reductress headline put it, “My Work Doesn’t Define Me, but Only Because I’m Not Succeeding at It Right Now”. Until then, one has to wade through a lot of dissatisfaction. A magical necklace that reminds you that you’re more than what you’re paid for may just be the thing to help you get there.

Keep going!