The Endless Routine Of Work
A diatribe against the fixed hours of work in today's society.
29th July 2006 · Last updated: 5th October 2016
Imagine if, thousands of years ago, a caveman was able to look into the future. He would see a rigid working system that would surely horrify him. He might relate the tale to his fellow cave dwellers like this:
"The people are trapped! They must travel long distances in metal boxes on wheels every day. They must go into tall blocks of caves, where they must sit fixed to one spot for most of the day! Only when a set time is reached can they leave the tall caves and make the long journey back to their own caves. They no longer have the freedoms we have enjoyed for countless centuries! If they want to get up and leave, or simply move around, they can't! Only on set days can they do what they want. Even then it often means travelling in the same metal boxes following other people in similar metal boxes on busy pathways. They go to far-off places, and must stay in more tall caves when it's dark.
Instead of hunting freely, they must travel to huge caves filled with food. It is often ready-cooked, and put into small boxes. To get the food, they must swap it with small objects they carry around with them. Sometimes the object is given back to them, as if it is very valuable. Other times, whole bunches of things like square leaves, and much smaller round shiny things, are swapped for the food. When these run out, they can get more from the walls of certain big caves, or by going inside them.
Everyone is rushing around. Hardly anyone stops to watch the sun going down. In fact, there are so many tall caves in some places, that you can't always see the sun or the sky clearly. Nature isn't a big part of these people's lives! They don't worship the sun god any more, nor the seasons, nor the harvests. Instead the people like to stay in their caves, some with many hollows, and stare for hours at flickering light coming from a box! The light is constantly changing, and looks like a view to a similar world that they must keep observing!
Because no-one hunts, they must find other things to do with their time. This can sometimes lead to violence and fighting due to boredom. Many people like to visit caves where they get water in different colours. The water is often frothy, yet it has not come from the sea. It seems to drive them crazy after a while - many people can no longer walk straight!
There are many other activities that people like to do. But they must give up on them after a day or two and return to the fixed routine of travelling to the tall caves. Those that do not have to travel seem to lack the shiny objects needed for food. Sometimes they just sit down on the paths outside the caves, which are long and straight, and beg for help to feed themselves. It must be that there is no longer any jungle left for them to go and hunt in anymore! The tall caves have taken over the space where the jungle was! And where there is still jungle, it is sealed off by thin walls of holes, so no-one can get in. Imagine that! The world divided by walls! How can the people be free?"
Now think about the routine of work for a while. We are literally trapped in our offices, day after day, year after year, unable to leave when we want. We must arrive at a certain time, and only leave when it's agreed to do so. Why is this? Humans didn't go hunting from 9-to-5, unable to stop until the clock said you could stop. It's a madness that is killing many of us from stress and fatigue. Hours are often longer than 9-to-5, and may include weekends as well. I've worked from 8 till 8 (12 hours) myself in the past and it leaves you with very little time or energy at the end of the day. 9-to-5 is not much better, often leaving me feeling worn-out in the evenings. Add in the time spent travelling (which can be at least an hour for many people) and you might as well kiss the day goodbye to work. Note to the worker: your job has now taken over. Please wait until the weekend to do anything you like, such as hobbies, spending a lot of time with your family, or shopping.
What gets me is that if you finish a task by the afternoon, why can't you then get up and leave? Only if your company has flexitime is this possible. But you would still have to put in a set number of hours per week, even if during that week there's less work to do. So you end up wasting time glued to the desk when you could be out shopping, or doing something you need to do. It always frustrates me that I must wait until Saturday to do my main shopping. If I don't, the chance has gone for another week. And if I run out of something crucial mid-week, too bad! (There is home shopping, but this takes time to arrange.) In some countries like Canada, the big stores are open after work, so this isn't such a problem. But in the UK, it's a real killer - the shops only open during office hours. So you come out of work and they're all closing! Sunday isn't much better. Many stores can only open from 10 till 4 in the UK. Even then, the buses don't run as often, so it's not as convenient as Saturday shopping. Plus many shops are simply shut on a Sunday.
As for working hours, I'd much rather have not only flexitime as a standard practice (where feasible of course) but a system where you do the hours you want. If you have a lot on, then do longer than usual that day. But if you don't, and you want to do something else, just do it! I'd welcome a slight cut in wages for that day. Say you left an hour earlier. A whole hour! It's hardly going to affect your salary, is it? Of course if you take several hours off, well, that's a different story. But it still might be useful to do that on certain days. Yet I can't do this myself. I must remain at my desk all day. Only lunch offers a temporary escape.
The result is an increase in problems like RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), back problems, lack of exercise, tiredness... let's stop right there and talk about the tiredness. Occasionally I've hit an afternoon point, usually around 3pm, when I've been way too tired to do any more work. A siesta would be nice! But I always have to carry on. Sometimes my eyes are starting to close, and I could just fall asleep right there. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, I can't help wondering why I am stuck in a room behind a desk where I cannot get up and go sit down in another room for a short rest. It's going against the wishes of the human body. It is tired, but cannot rest.
This is dictated by modern working hours we cannot change. I'd love to come in an hour later and finish later. Other people I know have wished to start an hour earlier and finish earlier. This would surely help to ease the rush hour, if everyone was not trying to get to work at the same time. Plus some mornings I am simply too exhausted to start early. I have to force myself to get up. I don't think my body appreciates this one bit. On such days, why can't I come in later? Surely my work is not going to be at its best while I'm half-asleep? Productivity is bound to be worse.
I propose a system that's in tune with the natural needs of the human body, not working against it. This system would allow you to set your own hours, within reason. Work less? Then get less pay - it's as simple as that. Want to leave an hour early? Either take less wage, or work the hour in some other time, perhaps in two half-hours. Too tired to work? Go to the Rest Room, an essential facility companies should now provide. It might have a clocking-in system to track how long you spend in there. Maybe they could have a Games Room as well.
Unless we address the needs of the body, not the company, society will run the risk of producing generations of burnt-out workers, too tired to contribute much outside of work. Sure, some people thrive on hard work. They see it as a challenge to endure long hours. Perhaps it's seen as manly. 'Yes, I can do this!'. If so, well count me out.
Tied To The Tie
One more thing. My example caveman would also be appalled by the strict dress-code for male employees in today's world of office work. Even in sweltering temperatures, most men are forced to wear ties over shirts buttoned right up to the top. It's lunacy. The tie serves absolutely no functional purpose whatsoever. But the people in management must think it looks smart. Or rather, everyone else wears them, so the staff must too. I admire businessmen like Bill Gates and Richard Branson for not wearing ties all the time. They can afford to get away with it. But the point is, men can still look smart without them.
Historically, did our ancestors have to wear them? Certainly not the Egyptians, Romans or Greeks. So where did this crazy idea come from, to overdress in heat?
I personally find them far too hot and uncomfortable to wear. They literally trap the blood in my face. (I think I suffer from a wide neck, which doesn't help.) But there's another reason they are stupid: most women don't have to wear them! So why do men have to? I recall working at one job, when the air-conditioning broke down. I could hardly breathe, with my tie gripped round my neck in the middle of summer. I looked around, and there was a female workmate in a wide-open-necked t-shirt. If the company hadn't gone out and bought us all ice-creams (good on them!) I'd have probably wilted from the heat.
Now at some UK schools, both girls and boys wear ties. So what happened to this equality when they grew up and started work? Why did the men carry on wearing ties, but not the women? There are some exceptions, however I've seen women wear all kinds of casual clothes, but for men it's only the shirt and tie that's allowed. I've even seen women wear the same clothes on dress-down days (when you can wear what you want) as they do during the rest of the week! Proving that it's always a dress-down day for some women!
In fact... why have stupid dress codes at all? What is wrong with being able to wear whatever you want? (So long as it's smart.) People will feel better, and not suffer in the heat so much. Alright, so some companies such as airlines require a uniform style, but does the office? All those sad blokes in dull black, grey or brown identikit suits? Wearing a shirt of plain white, light blue, or light grey, etc, but not bright red or green! Not patterned in a Hawaii-vacation style, no! The result may be smart, but it is also dumb. People must feel depressed, unable to express themselves. Just another cog in the machine. While women can wear any colour from the rainbow, and any type of material too! I've seen this myself in many jobs over the years. Men are stuck with cotton and polyester clothes for work. It's not much better outside of work. Bo-oring. There was a time in the early 70s when men were able to wear bright colours and various fancy styles. DJ John Peel got married in a superb red and white suit. But sadly this era has disappeared, to be replaced by mindnumbing dark-coloured suits of plain designs.
I guess now it's partly homophobia to blame. I used to see men wearing pink shirts. But now you'd probably be seen as gay. Straight men don't want to come across as gay. Anything frilly or fancy is seen as a threat to their masculinity. So they wear the roughest, most boring clothes you can think of. It's a real shame, as men's styles should be a lot more interesting. Bring back the early 70s!
The Four-Day Week
There is a debate calling for the four-day week. It's claimed you can achieve just as much in four days as you can in five, by being more focused. Certainly a two day weekend seems to be just as routine as the working week. It would be great to have an extra day to do whatever you wanted. People would be happier, which would surely reflect in their work. The downside would be less pay of course!
But what are we all working for anyway? Money? Is that more important than health? I thought about this and the key reason to earn money is not food, or goods, but the dreaded mortgage. It's this that keeps me from changing jobs, or going without a job. I simply can't afford not to work, now I have a mortgage. And if I didn't, I would have to pay even more money in rent.
I just feel we've lost the way somehow. This isn't what life is supposed to be about! Giving all our time and energy to earn money. So we can sit in our houses and watch a big-screen TV that we earned enough to buy. Yet we're too tired to do anything else. What happened? Where did the freedom of the caveman go to? (Though I'm sure glad we don't have to hunt anymore!)
I guess now it's all about planning. Using up your holidays wisely (you can't afford to waste a day!) and making maximum use of your free time. Oh well. Back to work soon...
Comments are locked on this topic. Thanks to everyone who posted a comment.
- Adrian Wilkins:
I arrived here after many thoughts on the same lines ; mine covered the topis of *why* we work so much.
I mean, with all these advances in technology, why the hell do we HAVE to work so much?
Let's look at it this way ; while your caveman probably had to contend with a great number of predators and diseases that we don't even consider today, our lifestyle brings its own collection of ailments, including stress, environmental pollution, emotional derangement, destruction of the family unit, community, etc...
But I thought we had all these marvellous new technologies? Food production levels are so high we literally throw the stuff away. Population in the western world is decreasing, so why are UK house prices in such an upward spiral? Even though virtually everywhere I look, brand new housing estates are springing up like mushrooms in a darkened field of dung? Our technology makes things easier than ever before, but instead, we all seem to work harder.
Posted 8th September 2006 @ 3:01 pm.
- Adrian Wilkins:
Gah, 1000 character limit. *splits comment*
My conclusion is that we are all working harder, not for ourselves, but for the few, a group of people with the bulk of the investment in the giant corporate entities that seem to run our lives. That the fruits of our labours either get wasted on pointless nonsense, or go to line the pockets of a very few insanely rich people, who then broker it into more power and profits instead of using it to better our lives. Whever I hear of a business "downsizing", despite being profitable, I know that we have the wrong values at heart.
Consume less. Learn to garden. Get some arable land. Pay off your mortgage as soon as humanly possible, and do everything you can to avoid inheritance tax. Provide a future for your children that isn't bound to the Great Machine of commerce.
Posted 8th September 2006 @ 3:05 pm.
- Chris Hester:
Comment text limit upped to 2000! Is this OK?
Posted 26th June 2006 @ 8:19 pm.