Let’s face it: The 40-hour work week is dead. And all that blather about 4-day and 3-day work weeks is just that: blather.
Workers, especially professional workers, have lost the gains made by labor unions in the 19th and early 20th centuries to win the eight-hour day and 40-hour work week. The Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1937 as part of the New Deal seems a quaint memory rather than national law as more employers hire exempted salary workers rather than hourly wage earners.
The professional class – unprotected by almost all labor laws – works ALL the time. It is a constant round-the-clock march powered by technology and enforced by a fearful business climate focused on utilization and increased productivity. This had led to a frenetic and a likely unsustainable work environment for many professional workers.
The New York Times this weekend published an article called “The No-Limits Job” where it chronicled how creative businesses like advertising, film production and high fashion exploit workers in their twenties with low wages and long work hours – completely by design.
From the article:
“We need to hire a 22-22-22,” one new-media manager was overheard saying recently, meaning a 22-year-old willing to work 22-hour days for $22,000 a year. Perhaps the middle figure is an exaggeration, but its bookends certainly aren’t.
But it isn’t just younger workers feeling the squeeze. Middle-aged and older workers see what is happening below them and are running to keep up – and to keep from losing their jobs. Burnout at all ranks of the professional class seems on the verge of pandemic. Do a search for “stress” on Amazon.com and you’ll get results for more than 15,000 books with titles like “Is Stress Your Silent Killer” and “The Stress Free You.” There’s even a “Stress Management for Dummies.”
A few observations from a quick and completely unscientific poll of my colleagues and clients over the last few weeks:
- Meetings are out of control. Many people have from 4-6 meetings every day. The result of this crush of meetings has been the birth of the 6 a.m. and the 5 p.m. meeting. It was once unheard of to schedule a meeting that wasn’t “global” outside of traditional work hours. But with the near impossibility of finding open slots for everyone scheduled to attend the meeting, organizers are now pushing meetings to early morning hours or to the evening. In my own experience, I never had an internal meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. until last year. Just this year alone I’ve had at least half-a-dozen meetings scheduled for 5 p.m. or later.
- The birth of Saturday as a legitimate work day. It has become acceptable to assign employees to work on Saturdays – not to simply ask, mind you, but schedule Saturday as a work day. I had one executive tell me that he had to find a quiet spot in a ski lodge recently to finish up a project that was assigned on a Friday afternoon with a deadline of end of day on Saturday. He had planned the family trip months in advance and had to sacrifice 2-3 hours of skiing with his kids to finish the work.
- Email all the time. This week I got an email from a colleague at 12:25 a.m. Late night checking and responding of emails has become a standard practice among the professional class. Everyone I spoke with told me they regularly engage with colleagues on email after traditional work hours and that it was not only expected, but required.
- Hyper-connectivity increases stress. “It’s not so much the stress, as the constant pressure.” Every one of the people I spoke with felt overworked and under-appreciated. They felt like the boundaries between work and home were non-existent and the pressure of being “always on” made it difficult to relax and focus on other aspects of their lives such as family, hobbies and community service.
What are you seeing in your work environment? Are you stressed? Feeling overworked? Do you check email all the time and find yourself working on weekends? Or have you figured it out and want to share your solutions for dealing with stress in our “always on” culture. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
Wikipedia entry on Eight-Hour Day
The No Limits Job in the New York Times