My collected observations on myths about jobs...
In 2001, the UK government announced plans for a "work
first" culture. Ministers spoke of how work "holds communities
together" and "gives life meaning". Meanwhile,
back in the real world...
In 2002, the Work Foundation reported that "job
satisfaction has plummeted", and that so-called "high
performance" management techniques made workers deeply unhappy
and failed to raise output.
In January 2004, a marketing director at Prudential
was reported as saying: "Our research shows that an alarming
number of people appear to be unhappy in their employment and
unfulfilled by their work".
A British Social Attitudes survey revealed that
6 in 10 British workers are unhappy in their jobs, with a majority
reporting feelings of insecurity, stress, pointlessness, exhaustion
and inadequate income.
A Samaritans survey found that jobs are the single
biggest cause of stress and that the link between work
and suicide is likely to be underestimated. In Japan, around 5%
of all suicides are "company related" and suicide is
an official, compensated work-related condition.
In a pathetic attempt to raise worker morale, employers
are giving high-sounding titles to mundane jobs. The recruitment
company, Reed, noticed these examples:
Technical Sanitation Assistant
Optical Illuminator Enhancer
Head of Verbal Communications
Senior Corporate Events Manager
(Sources given in full
at bottom of page)
Myth: "We have more leisure
Working hours have risen in the last 20 years, on average,
for UK full-time workers (as shown by the UK Labour Force Survey).
This reverses a 150-year trend of declining working hours.
UK governments have known for decades that long hours
are economically counterproductive. A 1916 Home Office report,
Industrial Fatigue, noted that output "is lowered
by the working of overtime. The diminution is often so great that
the total daily output is less when overtime is worked than when
it is suspended. Thus overtime defeats its own object."
The UK government has admitted a "sharp increase"
in excessive working hours. DTI research found that 1 in 6 employees
now work more than 60 hours a week.
Full-time employees in the UK work the longest hours in Europe.
The average for full-timers in the UK is 43.5 hours per week.
In France it's 38.2 and in Germany 39.9, yet both are more productive
than the UK.
According to an ICM poll, 1 in 5 UK workers never take
a lunch-break. And 57% of workers take a break of less than 30
minutes (30 minutes is the legal minimum).
A May 2003 British Medical Association survey found
that 77% of consultants work more than 50 hours a week for the
NHS, and 46% more than 60 hours.
Each year employees are giving £23 billion in free
labour to their bosses, according to the TUC. The union organisation
has designated February 27th as "Work Your Proper Hours
Day", after calculating that this is the day when the
average worker who does unpaid overtime stops working for free.
Myth: "Hard work never harmed
People with stressful jobs are twice as likely to die
from heart disease, according to a 2002 study in the British
People who work over 48 hours per week have double the
risk of heart disease, according to a 1996 UK government report.
Long-term job strain is worse for your heart than gaining
40lbs in weight or aging 30 years, according to a 2003 US study.
Work kills more than war. Approximately two million workers
die annually due to occupational injuries and illnesses, according
to a United Nations report. This is more than double the
figure for deaths from warfare (650,000 deaths per year). Work
kills more people than alcohol and drugs together.
82% of workers at the Department for Work and Pensions
have suffered ill health as a result of pressure of work, according
to a 2003 survey.
The Health and Safety Executive reports that the
number of people suffering from work-related stress has more than
doubled since 1990.
BBC News quotes the International Stress Management
Association as saying: "Each year we conduct research
into stress and each year the figure just keeps on getting worse."
Rising stress at work is causing increasing numbers of
young professionals to grind their teeth while they sleep, according
to the British Dental Health Foundation.
Myth: "Work cures poverty"
The number of people in work is at "record levels"
according to the UK government. Meanwhile, official UK figures
show 22% of people living in poverty, compared to 13% in 1979.
47% of employees have wages that, on their
own, are insufficient to avoid poverty.
42% of employees rely on means other than
their own wages to avoid poverty.
In the 1970s and 1980s, around 4% of low-paid employees lived
in poverty. Currently, 14% of low-paid employees live in poverty.
(5% of all employees now live in poverty).
Since the early 1970s GDP (national income) has doubled,
but in real terms (ie allowing for inflation) the bottom 10% of
jobs pay less now than in 1970. The minimum wage would have to
be around £6.50 per hour to bring low-pay up to the 1970
Meanwhile, in America, 40% of those served in soup kitchens
have jobs. Nearly a fifth of all homeless people in the USA are
employed in jobs.
The future of work as previously predicted
In the late 1700s, Benjamin Franklin predicted we'd soon
work a 4-hour week.
George Bernard Shaw predicted we'd work a 2-hour day by
In 1933, the US Senate passed a bill for an official 30-hour
work week. (President Roosevelt killed it.)
In 1935, W.K. Kellogg introduced a scheme to cut 2 hours
from the working day, yet pay the same wages. It was cost-effective
morale and productivity rose; accident and insurance rates
In 1956, Richard Nixon predicted a 4-day work week in
the "not too distant future".
In 1965, a US Senate subcommittee predicted a 22-hour
work week by 1985, 14 hours by 2000.
In the 1960s, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that
just 5% of the work being done would satisfy our food, clothing
and shelter needs.
In 1981, Buckminster Fuller claimed that 70% of US jobs
were unnecessary: "inspectors of inspectors, reunderwriters
of insurance reinsurers, Obnoxico promoters, spies and counterspies
Myth: "Work gives life meaning"
Work Foundation, April 2002; Christian Science Monitor, 12 Jan
2004; BSA survey; The Samaritans 'Stressed Out', May 2003; Hazards
magazine factsheet 83, 2003; The Japan Times, 10 May 2003; Study
by Reed, March 2002.
have more leisure now"
UK Labour Force Survey, Historical Supplement and Quarterly
Supplement, Autumn 1999; Hazards magazine factsheet 78, 2002;
Guardian, 30 Aug 2002; Hazards magazine factsheet 83, 2003; ICM
poll quoted by jobserve.com; Press Association, Feb 26 2004; TUC
work never harmed anyone"
'Work stress and risk of cardiovascular mortality...', British
Medical Journal, 19 Oct 2002; The Money Programme, BBC2, 11 Feb
1996; 'Life course exposure to job strain...', American Journal
of Epidemiology, 2003; UN International Labor Organisation SafeWork
programme, April 2002; PCS survey, May 2003; Hazards magazine
no. 81; BBC News Online, 7 Nov 2001; British Dental Health Foundation,
27 Jan 2000.
Government DWP press release, Nov 2004; poverty.org.uk; Joseph
Rowntree Foundation study, Nov 2004; Guardian, 14 Jun 2002; National
Coalition for the Homeless, 1997.
The future of work as previously predicted
Carl Honoré, In Praise of Slow; John de Graaf, Affluenza;
Jeremy Rifkin, The End of Work; Bob Black, The Abolition of Work;
Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path.