Friday, 26 June 2009

The Overwork Culture

Today I managed to listen to some music. A few songs that I really wanted to listen to. I managed to listen to some good music for more than 20 minutes. I have not been able to do something so simple in a relatively long time. Why?

When I return from work during the week (at around 17:30), I am usually so tired and hungry that my first thoughts normally revolve around food. What am I going to eat? Are the necessary ingredients available in the kitchen? How long will the cooking take?

Once the food issue is dealt with, the Insurance Law coursebook on one of the tables reminds me that my exam is only a few months away. And that I still have to memorise tons of cases, some of which date back to the 18th century!

All the above after what is normally a fairly hectic day at the office. I really enjoy what I do, but the never-ending demands coming from above and the ultra-tight deadlines that are sometimes given could easily make one feel pretty squeezed! :)

When surveying various workplaces in Malta (and even abroad), it seems that there has been a great intensification of the work done by several employees over the past decade or so. As far as skills are concerned, it appears that many employers have been expecting more flexibility from an increasing number of workers. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear various individuals saying that they are doing the work that should be done by three people!

The intensification of the work done by thousands of employees could be regarded as a product of the overwork culture. A few months ago, I read an excellent book by Madeleine Bunting about this subject entitled Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives (2004). Focusing on the British working environment, the book's blurb states that "Work-related stress is soaring and Britain has one of the highest rates of job insecurity in the world. Over a third of the workforce is so exhausted at the end of a day's work that they can only slump on the sofa...Technology was supposed to create a leisure society. Yet the British are experiencing job intensification in every office, classroom, shopfloor and hospital as a cult of efficiency drives ever more exacting targets. The phenomenon has been masked by a type of management which promises much but delivers one of the most exploitative and manipulative work cultures developed since the Industrial Revolution."

Although the book deals mainly with the situation of many workers in Britain, there are many parallels that could be drawn when focusing on Malta. For instance, I believe that the following assertion could also apply to many employees in Malta, even though the statistics might be a bit different: "Nearly 46 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women work more hours than they are contracted for...For about 2.4 million [people] there's no overtime pay; their organisations depend on motivating the free labour they need because it is one of their cheapest resources. Don't employ more people, just devise an organisational culture which will ensure that people will give you their free time for free" (p. 7).

I yearn for more hours to spend doing other things besides working. It would be so nice if the working day were shorter so that one could have more time to spend with their loved ones. Or to indulge in various activities.

In view of the above, I keep asking myself: where are the trade unions? Where are the organisations campaigning for an acceptable work-life balance? And which political party is really doing something about the overwork culture that has, unfortunately, also invaded our country?

It is now time to go back to my work-related studies...



La Delirante said...

"Nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear various individuals saying that they are doing the work that should be done by three people!"

Unfortunately this is so true. And also unfortunately it is the employee who has to say: "Hey, I am not a machine and I can only do so much, you need to hire more people" of course in order to do this a legal framework needs to protect the employee so not to be fired using just any excuse.

Many people have opted to take whatever comes their way without opening their mouths let alone complaining formally. And abusive companies throw a feast...thanks to the fact that nobody puts a limit to anything, starting from the employee himself/herself.

"type of management which promises much but delivers one of the most exploitative and manipulative work cultures developed since the Industrial Revolution." That's very scary. The most scary part is that it is not far from being true.

I know because of my work experience in my country. Thankfully my experience in Malta has been totally different but I can see other people who are/were experiencing hellish situations at work.

Andrew Sciberras said...

On this particular subject I was somewhat taken aback when Maltese trade unions came out against the proposed amendments to the EC Working Time Directive which amendments wanted to do away with the opt out clause (which enabled the worker to work more than 48 hours if he so wishes).

Whilst I understand the worker's freedom to work more than 48 hours in a given week if he so wishes, I believe that the top priority of trade unions should be the reverse, i.e. that workers get enough pay by working a decent amount of hours p/week so that they would not have to resort to overtime to make ends meet.