Skip

"Man is made for something better than distributing dirt."
July 10, 2012 5:28 PM   Subscribe

"It's the 21ist century--why are we working so much?" In which Owen Hatherley exhumes the humiliated, expired idea that the reduction of work is a worthwhile goal. "If there's one thing practically all futurologists once agreed on, it's that in the 21st century there would be a lot less work. What would they have thought, if they had known that in 2012, the 9-5 working day had in the UK become something more like 7am to 7pm? They would surely have looked around and seen technology take over in many professions which previously needed heavy manpower, they would have looked at the increase in automation and mass production, and wondered – why are they spending 12 hours a day on menial tasks?"

"The Politics of Getting a Life." In which Peter Frase explores the ideological underpinnings of our concept of "work." "The furious passion for work is not a constant of human nature but rather something that must be constantly reinforced, and successive versions of the work ethic have been used to stoke that passion. At the dawn of capitalism, the call to work was a call to salvation, as Weeks explains in her reading of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. She recognizes that, far from providing an idealist alternative to Marx’s account of the rise of capitalism, Weber complements historical materialism by describing the construction of a working class ideology. The word is used in Althusser’s sense: “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” The Protestant ethic allowed workers to imagine that when they worked for the profit of the boss, they were really working for their salvation, and for the glory of God."

Both essays reference Oscar Wilde's The Soul of Man under Socialism.

All three are discussed (and pilfered from) Ran Prieur, who frequently muses on the coercion of work and the value of idleness.

Related: Anti-work.
posted by byanyothername (106 comments total) 96 users marked this as a favorite

 
Discussed BY. Argh! One day, innocuous typos. One day.
posted by byanyothername at 5:30 PM on July 10, 2012


Why are some of us working more, and some of us not working at all? It's simple: Rich people need more money!
posted by vibrotronica at 5:34 PM on July 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist capitalism was in everyone's best interests.
posted by scody at 5:37 PM on July 10, 2012 [44 favorites]


the humiliated, expired idea that the reduction of work is a worthwhile goal.

Right, because the 40-hour work week, paid vacation time, and the opportunity to retire before you collapse are like, the WORST IDEAS EVER.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:37 PM on July 10, 2012


Right, because the 40-hour work week, paid vacation time, and the opportunity to retire before you collapse are like, the WORST IDEAS EVER.

Countries that have achieved less than 40-hour work weeks are frequently derided as lazy. The idea of working less if definitely one that is under constant attack by economic and societal pressure.
posted by smithsmith at 5:40 PM on July 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


"...is definitely..."
posted by smithsmith at 5:40 PM on July 10, 2012


We've been talking about this a ton lately. I'm glad for that.
posted by rebent at 5:43 PM on July 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


I grew up on a farm, got a Ph.D. and teach at a decent university...I have no major problem with hard work. But I simply don't understand people who work to excess and wield that fact as a badge of honor. They e.g. don't get enough sleep, don't take their vacations, and so forth...and, of course, want everybody to know about it.

I'd understand if they needed the money, or if they were, y'know, searching for the Higgs Boson or passionately writing a novel or whatever. But that ain't what most of 'em seem to be doing...

One hesitates to quote Marx in this (or, well, any) context...but it seems kinda like...well...fetishism...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:46 PM on July 10, 2012 [36 favorites]


Labor is undervalued relative to capital right now. So to keep your job you need to overwork. Combine the more or less overnight doubling of the world's involved workforce, what with china and india suddenly becoming players on the stage, with the right wing Reagan approach to things and its difficult to be surprised.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:47 PM on July 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


The idea that work – that is, doing things that you otherwise wouldn't do in exchange for money or resources – is intrinsically and morally good is possibly the greatest, most successful, most evil lie ever fashioned by our culture. It is so deeply and fundamentally embedded in the foundations of society that we can't see it and can't imagine a world without it.

Let me say this: if you ever reach a point in your life where your needs are met, you have some measure of safety, and you have enough extra time and resources to pursue something that you love, for God's sake stop there. It doesn't get better after that! It gets more complicated, more presigious, etc, but not better. In fact, if you can get all of those things while working only part time then more power to you! Free up some hours for somebody who needs 'em!

It's great to have fulfilling work, it's great to have things to do that you love that you think are important and worthwhile. But don't do more of them than you want to just because you feel like you're expected to. No good comes of that.
posted by Scientist at 5:48 PM on July 10, 2012 [73 favorites]


It's true that we should be working less, but it's not true that we are working longer. I'll have to go off and hunt for the data, but in Australia the average full-time working hours per adult has gone nowhere since the 1970s, with men dropping quite a lot and women obviously contributing a lot more.
posted by wilful at 5:48 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm more productive than ever, but the relative value of that productivity has declined.

(And at the job I do now, I work long hours in part because I genuinely enjoy what I do, and because we're so wildly underfunded/understaffed that there's always a week's worth of work that doesn't get done each week. I've had jobs where it was all busywork for ten hours and I hated them with a passion.)
posted by klangklangston at 5:49 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also apposite, In praise of idleness, Bertrand Russell, 1932.
posted by wilful at 5:50 PM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


for God's sake stop there

I don't really think there are jobs like that any more...It seems to be "Up or Out" most everywhere these days.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:52 PM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Countries that have achieved less than 40-hour work weeks are frequently derided as lazy. The idea of working less if definitely one that is under constant attack by economic and societal pressure.

Eh. I really don't care if my country is derides as lazy. My country is already derided as obese and full of idiots. I might as well get a shorter workweek out of the deal, as well.
posted by The World Famous at 5:56 PM on July 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


“A plongeur is a slave, and a wasted slave, doing stupid and largely unnecessary work. He is kept at work, ultimately, because of a vague feeling that he would be dangerous if he had leisure. And educated people, who should be on his side, acquiesce in the process, because they know nothing about him and consequently are afraid of him.”

― George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
posted by The Whelk at 5:57 PM on July 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


There are just too many people, not enough useful work to do, or rather, work someone will pay for, and a Protestant work ethic that prevents us from just paying everyone a set amount, and making additional work optional.
posted by Windopaene at 6:01 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Countries that have achieved less than 40-hour work weeks are frequently derided as lazy. The idea of working less if definitely one that is under constant attack by economic and societal pressure.

No, the idea is under constant attack by ruling-class media outlets.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:03 PM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]




"It's the 21ist century--why are we working so much?"

I miss the 20th century already. [not 21ist]
posted by hypersloth at 6:05 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


"What woeful gifts from its god Progress! The philanthropists hail as benefactors of humanity those who having done nothing to become rich, give work to the poor. Far better were it to scatter pestilence and to poison the springs than to erect a capitalist factory in the midst of a rural population. Introduce factory work, and farewell joy, health and liberty; farewell to all that makes life beautiful and worth living.

--Paul Lafargue, The Right To Be Lazy (1883)
posted by lathrop at 6:06 PM on July 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


From direct experience: as an employee working 40 hours a week I make better long term decisions and I am much more efficient than when I work 60 to 70 or more. Once or twice a year I'll do late nights and or weekends, but that is quite the exception.

As a result, I'm happier, and have a life outside work which improves my life quality which makes me happy which makes me a better worker which improves the cycle ...
posted by localhuman at 6:07 PM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wait. Why are we? Why are you?

I got 99 problems but 80 hour work week ain't 1.
posted by alex_skazat at 6:07 PM on July 10, 2012


"It's the 21ist century--why are we working so much?"

The problem isn't that we're working too much. The problem is that too many people are working too much at jobs they're unhappy with and for poor wages.

It's one thing to have a crappy job, but it's a whole other level if you have a crappy job that doesn't pay well, has no or few benefits and you're treated as a cheap and replaceable cog by the management or the owners.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:09 PM on July 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


I don't have a cite for this, but I read a study some years back that was done among a few indigenous tribes that had little contact with the outside world. The purpose of the study was to investigate how these people spent a typical day. It turns out that they would bed down at dark and rise near sunset - hunt, repair structures, forage, etc. for about 3-4 hours every day, and then spend the rest of their time playing, socializing, having sex, sleeping, eating, etc. I'm not romanticizing the indigenous lifestyle, but there is something to be said for how we evolved, prior to large-scale urban migration and industrialization. I think 3-4 hours a day of focused work is just about right - after that, sleep, fun, eat, enjoy!
posted by Vibrissae at 6:09 PM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


I've never understood the mentality that working is good. Seriously. There exist people that, all things being equal, feel that work, even make-work, is morally better than leisure. I'd love to return to that revolutionary idea of 8 hours at work, 8 hours for sleep, and 8 hours for self. Instead, these days, it's more like 11 hours at work (on a good day) 3 hours getting to and from work, 5-6 hours of sleep, and maybe 3 hours of sitting on the sofa, wondering what the hell happened to the rest of the time.

Of course, the blanket decision to extend the week at my school to include every Saturday didn't help things. Now I'm here around sixty to sixty-five hours a week, with no raise, and Sundays are the day my wife and I get to know each other again.

I remain convinced that the idea of work as a good thing is propaganda, and people who believe in work for the sake of work have either been duped, or are actively spreading it for their own gain.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:12 PM on July 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


Chekhovian writes "I don't really think there are jobs like that any more...It seems to be 'Up or Out' most everywhere these days."

We need more unions.
posted by Mitheral at 6:22 PM on July 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


I'd argue that making sure "productive" people work the lots and lots of hours is the primary way of reducing the opportunity for those people to begin to think, plan, organize and execute major political reforms. Any time they have left over they'll use gasping for breath while eating, sleeping, taking care of personal admin and possibly getting in an hour or two of mass-media distractions.... which would be the secondary way.

Idle hands do the devil's work, where the devil's work is unbalance the status quo.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:24 PM on July 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


I link people to Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work all the time. It's a great piece. Another great essay in the "reclaiming one's time" canon: Susan Shapiro's "Quitting Guilt" (limited Google Books preview), from the great book The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt. It's more about reclaiming one's time from "extracurriculars" outside of work hours than about shortening one's work week, but it's nonetheless a powerful essay about saying no and setting boundaries. I made copies of that a while back and passed it out to some of the other women in my office.
posted by limeonaire at 6:25 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


This brings to mind what my boss said to me when I quit from the too-many-hours-a-week job that was wrecking me: "Oh, I see what we did wrong. We paid you too much so you could afford to quit."

It was actually kind of nice to have someone state the conflict so explicitly and forthrightly.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:25 PM on July 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


I have a idea to eliminate unemployment overnight (and put the damper on workaholism): tie the number of state-mandated paid leave hours to the unemployment rate. For every percentage point over 5%, in addition to the two weeks of paid leave, employers must pay for an additional week.
posted by mullingitover at 6:29 PM on July 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


I have a idea to eliminate unemployment overnight (and put the damper on workaholism): tie the number of state-mandated paid leave hours to the unemployment rate. For every percentage point over 5%, in addition to the two weeks of paid leave, employers must pay for an additional week.

Erm... so if unemployment rises, the cost of labour goes up... and I can tell you immediately that companies will cut staff to maintain the same cost base.

As the saying goes, your competitors in the market determine the revenue you get, but you alone are responsible for your own costs.

In the meantime automation and outsourcing look even more attractive relative to local labour which has just gotten more expensive... on the downward spiral we go.
posted by xdvesper at 6:41 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Three words:

"No thank you". I have better things to do with my life than slave away to make the already-rich owners of my company even richer.

The oddest part about this, to me anyway - I make okay money; not even close to a 1%er, but I live well enough. I would, in a heartbeat, work half as long for half the pay. I have yet to find an employer willing to let me work less than 40 hours, however (most talk about how they handle overtime in interviews, rather than "under"time). They could hire two of me for the same price, working every other day and always in a much more "fresh" state of mind, and yet suggesting that gets me looked at like a complete psycho.

Hell, even without hiring someone else, I honestly think I could do 90% of the work in 50% of the time, simple by virtue of getting enough sleep and not feeling like shit for the second half of the week.

We have a sick, sick, SICK culture around our work lives - And I say that as someone who does believe in the value of making your own way in the world. We seriously need to stop killing ourselves for our employers, ASAP.
posted by pla at 6:48 PM on July 10, 2012 [56 favorites]


Another good read along these lines is Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture.
posted by kokaku at 6:49 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I bet if we were working less, someone would've invented a proper and affordable jet-pack by now.
posted by Skygazer at 6:54 PM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have yet to find an employer willing to let me work less than 40 hours, however (most talk about how they handle overtime in interviews, rather than "under"time).

Heh. As a present job-seeker (who's been handling temp jobs and 'independent contracting' for the past two years or so), I see far more than I like of the "part-time, no guarantees, but we know there's someone out there desperate enough" job ads floating around the Internet.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:56 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because how else are you going to keep the chattering classes at each others throats?
posted by absalom at 6:57 PM on July 10, 2012


On the other side of the question for a moment: theoretically, there is some portion of work that could be dedicated to those who haven't the ability to work for themselves or their family. Via donations, or non-profit, etc. That should not be done to the loss of efficiency, and their must be room for leisure too--else why bother working so hard since making life enjoyable is the overall goal.
posted by TreeRooster at 6:58 PM on July 10, 2012


...there must be room...
posted by TreeRooster at 6:59 PM on July 10, 2012


For some of us, our work is also our hobby. What would I be doing if I wasn't doing work? The same shit. If I could only do work 40 hours a week I would be seeking out side projects, or take up consulting, just to have more work to do.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:03 PM on July 10, 2012


But seriously, I blame the Cold War. More precisely Capitalism's complete and and utter victory over the Soviet Communism that's given the world these last 20 years of tiresome unrestrained relentless Wall Street chest-beating and hubris, that's tolerated it's every abuse and excess and corruption and once the enemy stopped being external in the form of the USSR, it became internal in the form of unions and labor organizations fighting for a share of the bottom line and never really forgiven for being conjoined to the very same anti-oligarchic spark that led to the Boleshevik uprising.

There was a post on the blue recently about Eliminationism that covered these factors, but in much starker terms to point out the threat in the dehumanization the Right uses against the Left.
posted by Skygazer at 7:05 PM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


I favorited Brandon Blatcher's comment so hard. This idea of "working too hard" is alien to me, I've been trying to scrounge up enough work for a really long time. And now I'm one of those people described in Brandon's comment.

They would surely have looked around and seen technology take over in many professions which previously needed heavy manpower, they would have looked at the increase in automation and mass production, and wondered – why are they spending 12 hours a day on menial tasks?

Because if it didn't involve "things are changing and that's scary but it's okay because we can keep doing it the same way we've always done, because it's right due to force of history" then it wouldn't be something human beings were involved with.

(The fool hears of Tao and laughs. If he didn't laugh, it wouldn't be Tao.)
posted by bleep at 7:14 PM on July 10, 2012


xdvesper: "Erm... so if unemployment rises, the cost of labour goes up... and I can tell you immediately that companies will cut staff to maintain the same cost base."

Good point. I'd actually like to modify my proposal to something a bit more punitive: for every point over 5% unemployment, let's make it 3 weeks paid leave, so that when unemployment rises there's a steep drop in available labor hours. In our current situation, with 8% unemployment, we'd have employers suddenly scrambling to hire staff to cover the 11 weeks (2 base + 9 bonus weeks) that their current staff would be unavailable. If employers start slashing staff at this level of unemployment, it'll only worsen their pain and make labor even more expensive.

It's all about incentives.
posted by mullingitover at 7:19 PM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Because it doesn't matter if you sent the information in a 6 times revised e-mail, made sure to include all the attachments, and CC'd everyone relevant. People still print everything out and then walk over to your desk to talk about it. People still want to hold meetings about it AFTER the collaborative effort and discussion via your preferred technological medium.

Because, overall, no one really cares whether having one shared printer in the office is more efficient and saves money. For some insane reason, everyone still expects to have their own printer, therefore multiplying paper, ink, and repair costs.

It's not these things specifically but the similar mindset which is linked to today's often micromanaged work day.
posted by DisreputableDog at 7:22 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"...expired idea that the reduction of work is a worthwhile goal."

Reduction of work means reduction of (some people's) profit. Until a lot of people make their peace with the latter, there will be none of the former.

This idea of "working too hard" is alien to me, I've been trying to scrounge up enough work for a really long time.

Constantly looking for work is a form of labour. Constantly making onseself "work-ready" and "employable" is a form of labour. A large number of people being in precarity is extremely productive for the people making most of the profit. It's part of the production process.

And to those commenting with variations on "But I love my work/I choose to work less/I would do this even if they didn't pay me"... Super! You're extremely privileged and this actually isn't about you.
posted by Mike Smith at 7:24 PM on July 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


Not denying there is an issue about this but there are also many questions marks around stated working hours that render much of the data these claims are based on a bit squiggly. That's just one example I could find in 30 seconds googling, but there are lots more out there that I've read. People have a tendency to consistently exaggerate their working hours.
posted by smoke at 7:29 PM on July 10, 2012


As we automate more and more, eventually the under/unemployed are going to become so numerous that changes will be forced.

The question is whether we take automation and unemployment as the opportunity for a new renaissance that it is; or as crisis to be averted by not automating, creating more make-work jobs and generally running the economy with the brakes on.

Imagine a world where people were not educated to be employable, but to be creative. With a minimum guaranteed house, food and clothing. The value of labor would be high because many people would choose to make their money in little side projects instead of pledging fealty to some wealthy job creator. Although many would still work because people like to play status games.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 7:31 PM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I used to believe in such things like having more time to read books, raise my children and perhaps have a hobby. That was until I had the luck of being promoted into management.

Now, I'll work endless hours, not actually working myself, but overseeing the toil and torment of others. It's a joy you would never understand until you experience it.

One false move or one complaint and out they go to the street to get back in line for another thankless low-paying job that thousands of others are in line for.

After I cash my next Golden Parachute Check I'm going to use this very useful pun as my new sock puppet name; Don't Feed the Proles.
posted by snsranch at 7:32 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


More here, and an even better explanation of some of the complexities with self-reported working hours are explicated here (start at page 5). Interesting stuff, but nowhere near so clear-cut as people imply.
posted by smoke at 7:33 PM on July 10, 2012


Recent study indicated that being poor was not aslikley to bring happiness as being wealthy, but that it took about (in US) 75,000 to be wealthy enough to be happy.However, going for much more did not greatly increase happiness, so that trying to be happier and happier by being richer and richer was not going to work. With the 75 thou,though,people could increase happiness by
giving to causes and helping with their money.
posted by Postroad at 7:33 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


   “If hard work were such a wonderful thing, surely the rich would have kept it all to themselves."

Lane Kirkland
posted by vitabellosi at 7:38 PM on July 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


There's an easy fix for this: a guaranteed minimum income that's enough to allow workers to tell abusive employers to go screw without having to worry about where food and shelter. I don't see that happening anytime soon, though.
posted by junco at 7:39 PM on July 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Been thinking about the nature of work as I have been sitting, waiting for things to fall in so I can continue a project.

I hear a lot of talk about following your passion and challenging yourself, as if it is some game, and those two things never hit me quite right, sorry. It was to the point that I wrote up on my white board once: I wonder what the current state of agriculture, world hunger, and something else would be if they were approached as challenges.

There was a time I hear where humans had to go searching for food that was not at a supermarket, maybe a local road seller. But before that: it was hunt and gather, it was work and work. And I can only imagine how it was looking for shelter when nomads and explorers went out to find new places. What? Did they challenge themselves to go as far as they could, or did they take some sort of measured risk (which required some thinking and work to calculate). I also think that there was some amount of "We made it this far, so what the hell, let's go for it" but that's besides my probably weak point. The methods of developing food did advance (thanks to Sir Ronald Fisher (this last link is a PDF)), and we also mechanized the process as the FPP links mention. (and yes, there was and is still slavery, a tragedy of the human race that I hope still can be put to rest)

In other words, I really don't think it was a game of passions and challenges between talented folk for most back then, and I don't think my grandparents (postal delivery man, stay at home mother who raised some 4 kids including my dad, store manager of a long gone department store and nurse during WW2) nor my late great great aunt who lived on a farm would tell me otherwise. Perhaps it was a game between the more wealthy or those of higher status, I don't know. But I don't think my ancestors would tell me it was a game; it was a fight, it was hard work to survive and live a decent life.

What provides us with the mechanization, is some form of non-human energy, and The Oil Drum has been putting out some good articles these days, putting it out there that we shouldn't get too optimistic about available energy supply. With what we replace the energy with is going to be interesting to see unfold to say the least.

In any case, work is generally good. I don't need to be told not to work too hard, I already take frequent breaks (some people cannot, and to them I advise to do what you can). I don't need to be told the good and the bad of hard work, just so long as the work benefits humanity in some way (including by not consuming a thing for a period of time), I'm happy to do it. But if you make it a game, if you make it something I have to be 'passionate' about, something you intend to challenge me with, don't be surprised when I am off looking elsewhere for something purposeful to do with my time on this planet. People need to eat, people need to live somehow without putting too much of a dent on the planet, we need to focus on that, and not on some sideshow.

...and my rant is done!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 7:44 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just to add a personal element to this: I'm currently a nursing student sort of in transition to actually working (when I'll be a [LPN] nurse and a [RN] nursing student!). One of the really big shocks for me has been seeing and experiencing the hours nurses work. 12 hour minimum workdays are the mostly unquestioned norm in many settings. I think that's insane. Some people in specialized departments work 24 hour shifts. I think that's double insane. I think 6 hours a day is enough, but the culture makes this idea seem crazy/lazy/unconcerned about clients. I don't understand why! I don't want sleep deprived healthcare workers taking care of me!

This schedule takes an enormous toll on me. I feel like I have no real autonomy right now--I don't have time to schedule in hobbies, things that I enjoy or even necessary things like doctor's appointments. I'm constantly tired.

Doing this stuff is actually fulfilling, but I come home dead inside.
posted by byanyothername at 7:47 PM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


people who aren't working do weird shit, though
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:49 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Someone want to tell me how anyone is going to have enough money to pay for food, clothes, shelter, and transport without working at least 40 hours a week, assuming they don't have someone else to live off of?

Seriously, that's why we have to work so hard: people aren't making a living wage with shorter hours.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:53 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of passion, and gamification, during a review, I was asked, point blank, 'do you really want to work here?' Evidently the fact that, when my work was done, and I was able, I left on time did not go unnoticed. The fact that I wasn't thrilled about extra days of work with no raise wasn't acceptable.

Of course I didn't give my real answer. If I said, fuck no, I don't want to work here. I don't want to work, period. I want to spend time with my wife, to take care of our house, to have the time to keep weeds from completely overrunning the lawn, I would have been out of a job.

Being forced to lie, to come up with a pleasing story so the boss will believe that you are passionate about a job that, more than anything, has killed my passion for my career, is just another bit of fun.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:54 PM on July 10, 2012 [29 favorites]


The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world (he did not exist) capitalism was in everyone's best interests.

Capitalism is like anything else created by human hands: it's only evil when used badly.
posted by ovvl at 8:06 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of this is exacerbated by a lack of universal healthcare. Because employers have to pay for health benefits for each employee, it is much more in their interests to hire two people "full time" and make them work 60 hour weeks than it is to hire three people "full time" and make them work 40 hour weeks.

Part of why I wonder about this is that, as a US citizen living in Australia, it appears to me that there is a much less destructive culture around work here in Oz. Most people -- even in academia, which is where I am -- have more of a "you work to live" attitude than a "you live to work" one. Work/life balance is actually taken pretty seriously by comparison to the States.

Of course, I'm sure the causation goes both ways, but the structural forces in America forcing employers to push their employees to work insane hours, and making it very difficult for employees to say no, probably make things a lot worse than they need to be.
posted by forza at 8:07 PM on July 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


One of the really big shocks for me has been seeing and experiencing the hours nurses work. 12 hour minimum workdays are the mostly unquestioned norm in many settings. I think that's insane. Some people in specialized departments work 24 hour shifts. I think that's double insane. I think 6 hours a day is enough, but the culture makes this idea seem crazy/lazy/unconcerned about clients. I don't understand why! I don't want sleep deprived healthcare workers taking care of me!

Yeah, this I completely don't understand. We have actual studies that show how rapidly productivity goes down and how quickly errors multiply when people work much beyond 40 hours for more than a single week. And the medical professionals are the ones who are literally trained to know the limits of human physiology. And yet there's this Superman act that every medical professional is expected to pull off. It's just insane. Among developed nations, the U.S. has some of the worst basic health outcomes, even as we're spending more than almost every other country on healthcare—while a lot of that has to do with the inefficiencies of our insurance system, it seems like the very culture of medicine in this country has to contribute to that bottom line, too. It's frightening.
posted by limeonaire at 8:10 PM on July 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


For some of us, our work is also our hobby. What would I be doing if I wasn't doing work? The same shit. If I could only do work 40 hours a week I would be seeking out side projects, or take up consulting, just to have more work to do

You and people like you are a tiny, tiny, tiny minority.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:15 PM on July 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


Two days ago in the NY Times: The Busy Trap.
posted by furtive at 8:15 PM on July 10, 2012


Part of why I wonder about this is that, as a US citizen living in Australia, it appears to me that there is a much less destructive culture around work here in Oz.

Yeah. Just look at the story two comments up. Threatening to fire someone for refusing unpaid overtime is completely fucked up and the fact that it seems to be de rigeur in the US these days makes me think I will not return anytime soon. Why aren't there laws against that sort of thing?
posted by junco at 8:15 PM on July 10, 2012


Why aren't there laws against that sort of thing?

"Solon used to say that speech was the image of actions;... that laws were like cobwebs,—for that if any trifling or powerless thing fell into them, they held it fast; while if it were something weightier, it broke through them and was off."

-- Diogenes
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:24 PM on July 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


to have the time to keep weeds from completely overrunning the lawn

Speaking of a modern-day lie that is a shared hallucination, the Upkeep of the Lawn is another great example.

You and people like you are a tiny, tiny, tiny minority.

I'm another in that data-point who would rather spend my time at work, building an entire new world out of bits and bytes, than mowing the lawn.

But it's a personal choice. I believe everyone needs to be an entrepreneur in this day and age, selling your own brand and constantly improving.

But I also believe we should provide a base living wage to everyone for free. Work should be entirely optional.

I'd still work, and I'm sure many others would too.
posted by formless at 8:29 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess I've been lucky. In my professional life over the past 8 years in the UK and Canada, apart from the occasional (like maybe twice a year) push to get a project finished, I've never had to, or been expected to, work more than 7.5 or 8 hours a day. And I've never had the sense that this was unusual in architecture: the work tends to flow at a workable pace, and even when there is a flood, the adrenaline kicks in, it consumes you, and it's fun. My workplaces have always been collegial and respectful, and I've never had to live more than a 15 minute bike ride from the office, even in London (or, I suppose, worry about health care). Then again, I'm not wealthy, I don't own a house, and the prospect of ever owning one in a place I'd want to live seems unlikely.
posted by Flashman at 8:32 PM on July 10, 2012


Coming from an Asian culture I was completely floored when I started working in Australia and met the curious thing called a union.

I was due to finish my 8 hour shift, but there were 2 customers still left to be served, and I was also trying to tidy up the area a bit and I literally got yelled at by the floor supervisor to GTFO now and let someone else handle it because did I know that if I was "on the floor" for even 1 minute longer than scheduled it had to be paid as overtime, and would put her area over budget for the week.

And then moving on to a salaried role in the industry which had a standard 32 days leave at the entry level, and where the workday ends at 4:30pm.

Not exactly sure how the work culture got to be this way, but Australia is a very good place to be at the moment. (maybe not in 20 years when China steals all our jobs, oh well...)
posted by xdvesper at 8:35 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


a shared hallucination, the Upkeep of the Lawn is another great example.

Actually, where I live, the lawn is something most people don't bother with, and fill with gravel. I have a small L of grass on the side and in back of my house, maybe four feet wide. Thanks to a unilateral decision to extend my working week, I have a chance to cut the grass maybe once a month. I haven't even bothered with my herb garden this year. Aside from giving me piece of mind, it nourishes me and saves me money, and I don't have time for that anymore. But I am indeed happy that you'd rather stay at work. I'd like to be able to come home, look at my house, and not feel like crap that I don't have the time to maintain it that I used to.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:43 PM on July 10, 2012



They would surely have looked around and seen technology take over in many professions which previously needed heavy manpower, they would have looked at the increase in automation and mass production, and wondered – why are they spending 12 hours a day on menial tasks?

Because as soon as we set the human project to be building machines to do our work for us, we also set about designing the perfect machine, easily adapted to new products and refitted with instructions: ourselves. More than transforming production through mechanization, the post-industrial world has changed human beings into machines. Our corporate culture refers to us as "human resources", and our available effort "bandwidth". Schools no longer strive to produce a small number of highly trained experts, but an army of adaptable administrative drones adept at email and spreadsheet software to handle the domain-level problems of our corporations for which automation is too expensive a solution. We are, to them, cheap computers.

The reality is that it's still cheaper to do most work with our flimsy, flabby, fallible human bodies than to design, engineer, and maintain a machine to the same task. It's possible to make computers answer emails and fill in spreadsheets, but if you can pay a thirty year old with a BA $35,000 a year to do it and the software would cost $200,000 to develop, the human wins out over the machines. In a bizarre twist on the Luddite nightmare, it is human beings that are out-competing machine "workers".
posted by deathpanels at 8:44 PM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't care how capable or talented you are, working more than 8 hours (maybe even 6 hours) is going to exhaust anyone. And not just their bodies - it exhausts their creativity, exhausts their response time, and exhausts any form of solid critical thinking and problem solving abilities they might have. Critical errors become more common place and people start screwing up more and more because they are too tired to focus properly - in some cases this can be life-threatening (like in health care) or financially detrimental. Then someone has to go back and fix these mistakes, which costs more time and money.

I can't see how working super-long hours could beneficial to anybody. People are working inside all day long, sitting or standing for extreme periods of time, with absolutely no exposure to fresh air or sunlight. They get up before the sun comes up to go to a job where you are inside all day and then you leave when it's dark out, go home to sleep and then do it all again. It seems like some sort of bizarre punishment. And it's killing people - figuratively and literally.

Unfortunately some people HAVE to work long hours because otherwise they wouldn't have a place to live or food to eat. I know a few people who work multiple jobs because:

a) The job barely pays above minimum wage

b) The job refuses to give full-time hours

Combine that with the fact that the cost of living is so high that even with two jobs a single adult can barely afford even an apartment on their own (in my area at least - not NYC). And forget about having other expenses such as a car insurance or gas. Also, since the jobs aren't full-time, the they won't provide health insurance so you have to worry about medical expenses as well.

Even if the person wanted or could afford to take a class to get a degree they wouldn't be able to take time to take off for class/homework. Because taking time off would be cutting into your paycheck, and a lower paycheck means you might not be able to make rent or pay tuition.

So you have a combination of overworked, underpaid, emotionally and creatively drained group of workers. We are becoming robots but no one will pay for our upkeep.
posted by littlesq at 8:51 PM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Someone want to tell me how anyone is going to have enough money to pay for food, clothes, shelter, and transport without working at least 40 hours a week, assuming they don't have someone else to live off of?

I'm currently supporting my husband and myself in relatively comfortable fashion on 35 hours a week.

But I have a well-paid job at 2.5 times the minimum wage per hour - and I'm aware of how lucky I am.
posted by jb at 9:05 PM on July 10, 2012


I'll try not to sound too smug, but with my employer I have for the past five years negotiated being full-time, 0.8, 0.6, without a problem, due to my interest in spending time with my small children, and our positive work culture. And I actually mostly enjoy my work, it's not a drudge.

I find that at 0.8 (as I currently am, taking every Wednesday off) I basically do just as much work as anyone else, I am far more productive on Thursday and Friday than I otherwise would be. When I was 0.6, this wasn't true, I lost continuity with work and my colleagues.

Of course we're in the situation where we can afford me to earn less, but with our progressive tax system in Australia, the net difference is far less than 20%.

Once both kids are school age, I strongly suspect I will stay at 0.8. Life is far too short, there are so many cool things I can do with that time while I'm still young enough. Maybe I'll have to work a few more years before retirement. Not a difficult choice.
posted by wilful at 9:13 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have 4 jobs. One is full time, the rest I find time for or work weekend days. They're rewarding and I love them. Whatever time I have left over, I spend on hobbies, studying, and friends.

Is this article and that uninspiring NYT article that came out in the last week about working long hours, or just about working long hours at jobs that aren't satisfying?
posted by phyllary at 9:22 PM on July 10, 2012


I'd like to be able to come home, look at my house, and not feel like crap that I don't have the time to maintain it that I used to.

Yeah, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you were contributing to some of that lawn culture absurdness. I realized afterwards it was kind of implicating you in that. If you enjoy it, and it makes you happy, awesome.

I'll admit, my overtime this year has led to a lack of tomato plants and patio herb garden and I'm missing that.
posted by formless at 9:25 PM on July 10, 2012



I can't see how working super-long hours could beneficial to anybody. People are working inside all day long, sitting or standing for extreme periods of time, with absolutely no exposure to fresh air or sunlight. They get up before the sun comes up to go to a job where you are inside all day and then you leave when it's dark out, go home to sleep and then do it all again. It seems like some sort of bizarre punishment. And it's killing people - figuratively and literally.

I don't know about the health care field, but as a programmer/engineer, the super long weeks never made sense to me.

In every job I've had, there is always one guy who puts in the extra hours. He comes in early, leaves late, always has his head down in code, never takes more than 30 minutes for lunch, and absolutely never takes a sick day, even when he's red-eyed and sneezing all day. He commits code on weekends, fields email all day, and is known to respond to issues at 4 AM on a weeknight, because he was checking his email all night. Managers love him because he lives to work.

And he is always the worst programmer in the office. He's intellectually lazy and makes up for it with brute force of hours. Instead of taking a day to think of a clever solution to a complex problem, he will copy+paste the same lines of code a thousand times. He adds layer upon layer of cruft in every file he touches and never, ever cleans it up.

So it seems to me that there's something wrong with American work culture, at least from the part of it I've seen. Good = people who are lazy but intellectually engaged. Bad = people who love to put in the extra hours, but who hate to have to think about new problems. The whole system seems designed to fail, and all because of this culture of "go the extra mile".
posted by deathpanels at 9:42 PM on July 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


but as a programmer/engineer, the super long weeks never made sense to me

There's this economic term, "signaling behavior", in academia, you work long hours to show that you're "dedicated", not because it gets more done. My suspicion is that a similar idea has taken root in industry. Since capital has labor over a barrel these days, laborers are desperate to signal in any way they can. This is also the source of the college bubble/credential inflation problem.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:57 PM on July 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


Thanks for this post, byanyothername. I've been reading Ran Prieur's blog for something like ten years now, and I particularly appreciate his perspective on work, leisure, and idleness.

I'm the author of the "Are we anti-work?" piece in the very last link. I wrote it in 1998. I'm also the founder of Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery (CLAWS) at whywork.org. I wish that piece (and the site in general) could be revised and updated to reflect the research and thinking I've done since then, but unfortunately I haven't had control over it since 2004, and the current site owner - as far as I know - has no interest in maintaining it.

The culture of work in the USA is completely insane. I've been writing critiques of the job culture and the work ethic for about 15 years now on-and-off, and I think it's even worse now than it was when I first started. My current project is Rethinking the Job Culture. Ironically, I don't have a whole lot of time to work on it, in part because I must devote so much of my time to looking for a job.

rebent: We've been talking about this a ton lately. I'm glad for that.

I'm glad for it too. I'm also noting increased interest in unconditional basic income. In the Jacobin article linked above, Peter Frase mentions the work of Guy Standing and Kathi Weeks, who have both written eloquently in support of it. I recommend Weeks' book highly; her feminist critique of wage labor is illuminating. Frase calls a bit of much-needed attention to Weeks' effort to
"...mak[e] visible the enormous amount of unwaged reproductive labor performed by women. Against those who reject basic income as an unearned handout, we can respond that it is capitalism which arbitrarily refuses to pay for a huge proportion of the labor that sustains it."
Yes indeed.

Basic income is also gaining some recent ground in Germany, where influential and wealthy people like Götz Werner are advocating it. There is still strong and vocal opposition to it, but perhaps the current economic and social conditions will be what finally shifts the tide. One can hope, anyway.

Frase has also published some interesting critical pieces on work elsewhere, including Stop Digging: The Case Against Jobs and Against Jobs, For Full Employment. From the former piece:
"...we often talk about the need to create jobs when what we really mean is that people need income. Most of the unemployed don’t actually want jobs – that is, they don’t just want a place to show up every day and be told what to do. The real problem these people have is not that they need jobs, but that they need money. We’ve just been trained to think that the only way to solve this problem is to get people jobs."
...and from the latter piece:
"...wage labor is a form of domination that lots of people find inherently unpleasant, and...a lot of what people do for wages is less socially desirable than what they could do if they had control over their own time."
An unconditional basic income, while not a panacea, would go a long way toward giving people this kind of control over their own time. This is one of my dreams: to have enough control over my own time that I could be freed up to do socially useful work, instead of being forced to compete with all the other over-educated people for minimum-wage jobs, most of which I'm "overqualified" for and don't even want, just so I can earn enough to pay for food, shelter and basic needs.
posted by velvet winter at 10:09 PM on July 10, 2012 [20 favorites]



There's this economic term, "signaling behavior", in academia, you work long hours to show that you're "dedicated", not because it gets more done. My suspicion is that a similar idea has taken root in industry. Since capital has labor over a barrel these days, laborers are desperate to signal in any way they can. This is also the source of the college bubble/credential inflation problem.
Is there an economic model that accounts for this? Because as far as I can tell, it's total pathology. I suppose if you could convert the earning "status" value into dollars you might be able to tell if working the additional hours is worth the effort. But does signaling behavior actually increase the odds of promotion/tenure/salary increase?

It's worth mentioning that the "hard worker" in my previous example also never got promoted, although he did increase in seniority. (I.e., same position with a slightly increased salary, the same job description, and an impressive-sounding but meaningless title.)
posted by deathpanels at 10:23 PM on July 10, 2012


Is there an economic model that accounts for this?

The wiki to start with. Its been a while since I took my econ classes for my worthless econ minor, but IIRC signaling fits under the category of "attempts" to solve the problem of asymmetrical information.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:40 PM on July 10, 2012


Scientist: The idea that work – that is, doing things that you otherwise wouldn't do in exchange for money or resources – is intrinsically and morally good is possibly the greatest, most successful, most evil lie ever fashioned by our culture. It is so deeply and fundamentally embedded in the foundations of society that we can't see it and can't imagine a world without it.

Indeed. Our culture is built around an assumed standard model of paid full-time employment as an inherent good, regardless of how environmentally destructive or soul-killing the work may be. And we internalize this lie about work as a moral imperative so deeply that many of us can barely even begin to think about these things from a critical perspective before we find ourselves shouted down by a cacophony of voices spouting endless variations on "You don't want to work? What a lazy, freeloading, worthless bum!"

The phrase “not working” is commonly used to mean not having a paid job, or to imply that someone is not "contributing to society". But why do we, as a culture, so often assume that a person’s most valuable contribution to society should take the form of paid employment? Why do we so often treat people who can't find (or don't want) paid employment as less valuable human beings? And why is it so difficult to find places to discuss any of this without fending off constant accusations of laziness, entitlement, and moral turpitude?

Can you really blame people for not wanting to participate in an insane work culture like that of the USA? If you ask me, those who prefer not to spend the bulk of their lives selling their hours for money are probably among the most sane of us all. I want to cheer them on, not shame them.
posted by velvet winter at 12:29 AM on July 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Vibrissae: I don't have a cite for this, but I read a study some years back that was done among a few indigenous tribes that had little contact with the outside world. The purpose of the study was to investigate how these people spent a typical day. It turns out that they would bed down at dark and rise near sunset - hunt, repair structures, forage, etc. for about 3-4 hours every day, and then spend the rest of their time playing, socializing, having sex, sleeping, eating, etc..

Perhaps you are thinking of Marshall Sahlins' The Original Affluent Society?
posted by velvet winter at 12:42 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ghidorah: Of course I didn't give my real answer. If I said, fuck no, I don't want to work here. I don't want to work, period. I want to spend time with my wife, to take care of our house, to have the time to keep weeds from completely overrunning the lawn, I would have been out of a job.

Being forced to lie, to come up with a pleasing story so the boss will believe that you are passionate about a job that, more than anything, has killed my passion for my career, is just another bit of fun.


I hear you. It's bad enough that so many of us are forced to spend the bulk of our lives doing things we don't like to earn money (or, if we're unemployed, doing things to make ourselves more attractive to employers we may not even want to work for). Then, on top of that, we have the emotional and social labor of having to pretend we are passionate about it.

I have been told pretty much all my life that I have an “attitude problem” because I haven't always concealed the resentment I feel about this constant pressure to pretend.

Early on in life I started coming home from job interviews and thinking critically about what I was doing and why the entire process seemed rotten to the very core. I started asking myself: just what is it that I am really doing every time I set aside the (unpaid, but socially useful) work I really want to do and go out there, driven solely by economic necessity, to apply for a paid job I don’t even want, just because it IS paid and I need money to live? I am competing for the opportunity to sell one of my greatest sources of true wealth – namely, my time – to an employer who will profit from my work. (If the employer didn’t believe I could make a profit for them, I wouldn’t be hired.)

Why, I wondered, do we so rarely talk openly about the coercion inherent in this? Why was I made to feel like a pariah for having the audacity to want to control my own time and free myself from paid employment as much as possible? And what does it matter that we are (in theory, at least) “free” to change jobs when the employment relationship itself is fundamentally coercive, and when there is little to no social safety net or health care available for those who don't have jobs?

Exploring these questions certainly didn't make me more employable, but it did help me understand the structural factors that constrain my choices, and it helped me to stop apologizing for my lack of interest conventional employment.
posted by velvet winter at 1:47 AM on July 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


it is a sort of divide you cross... on one side are the one with no job struggling and hoping ... on the other one you get the calls from the empolyer, head hunters and so on.
So as a paradox the ones which already have good jobs can change and ask for benefits (remote work, etc) - while the one which have nothing get offered the worst.
Just dont fall back on the other side of the divide...
posted by elcapitano at 4:06 AM on July 11, 2012


"you've got to keep the inmates working all day so they're tired at night." --Warden Burl Cain
posted by eustatic at 6:06 AM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


All of you talking about the "need to work 40 hours to make enough to live on" are missing the point. The article and the growth in this sort of discussion are about totally reconfiguring the workplace and salaries on the wider scale to change this entire system.

I'm all for this. I actually went down from 5 days to 4 days by choice for a few years cause I didn't need the money as much as I wanted the time. My boss was understanding. Most acquaintances thought i was a bit weird. I've now been out of work for about 8 months for the most part. And the thing is. I quite enjoy NOT working. I read more. I drink less and I'm generally happier than I was at work.

Unfortunately at some point soon I will have to re-join the work force.
posted by mary8nne at 6:11 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually I went to a talk by one of the Authors of: How Much is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life by Robert Skidelsky & Edward Skidelsky. Their key proposal to reduce the work week is to institute

a) a progressive Consumption Tax to curb excessive consumption and to fund:
b) a basic across the board allowance to everyone.
posted by mary8nne at 6:16 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish that piece (and the site in general) could be revised and updated to reflect the research and thinking I've done since then, but unfortunately I haven't had control over it since 2004, and the current site owner - as far as I know - has no interest in maintaining it.

I don't want to pry into the reasons for that loss of control of the site, but what's to stop you taking the content from an archive.org copy and rebuilding it elsewhere? You state your copyright claim on those pages, so the material is yours to do with what you will.

Or you could grab the pages from the site itself. Although the top level is borked, the subdirectories aren't. They're missing headers and footers, but the text is all there.
posted by rory at 6:21 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


You all might be interested in this book, written in 2006 by Conrad Schmidt, the founder of Canada's short-lived Work Less Party.
posted by duffell at 6:31 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


"If there's one thing practically all futurologists once agreed on, it's that in the 21st century there would be a lot less work."
That rings a bell, my favourite economist wrote a book which could almost have been titled "It's the 19th century--why are we working so much?". It starts:
The present century has been marked by a prodigious increase in wealth-producing power. The utilization of steam and electricity, the introduction of improved processes and labor-saving machinery, the greater subdivision and grander scale of production, the wonderful facilitation of exchanges, have multiplied enormously the effectiveness of labor.

At the beginning of this marvelous era it was natural to expect, and it was expected, that labor-saving inventions would lighten the toil and improve the condition of the laborer ...

It is true that disappointment has followed disappointment, and that discovery upon discovery, and invention after invention, have neither lessened the toil of those who most need respite, nor brought plenty to the poor.
that was in 1879, so this is an old question, at least as it applies to those who find themselves having to work too hard just to survive. Of course things did improve somewhat (world wars and the great depression aside) for many decades after that, but we sure seem to have been regressing since the late 1970s when I was told to expect a future of abundant leisure. Now I know more history/politics/economics I get why that day has never quite come to pass, but at least the old misguided optimism left me questioning and idealistic. In more recent decades I instead hear kids being told they will have to work hard because things are tougher "these days", but rarely any questioning (present company excepted) about why that should be, given that we still have that same ongoing technological progress which caused such optimism for more than a century.
posted by Canard de Vasco at 7:33 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this I completely don't understand. We have actual studies that show how rapidly productivity goes down and how quickly errors multiply when people work much beyond 40 hours for more than a single week. And the medical professionals are the ones who are literally trained to know the limits of human physiology. And yet there's this Superman act that every medical professional is expected to pull off. It's just insane. Among developed nations, the U.S. has some of the worst basic health outcomes, even as we're spending more than almost every other country on healthcare—while a lot of that has to do with the inefficiencies of our insurance system, it seems like the very culture of medicine in this country has to contribute to that bottom line, too. It's frightening.

You would be AMAZED how many doctors and medical professionals not only buy into the idea that 12 hour shifts are necessary, but that they actually work better on them than if they didn't have them. "I need to follow a patient all the way through the process," is one reason I've heard, and "You learn more when you are working a shit-ton of hours, and there's no other way!" Also "I've never killed anyone and real doctors/nurses can handle it!" Because once you get your medical training, you stop needing the standard human amount of sleep and rest, I suppose.

It's some kind of weird machismo KoolAid that lots of medical people drink and it's fucked up. Of course, the hospital administrators like it because they can hire less people and get more out of them. Patients who are the victim of errors, not so much.
posted by emjaybee at 7:55 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


It seems to be "Up or Out" most everywhere these days.

I think there's still a lot of space for "Across" as well.
posted by Kurichina at 8:28 AM on July 11, 2012


*shakes head*

*mumbles something about forests and tree and their visibility*
posted by humboldt32 at 8:37 AM on July 11, 2012


I have yet to find an employer willing to let me work less than 40 hours, however [...] Hell, even without hiring someone else, I honestly think I could do 90% of the work in 50% of the time, simple by virtue of getting enough sleep and not feeling like shit for the second half of the week.

I feel pretty much the same about my work. Granted, I do IT support for a large-ish organization, so I understand the desire to have someone available to answer calls during business hours. I also think that a combination of telework and maybe 3 days would work out just as well. I asked the HR department what effect reducing my hours would have. They asked if my manager was requesting it and I told them "No, I haven't brought it up with him yet, I wanted to see what effect it would have on my benefits, etc, before bringing it up." HR:"Hmmm...that's a good question, we've never had anyone ask before." Another HR employee who overheard us: "Yeah, we should find that out, I wouldn't mind working less, either." We have like 400 employees, and no one in the last 5 years or so has ever asked to reduce their hours...really?

Speaking of a modern-day lie that is a shared hallucination, the Upkeep of the Lawn is another great example.

I always thought it was ridiculous, and after being with a partner whose got a green thumb but doesn't like grass and seeing the yard get taken over with low-growing native plants mixed with tall, uncut grasses and look 100 times better, I think it's even more ridiculous. Sure, there's some upkeep involved, but it's nothing like fertilizing and mowing the grass weekly.
posted by nTeleKy at 8:57 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


One of the things that my department (of ~300 employees) at a large, fortune 500 company is that there is a lot of focus on the results of your work. Many employees are paid on salary are given a weekly production quota that most employees will meet in less than 40 hours. Most of those employees leave a couple of hours early once or twice a week. A couple of them really kick-ass and pretty consistently work 32 hours per week. They still have to work 5 days/week and their shifts must at least cover the hours between 10am and 3pm but other than, it doesn't really matter how long it takes them to do their work as long as they get it done. I'm in a QA group and I help make sure that the employees who kick-ass aren't able to work 32 hours weeks by being sloppy. As it happens, the ones who get their work done in 32 hours/week also tend to be the most accurate.

My own position is salaried and works pretty much the same way. As long as I get my work done, it doesn't really matter how long it takes or when I do it.

The attitude around here is that if you work more than 40 hours/week you're doing something wrong. Either you have too much work to do (which is REALLY rare) or you're not managing your time effectively enough. I have a VERY strong work ethic. That means that I work my ass off to get my work done so that I can go home and spend time with my family.

I think a lot of companies would be open to the idea of making 32 hour work weeks the new standard but too many of the costs of hiring a full-time employee are fixed (read: health care benefits). If it cost them same to hire four people to do 120 hours/week worth of work as it did to hire three people to do the same 120 hours/week I think a lot of companies wouldn't really care one way or the other.
posted by VTX at 9:08 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


"It's the 21st century--why are we working so much?"

I think I first read this article in 1994. I agreed then.

I have a VERY strong work ethic.

My general goal is to take more from them ($$) than they get from me. It's a losing battle, but don't worry--I'll keep fighting the good fight.

Let me say this: if you ever reach a point in your life where your needs are met, you have some measure of safety, and you have enough extra time and resources to pursue something that you love, for God's sake stop there.

Health care.

I don't really think there are jobs like that any more...It seems to be "Up or Out" most everywhere these days.

Oh, I thought you meant quit and work for something you like for fun. Actually, my other goal is to remain permanently ensconced at my level, and it has worked pretty well. They keep giving me extra management stuff, and I do it for a while, then dump it off and change my position, while (hopefully) remaining too knowledge/valuable to boot off completely.

There's this economic term, "signaling behavior", in academia, you work long hours to show that you're "dedicated", not because it gets more done.

Totally. Most of the "extra hours" in upper management are for show, imo. (There are of course also hard-working and deserving people too.)

Elsewhere, Weeks remarks that we should not underestimate just how much hesitation about anti-work positions is rooted in fear. Fear of idleness, fear of hedonism—or to borrow a phrase from Erich Fromm, fear of freedom. It is relatively easy to say that in the future I will be what I am now—a worker, just perhaps with more money or more job security or more control over my work. It is something else to imagine ourselves as different kinds of people altogether.

The Frase article was great. Should have been the lede.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:54 AM on July 11, 2012


Also, much of the anti-work fear is rooted in racism. (IMO)
posted by mrgrimm at 9:56 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


You would be AMAZED how many doctors and medical professionals not only buy into the idea that 12 hour shifts are necessary, but that they actually work better on them than if they didn't have them. "I need to follow a patient all the way through the process," is one reason I've heard, and "You learn more when you are working a shit-ton of hours, and there's no other way!" Also "I've never killed anyone and real doctors/nurses can handle it!" Because once you get your medical training, you stop needing the standard human amount of sleep and rest, I suppose.
I think the weirdest part is that it's not implicit. We discuss it, we're aware of the need for rest and the risks of working 12+ hours and, as far as I can tell, everyone is in agreement that it's probably a stupid, dangerous thing. But everyone still buys into it.

Thank you all so much for making this thread amazing. My post was really lazy, but I found the articles interesting and wanted to share; and you've all done what MetaFilter does best--take a topic and build on it through discussion and the contribution of everyone involved. This thread is giving me tons of great reading material and I'm very appreciative.
I'm the author of the "Are we anti-work?" piece in the very last link. I wrote it in 1998. I'm also the founder of Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery (CLAWS) at whywork.org.
I think CLAWS might have been my introduction to the concept of critiquing work, way back when. I was a little dismayed to find it somewhat defunct when I thought to tack it on somewhere, but I'm glad you worked on it. It was an influential thing in my life.
posted by byanyothername at 10:31 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The explanation is trivially simple:

In general the people who buy and own labor-saving devices are not the people who work with them. The owners naturally distribute the benefits of these technologies amongst themselves, because why wouldn't they?

This isn't going to change until workers exert pressure in the opposite direction (this is how we got the 40 hour week in the first place), or until workers and owners are the same people.

I think the fact that anyone thinks this is a confusing or complex subject is proof that we've been denied these sorts of analyses by our media and education systems.
posted by cdward at 10:38 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


rory: I don't want to pry into the reasons for that loss of control of the site, but what's to stop you taking the content from an archive.org copy and rebuilding it elsewhere? You state your copyright claim on those pages, so the material is yours to do with what you will.

I have several complete copies of the site saved in my own private files, so access to the material is not the issue at all. And I'm working - slowly but surely - on a book manuscript in which I present a revised and updated version of what I originally wrote on the site. So eventually the work will see the light of day again.

Still, I often wish the whywork.org site was still maintained. At one time it had quite a loyal following; the discussion forum, in particular, was once very active and well-loved. It's a crying shame that the owner who took over from me allowed it to fall into disrepair. Unfortunately, however, I am living hand-to-mouth these days and do not have the resources to start it up again elsewhere all by myself. I would need quite a bit of reliable help - financial and technical - to rebuild it elsewhere. I have tried to find that help without success so far. If I ever do manage to find it, I will gladly take up the mantle again.
posted by velvet winter at 11:48 AM on July 11, 2012


byanyothername: I think CLAWS might have been my introduction to the concept of critiquing work, way back when. I was a little dismayed to find it somewhat defunct when I thought to tack it on somewhere, but I'm glad you worked on it. It was an influential thing in my life.

Thank you for your kind words about my work. As I mentioned above, I, too, was quite dismayed to find the site essentially defunct after I had entrusted it to a new owner. It is my hope that at some point I will find supporters and collaborators who will help me revive the spirit of CLAWS elsewhere in a new form.
posted by velvet winter at 12:00 PM on July 11, 2012


The idea that all work, any quantity of any kind of work, is ennobling, is so profoundly stupid. Only a person who has never done work like picking tobacco could possibly believe such a thing.

But I think it is definitely true for many kinds of work. Skilled work making things, repairing things, or any work helping people can be deeply satisfying. Creative work, of course. And I have found that full idleness doesn't lead to me blossoming into an actualized person who makes progress on my own projects: I do better if I have a reasonable amount of outside obligation. I think it helps me value my time more.

At present I have a 40 hour/week tech job, and I consider myself to be very fortunate.
posted by thelonius at 3:26 PM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love this post and discussion. I just wish there were more resources out there for learning more about this sort of topic.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:00 PM on July 14, 2012


This comment by Kadin2048 on a similar post is a great explanation of the problems with a basic income. In short, it'd be nice if everyone could be a creative type when they wanted and never have to work, but there are jobs that nobody is going to want to do if they don't have to.
posted by renataskyfire at 3:08 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Earl the Polliwog: I love this post and discussion. I just wish there were more resources out there for learning more about this sort of topic.

Good resources are definitely available, but as far as I know they are kind of scattered. When I started CLAWS in the late 1990s, my original intention was to put together and maintain a stable, long-term web presence that would function as a sort of central clearinghouse of organized information and resources for people seeking radical alternatives to conventional employment. I don't think anything like that exists now, although if it does, I'd love to know about it. My ambitions are more modest these days because of my current life circumstances - as you might imagine, there's not much support available for independent scholars studying radical philosophy of work and leisure - but I still do whatever I can to promote discussion on these topics.

As I mentioned in a comment above, I maintain a Facebook page of carefully curated material, as well as a blog with selected links. Neither of these are updated as frequently as I'd like, but readers have told me they are helpful and appreciated anyway.

You could do a lot worse than starting with the book that originally inspired me back in 1996 when the first edition came out: Michael Fogler's Unjobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook.

I maintain subject bibliographies on various aspects of rethinking the job culture, and I also have a special collection home research library with many books on related topics. I will gladly recommend reading material to anyone who's interested. E-mail's in profile.
posted by velvet winter at 6:42 PM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I like The Seven Day Weekend.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:14 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


What would they have thought, if they had known that in 2012, the 9-5 working day had in the UK become something more like 7am to 7pm?

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with twelve-hour shifts -- it is just problematic when there are five or six of them a week. One 24-hour workplace I had years ago went from eight-hour shifts to twelve-hour ones, which caused some trepidation ahead of time.

On the eight-hour shifts, you worked five days (7:00 AM to 3:00 PM), had one day off, worked five afternoons (3:00 PM to 11:00 PM), had two days off, and then five nights (11:00 PM to 7:00 AM), followed by two days off. In practice, this meant that one-quarter of your weekends fell on calendar weekends, and one-third of those were single-day weekends. This sucked if your spouse or golf partners or whomever had a Monday to Friday job.

Enter the 12-hour shifts, 7:00 to 7:00. The week was divided into three segments -- Monday/Tuesday, Wednesday/Thursday, and Friday/Saturday/Sunday. You worked one segment on days, were off one segment, worked one on nights, were off one, worked another on days, were off again. then back to nights and so on... everyone had every alternate weekend off, and they were always three-day weekends. Twenty-six long weekends a year.

My recollection is that within a month, the new schedule had 100% support.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:01 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older Choose your own choose your own adventure   |   Could the SHIELD Hellicarrier actually fly? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post