darkemeralds: Grafitti on the Steel Bridge showing two robotic figures and signed "The Fool" (The Fool)
[personal profile] darkemeralds
Why the Cult of Hard Work is Counterproductive, an absolutely wonderful article by Steven Poole published in New Statesman a couple of weeks ago, goes into "why doing nothing may be the best thing for your well-being and your brain."

Though it's a British article for a British publication and doesn't even mention the word "American," it has a huge bearing on a discussion of American-versus-European concepts of work and leave time that several of us were having here on my journal a few days ago.



Here's a longish relevant quote from the middle of the article:

A recent article in the London newspaper Metro reported that research had shown that “dedicated Britons” were “less likely to pull a sickie” than workers in Germany and France. The researcher claimed: “Strong employment protection and generous sick pay was empirically found to contribute to increased staff sickness in Germany and France.” It could indeed be that Europeans are slackers and Brits are peculiarly “dedicated”. Or it could be that Britain’s more “flexible” labour market terrifies citizens into struggling into work even when they are ill.

The reason sickness is undesirable is not that it causes distress or discomfort but that it results in what is often called “lost productivity”. This is a sinister and absurd notion, predicated on the greedy fallacy of counting chickens before they have hatched. “Workplace absence through sickness was reported to cost British business £32bn a year,” the researcher claimed in Metro: a normal way of phrasing things today, but one with curious implications. The idea seems to be that business already has that money even though it hasn’t earned it yet and employees who fail to maintain “productivity” as a result of sickness or other reasons are, in effect, stealing this as yet entirely notional sum from their employers.


(I'm struck by how "American" that that attitude sounds, and I realize that I'm conflating "American" and "corporate," as one does. The fact that it's not, in fact, an American statement just confirms for me that the corporatism that has thrived in American cultural soil is spreading really fast.)



Poole takes on the very idea of productivity (tracing the word itself right back to its first use by Coleridge in the late 18th century), and pretty well demolishes it as a moral construct. He ends on this lovely note:

...it is not necessary to abandon the notion of “productivity” altogether. We all like to feel that we have done something useful, interesting or fun with our day, even (or especially) if it has not been part of our official work, and we might harmlessly express such satisfaction by saying that our day has been productive.

This ordinary usage encodes an ordinary wisdom: that mere quantity of activity – as implied by the get-more-done mania of the productivity cult – has nothing to do with its value.


Well worth the reading, and what's more, the comments are excellent and actually add substance to the article.

Date: 2013-12-29 03:10 pm (UTC)
sasha_feather: Retro-style poster of skier on pluto.   (Default)
From: [personal profile] sasha_feather
Thank you for this! Very relevant to my interests.

Date: 2013-12-29 03:21 pm (UTC)
executrix: (adopted)
From: [personal profile] executrix
Anything not worth doing is not worth doing for 12 hours a day! I'm very interested in source reduction as an alternative to recycling, and I often think of people who are proud of themselves for never having time for anything except producing overpackaged goods that have to be ferried all over the globe because no one wanted them in the first place.

BTW I've never heard of "pulling" a sickie, only "chucking" one--outward rather than inbound!
executrix: (cakewedge)
From: [personal profile] executrix
I don't think Pollan is necessarily right about this. I mean, there are lots of historical times and (even current) geographic places where it's common not to even have a kitchen of any kind. So you can really consider bread baked in an oven by a professional baker to be a convenience food, and, really, why cook if you can get a variety of affordable and appetizing food from the tavern, cookshop, or hawker center?

It is certainly not a fact of nature that, in a family consisting of two adults and several offspring, that food must be prepared by adult females.
executrix: (tassedegus)
From: [personal profile] executrix
In many cases, the "convenience" of a convenience food is that of Big Ag and food processors, not eaters of any kind.

And, of course, French people generally expect to devote a much higher percentage of their income to food, and a lower percentage to other consumer goods, than Americans.

I think it's amusing that this exchange is going on while I have a batch of bread dough rising! I can't make even mildly acceptable baguettes, though.
executrix: (ganache)
From: [personal profile] executrix
The hoity-toity hipster bar/restaurant around the corner from me sells Balthazar baguettes that I really like a lot.

I think that the American labor movement went to hell in a handcart is that so many Americans think of themselves as potential or indeed future multi-millionaires, like French lieutenants carrying Marshals' batons in their knapsacks. And for decades, the implicit bargain was "Yeah, you're not going to get a raise, but you own a house, which is now worth a zillion dollars." And then housing prices fell off the cliff.

I'm going to a program on Jan. 7 with Barry Benepe, the guy who launched NYC's Greenmarkets, as the presenter, should know more then about some food issues.

Date: 2013-12-29 04:11 pm (UTC)
ranunculus: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ranunculus
I used to think that sick leave should only be used if one were actually physically sick. These days I believe that mental health is just as valid, and that productivity is quite likely better if mental health, err, sickie days are used.

Date: 2013-12-29 09:18 pm (UTC)
hunningham: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hunningham
I'm self-employed, and usually I work from home.  Occasionally I'll take on some contract work which involves working directly for a company from their offices.  This will involve commuting and working nine-to-five in someone else's office.  And it's very strange - I have to remind myself that this is the normal, and I am the outlier.  I start work days with the very strong concrete feeling that I am giving my time to this other company - it's not mine any more, but theirs.  

And I hate being asked to work late (seldom happens, contractors often get more respect than permanent staff) - it's as if the manager had asked me to hand over all the money in my wallet so they could set fire to it.

Date: 2013-12-29 11:16 pm (UTC)
executrix: (crazy for trying)
From: [personal profile] executrix
I'm doing some volunteer work for Food and Water Watch. The North Jersey chapter is particularly concerned with preventing fracking. Basically, to the energy industry, methane is valueless when it's escaping from a CAFO or being flared off an oil well, but so precious that it's worth degrading the water table if it's someplace the industry wants to drill.

THEY Work for US

Date: 2013-12-29 11:28 pm (UTC)
executrix: (Default)
From: [personal profile] executrix
These days, I'd say that the cardinal sin is to act on the assumption not that corporations exist to earn profits by making goods and services that people want, and then distributing the profits to shareholders, but that corporations exist to increase the stock price so that top management can get larger stock option and termination packages. Even the former is far from perfect--because it assumes that it doesn't matter how much environmental damage is done, or how bad product quality or working conditions are as long as dividends get paid, but the latter assumes that it's OK for a tiny elite to mortgage the future for their own present profit.

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