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Thursday, October 22. 2015
I have a problem with the premise of that question, assuming that the premise is that Americans work 35-40 hour weeks. Americans are not the French.
I don't know anybody in any field who works as little as a 40-hour week. Nobody other than clerical and support staff. Everybody I know works like a farmer, ie as long as it takes to get it done, to keep the job, to advance, and to show results. I do not think that most Americans count their work hours outside of union jobs. The 40-hour week was from another time, another era.
Perhaps my perception is skewed by working in business in NYC for a few years, so please inform me how I am wrong.
Here's a related piece: The Labor Theory of Value Refuted: Nobody Cares How Hard You Work
Nobody cares how hard you work or how long, but they care about the results. However, nobody wants to look like a slacker.
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you are not wrong. Most of my life I've worked as you have, whatever it takes for as long as it takes. In my opinion anything less is halfhearted at best. But it sounds like this is not the currant sentiment among our contemporaries in the upcoming generations.
If and when I work for people I know appreciate my effort and reward me appropriately for it, I do whatever it takes to get the job done (as long as it's within my physical and mental limits of course, not going to work myself into a disability pension or worse of course).
Sadly in my experience at least most companies (and other customers) no longer do that. They expect nothing less than instant perfection and refuse to reward you even if you deliver that. But if you make the slightest mistake or am even a minute delayed they're instantly ready to heap criticism on you, fire you, etc. etc.
When working in such an environment is it any wonder people aren't motivated (and most people work in such an environment all their life)?
Too often the lack of motivation and willingness "to go the extra mile" in employees is seen as being to blame completely on people being lazy, "not having the interest of the company in mind", and things like that.
Rarely is the work environment looked at as a possible cause. Were that to happen, were the workers actually listened to and asked why they've lost their motivation to work hard, to do overtime, you'd get a different picture entirely.
Worst recent example I had was last year. My mother had only a week to live, yet the company I worked for didn't want to give me time off to be with her for a few days. Worse, after she died they flatout refused to give me the legally required time to prepare for the cremation (by law here companies MUST give you time off from the moment of death to and including the day of the funeral or cremation, they refused to do that).
I took the days out of my vacation time instead, and was later laid off on the basis of "not meeting performance targets" and "not being a team player" as a result.
At another job the CEO bluntly bragged to me that the 6 month contract I had was a 6 month trial period (when a 1 month trial period on a 6 month contract is the legal limit here), then called me a traitor, sent letter to recruitment firms "warning" them about "my bad attitude" when I quit on the spot (I'd been there only a week).
THAT's the kind of work environment me and a lot of people I know have to put up with day after day, year after year, and it grates on you.
The helpers we use on our property work ten-hour days 6 days per week, if they can get enough work.
I should also have used myself as an example. Some weeks I "work" about 20 hours, some weeks 60 hours, but that does not really include the time I spend pondering cases while driving the car or the tractor.
It seems to me that professionals, contract-workers, and the self-employed have no clear boundary between work and not-work.
As a professional contractor, I do try to keep private and work separate.
For 20 years I neglected doing that, and my health suffered seriously as a result.
Now, when I get out of my car at home I switch modes from work to private until I get into the car to the office again.
It's the only thing that keeps me sane, allows me to sleep decently most nights.
Of course you're never 100% successful in doing it. The brain keeps churning away at the stuff you're working on in the background, especially if it's near a deadline and things are not going as planned.
But it's better than nothing.
One of my daughters (in the arts) works about 12+-hour days in various jobs and endeavors. My entrepreneurial daughter probably works 15 hrs/day, and it is paying off quite well.
Most of my work days are around 10 hours, but my work is always with me so it's hard to determine (phone calls, emails, etc)
Just to survive, I've had to work 50-60 hours a week since the Greatest Depression started in 2007. I make about a third of what I used to make 25 years ago.
Why? An inability to hire people to help me because they are too expensive, and a lot lower yield in terms of what I can get paid on the work I do.
I read the first article you linked to and wow, was it stupid. Here's my favorite quote:
Another twist is that the distribution of time at work is bizarrely off-kilter in America. People in the upper class actually work more hours than people in the lower class. At this point it should be clear why: Maintaining a large "reserve army" of unemployed Americans is necessary to keep worker power and wages down.
What a shocking twist. If only there was some other, explanation as to why people in the upper class work more hours than people in the lower class.
Shocking. People with more stuff work harder? Deeply unfair.
I have had a couple of jobs that wanted me there 40 hours a week, but did not consistently have 40 hours worth of work. I would much rather be in an office that allowed you to go home if your work was done and then asked you to stay longer when work was heavy.
Those two jobs were both deadline oriented jobs...so work would be feast or famine. The unfortunate thing is that the majority of the office needed to be there 40 hours a week to be 'open' and would not like it if a handful of people got to work 'light' certain weeks of the year.
Too bad businesses can't accept this way of working. It would really help morale for those of us who work in this type of environment. There were days I spent at work doing almost nothing, but had to 'look busy' by pretending to do work while I surfed the internet. That same job, I worked Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas to get projects done...
"Americans are not the French."
Hmm... I wouldn't be so sure.
The French in question here are the essentially the big unions and the civil service. Everybody else in France, from the guy who runs the local zinc to the coiffeuse in the town, works like hell. These are the folks of la France profonde that the French government and the EU routinely ignore.
Ever wonder who votes for people like Marine Le Pen?
Joke from a French Army officer I once worked with:
"Q: Why is the civil service upset with the new 35-hour work week?
A: They don't think it's fair that they have to work those extra five hours."
For most middle management and upper management types the hours spent working are past the point of diminishing returns. Work expands to fill the capacity available. This is wasteful and deleterious to other aspects of peoples' lives.
In the past two years my effective hours on the job have declined, closer to thirty hours than to fifty as I used to work, primarily due to some very serious medical issues in my family. As a result I pick and choose priorities differently than before, and if anything my output and productivity as defined by results, not tedious meetings attended and questionable busy work completed, has improved.
My employer and some coworkers were initially hostile to my reduced schedule of hours, but they can't find comparable skills in our region at an acceptable price, so acceptance has set in. Now it is slowly dawning on some of them that they might be wasting their lives somewhat by neurotically seeking to be interacting with others for hours on end, chasing numerous potential initiatives that mostly end up on the shelf rather than acquiring and serving more customers, better.
Sometimes it takes a disruption like our medical misfortunes to shift the view of work from amount of inputs, to quality and value of outcomes. We needn't be slaves to the clock.
Quite frankly, I am getting tired of hearing all these comparisons of the US to the Danes, the Swedes, etc.
Out society isn't theirs, and what works for them might not work for us. And what works for us might not work for them.
Nor, do they live in a utopia. Their society is more like the results of cookie cutters for everything - from cradle to grave. Thanks, but, not for me.
Oh, and while it might be the Swedes who give out the Nobel prizes, just how does the US compare to them when you consider who RECEIVES the prizes?
There are two America's. (Didn't some politician use that line once?) One America will ask why are you cutting my hours and my ability to improve my life? The other America will ask "why do I have to work at all?"
Well, the control of work hours migrated to law as the villeins and others became emancipated and money wages became common. It just so happened that this occurred during the Black Death (in England) which caused wages to shoot up due to the shortage of workers. The first Statute of Laborers was enacted in 1349 and fixed maximum wages for various workers and trades. Made acceptance of work mandatory and outlawed vagrancy and trade unions. In the 15th century hours of work were being set by law. It wasn't until the end of the 16th century that these laws were reformed, oddly just as the population recovered, although the Statute of Laborers wasn't formally repealed until the mid-19th century.
It is interesting that the drive to limit hours of work among other things by the labor union movement was an attack on what was considered full liberty and reduced men to the status women were held in the early 20th century.
For instance, it is a primary principle that an English free man of full age, under no disability, may control his person and his personal activities. He can work six, or four, or eight, or ten, or twelve, or twenty-four, or no hours a day if he choose, and any attempt to control him is impossible under the simplest principle of Anglo-Saxon liberty.
Yet there is possibly a majority of the members of the labor unions who would wish to control him in this particular today; and will take for an example that under the police power the state has been permitted to control him in matters affecting the public health or safety, as, for instance, in the running of railway trains, or, in Utah, in labor in the mines. But freedom of contract in this connection results generally from personal liberty itself; although it results also from the right to property; that is to say, a man's wages (or his trade, for matter of that) is his property, and the right of property is of no practical use if you cannot have the right to make contracts concerning it.
The only matter more important doubtless in the laborer's eye than the length of time he shall work is the amount of wages he shall receive. Now we may say at the start that in the English-speaking world there has been practically no attempt to regulate the amount of wages. We found such legislation in medieval England, and we also found that it was abandoned with general consent. But of late years in these socialistic days (using again socialistic in its proper sense of that which controls personal liberty for the interest of the community or state) it is surprisingly showing its head once more.
You can have regulation of the hours of labor of a woman of full age in general employments, by court decision, in three States (Massachusetts, Oregon, and Illinois), … but the Oregon case, decided both by the State Supreme Court and by the Federal Court in so far as the Fourteenth Amendment was concerned, after most careful and thorough discussion and reasoning, reasserted the principle that a woman is the ward of the state, and therefore does not have the full liberty of contract allowed to a man. Whether this decision will or will not be pleasing to the leaders of feminist thought is a matter of considerable interest.
--Popular Law-making: A Study of the Origin, History, and Present Tendencies of Law-making by Statute, Frederic Jesup Stimson (1910)
We could argue whether the industrial conditions needed this surrender of liberty to government control. At least for some.
The further reduction to 30 hours of work may gain in popularity as a means to force additional employment. However, government is working against itself as it has raised the cost of employing workers so it is often cheaper to pay the overtime than take on the mandatory benefits that are lump sum and thus diffused by more hours worked, even at higher pay for the additional hours.
Yesterday I put in a 21 hour day in order to get a critical piece of equipment manufactured and out to a job where the pace had ground to a halt. Normally, when I'm working it's a 13 hour day minimum, 7 days a week, starting before 06:00. I might quit a little early on a Sunday.
But this is projects-type work, oil patch. I am 100% on when working, 100% off when my hitch ends, working about 35 days on, 21 off.
The young engineers and staff workers are quite comfortable showing up on banker's hours regardless of what the job might require. In particular it has become unusual to see a young engineer of any nationality or background embrace the commitment for successful project delivery i.e. focus and perseverance. There seems to be little motivation nowadays to derive personal satisfaction over a job well-executed - no impulse to take pride in delivery regardless of whether it is recognized or not. In my younger days this was an unspoken expectation.