Theory of the No Leisure Class
In Post-Industrious Society: Why Work Time will not Disappear for our Grandchildren, researchers from Oxford's Centre for Time Use Research argue that there has been a radical shift in the relationship between leisure, work and income. Where once leisure time was a mark of affluence, now it is a marker for poverty. The richer you are, the more likely you are to work long hours; while the poorer you are, the fewer hours you are likely to work every week.
Having leisure time is now a marker for poverty, not riches
The researchers theorise multiple causes for this. Poor people are more likely to be underemployed and unable to get the work-hours they want (and need) to support themselves. Rich people are likely to work in jobs that disproportionately advance and reward workers who put in overtime, so a 10% increase in hours worked generates more than 10% in expected career-gains.
They also claim that rich workers are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, but I'm skeptical of this -- I think that relative to unskilled workers doing at-will 0-hours temp work whose every move is constrained and scripted by their employers, this is probably true, but I don't think that the white-collar world is producing a lot of people who think that their work is meaningful and rewarding.
As I have written before, the case for working less is ultimately about promoting a higher quality of life including a higher quality of work. It is about giving us more time to realise our creative potential in all kinds of activities; it is about achieving a life that uplifts us, rather than leaves us exhausted and frustrated.
Why Are We Still Working So Hard?
But, given the benefits on offer, why are we not working less? Here are five reasons:
Employer power: The decline of unions coupled with a more flexible labour market (meaning less job security) have granted employers more power to maintain work hours that suit their own economic interests.
Consumerism: Workers are swayed by mass advertising and sophisticated marketing to demand more goods and services which in turn requires that they work more.
Inequality: Workers are more likely to enter into competitive forms of consumption and to feel more pressure to work longer where levels of inequality are high. Evidence shows that countries with higher inequality tend to have longer work hours.
Household debt: The build-up of household debt, especially in the US and the UK, has put added pressure on workers to work longer.
Technology: Gadgets such as iPhones and laptops have meant that workers can be at work even when commuting to work or at home.
Taken together, these points indicate that legislation to reduce work time is essential. Employers won’t voluntarily reduce work time, and workers remain unable or unwilling to opt for shorter work time themselves. We must gain the collective will to curb the time we spend at work.
Other countries can learn from the example of France and Sweden. But given the barriers to shorter work time, wider reforms will be needed if we are to ever achieve a four or three day working week.
The goal of working less may appear utopian. But the quality of our lives inside and outside work depends on its achievement.
Yet another instance of the Cult of Overwork in action.ReplyDelete