Monday, March 12, 2007

Labour Day Musings

So it's one of those stupid public holidays. Stupid because Martin doesn't actually get it off (which I shouldn't complain about since as a student he gets about 5 months of holidays a year...and that isn't an exaggeration) which means that I'm home alone with the kids. Everyone else in the world is at the beach or otherwise Away. The library is closed. There's not even a mail delivery and I love mail. It's grey and blah outside. And what's labour day? It's not one of your chocolate, present giving, hip hip hooray holidays. In fact I had to look it up on Wikipedia. It's a celebration of the 8 hour day (I think it's the 8 hours rest and 8 hours play that we're actually taking a holiday for). Does anyone actually pay attention to that fact? When more Australians are working longer weeks and apparently suffering for it, according to this report by Relationships Forum Australia.

Martin used to work for a rapidly growing I.T. company (actually I worked for them briefly too) and on the one hand they were very right on about work/life balance...he was able to drop down to four days a week and because I worked from home he scored 6 weeks of paternity leave when Fred was born. But then he shifted departments (with no pay rise) where everyone worked long days (they were all on over twice his wage and none of them had children, but they expected a similar commitment from him). He even got officially reprimanded for reading a novel at his desk in his lunch break because it didn't set the right tone (of course what he was supposed to do was go out to lunch at a fancy restaurant with his co-workers at his own expense, shame on him that he took sandwiches from home). Work culture now is changing...for the worse. Yeah there might be free pizzas on Fridays and you might be able to sit on a beanbag in your weekly staff meeting or wear boardshorts to work. But it used to be that only people who earned high figures were expected to work long days and bring work home, people who had something more personally invested in the company they worked for, a personal stake in the success or failure of the company. Now that's across the board, from entry level to executive level. Everyone's holding up the entire company on their shoulders. I was talking to a friend about a girl at her old workplace who was basically made to choose between her boyfriend who lived in the country (who she only wanted to visit on the weekends) and the company she worked for, who expected her to socialise with her workmates on the weekend. Work is infiltrating rest and play time (which is why companies are putting ping pong tables and rec rooms in their offices - voila, play at work and stay longer), no matter where you are on the food chain. Instead of creating more flexibility, technology means that you never really leave work, because home is another site of work. Work is fragmented, rather than simply being in chunks with a solid knock off time, it's scattered through out the week and the weekend, so part of your brain is always on call (that was Martin's experience anyway).

I think there is a time in your life where work dominates. It's exciting, you're learning new skills and there's something about shared output, common goals and a greater purpose that can be invigorating - you're part of something bigger. If you don't have family obligations (like a two week old baby who hasn't learned about night and day), long hours can be part of feeling that sense of urgency and self-importance, it can be fun to work back with others or immensely satisfying to be the last person to leave the office. However it's a matter of agency and choice and I think that choice is deteriorating, along with the notion of the eight hour day.