- Henry David Thoreau
I woke up to BBC radio discussing the obsession of work in our global "workplace." They found that Americans of course work 300 hours more annually than the French the much oft cited as the least hard working country in the globe. And I point to all things French and think, well given that they produce most of what love as do many others, those French have figured it out.
But the story neglected to mention Sweden, who when it comes to countries and work life balance, have an edge over even the French.
The readings or one should say the writings of Thoreau is one whom I had forgotten until I had to study for this absurd professional exam to add English to my Teaching license. The test is absurdly random with subjects that are so disparately connected that it is impossible to actually feel one knows any of this properly and thoroughly, meeting the saying: A Jack of all trades is a master of none. And during the random queries about the massive field of what defines Literature**, stumbled on of course Thoreau. And I found his seminal Journal by utter accident. Wow, I suck as a Teacher. Well no like many I read only Walden and then check and move on. It is like Moby Dick those who read it do so by requirement and not by choice. Well some may but it is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. Melville was not short on words and concepts both metaphysical and transcendental, as I suspect Bartlelby, and his Wall Street would define. Funny how Wall Street then and now always comes up.
No one can teach any one subject of any field as each is layered in its own complexities, skill sets, knowledge sources and expertise. I have never believed that you can be a true Humanities teacher, teaching both history and language arts without sacrificing one for the other. Teaching literature, the subjects of history, economics, sociology, and of course linguistics which encompasses writing and more importantly grammar is a skill set that requires endless education and experience and yet many public teachers have said endorsements. The same for math and science and so forth. Wow you are really smart for someone whose average salary is just over 50K and works supposedly only 9 months of the year. Thoreau would be proud.
The idea of work is self defined and the reality is that we define ourselves by our work. And that definition explains why I think people talk about their endless work hours as a way of validating one's existence and identity.
Watch people on planes and how many click on computers and endlessly seem preoccupied with 'working'. I believe that white men seem the most obsessive compulsive and I have written about the slovenly dude who was relocating from the Virgin Islands to a town outside Portland. He was endlessly updating information and constantly reviewing Linked In and Facebook throughout the flight. It is then when I finally read over his shoulder and looked at the odd utterly not current photo on one of the sites and his profession - Technology Teacher at a rural high school.
After I stopped laughing he looked over to me and I just shrugged and went back to the movie I was watching. I knew instantly this sad little man in filthy clothes, beard, flip flops was just a Teacher like me and he was nothing more. Not a department head, nor a highly acclaimed individual moving to a major new city with a new job, but a Teacher. Sorry dude but I truly know that many Teachers do work ungodly hours, and why I am unsure but okay, but this was June, the particular field or curriculum he was teaching is not one that does (trust me I have subbed in these gigs as they are unfilled and usually part time) and yes moving logistically is a challenge and certainly across country and from an island, but you are on a 6 hour flight, you have to connect again upon landing so really what are you doing? At one point you just have to wait it out.
During the program the reporter discussed with many their work hours and attitude towards work as well as providing studies about how work productivity declines over a certain number of hours worked, we peak out after 55 hours a week.
What she found is that many who claim to work 10 to 12 hours a day do little actual work during the day and that in reality many don't work. And for those who changed their work hours and cut them they found their productivity and in turn happiness and attitude towards work improved.
My favorite was the man who worked in a company so large that he went to school for an advanced degree, spent a year at home as he was literally forgotten and when he returned to the office he had no work at all so he spent his days faking it and in turn writing a book. He described it as both demoralizing and debilitating as having to spend days looking busy and creating non existent work as he feared telling anyone would mark him as unnecessary and therefore redundant and in turn unemployed.
One woman talked about reading the papers (which I do daily as the lesson plans left leave more than ample time to read at least 2), checking social media (don't), and doing about 4 hours of work a day but clocking in 10. Wow. I clock in at 8 and usually work 6 hours. And yes I try to actually teach the lesson plans when left and even when not (well more in those cases as it is essential) so this tells you a lot about teaching but I suspect if they were paid more they might actually do more. It is a positive equivalent that is really the issue not tenure as I know no Teacher who actually quotes that, that is post secondary folks that quote that bullshit.
This might also be why we have issues surrounding wages. As the wage "slaves" know they are not working full tilt boogie so they have no understanding or comprehension of those hourly workers who don't have the luxury of faking it til making it. Their time is well documented, observed and supervised and down time is just taking the required by law breaks.
But surprise the white collar professions don't either.
In July, the BBC published a video showing that not only are US workers not guaranteed vacation time by law, but that 40% choose not to take all of the days to which they are entitled.
In the US, work plays a big part in how people identify themselves and many take pride in working long hours. When we asked the BBC's audience why so many Americans chose not to take full advantage of their vacation days, these were some of the answer: Americans like money, Americans are not lazy, Americans are hard working but many replied that they were angry and afraid. Yes afraid, as if they took the time off they would come back to no longer having a job to come back to.
One of the responders:
Gerald Audet earned a PhD in physiology and has been working in science for the past eight years at three different work places (none of which he wanted to disclose for fear of retribution). At every company he was expected to think about his job 24 hours a day, he told the BBC.
"Don't mention any other things that you do, because that is looked down upon and looked at as a weakness," Audet, who is also a keen amateur triathlete, says.
He is allowed to take time off, but in Audet's case it means scrambling to get work done ahead of his vacation and working twice as hard when he comes back.
"This is how America is: you are expected to give everything you have, and if you don't you're unsuccessful
Another said this: Alaine Megan said of her employer, whose name she doesn't want published for fear of losing her job, stopped paid vacation days and now wants notice a month in advance for unpaid days off. Taking off the day before or after Christmas is almost impossible; wanting to see your family just isn't a "good enough" reason, she says.
And lastly from Ryan Zane a Silicon Valley recruiter who said this: The idea of unlimited vacation The newest trend swings in the opposite direction: "unlimited vacation days". He told the BBC that many start up firms offer this benefit because they don't have enough cash on hand to pay out an employee's remaining vacation days if he or she leaves the company. He followed this up with this comment: "In truth, what they end up doing is fostering a cloud of fear over the employees as even though they are "allowed" to, the employees feel immense fear and pressure to never leave their desks out otherwise they will be seen as "lazy" or "don't care enough."
And remember this is the industry that is built around the cool workplace with the free food, ping pong and other bullshit. But according to Lotte Bailyn, professor emeritus at MIT, who studies the effects of work life business relationships:
Companies are competing with each other for employees through fringe benefits like serving food and a free gym, s
These perks can give companies reputations as great places to work, but in reality, Baylins says, "They just make it easier to stay at work and to keep working."
She says people would be better off in a company that says "Take four weeks and don't call in", rather have no guidelines around unlimited vacation days.
"Most of the data that I've seen shows that if anything people are taking less vacation days because without guidelines there's too much uncertainty."
And you wonder why there are movements by white collar wearers to organize while their blue collars struggle to do so be it choice or simply fear from uncertainty.
And some of this comes from our Puritan work ethic ingrained in the DNA of Americans and reiterated through the absurd libertarian rantings of a non American, Ayn Rand, and the cult of individualism that resonates in American culture.
I think this says it all
But this is what defines our Unicorn and our philosophy of the American dream the "work hard" mantra that is espoused on a hourly basis in this country.
2008 really through the concept of work and life into the metaphysical paper shredder. And while I have said that the MEME generation has never seen hardship they also have no sense of balance or perspective.
This is their lives so they are sure these apps are time saving life altering new ideas that will provide the missing elements such as friends, social connections, relaxation and of course money. That is the real issue, the aspirant class wants to be rich so they think they won't have to work so hard.
Be afraid be very afraid. That should be the American work ethic and motto.
**for the record of all the Literature, genres and authors, Ayn Rand and her notion of individualism is one of the few questions about writers and their works on this Teaching credential test. The others center around Zora Neale Hurston and on dialect and the Harlem Renaissance, with a couple more random authors thrown in to show "equality" I think. Those are in between grammar questions, stylistic requirements, and teaching strategies. The lack of cohesiveness, randomness and sheer lack of depth on pedagogy shows that testing for adults is as absurd to assume one would be a good Teacher in a field so complex. So what defines a good Teacher? Hell if I know. But giving a damn and having a life outside a classroom that enriches the one within it might be a good start, but there is no test for that.***