Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What I Had For Breakfast: In Pursuit of Less Pay and More Hours - Welcome to The Way We Now Work

Three articles caught my attention in as many days; Harvard Business Review's article Labor Day: Beyond The Barbecue, Labor Day Lament in TIME and Majority of Workers Don't Feel Underpaid in Adweek.

The common theme here is obviously work. How we feel about the way we work, and the fact that most of us work longer hours than ever to adapt to, compete with, and keep up with the technology that chains us to keyboards, phones and laptops. And not necessarily for more money.

Now think about the progress we have made…

Labor Day was originally intended to celebrate the “working class" laborers who built the country (manual workers), but I’d actually consider much of the American workforce as "working class" today. Knowledge workers, officers workers and the rest of us who are always "on" - just because we don't do manual labor, doesn't mean we don't work hard or contribute significantly to the growth of our employers and the economy - especially with so many manual jobs vanishing abroad.

Let’s take a look at a Times freelancer who was quoted in TIME’s post and typically works 65-70 hrs per week. "Your work day is done when your work is done. And the work is never really done. You can’t leave it until tomorrow because you’ll have too much to do tomorrow."

How many of you can relate to that? No sooner have you replied to a few emails and completed a number of tasks than another dozen emails come in - all urgent, all demanding the same, immediate attention. It is a real challenge not to become "inbox-driven."

We can thank technology for this.

Technology has not necessarily freed us to be more creative or to work more efficiently. Technology and work processes continue to demand more of our time and attention, divvying up our focus into so many places all at once. Technology has created a work culture that frowns upon those not connected.

In my world, I have the following going on at any one time: blackberry messages, text messages, various IMs programs running, a mobile phone ringing in between my two office extensions, my personal email as well as my work emails, dozens of news feeds, Facebook, Twitter et al. I’m not on Foursquare yet, but it’s only a matter of time… And this is before I get to my real work. How do I work smarter, not harder, in this environment? Someone pass me the Advil please!

So it's hardly surprising that the average work day has shot up to 12 hrs, or more. How can we possibly accomplish what we need to on any given day with so much noise and so many distractions? Is this what the new normal means?

Did we create it, or did it create us?

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