Words by April Austen | @aprilausten
Image by John Barrett
Considering the average person will spend a third of their life at work, the connotations attached to your particular career can have a big impact on your life. Some people receive gushing admiration at the mention of their occupation; others receive negative attacks on their personality.
The trustworthiness of a career is often the defining factor in determining attitudes towards all people within it. Market research company Roy Morgan conducts an annual survey into how ethical and honest professions are considered. In the most recent survey, healthcare occupations and school teachers ranked the highest. Down the bottom of the list were politicians and real estate agents, both renowned for being untrustworthy and negatively perceived.
I spoke to four individuals who love their jobs, regardless of the public perceptions they come up against. We talked about where they think the connotations attached to their profession come from and how this impacts them in their day-to-day life.
Teachers, considered to be “admirable and respectable”, were rated ethical and honest by 81% of respondents of the Roy Morgan survey.
“People really value the importance of teaching. It’s very powerful when people are going into a profession wanting to change lives,” high school teacher Michael Brandt said.
“Money is never a driving force behind becoming a teacher. A lot of people come into it because they had positive experiences at school. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t have a good experience with a teacher during their time at school.”
“There’s no way to escape teachers. You will always come into contact with them,” Michael added, suggesting this often leads to strong relationships between students and teachers.
However, they’re not totally in the clear and do still attract some negative connotations. Envious remarks about long holiday periods are often the first rebuttal when teachers are negotiating for better pay and work conditions. Despite this, Michael loves his job.
“Teaching as a profession is always well received. People respect that you’re willing to sacrifice a lot for your students.”
REAL ESTATE AGENT
Real estate agents were almost at the very bottom of the list, with only 7% of respondents viewing agents as being ethical or honest.
“Of course we notice the negative views. We get told,” estate agent Dean Rutland said.
“You have to have a tough skin. There’s a perception that we’re all driving BMWs and making $500,000 a year but it’s not true.”
“A lot of young people see it as an easy career but it’s actually quite difficult, especially at the start. There are long hours and a lot of door-knocking to get your name out there, otherwise you don’t get any clients.”
“People are always going to say negative things but you just have to take it as it is. I just do my job.”
Dean admitted that, unfortunately, there is “always justification” for the negative perceptions as some agents “do the wrong thing”. However, he hopes that new legislation—aiming to increase the transparency of real estate—will slowly improve the way real estate agents are thought of.
Politicians rated slightly higher than real estate agents in the Roy Morgan survey but still sit in the red zone with only 16%.
“Australians are very quick to defend their democracy,” State MP Anthony Carbines said. “It’s something of a national sport to pick on your pollies.”
“You’ve got to have a lot of self-belief. You can’t have short-term reactions and you have to accept that you’ll get a few things wrong.”
Anthony’s attitude is to just put up with the criticism, because he believes the ability of people to express their political opinions is one of the most important aspects of Australia’s political system.
“You have to respect that people have the right to complain. Australia is quite unique in having compulsory voting and it means that everyone is entitled to have a say.”
The “constant scrutiny” on politicians, due to the 24 hour media cycle, has been put down as a contributing factor to increasingly negative perceptions of politicians in recent times.
“Everywhere you go there is a camera. Accountability is 24/7 and people are quicker to judge. People’s emotional responses are on the record almost instantly,” Anthony said.
Overall, Anthony is aware of the importance of his role and believes that “people are entitled to always expect more from their representatives”.
Doctors were second only to nurses on the list, with 89% of surveyed people thinking of them as ethical and honest.
“People generally trust doctors and think they’re trying to help,” Dr Freya Schmidt said. “Usually we’re thought of as having patients’ best interests at heart. It’s considered a good and respectable job.”
Like teachers, most people come into contact with a doctor at some stage in their lives. Regularly providing aid to a patient from a young age leaves little to no room for negative attitudes.
“People have positive feelings towards doctors because they know them. Most people see a GP at least once a year. They usually think of us as helpful and they look to us for advice,” Freya, a GP herself, said.
There are some negative connotations that come with a career as a doctor, such as the belief that specialist doctors charge too much or the discrepancies in diagnosis and prescription for certain medical conditions.
But in her personal experience, Freya finds people are “quite positive” towards her. And at the end of the day, people “have a choice of who they want to see. If they don’t like one GP, there’s always someone else, especially in metro areas.”
These conversations revealed a self-awareness from each professional in regards to the public perception of their career. In a simplified way, negative connotations are associated with those in high-paying careers, as they can often appear selfish. Positive perceptions are connected with careers that are thought to genuinely help others. Consequently, medical professionals—who have topped the Roy Morgan survey for over 20 years—seem to have found the best of both worlds; receiving personal gain and communal appreciation. Time to become a doctor I guess.