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.


  1. Anonymous12:47 PM

    It's weird, even tho we have #2 child now, it is the first time I have been able to be a stay @ home Mom. When Jacen was born Jack was still waiting for his work permit to come thru and to survive I had to go back to work part time. Now with #2 we are in a position that tho not entirly comfortable we can afford for me to stay home, but Jack is now working longer and longer hours (salary so no overtime!)but where I missed out on #1 he is missing out on #2. Because of the rate that his company is expanding, it looks like weekend on call is going to be fazed in too in the next 12mths. I miss the days where your time was your time.
    Shops didn't open on Sundays and it was Family day. You didn't even visit schools friends on a sunday unless you REALLY pleaded.


    ps posting Annon. as blogger is being weird about me signing in.. ::shrug::

  2. Anonymous5:05 PM

    One of my friends delightedly told me that her law firm provided them with lunch and dinner. Yes, dinner. They were expected to work until well into the evening as a matter of course. She obviously didn't mind working longer in exchange for free food, but I can't think of anything worse than never being home to eat!

  3. Anonymous7:31 PM

    Hehe, I was laughing to myself in a bitter sort of way about this this morning. Although Luke gets today off, his company doesn't have 8 hour days - they are contracted to 9 hour days. And from Wednesday, he is back on call for a full week, 24 hours a day, for no extra money, benefits, nothing. And aside from finding another job (or perhaps going bush) what can you do, really?


  4. I worked full time after I left school in office jobs mostly. Some good, some bad .. but all ultimately the same really ... whether you had to wear a tie, or got to wear flip flops to work. It has taken a year of life as a student, a year without a 9 to 5, to shake off the feeling that work defines me.

    We may be financially challenged at times, but our quality of life, the time we spend together as a family in these precious early years ... you never, never get that back. You can't reclaim this time ... you can't catch it up later when it's more convenient. We may struggle for $$, but the quality of life we have is without price.


  5. Crap, I just wrote a long reply and had forgotten to log in so it didn't save...
    Anyway, the gist was hurrah to working less and boo to living for work.

  6. Anonymous10:08 PM

    Yeah, I remember Garth fielding work calls on our honeymoon, and also several hours after willow was born someone rang and garth (stupidly) answered, and the person on the other end was MORTIFIED that a man would take any time off for the birth of their first child.

    Part of our Big Plan is that although we will be much poorer, and G's hours will be much weirder, he will have a bit of ready access to kids while they still actually want to spend time with him.

    At the moment, everytime a plane goes over our house, zeph says, "Daddy! Working, aeroplane!" which I find dreadfully depressing.

  7. You're right Monique. Even though Sunday trading is really convenient, it's definitely one of the things that's contributed to that sense that Sunday is a work day like any other.
    Emma, lawyers seem to get the rawest deal. A friend's husband works as a lawyer in the city and lives in a fairly inner suburb, but they put him up in a hotel in the city so he doesn't have to 'waste time' going home then send her flowers. It's the modus operandi of a mistress! But it's definitely one of those industries where there seems to be a lot of adrenalin and urgency and 'big wins', I can imagine it being really addictive feeling that important and crucial.
    Jac, that 9 hour day thing is insidious and the weekend phone calls and all that stuff just creeping in.
    Martin - money can't buy what we have - xx Even if we do sit up late talking about stoopid houses. I wouldn't give up the time we have for all the 'double-time' (as id money can double your time) in the world.
    Zoe and Zoe - hurrah and boo to both of you, for respective ups and downs (poor Zeph, poor you!).

  8. Anonymous10:29 AM

    Best bit of labour day for me - not working! I think it was the first time in 7 years. When I was interviewed for my new job I made it very clear that my time was going to be my time and not work time. 4 months in, and the best decision I ever made.