the RIGHT to be LAZY
Work Seriously Damages Your Health, Say Scientists
by Andrew Smart  /   1 Oct

“Working long hours is as dangerous as smoking: it doesn’t matter if you do what you love. People love smoking too. That doesn’t change the fact that smoking at least doubles your risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. Clinical evidence is accumulating that work, whether you love it or not, increases your risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke. A recent systematic review of the literature, in which all the known studies of a topic are reviewed and their statistics meta-analyzed, has shown that employees who work long hours have a 40% increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) (see Heart disease is still the reigning world champion of leading causes of death, and no other disease will challenge CHD for the coming decades. Smoking in comparison increases your risk of CHD at least 50%. The dangers of smoking are strongly dose-dependent, i.e., the more you smoke the higher your risk. It is very much the same with work, the more you work the higher the risk to your long-term health.

People who work long hours, whether it’s defined as working more than 10 or 11 hours a day, or more than 40 hours per week, tend to suffer from sleep deprivation and an inability to rest during time-off. Both of which increase the risk of developing heart disease. In response to work related stress your brain secretes epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. These substances are in elevated levels are associated with the progression of atherosclerosis, increased risk of CHD and stroke. Working long hours also takes an enormous toll on our psychological and emotional health. A recent study showed that your risk for a major depressive episode is 2.5 times higher if you work more than 11 hours per day versus 7-8 hours per day. I have personal knowledge of people completely collapsing after working for several years more than 11 hours per day. Furthermore, working more than 8 hours a day decreases your cognitive performance. Modern offices have further negative impacts on our cognitive abilities. We are not only working more, but we are also working with more and more interruptions. We spend anywhere from 25-50% of our days just recovering from interruptions. Checking emails 30-40 times per hour leads to a 10-point loss in IQ.

The topic of working hours has gained an increasing amount of attention lately. Several people in the tech industry have come out defending the practice of working 60 hours per week. In fact working “only” 40 hours is now seen almost as a part time job. In order to be successful you must demonstrate your total commitment to your job, which means having any outside interests, a family or even taking leisure time means you do not deserve to have VC backing. The degree to which people are expected to sacrifice their entire lives and identities to their jobs is reminiscent of religious cults like Scientology. In order to be a Scientologist you are expected to devote your whole life to the cult – not just show up at church on Sundays. CEOs and startup founders describe their jobs as their children and take pride in subsuming their lives under their careers. You must show that you are completely obsessed with your job. Despite most jobs becoming less and less fulfilling and a full 70% of Americans now being “actively disengaged” from their jobs, we are working more and more hours. Tuning out from work coincides with the rise of digital monitoring of employee activity to near ubiquitous levels. This allows employers to track every movement, conversation, email and gesture with precision so that in the best case your boss can waste hours coaching you on how to be more efficient, in the worst case it can lead to your dismissal for discussing last night’s Olympic coverage too long. It’s as if employers know that even though you spend 11 hours a day at the office you don’t really care about your bullshit job and they need track your level of emotional engagement with machine-learning algorithms. So rather than do anything about the root cause of over-bureaucratized tedium, your employer would rather put sensors on your body to make sure you really love your job – or at least make sure you’re not sleeping. My recent book on the topic argues for the great many benefits of leisure and idleness for our brains. The question is how much of our health should we be expected to risk in order to run-in-place on the economic treadmill?”

Thousands Died Directly After Being Declared Fit to Work by Government
by Michaela Whitton  /  August 30, 2015

“Figures released this week by the Department for Work and Pensions have revealed that thousands died after being found ”fit for work” following the controversial Work Capability Assessment“The fact that more than 80 people are dying each month shortly after being declared ‘fit for work’ should concern us all,” Trade Union Congress General Secretary Francis O’Grady said, calling for an urgent enquiry into the figures. The DWP has fought a long and hard battle to keep the numbers under wraps, initially rejecting the Freedom of Information request submitted by journalist Mike Sivier. Not giving up without a fight, Sivier appealed to the Information Commissioner (ICO), a body that judges whether or not government departments are acting with transparency. The ICO went on to overrule the DWP’s attempt at secrecy, stating they had no good reason for withholding the figures.

The figures, released on Thursday, show that of the 4,010 who died after being deemed ”fit for work,” 3,720 were in receipt of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and others were on Incapacity Benefit (IB) or Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA). The tragic statistics cover the period from December 2011 – February 2014 and uncover the number of people who died after undergoing the notorious Work Capability Assessment (WCA.) The assessment is used to determine if disabled claimants or those suffering from long-term illnesses are entitled to sickness benefits. Claimants complete a questionnaire and attend a medical interview where a computerized test is used to assess how well the individual can carry out a range of physical and mental activities. In June, The British Psychological Society called for fundamental reform of the WCA. It claimed that seriously ill people were being inappropriately subjected to the assessment, which does not effectively measure fitness for work and produces inappropriate outcomes.

The DWP’s report, “Mortality Statistics: Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance,” revealed an astonishing total of 4,010 people who died after being found fit for work. Despite its own grim revelation, the report reiterates throughout that “Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics.” Campaigner Mike Sivier, who originally requested the figures, is not prepared to accept the continued denial of a link between the punitive system and the deaths. He stated he may now push for the details of each cause of death — including cases of suicide. According to HuffPost Politics, Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions Kate Green said that “These figures should be a wake-up call for the Government. Ministers need to focus on sorting out the assessment process so that everyone can have confidence in it, and providing support for disabled people who can work in order to help them do so.” At a leadership election meeting on Thursday, Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn called the figures “frightening and disgusting.” He added that Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith should resign over the latest damning indictment.”

Guatemalan citizens in the streets expressing joy in the moment President Perez Molina was stripped of immunity.

Job sharing and increased leisure are the answer to rising unemployment, claims thinktank
by Heather Stewart  /  7 January 2012

“Britain is struggling to shrug off the credit crisis; overworked parents are stricken with guilt about barely seeing their offspring; carbon dioxide is belching into the atmosphere from our power-hungry offices and homes. In London on Wednesday, experts will gather to offer a novel solution to all of these problems at once: a shorter working week. A thinktank, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), which has organised the event with the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, argues that if everyone worked fewer hours – say, 20 or so a week – there would be more jobs to go round, employees could spend more time with their families and energy-hungry excess consumption would be curbed.

Anna Coote, of NEF, said: “There’s a great disequilibrium between people who have got too much paid work, and those who have got too little or none.” She argued that we need to think again about what constitutes economic success, and whether aiming to boost Britain’s GDP growth rate should be the government’s first priority: “Are we just living to work, and working to earn, and earning to consume? There’s no evidence that if you have shorter working hours as the norm, you have a less successful economy: quite the reverse.” She cited Germany and the Netherlands.

Guatemalan citizens in the streets expressing joy in the moment President Perez Molina was stripped of immunity. PHOTO: CARLOS SEBASTIÁN

Robert Skidelsky, the Keynesian economist, who has written a forthcoming book with his son, Edward, entitled How Much Is Enough?, argued that rapid technological change means that even when the downturn is over there will be fewer jobs to go around in the years ahead. “The civilised answer should be work-sharing. The government should legislate a maximum working week.” Many economists once believed that as technology improved, boosting workers’ productivity, people would choose to bank these benefits by working fewer hours and enjoying more leisure. Instead, working hours have got longer in many countries. The UK has the longest working week of any major European economy. Skidelsky says politicians and economists need to think less about the pursuit of growth. “The real question for welfare today is not the GDP growth rate, but how income is divided.” Parents of young children already have the right to request flexible working, but the NEF would like to see job-sharing and alternative work patterns become much more widespread, and is calling on the government to make flexible working a default right for everyone.”

Lunchtime at the St Pancras workhouse


Bring on the Four Day Work Week
by Tom Hodgkinson  /  25 Sep

“The news that billionaire Virgin boss Richard Branson has suggested that his employees should take holidays whenever they like is an encouraging sign that business is finally moving away from a Victorian model where wage slaves were squeezed for profit. Back in the 1930s, economists, intellectuals and trade union leaders were united in the belief that a shorter working day was fast approaching. The machines would shoulder more and more of the toil, they reckoned, leaving lots of time off for workers. A three or four day week would be ample to procure the necessities of life. The increase in leisure would be spent pursuing healthful recreations such as philosophy, dancing, sewing, cooking and wandering through the woods collecting mushrooms.

This was the view of John Maynard Keynes, who wrote in 1930 that by 2030 all economic problems would have been solved and the only issue left to deal with would be how to enjoy doing nothing without having a nervous breakdown. He was, perhaps surprisingly, an opponent of the work ethic. “We have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy,” he wrote in his essay “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”, predicting that, in one hundred years’ time, “We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.”

Bertrand Russell shared this Christ-like disdain for striving and argued for the four hour day. Oscar Wilde had predicted that the machine would be the saviour of man and would lead everyone to enjoy the life of an Athenian aristocrat: instead of toiling in the mills, we would wander through the groves and discuss atomism and the meaning of the “good life”. His contemporary Walt Whitman wrote of the ideal he called “higher progress”, in other words the liberation of human beings from wage slavery in favour of lazing about and reading books. This democratic leisure ideal in fact had been a key element of the dream of the Founding Fathers. The second president, John Adams, forecast that his grandchildren would have the time to study “painting, poetry, music, architecture” and the other liberal arts, in short, that everyday life would be organised to allow the “pursuit of happiness”.

Things didn’t quite turn out like that. In the hands of a capitalist élite, supported by governments in most cases, the machine became an instrument for the creation of huge profits for a few, while the majority toiled long hours. The doctrine of consumption rather than time off was introduced. The ad industry created new wants and desires. In the US in 1933 a thirty workweek bill was derailed by Roosevelt. He abandoned the “more leisure” philosophy in favour of a “full-time, full employment” goal. Both socialist and capitalist governments promoted the ideology of hard work. Trades unions forgot about shorter hours and quality of life, and instead concentrated on wages and conditions. Still today, George Osborne and David Miliband alike hold up the ideal of “hard-working families” engaged in a “global race”. Long hours culture has become the norm and the rich —once proud loafers — now boast about how hard they work. The so-called “strivers” are honoured, not Keynes’s teachers of good living.

“Malaysian protestors against Prime Minister Najib Razak, who allegedly received $700 million in bribes.”

After nearly one hundred years in the wilderness, however, these older and nobler ideals of a leisure-filled society are showing signs of returning to the mainstream political agenda, with the new campaign for the thirty hour workweek. The thirty hour week has fans on the left. Earlier this year a Scottish think tank called The Jimmy Reid Foundation, named after the late trade union activist, whose backers include Alex Ferguson, released a report titled “Time for Life” recommending that Scotland reduce the working week. The Jimmy Reid Foundation is linked to a new Scottish political group called The Common Weal, which it says, aims to return power back to the people and help resist the domination of big corporations.

Work should be more evenly spread out, says the report, whose authors include musician Pat Kane: “Many people work too much whilst others struggle to find work.” Again, this idea echoes Keynes, who wrote: “We shall endeavour to spread the bread thin on the butter – to make what work there is still to be done as widely shared as possible.” Goodbye unemployment! The lefty, greenish New Economics Foundation, funded by philanthropists such as Hadley Trust, Oxfam, the Oak Foundation and others, also campaigns for a shorter workweek. In 2013 it published a pamphlet called “Time on our Side: Why we all need a shorter working week”, which argued that more leisure leads to less pressure on resources and more fun. The authors say that the UK has the longest working hours of any European country. They also claim that productivity does not suffer when the working week is shortened because work is carried out more efficiently.

In 2012 the NEF published a charming pamphlet also calling for a shorter working week. “National Gardening Leave: Why Britain would be better off if we all spent less time at the office”, by Andrew Simms and Molly Conisbee, pictures a future where we spend more time in the garden or on the allotment. To those who might sneer that such ideas are mere bucolic fantasy, the authors point out that something like this did actually happen during the second world war. It was called “Dig for Victory” and we were all encouraged to grow vegetables, keep chickens and make our our food. In the States the issue reared its head thanks to the Obamacare bill, which defined full-time work as thirty hours per week. This led to a debate about the working week between Democrats and Republicans, and the eventual removal of this definition from the bill earlier this month.

At the Idler we have aways argued that working long hours for a large company is almost like being a slave and very much like being an indentured employee, because we tend to buy our consumer goods and services on the credit card, and then settle up later. Resources-wise, the best thing you can do for the planet, it could be argued, is absolutely nothing. To take a day off and lie on your back in the park all day is completely free, harms no-one and demands no fossil fuel inputs. And what would we do with all this freedom? Sit around and watch Jeremy Kyle all day? No, say its defenders. Leisure is not just for shopping and TV. In our spare time we will do the things that bring us pleasure. Remember hobbies? We’ll be less stressed out and healthier as a result. And while we in the UK may be just thinking about a four-day week, those plucky Swedes have gone ahead and done it. The council at Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, have announced that they are to begin a year-long thirty-hour week trial for city workers. “We hope to get the staff members taking fewer sick days and feeling better mentally and physically after they’ve worked shorter days,” said Deputy Mayor Mats Pilhem.

On the Right the reaction to shortening the working day is generally for the bigwigs to scoff into their Merlot and mutter about excessive regulation. “This is just more cloud-cuckoo land thinking from the Common Weal,” spluttered Murdo Fraser, Tory MSP spokesman in reaction to the idea of a four day workweek for Scotland. And mention the idea to the leaders of the CBI, “the voice of business”, and you’ll get them spitting their lobster down your front. But even the utilitarian arguments don’t stand up. There is a quite a body of evidence to suggest that longer hours do not lead to greater productivity. The three day week in the seventies, for example, led to a drop of only 6% in productivity.

The strivers still have the upper hand, it’s true. The futurologists look forward to a more efficient human being. They are hoping to create brain implants which will increase productivity. Some claim that in the future, man will be able to do without that inconvenient necessity, sleep. Still more reckon that we can get rid of another pesky nuisance when it comes to growth in GDP: death. Mad. And sociologists have recently noted the phenomenon of busy-ness as a status symbol: the super-rich are also proud to say how super-busy they are. The Right in general enthusiastically embraces such techno-utopianism. On this issue though, history shows that the Right is wrong. Positive and humanitarian changes to the working day, which lead to an improved quality of daily life, have traditionally come from the Left: in 1810 socialist Robert Owen started campaigning for the ten hour day. Early working hours were completely unregulated and factories were employing nine year olds to work 14 hours a day. Owen’s campaign must have sounded like insufferable intrusion to the early mill owners and their friends. Writers helped change public opinion: Oliver Twist was published in 1838. In 1848 the idea became law with one of the Factories Acts.

In the early 20th century, workers across the world campaigned for the eight hour day. In 1919, following agitation from anarchists, Spain become the first country in Europe to pass an eight hour day law. Some large employers, notably Zeiss in Germany, introduced an eight hour day at the turn of the century. In the US, perhaps surprisingly for a country built on a combination of the Protestant work ethic and the toil of countless African slaves, Kellogg’s introduced a six hour day on 1 December 1930, the very year that Keynes wrote his essay arguing for the very same. The six hour day lasted till 1985. This vision became known as “liberation capitalism”. Today various lefty professors there, such as Arlie Russell Hochschild of the University of California at Berkeley, have argued that work has gotten out of hand. The State of Utah introduced a four day workweek in 2008. Three quarters of the workforce said they preferred the new arrangement, and the state reportedly saved over four million dollars through savings on overtime and absentee rates. An eccentric idea? No. Last March the New York Times ran a story titled “Free Time is an American Dream Deferred” which argued that we should be exploring once again the social idea of “more leisure”. And the French socialist government introduced a 35 hour working week. Though it was abolished by Sarkozy, most companies stuck to it voluntarily as they found it was a success.

It’s also worth remembering that in David Cameron we have a prime minister who is not renowned for overwork. “If there was an Olympic gold medal for chillaxing,” said an unnamed source in his 2012 biography, “he would win it.” This ability to switch off, though, is not laziness. It is efficiency. Look at his predecessor, Gordon Brown, was of a middle class Scottish Presbyterian background and believed in hard work as the answer to every problem. Problem not fixed? More work required. The problem with this approach, as pointed out by Shirley Williams in a 2009 interview, is that there is a limit: “His response to everything is to work harder, but he’s already working as hard as it is possible for a human being to work.” Brown’s very appearance, with those bags under his eyes, was a sign that he needed a nap quite urgently.

There are health benefits to working less. In July of this year (2014) a leading British doctor advocated the four day working week. “When you look at the way we lead our lives, the stress that people are under, the pressure on time and sickness absence, [work-related] mental health is clearly a major issue,” said Professor John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health. “We should be moving towards a four-day week because the problem we have in the world of work is you’ve got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that haven’t got jobs. We’ve got a maldistribution of work. The lunch-hour has gone; people just have a sandwich at their desk and carry on working. “We need a four-day week so that people can enjoy their lives, have more time with their families, and maybe reduce high blood pressure because people might start exercising on that extra day.”

Lately even the great tycoons have joined in the chorus for a shorter working week. Google co-founder Larry Page recently declared in an interview: “The idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true,” he said, before outlining his scheme for less work all round. Page went on to say that people need to be more idle. “Most people like working, but they’d also like to have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests. So that would be one way to deal with the problem, is if you had a coordinated way to just reduce the workweek. And then, if you add slightly less employment, you can adjust and people will still have jobs.” He said he had discussed the issue with none other than Richard Branson.

The Mexican telephone company billionaire Carlos Slim went one further and argued for the three day week. Speaking at a recent conference in Paraguay, Slim, often identified as one of the two richest men in the world, argued that this would provide more time for the important stuff of life – being idle. “We would have more time to relax, for quality of life,” he said. We have sixteen years left to fulfil Keynes’s prophecy. The great increases in efficiency that capitalism has achieved over the last two hundred years, and which the economists boast about, should lead not simply to greater profits for shareholders and those at the top, but to an aristocratic style of life for the 99%.”

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