Shall we schedule a drink date?
October 11, 2019 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Experiments like this one have given social engineering a bad name. Nevertheless, Americans are imposing a kind of nepreryvka on ourselves - not because a Communist tyrant thinks it’s a good idea but because the contemporary economy demands it. The hours in which we work, rest, and socialize are becoming ever more desynchronized. Why you never see your friends anymore: Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on American society.
posted by Evilspork (31 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bowling Alone for the Personal Brand generation.
posted by entropone at 1:20 PM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


Having met the author, I can sort of understand her predicament. Luckily, my friends and I seem to find time to socialize in person.
How many “shift workers” does she actually know?
posted by Ideefixe at 1:23 PM on October 11, 2019 [2 favorites]


How many “shift workers” does she actually know?

The article doesn't appear to contain the term "shift workers." But the point seems to be that the relatively stable schedule traditionally associated with shift work is increasingly hard to find, so it seems like it would be odd if she had a bunch of counterexamples among her personal friends?
posted by Not A Thing at 1:41 PM on October 11, 2019 [10 favorites]


Hi! Working stiff here who works weekends and doesn’t know their days off more then a week in advance most weeks- this article is very good, very timely, and very true!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:41 PM on October 11, 2019 [54 favorites]


Like me, my father raised two children while working a professional job with reasonable and predictable hours. Unlike me, he had a stay-at-home wife to make the social appointments, connect with neighbors, cook those long family meals, keep the house neat for drop-in guests, and do weekday errands. (Of course, I’m a woman, so no one ever thought that I should.) This is just so obviously a bigger factor than Amazon’s scheduling policies I find it bizarre that it wasn’t mentioned.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 1:42 PM on October 11, 2019 [39 favorites]


"Hi! Working stiff here who works weekends and doesn’t know their days off more then a week in advance most weeks- this article is very good, very timely, and very true!"

I clicked the little plus but just to be clear this is NOT a thing I favor.
posted by Evilspork at 1:44 PM on October 11, 2019 [12 favorites]


That seems accurate.

Another data point: The American Time Use Survey tells us that overall, the average American spends an average of 3.23 hours working and 2.84 hours watching TV (Table 1). More charts here.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:45 PM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


Normalized dystopia.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 1:47 PM on October 11, 2019 [4 favorites]


I should say- it’s a good job and my days off are generally the same but they sometimes get shifted, sometimes for the job, but as with the recent holidays sometimes for me. But not having the weekend off means I haven’t seen my ex girlfriend and good friend in person for quite a while because they work a more typical 9-5 and that sucks hard.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:48 PM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


I mean... my house contains two retail workers who work these schedules, including one who has absolutely no idea what her hours are more than a week in advance, and my circle of friends contains quite a few more. I have definitely noticed that the people with the least predictability of work scheduling have increased difficulty attending regular social gatherings, often miss being invited to social events because neither they nor anyone else are sure whether they will be available, and have difficulty planning in advance without having to spend a certain amount of work social capital trying to arrange shifts with colleagues or managers. Which sometimes falls through.

Part of this is also the erosion of the middle class. During the 1950s, it certainly was common for wives to go without working in the middle class, but working class women have always needed to work to survive. What we are seeing now is the same kind of stricture on time and survival, even while many career-class jobs retain expectations derived from the notion that the hired employee is a man with a devoted stay-at-home wife.

However, another great part really is the scheduling. Previously, you had some level of predictability over your hours, which meant that you could plan your social time ahead given the rhythm of your working life. I cannot emphasize how destabilizing it can be to social and household management when you have no idea whether you will be expected to be at work at 6am, 11am, 5p, or 10p on any given day, or even whether you will work any particular day at all, in the next week.
posted by sciatrix at 1:48 PM on October 11, 2019 [39 favorites]


Shorter me: arguing unpredictable shifts vs. unspoken expectations that everyone (even women!) has a wife are two different erosions of worker rights and respect, but they are also extremely class-specific problems among workers. This particular article is about shift predictability. It seems odd to me to insist that it should also devote equal time to the failure of expectations on women to change as women entered the work force in droves.
posted by sciatrix at 1:50 PM on October 11, 2019 [16 favorites]


However, another great part really is the scheduling. Previously, you had some level of predictability over your hours, which meant that you could plan your social time ahead given the rhythm of your working life. I cannot emphasize how destabilizing it can be to social and household management when you have no idea whether you will be expected to be at work at 6am, 11am, 5p, or 10p on any given day, or even whether you will work any particular day at all, in the next week.

Also, this style of computerized scheduling is designed to make sure every store is just understaffed enough to keep everyone busy but also move time around so no one crosses the magic threshold to full-time or overtime hours. It’s also useful for creating high turn over in employment, which these services depend on to keep labor costs as low as possible. Let’s not even talk about the manager/salaried worker loophole that has people in “better” jobs putting in more hours and taking in less pay.

This system of employment creates massive instability which lead to predictable diminishing health and well-being issues, including being unable to socialize or schedule anything in advance. Retail/food service/ etc use these systems almost exclusively and they are among the largest employers in the country. Destroying these systems can be seen as both a labor and good for public health.
posted by The Whelk at 2:19 PM on October 11, 2019 [44 favorites]


I have a job where I have some though far from total control over my hours and I often see friends and family. I'm very grateful for this, see it as a privilege, and don't take it for granted.

@xenocryptsite points out on twitter that this article mixes statistics for today with hazy stereotypes about the past. Did people in fact have more predictable work schedules in some sort of vague back-in-the-day? Certainly the supposed time when "we once shared the same temporal rhythms—five days on, two days off, federal holidays, thank-God-it’s-Fridays" before "nearly a fifth of Americans" came to "hold jobs with nonstandard or variable hours" sounds like a myth to me, and I imagine it would sound like a myth to a century of sharecroppers, fruit pickers, domestic workers, full-time mothers, and lots of other folks too.
posted by sy at 2:24 PM on October 11, 2019 [7 favorites]


move time around so no one crosses the magic threshold to full-time or overtime hours

Yeah. I forget what the proportional-benefits-by-the-hour movements are called, but we should apply them all the way up to people with significant undilutable equity in the company.
posted by clew at 2:38 PM on October 11, 2019 [2 favorites]


Did people in fact have more predictable work schedules in some sort of vague back-in-the-day?

Uh, yeah. These algorithms are products of the advent of fast, cheap, mechanical computing power. Before that, scheduling at this level of speed and changeability would have been so difficult that it would have been a waste of time and effort to even consider implementing.

So people may not have been working less, but they absolutely would have been working predictably, because the cognitive effort required to construct a shifting schedule that changed so frequently would have been prohibitively expensive. Think about the nurse scheduling problem, which is a special case of employment where you must have sufficient nurses present to care for all patients 24/7, and you may not at any point fuck up the scheduling such that there are no nurses present at any given time. There is a reason that this scheduling problem developed a special mathematical field of study to sort this out: because it is cognitively expensive to balance shift work schedules like this, and because for normal operations you can just budget for absences etc. by having a slight amount of inefficiency in the job. Nursing was previously a relatively special case because the combination of highly trained workers and an understaffed facility literally getting people killed made it a high priority for focusing on scheduling efficiency--and even then, the problem really only began to be properly studied in the '60s.

With respect to human labor prior to the Industrial Revolution, part of the reason that the Industrial Revolution changed economies of work so dramatically is that... yeah, it used to be that work was much more controllable by individual workers, in part because there was relatively little specialization. Agriculture in particular: you'd have extremely high-effort seasons in planting and harvesting, but then a period of lesser demands in between and long winters with relatively little work. Agricultural labor is highly seasonal by nature and therefore both predictable and also tending to keep many people working along the same approximate leisure/work time scale. Prior to artificial gas lights, you also had fairly predictable leisure periods because candle light is a pain to work to, so labor was also often constrained by light availability.

Just because there aren't weekends doesn't mean that humans haven't always recognized and set aside cultural time for festivals and shared leisure. Even in highly stratified cultures, you have the sanctity of major holidays at the least, and these are also again always predictable.
posted by sciatrix at 3:00 PM on October 11, 2019 [31 favorites]


I am convinced that the kinds of labor practices we're discussing here constitute a worse human rights violation than assumptions that everyone has a wife when that is manifestly no longer the case. But I'm not convinced that they are a bigger contributor to the decline of our social lives, the "the extended family dinners, the spontaneous outings, the neighborly visits" that Shulevitz misses.

Whenever I hear about a social problem that didn't (supposedly) exist a generation or two ago, I have three questions. Would this cease to be a problem if women were required to do unpaid work that they did before the problem existed? If so, are you sure you're not overstating how serious of a problem this is? (This dispenses with most of Michael Pollan's oeuvre.) If you're not, what are some possible solutions that don't involve some non-gender-specific-people-but-it-willl-totally-be-women picking up this unpaid work again?
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:19 PM on October 11, 2019 [3 favorites]


I -- can't be convinced by that, Ralston Todd. Where do we part ways on this?

* There's work that needs to be done by people for people/humanity to flourish

* Much of it used to get done by an oppressed class, which was unfair even if it got the work done (though it often didn't as the oppressed don't get to advise about what's needed and got makework dropped on them as well)

* Letting a lot of people out of that oppressed class is postponing/abandoning the work they used to be obliged to do

* But it still needs to be done

I'm kind of optimistic in that I think most people can like emotional/operations/maintenance/repair labor and can do it well, if enough people around them recognize that it's important and difficult. So I can believe there's a better world possible.
posted by clew at 4:16 PM on October 11, 2019 [2 favorites]


Why you never see your friends anymore? Heck, one of my friends couldn’t even see her own child. We both used to work together in the same field and I bumped into her recently and asked her how things were going.

She told me she was freelancing for a major firm (normally freelance hours are 9 to 6) and the whole team was kept back by the boss night after night doing pointless team building exercises. One evening it was 1am! And she told her boss she had to get home to breastfeed her tiny baby. The boss told her he was doubting her commitment to the team and how serious she was about her work, if that was what she felt she had to do.

Not long after that, I was recruited by the same company. The head of recruitment tried to tell me about their amazing work life balance. I have a young family, it was a hard pass from me.
posted by Jubey at 4:22 PM on October 11, 2019 [11 favorites]


Would this cease to be a problem if women were required to do unpaid work that they did before the problem existed?

No, how could it possibly? There has never been a time when it was part of the standard package of wifely duties for a wife to get all her husband's friends fired so that they were free to come over and hang out with him at a moment's notice according to his changing work schedule, having none of their own.

not even in the 1950s
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:43 PM on October 11, 2019 [7 favorites]


Not even in Wodehouse!
posted by clew at 6:24 PM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


* There's work that needs to be done by people for people/humanity to flourish

* Much of it used to get done by an oppressed class, which was unfair even if it got the work done (though it often didn't as the oppressed don't get to advise about what's needed and got makework dropped on them as well)

* Letting a lot of people out of that oppressed class is postponing/abandoning the work they used to be obliged to do

* But it still needs to be done


If the only way for the work to be done is to have people oppressed… the rest of us need to figure out how to live without that work being done, or we need to make changes so that people are willing to do the work without being oppressed, or we need to acknowledge that we're exploiters and oppressors.

"A large enough number of people want this that we're fine with oppressing and exploiting the people who make it possible" isn't an ethical position.
posted by Lexica at 8:13 PM on October 11, 2019 [11 favorites]


I keep thinking how all these social interactions and such require a basic assumption of stability, either economic or temporal, and how good the 21st century labor market has been at destroying any kind of stability - everyone needs to be atomized At-Will units of exploitable labor
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 PM on October 11, 2019 [15 favorites]


The 40 hour work week was designed when a single income was all that was needed for a nuclear family. The stay at home partner would perform the emotional labor and unpaid work that is required for both to function.

What that really means is 20 hours income earning work / week / adult / household should be the target, not each human working 40 hours.

Instead there’s a whole market to sell you back your free time that you can afford if you just work more hours.
posted by mrzarquon at 9:20 PM on October 11, 2019 [25 favorites]


We can’t get along without work that needs to be done. The approach right now is to not do lots of the work that used to be assigned to oppressed classes, and some of it wasn’t needed, but many lacks are killing people. If we don’t figure out how to do it without oppressing anyone, the oppression is going to come back. Or maybe society withers away when The Machine Stops, but that probably leads back to oppression too.
posted by clew at 10:08 PM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


when you have no idea whether you will be expected to be at work at 6am, 11am, 5p, or 10p on any given day

Being British I instinctively read the first part of this as the hours, and the second as the remuneration.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 2:04 AM on October 12, 2019 [7 favorites]


"Instead there’s a whole market to sell you back your free time that you can afford if you just work more hours."

Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it. - Ellen Goodman
posted by Evilspork at 3:35 AM on October 12, 2019 [16 favorites]


My son is a jeweler for a big chain. Up until this month he was working all kinds of wacky retail hours. Suddenly they offered him an opportunity to standardize his hours and he is so much happier. He has his mornings free and a real weekend. I don't think he realized how stressful it was until things got better. I don't know what made the company do it, but I hope it's a trend.
posted by Biblio at 1:27 PM on October 12, 2019 [1 favorite]


The only times in my life that I've been able to maintain friendships with a lot of people was in social groups where one member had their home open for people to drop in and hang out nearly 24/7, so everybody did that and you'd eventually see each other person when your off time synced up without needing to schedule anything in advance. And if nobody else was there when you dropped by, it was also acceptable to just take a nap.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:06 PM on October 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you paid your friend, that would be a traditional pub, I guess.
posted by Harald74 at 5:58 AM on October 14, 2019




From the “free time as commodity” link:

“I know I like to eat dinner at 5.30pm… and that my kids are awake from 5pm to 7pm,” she wrote

...so this is “free time”? I am on roughly the same schedule and these are hands down the most stressful hours of the day. Am I doing it wrong?
posted by Ralston McTodd at 2:00 PM on October 14, 2019


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