This post is certainly going to be expressing an unpopular opinion, because this platform is full of young individuals waiting to tackle new challenges that await them with hard work, integrity, smart solutions and innovations. This is probably the cohort who would not mind working for 60 hours a week to get the desired results for themselves and the people and organisations they work for. And while this culture of working hard somehow seems to be ubiquitous in the corporate sector or businesses, this is a pervasive phenomenon among academics too. Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist at Yale, remarked in an article inThe Atlantic, “I tell my graduate students and post-docs that if they’re working 60 hours per week, they’re working less than the full professors, and less than their peers.”
Image Source: MediaMax Network Limited
And this narrative stretches to passion as well. You can hear this over and over again, especially when people say if one is passionate about something, it does not feel like work. It is supposed to feel energising and you only wish to engage with it more and more. With your passion, it is possible to work long hours and not feel drained out. That is why the search for one’s passion is worthwhile and important, because for our generation work occupies a major part of our life. It is therefore imperative to spend the most significant part of our lives working on something that gives us meaning and pleasure, and doesn’t consume us with its dryness or monotony.
Image Source: skydivemidwest.com
But I want to raise a basic question here: do we need to work this much? Currently, an average US citizen between the ages 25-54 work 40.3 hours per week, which seems to be the legally acceptable standard for all countries worldwide. I can speak for my country India, where the people amongst my friends and acquaintances work at least 60 hour weeks or more.
To justify why I was prompted to ask this question, I am going to refer to a few thinkers who had been thinking along these lines even way back in the past. In his essay, “In Praise of Idleness”, the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell began by saying how the virtue of work was instilled in the working class, by designating working and the need to work as a standalone virtue, like being kind or giving to people in need. This was, however, done during the times when the upper class required the lower class to work and run their mills, build their machines, clean their houses. So much so forth that when the movement for labour rights was initiated, a high-and-mighty official was supposed to have remarked, “Free time for the poor? But they are supposed to work! What will they do otherwise?” Russell even goes on to say that we are so ingrained with working and keeping ourselves busy that lazing around became a “sign of the devil” and leisure a bad word. And to absolve ourselves of the guilt of not being busy, we have created work that is not necessary. Hence, there has been a proliferation of meaningless jobs, which if they disaapeared, the world will not be worse off. There are several political, philosophical and economic arguments that he has outlined in favour of working less in this essay, and I have just touched upon some of the compelling arguments I found. (Please check out this link for the whole essay: http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html)
Russell was not the only one to think about this. John Maynard Keynes, who was one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, thought that humankind would have advanced so much by the 21st century that we would need to work only 4 hours a day to fulfil all the demands of the economy. Somehow, that did not happen and a lot of sociologists agree with Russell when he said that we have created trivial jobs to keep us occupied. This is reflected in the recent ideas of anthropologist David Graeber, a professor at the London School of Economics and a leader of the early Occupy Wall Street movement, who has written a book called “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory” (For more details, see: https://www.vox.com/2018/5/8/17308744/bullshit-jobs-book-david-graeber-occupy-wall-street-karl-marx)
Image Source: huffingtonpost.com
New studies have
emerged in the fields of human psychology, organisational behaviour and
economics that have shown that working less can actually lead to more
productivity, lead to more economic gains and lead to better and more
fulfilling lives. (Just do a quick Google search to confirm this: there are a
number of studies published in well-known journals and you can read them if you
can get access). That is the reason employers are now considering alternative
work paradigms such as a 4 day weekday, paid holidays, working from home
full-time etc. A leading sleep psychologist even goes as far to say that the new
dawn of worker’s rights will begin with the demand for good sleep and the right
to sleep for a designated amount of time during work hours, because the human
body is not meant to work for 8 hours straight.
What I am talking about here is a widespread social movement that will cut across the present systems of distribution and paradigms of work and employment to create massive change. It is tied with problems such as inequality, poverty, hyper-competitiveness in different industries and the need of man to achieve despite all odds. I realise that the issue of work cannot be looked at in isolation without analysisng how different factors in the economy come together to create a flow of wealth and resources. Most willing to hear alternative opinions on this matter.