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A Workaholic Economy

Yet a host of factors pushes employers to

For the first century or so of the industrial

hire fewer workers for more hours and at the

revolution, increased productivity led to

same time compels workers to spend more

decreases in working hours. Employees who

time on the job. Most of those incentives

had been putting in 12-hour days, six days a

involve what Ehrenberg calls the structure of

week, found their time on the job shrinking

compensation: quirks in the way salaries and

to 10 hours daily, then finally to eight hours,

benefits are organized that make it more

five days a week. Only a generation ago

profitable to ask 40 employees to labor an

social planners worried about what people

extra hour each than to hire one more

would do with all this new-found free time. In

worker to do the same 40-hour job.

the US, at least it seems they need not have
bothered.

Professional and managerial employees
supply the most obvious lesson along these

Although the output per hour of work has

lines. Once people are on salary, their cost to

more than doubled since 1945, leisure seems

a firm is the same whether they spend 35

reserved largely for the unemployed and

hours a week in the office or 70. Diminishing

underemployed. Those who work full-time

returns may eventually set in as overworked

spend as much time on the job as they did at

employees lose efficiency or leave for more

the end of World War II. In fact, working

arable pastures. But in the short run, the

hours have increased noticeably since 1970

employer’s incentive is clear. Even hourly

— perhaps because real wages have

employees receive benefits - such as pension

stagnated since that year. Bookstores now

contributions and medical insurance - that

abound with manuals describing how to

are not tied to the number of hours they

manage time and cope with stress.

work. Therefore, it is more profitable for
employers to work their existing employees

There are several reasons for lost leisure.

harder.

Since 1979, companies have responded to
improvements in the business climate by

For all that employees complain about long

having employees work overtime rather than

hours, they too have reasons not to trade

by hiring extra personnel, says economist

money for leisure. “People who work reduced

Juliet B. Schor of Harvard University. Indeed,

hours pay a huge penalty in career terms,”

the current economic recovery has gained a

Schor maintains. “It's taken as a negative

certain amount of notoriety for its “jobless”

signal’ about their commitment to the firm.’

nature: increased production has been

[Lotte] Bailyn [of Massachusetts Institute of

almost entirely decoupled from employment.

Technology] adds that many corporate

Some firms are even downsizing as their

managers find it difficult to measure the

profits climb. “All things being equal, we'd be

contribution of their underlings to a firm’s

better off spreading around the work,"

well-being, so they use the number of hours

observes labor economist Ronald G.

worked as a proxy for output. “Employees

Ehrenberg of Cornell University.

the first postwar generation of home buyers.’ She U.know this.. Schor reports. Larger firms. "The extra people notes. financial and cultural structures of employment for workers successfully to “Although the image of the good worker is trade increased productivity and money for the one whose life belongs to the company. “it doesn't fit the facts. and developers the time they have and they are less likely to do not build the tiny bungalows that served succumb to fatigue in stressful jobs. As Schor redundancy. Automobile makers no longer part-time workers: they make better use of manufacture cheap models. have begun to change the more-is-better Walluh culture at some companies. two-career studies that show increased productivity for households.Paul . the situation is a curious inversion of can cover the contingencies that you know the “appropriate technology” vision that are going to happen. market for goods has become skewed cites both quantitative and qualitative by the assumption of full-time.S. in particular.” leisure time. she asserts. Companies that employ more workers for Not even the humblest household object is less time also gain from the resulting made without a microprocessor.S.” she says. such as when crises designers have had for developing countries: take people away from the workplace. Schor contends. and they adjust their It may take even more than changes in the behavior accordingly. appear to be more willing to experiment with flexible working arrangements.. goods are appropriate only for high Positive experiences with reduced hours incomes and long hours. ----." U. She says the Bailyn says.