Thursday, May 22, 2008

The 40-hour work week

Leslie has a great post up about academics and 40-hour weeks. There's no mention of Larry Summers, but I hear echoes of him in some of the posts she references. There's a little bit of "you have to work more than 40 hours to be competitive" and "the kinds of jobs where 40 hours is all that's required are 'lesser'". Here's a quote that exemplifies that:
Between the two of us and another labmate, we couldn't come up with a single job that only requires 40 hours a week that any of us would find intellectually satisfying and would want to have.
Leslie points out that she works only 40 hours. Heck, I only work 35. Working 40 is overtime for me. My job is intellectually satisfying.

I think it's fine and dandy if you want to work a million hours a week. I happen to think there's more to life than work. I can't tell if the author of the quote feels that those who choose jobs that are only 40 hour work weeks are "not as good" as those who choose to work more. There are slackers everywhere, some in jobs where the standard is to work more and some where the standard is to work a strict 40 hour week. I know I've had crap jobs where people don't do their work--Homer Simpson anyone? But I've also seen people who always, always, always work over because they have nothing else they're obligated to do--no family, no hobbies, nothing. It might make the rest of the us look bad, which kind of pisses me off. Someone else in Leslie's post mentioned this problem of getting done with their work and then just kind having to sit there and put in the face time. I've had jobs like that. I learned to make up work.

The thing is, I think we'd all be better off using more of our leisure time. Honestly, I'm a million times more productive after a day of completely slacking. I need to clear my head. I can't think about work all the time. I'm on vacation this week and I've spent a few hours a day doing "work"--reading for a class I'm teaching next spring, reading for my book project, sketching out plans for other projects. I've futzed around the rest of the time--going shopping, playing games, doing a little housework, going to the farmer's market. There is a nagging feeling that I'm not getting enough done, but I'm ignoring it. I'm reminding myself that slow and steady progress is okay and that all work and no play doesn't just make Laura a dull girl, but is also unhealthy.

I guess I'd just like to see a culture where people are encouraged to work at their own pace (within certain parameters, of course). Especially for so-called knowledge workers, I think this would make sense. Some would work lots very quickly; others would work at a slower pace. I think I'd just like to see us get away from the idea that it's a zero-sum game and that we're all competing with each other for some kind of brass ring. Maybe that's the vacation talking, I don't know. What do you all think?