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
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
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
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
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 level.
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 2000.
In 1933, the US Senate passed a
bill for an official 30-hour work week. (President Roosevelt
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 fell.
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
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.
"We 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 online, tuc.org.uk.
"Hard 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.
"Work cures poverty"
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.
(This article is
by Media Hell editor, Brian Dean, and was originally
published in the Idler No 35, Summer 2005)