Work 'til you drop the media
Although newspaper columnists often question the long-hours
work culture (see below for an example), the general picture
presented in the media is of a business leadership that is
"forward-looking" and "responsive" to
employees' needs for free time.
But this directly contradicts the reality of steadily increasing
working hours since the 1970s (eg see: UK Labour Force
Survey, Historical Supplement and Quarterly Supplement,
Autumn 1999). 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. (Sources: Guardian, 30 Aug 2002; TUC, tuc.org.uk).
The contradiction between the media's "forward-looking"
characterisation of UK business chiefs, and the distinctly
backward reality, can perhaps be attributed to propaganda
campaigns by industry-financed PR organisations. Well-funded
groups such as the Institute of Directors have for
years attempted to counter perceptions of increasingly long
working hours. The issue is instead framed in terms of "pioneering"
and "visionary" measures by leading companies, ushering
in a "civilised and flexible" working environment
(the media mostly laps this up with little scepticism).
Pioneering? Visionary? Apparently business PR groups
are ignorant of history. We've been here before. For example,
in 1933, the US Senate was close to passing a bill for a 30-hour
week. The legislation seemed assured... until President Roosevelt,
joined by the nation's captains of industry, squashed it.
In the atmosphere of expectancy of a shorter working week,
W.K. Kellogg, in 1935, introduced a scheme to cut 2 hours
from the working day, yet pay the same wages. Apparently this
succeeded a report from Kellogg claimed:
"This isn't just a theory with us. We have proved
it with five years of experience. We have found that with
the shorter working day, the efficiency and morale of our
employees is so increased, the accident and insurance rates
are so improved, that we can afford to pay as much for six
hours as we formerly paid for eight".
Today's business leaders are so "pioneering" and
"visionary" that they've overseen a work environment
in which working hours, on average, have risen since
the 1970s despite the growing ubiquity of labour-saving
technology over the same period.
Mostly, the media see no irony in the representation of business
chiefs as "forward-thinking" and "visionary".
Although, as we noted above, there are signs of dissent among
some newspaper columnists:
[From the Guardian, 9/6/2001]: "Despite
the propaganda, work is far worse than it used to be, which
is why people are much less happy than they used to be"...
"It is an example of capitalism's black-hearted humour
that, as all their rights are decimated, workers must smile,
smile, smile! Then there's the lying, which is now endemic
among employers; a friend of mine applied the other day for
a job which promised 'dynamic work with a rock 'n' roll attitude'.
Well, there are many ways to describe the task of knocking
on doors trying to flog double-glazing, but I don't think
that's one of them."