The great Peter Fleming has a piece in The Guardian on “The way to a better work-life balance? Unions, not self-help:”
Overwork has become an epidemic in the western world; health officials put it in the same league as cigarette smoking regarding the damage it does to people’s health. The social damage incurred by loved ones and friends can be just as bad….
Flexible employment systems were once sold to us as a path to more time off and greater autonomy. We would all become wealthy entrepreneurs like Richard Branson. What a cruel joke that turned out to be.
One reason I admire Fleming’s work is that this subject– why overwork has become the new normal, and why it seems so pervasive and inescapable– is really hard for me to write about. I talk about it in REST, and I think I do so adequately, but Fleming has a way of summarizing the issue and the forces driving it that always leaves me impressed. Just as a really good musician can admire virtuosity better than anyone else, so too can I say that his writing reflects a level of thinking about this subject that few of us can match.
Notice when you read this piece how he lays out the normative and cultural reasons for workaholism, then segues effortlessly to the structural issues at play as well. Too often we talk about overwork as a personal choice, but it’s really not; and the fact that Fleming sees the personal dimension of overwork– most of us really DO at some level feel like we’re choosing these hours– doesn’t keep him from arguing that there need to be collective and policy responses to it.