back to e-flux.com

Is the fetishization of work making us miserable?


#1

Happy Friday–are you exhausted? Anna Coote writes about the hype of work, workplace exhaustion and its connection to stress-related illnesses. She envisions a workweek that is a bit shorter and ideally much healthier. Read Coote in partial below, in full via the Guardian here.

I am old enough to remember lunchtime. When my workmates and I went out to a nearby eaterie for at least an hour, scoffed a proper meal and probably a glass of wine. These days, like most worker bees, I stay at my desk with my fork and Tupperware pot, nose glued to the screen. And I‘ve become so mesmerised by the modern working culture that I’d be quite shocked to find a colleague dining out at lunchtime. No booze, no siestas, no playtime.

It seems a bit odd when we hear so much about automation and “the end of work”. If the robots are coming, why are we rushed off our feet? In fact, it’s all part of the same picture. All the main UK political parties insist that the only successful economy is one that grows, preferably faster than other economies. Growth calls for greater productivity: getting more output per unit of input. The system is greedy for more resources, but workers and machines have to do more for less. More efficient processes (including more robots) reduce the amount of human input required. So those who have jobs must work harder – and longer hours – to hang on to what they’ve got and to keep the economy growing.

Meanwhile, since robots can’t do everything yet, there are new flurries of low-end jobs with zero-hours contracts, insulting pay and no security. This class has been called the “precariat” and much of it thrives on the over-busyness of other workers. It ferries people home at night (Uber), delivers fast food (Deliveroo) and fixes things around the house (TaskRabbit). Many precarious workers have to do two or three jobs just to make ends meet. So they are under heavy pressures too, often torn between poverty and an intolerable work-life balance.

What can we do about it? First, take back control of the workplace. This means workers in all settings finding ways to organise and build up bargaining rights. For the casualised precariat, it could mean building new digital platforms to rival the technological giants that have cornered the market so far.

Second, let us never forget that this is a challenge for men as well as women. Much of the stress and unhappiness that women experience at work is because they take on most of the unpaid work at home. Until men really share the housework and childcare, they are unlikely to be powerful advocates for a more humane regime in the workplace.

And third, let’s move to shorter hours of paid work for everyone, not just women. This has long been argued by the New Economics Foundation and there is growing evidence of its many benefits. Nobody should have to work more than four days or 30 hours a week, even in today’s 24-7 economy. As some jobs are automated out of existence, others could be created to cover the hours left unworked by the newly unstressed.