My Week in Joblessness (9): The psychology of tea-making

Published 2/8/2013 on GoThinkBig

My Week in Joblessness sticky-2

There are some certainties in the world of work experience. You won’t know how to adjust your chair, and you’ll be too nervous to ask. You’ll have to investigate the whereabouts of the toilets yourself, because when they introduce you to the office they’ll forget you’re a creature who pees.

And, you WILL hear this word: “Tea?”

What a lovely gesture, you’ll think. I’d love a tea. No sugar, thanks. See, I won’t be keeling over from diabetes, I’m employable! Thanks, I’ll make the next one…

Now everything goes white and the whole scene rewinds, you hand back your tea, they pour it back into the kettle, walk backwards from the kitchen, and…play:


What a lovely gesture, you’ll think, in the scenario where you get a wildly different haircut so we can tell the difference between you and the other sliding jobseeker. I’d love a…oh. She’s looking just at me. The missing words aren’t “Would you like a” but “Make us some”.

It’s happened.

So you’ve been asked to make the tea. Is it really so awful? Surely if you were getting a tea you’d have offered to make one for everyone anyway? Is this really so different?

Well, let’s see – years of education, training and experience have culminated in you waiting on people who have the job you want. Unless you’re interning at Tetley’s, your urge to sob so relentlessly that someone sets off the fire alarm just to have an excuse to leave the room, is understandable (if not exactly advisable).

“Make me a tea, intern!”: The psychology

In case you’re not English or a typical tea-swilling Brit, let me explain something about the heated leaf juice: it’s not a treat. It’s part of being a sentient human. You can no more strike tea from your day than you can skip 3 o’clock.

Yet some link tea-MAKING to hierarchy. Not everyone has 14 moments in their day in which throwing three ingredients together is top priority – but drinking them always is.

They’re too busy and important to make it, but FAR too busy and important not to have it.

The experiment

Recently, Pyjarmy Intelligence (PI-5) conducted a study on the psychological effects of being an office tea maker or drinker: does one have to be a sadistic hierarchy-humper to consign an eager intern to make tea, or do decent people BECOME sadistic in a position of power?

Twenty-four young people were selected to take on randomly assigned roles of tea makers and tea drinkers in a mock office situation. The tea makers were journalism interns told to make tea, and the tea drinkers were editors, senior staff writers and the kind of admin assistants who confuse bossiness with authority.

The participants adapted to their roles far beyond expectations. The tea drinkers became authoritarian and sadistic, subjecting some of the tea makers to psychological torture. Requests for strong or weak tea were used as weapons. Editors would hold up the tea maker’s latest draft of a news story and say “I’ll have my tea WEAK, since WEAKNESS seems to be your strength.”

Drinkers would make threats, like “if you bring me semi-skimmed I’ll have you semi-SKINNED”, and throw mugs against walls. One maker reported that a drinker told her, “Your feature? I only semi-SKIM-read it” every hour, on the hour until she cried.

Two of the makers quit the experiment early, and one was found crumpled behind the printer with “TEA DUNCE” written on her forehead in toner.

The experiment became so inhumane and unethical it had to be shut down after six days.

The responses

“How about no?”, “Make it yourself” and “Do you take it with sugar, or all over your Primark pantsuit?” may be the responses you’re gagging to give, but they’re not responses that demonstrate what a competent journalist you are.

– Show you know task management

When they ask you to make tea, say, “Absolutely. I’ll have it on your desk by the end of the day.”

– Show you do your research

Pull up a chair. Take out a notebook. Ask them what kind of tea they like, when they first realised they liked tea, and where they stand on the skimming debate. Collate the answers into a fully subbed report. When you bring the tea, balance it (bound, if possible) on top of the mug.

– Show you can do problem-solving

One of my followers recalls a time he was interning at a think tank and the director looked over at the “intern desk” and said, “Gasping for a tea over here!”

If this happens, set teabags, milk, a mug and a kettle on the perpetrator’s desk. Wink, say “Crisis averted!” and, since he doesn’t know who you are, slide over the business card of someone who’s wronged you.

And as for you, drinkers…

Tea must be made, or people will strike and chew on ripped up corners of carpet. But there’s no reason the same person should make it every time. That makes your interns servile – unless they’re interning as Tea Minion, hoping a Junior Tea Minion position opens up.

You are never, ever too busy or important to make your own tea. It’s on the list of necessaries, like clothes – you wouldn’t outsource being dressed to some youngster by convincing it will help them become an editor someday.

If you don’t have time to be responsible for what goes in your gob, you’re overworked to a dangerous degree and your ticker is not long for this world.

Now, jobseekers, everything goes white and the whole scene rewinds, you get out from behind the printer, take the tea back to the kitchen, the spit goes back into your mouth, the tea goes back into the bag, the water back into the kettle, you walk backwards to your chair, and…although it’s a shame you’ll never get that wildly different haircut…play:

“I’m making tea, if anyone wants one?” GoThinkBig

If you liked this article, why not take a look at the rest in the My Week In Joblessness series?

2 thoughts on “My Week in Joblessness (9): The psychology of tea-making

  1. Pingback: How to be jobless: a blog | Inner City Stinge

  2. Pingback: On InnerCityStinge: “How To Be Jobless: a Blog” | howtobejobless

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