Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Few Minor Musings About Work And Time

In Animal Farm, Boxer, the symbol of the working class, lives by the mantra "I will work harder."  If current Americans aren't working harder, they are at least working longer.  Working harder got Boxer sent to the knackers.  Working longer costs workers time with family and small bits of sanity.  The extra time may cost businesses money.  Writing at AlterNet, Sara Robinson contends,
It’s a heresy now (good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say), but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits -- starting right now, today -- is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing.
Robinson points out,
The Business Roundtable study found that after just eight 60-hour weeks, the fall-off in productivity is so marked that the average team would have actually gotten just as much done and been better off if they’d just stuck to a 40-hour week all along. And at 70- or 80-hour weeks, the fall-off happens even faster: at 80 hours, the break-even point is reached in just three weeks.
And finally: these death marches take a longer-term productivity toll as well. Once the crisis has passed and that 60-hour-a-week team gets to go back to its regular 40, it can take several more weeks before the burnout begins to lift enough for them to resume their typical productivity level. So, for a while, you’ll get significantly less than a full 40 out of them.
None of this is supposed to matter to me. Many believe that teachers don't work a 40 hour week.  This Answer Sheet post confirms that fact; teachers work a 53 hour week.
A new report from Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, finally quantifies just how hard teachers work: 10 hours and 40 minutes a day on average. That’s a 53-hour work week! . . . .
The 7.5 hours in the classroom are just the starting point. On average, teachers are at school an additional 90 minutes beyond the school day for mentoring, providing after-school help for students, attending staff meetings and collaborating with peers. Teachers then spend another 95 minutes at home grading, preparing classroom activities, and doing other job-related tasks. The workday is even longer for teachers who advise extracurricular clubs and coach sports —11 hours and 20 minutes, on average. . . .
In the moments I spend committing philosophy without a licence, I have wondered why time is considered such a cheap commodity whereas capital is valuable.  Politicians get elected campaigning against raising the minimum wage and for cutting taxes on capital gains.  In short, they're saying capital which can be lost and regained is more important than time which is a finite commodity.

I think I'm lucky.  There are many days when my work enriches.  Arguing about the big questions that literature explores or the policy and value questions that debate resolutions ask students to consider makes most days worthwhile. That being said, there are days when work drains more from me than it gives.  If I feel that drain, I have to wonder how much other jobs take from workers, leaving them only a paycheck.

Maybe the fact that demanding more than 40 hours of workers' time per week will cost capital can change the equation and cause employers and politicians to reward workers more fairly.  I doubt it, but it may help workers keep more of their time and enrich themselves in ways that money can't buy.

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