Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Working to Escape Life?

The Winnipeg Free Press had a fascinating article yesterday that stated:
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, Kellogg's instituted a six-hour workday in its plants to take up the slack of too many people and not enough jobs, he says. Within two years, workers were accomplishing as much in six hours as they had in eight because they were less tired and more efficient, he says, and the policy was so popular -- even with its accompanying wage reduction -- that remnants lasted into the 1980s.

This fit with my experience, that when people feel good about their lives, they are more able to be productive. However, the extent to which that impacts on work performance and the length of time Kellogg's held on to parts of that in a culture that pushes for longer hours still surprised me.

The end of the article was enough to make a therapist stop and notice:

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, work hours declined dramatically in industrialized Western nations, he says, with one scholar in the 1930s offering the sunny prediction that people would be working just three hours a day by the 1980s.

Then consumerism kicked in, Hunnicutt says, encouraging consumption and discouraging leisure in order to pay for it. Now, he believes our identities are so entwined with our work that leisure time is seen as a frill or worse -- a daunting stretch of nothingness that forces us to face uncomfortable questions about who we are when we're not yoked to our jobs.

"The security of work gives us that meaning, that identity," he says.[bolded words my emphasis]

Something to think about...working hard as a way to manage anxiety about identify. One doesn't have to wrestle with who one is. One doesn't have to wonder so much about what one's values could be (to figure out how to use leisure time consistent with those values). One can then fill endless empty hours that would otherwise be filled with television, movies or video games, which for most begin to seem empty after a while.

The article suggests that the recession has people examine thing they otherwise would not--leisure and work balance, for example. Shame that it takes something as radical as a recession to create the conditions to allow that to happen.

No comments: