Policy Fact Series 1: Pretending to work

ImageThe Economist on 25 October wrote about how to thrive at work with the least possible effort, i.e. skiving (in British) or shirking (in American). How does one acquire the very useful skill of pretending to work? However, instead of analysing how people pursue lazy working habits, let us look at how people can be encouraged to work more effectively, while pursuing meaningful social lives as well. In a world where technology is replacing more and more of the tasks that humans used to do, the necessary number of human working hours may be decreasing (at least in the economy’s current structure). Yet working hours have increased since the crisis when hundreds of thousands of workers were fired, forcing the (lucky?!) remaining employees to take over more projects. These remaining employees felt the need to work more to decrease the probability of getting laid off. A recent study by a Swedish researcher, Roland Paulsen called “Empty Labour*” explains that workers spend an average of 2 hours on private matters every day – what he calls empty labour. Could we not set up a working environment where you can leave once you’re done with your work? It would require more organisation to make sure employees pulled their weight, but would ultimately produce happier people (no?). As young professionals, this issue is particularly pressing. With rigid hierarchical structures in many companies and organisations, work does not easily trickle down to us. There is simply not enough work to fill 8 hour working days (in a large number of sectors, if not all). Perhaps we should stop selling our time and start selling our output? What kind of policy could be put in place to encourage this development? For example, companies should be encouraged to give employees flexible working hours and the ability to work from home. This could ultimately encourage employees to work effectively while on the job, so they can get off work quicker to pursue other hobbies. What do you think? Do you have any other ideas?


*This is an interview with Roland Paulsen – a very good use of 28 minutes, especially if you feel like using up some time at work.

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