Overworked and overpaid
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â€śOverwork has become a credential of prosperityâ€ť, writes James Surowiecki on the growing cult of overwork among knowledge workers. Itâ€™s not just the beleaguered and well-compensated junior investment bankers who are putting in long hours:
Thirty years ago, the best-paid workers in the U.S. were much less likely to work long days than low-paid workers were. By 2006, the best paid were twice as likely to work long hours as the poorly paid, and the trend seems to be accelerating. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that ninety-four per cent worked fifty hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of sixty-five hours a week.
This kind of never-off-the-clock fatigue seems to affect higher paid workers more — the more money you earn, the more you seem to work. Meanwhile, thereâ€™s evidence that working more doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™re actually doing more. OECD data, The Economist writes, shows declining productivity as the number of hours worked increases.
And yet knowledge workers keep working counter-productively long hours. Alexandra Michel, whose nine-year study of two investment banks Surowiecki cites, focuses her research on banks, but her conclusions are broadly applicable. Companies say they value â€śautonomy and work-life balance; their less visible embodied controls caused habitual overwork that bankers experienced as self-chosenâ€ť. Former management consultant Richard Koch makes a similar point:
Working hours are dictated by culture, not economics. Of course long hours undermine productivityâ€”as C Northcote Parkinson said, â€śwork expands to fill the time available.â€ť Whatever our religion or ideology, we are still trapped by the centuries-old Protestant ethic, which viewed long hours as a badge of moral seriousness. Most firms still value such â€śintensity.â€ť
Donâ€™t expect the robots to save you from overwork, either. When robots replace 45% of human jobs, the desire of the remaining 55% to prove their value will likely only increase.
Cardiff Garcia notes that we humans are pretty bad at predicting which jobs can and will be mechanized: â€śeven jobs that havenâ€™t been created yet seem to be at risk of being displaced.â€ť Ryan Avent has a long look at the impact of automation. Heâ€™s bullish on the outlook for â€śemotive occupationsâ€ť — things like â€śartists and therapists, love counsellors and yoga instructorsâ€ť — and worries that unskilled workers will be stuck with fewer job opportunities and stagnant wages. — Ben Walsh
On to todayâ€™s links: