On our flight back from Puerto Rico in March, I ended up watching a documentary on overwork. It’s a very basic overview on the issue but I found it a good primer. It’s only 50 minutes long and you can find it online here:
Until I was diagnosed in 2018 I ran a blog that was loosely based on early retirement. Even before that, I had a livejournal that was personal but that also discussed frugality and Simple Living. I think I was lucky in the fact that when I was 18 years old and poor as shit, I came across The Tightwad Gazette which led me to Your Money or Your life – the de facto standard on early retirement. Since then, it was my goal to work as little as possible, save as much as possible and hopefully be out of the rat race fairly early in life.
I mean, GOAL ACHIEVED! C’mon, you HAVE to laugh: the universe has a cruel sense of humour.
(I have already discussed this origin story in this post if you are interested in the long version)
Of course, I would have loved to have continued working and been able bodied for a long, long time but given that this wasn’t an option, being able to keep some semblance of a salary plus benefits was a close second. As Tyrion Lannister said, “If you’re going to be a cripple, be a rich cripple.” While I’m not rich, I am also not struggling which is a gift.
So once we adapted to this we started working on Mr. Tucker’s escape from work but then he changed his mind. Since then, he’s received a promotion with a substantial raise, which is great considering how much inflation we’ve seen lately (and our appliances are dropping like flies, which is a post in itself).
Still, I am still interested in the idea of early retirement and working less because I feel it’s something that our communities (and the society at large) as well as the environment need. I think it’s absolutely bonkerstown that we can’t figure out how to make permanent part-time work…work. It’s interesting to watch Canada move towards universal dental care in the next couple of years with universal pharma care maybe not far behind it. These stressors are what make people panic about not working full time even though if more people worked part time there would be more work for everyone. Of course, since it’s an employees market right now, there may be room to negotiate these better hours for people.
The pandemic has really shone a light on how much we are stuck on that idea of workplaces as factories. There has been a battle between employees and employers over the past two years and despite the success of WFH some people still want to go back to the office. Employees who’ve generally enjoyed their time and money back from not commuting, not buying food out, not buying work-related clothes would like keep some flexibility in working from home. Employers on the other hand are still stuck in this 9-to-5 panopticon office mentality where they feel everyone should “put in their time.” The problem is that studies have shown that for knowledge work, it’s mostly task-based, not time based and that not all hours of the day are productive ones. It seems to me that if you are getting paid for your education, experience and output, that it is completely backwards to treat the workday like a factory you have to punch in and out of.
Of course, the flipside is that a lot of knowledge workers work in tech and tech has a vested interest in you sitting at your desk for as long as possible. People lauded Google for supplying their employees with such benefits as free meals, in-house doctors, hair cuts, oil changes etc. but as a friend who worked there once said to me, “Do you know why they do that? Because if you need to go to an appointment, that is a couple of hours of you not going “ticky-ticky” on your keyboard for the company. It’s cheaper to provide these services to employees to ensure they aren’t away from their desks for too long.”
In Ontario, where I live, they treat knowledge work like factory work – with the exception that there is no overtime pay for certain workers: IT, law, accounting, medicine and the entertainment industry. Also of note, many manual labourers who work in agricultural settings such as growing mushrooms and various other plants and trees for the retail trade (which is usually piecemeal work done by labourers brought into Canada on agricultural visas). Oh, and of course teenagers. So I question the factory model of “putting in the hours” when it’s clear that the output should be the yardstick of successful work.
But watch the video. I found it interesting and I especially enjoyed David Frayne’s The Refusal of Work for more comprehensive introduction to work theories. My only wish is that he had explored more of the case studies in the second half of the book.
I ended up taking out some of the books written by the interviewees of this documentary as well. So far, I have received:
I haven’t read anything by these folks also featured but will in the future:
– George Monbiot (whose website seems to have some interesting blog posts).
– Guy Standing who writes a lot on Universal Basic Income (UBI). A list of his books can be found on his website
– Jason Hickel who focuses on global inequality etc. website.
– I’ve seen a lot of Carl Honoré’s work because his books are pretty popular. His website.
– Faiza Shaheen has a book coming out in 2023 titled Know Your Place: how society sets us up to fail.
– Grace Blakely who writes about leftist politics in books and for the New Statesman
– Bredan Burchell (who hasn’t really written anything recently but is a professor at Cambridge).
People I couldn’t find any info on:
– Margaret Anderson, University of Michigan