Hard Yakka

Courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald’s new blog, Radar (note to SMH: if you’re going to have a blog, please link to it on the front page!), some thoughts about why younger Australians are often working a 70 hour week.

In Australia, contrary to a long secular trend (and in defiance of 60s futurism which had us all a la Marx’ fantasies of communism, working for a few hours a day and agonising over how to spend our leisure time), working hours have been on the rise for quite some time.

I used to take a tutorial for first year Business students which examined Charles Handy’s concept of portfolio lives. There’s no doubt that the world which still existed (just) when I left high school – of careers for life in large white collar organisations such as the public service, banks and insurance companies – is gone. And that a career change, which I’m contemplating at the moment, is often a good move. My students were often enthusiastic about the prospect of working independently and harnessing their skills and creativity. But they often also had unrealistic expectations of their future (it’s amazing what the marketing of a Management major can inspire…).

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman once wrote that in modernity we traded freedom for security and in postmodernity we’ve sacrificed security for freedom. As people grow older, and start thinking about mortgages, families, and security, how attractive is the notion of a portfolio life and long hours climbing the ladder of opportunity?

ELSEWHERE: The inimitable MsFits has some reflections on full-time work.

And the British DTI has a good summary of the international research literature on long hours.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2024 years ago

as one of these constantly analysed and probed young’uns (i’m 29) the answer, Mark, is I have yet to think about mortgages, families and stuff like that. i’ll cross that bridge when i get to it. and at this stage of my life (29) i don’t even accept the notion that there might come a time (say when i’m 70 or 80) when i can’t or won’t want to work at all anymore and therefore will starve to death, end up homeless if i don’t start making provisions now. why should that be so? maybe it’s just a feeling of invincibility on my part at this age but i’m confident i could continue to do what i’m doing now when i’m 70 or 80 – basically what i want is the ability to pick and choose my own projects, work whenever and wherever i want and sufficient to meet my immediate needs for food, shelter and have sufficient discretionary income for eating out, books, concerts, etc. i’m presently making steps towards that direction. i can’t see myself as an organisation man. i am perfectly happy to trade security, having a well-provided for retirement, etc for this sort of freelance, contracting life.

2024 years ago

I’m 30, and a freelance photographer and artist. I’ve worked in Germany, the States, and Sydney. an attempt to “settle down” and take photos of weddings and stuff drove me nuts. but I think it’s a matter of temperament. though if I have kids when I’m older (assuming as one of those nasty anti-family lesbian types I’m allowed to), maybe my attitude will change. what concerns me is whether there’ll be any zone of security to retreat to, the way things seem to be going.

2024 years ago

I’ve been two months into a job with an IT hardware manufacturer and love it. I am a full time employee but the job has a lot of autonomy. I make my own hours (though the need to test hardware means I go to the office most days) though with the option to work from home if I desire. As long as I answer the phone, respond to emails and visit clients all is well.

Not the same as freelancing (though a sort of permanent contract position) but I like the the setup. Being one of only two people on the ground in Australia helps in regards to freedom in the work place. So for a full-time worker I think I have found a happy medium.

I’ll venture a idea that some of the 70 hour work weeks are the result of management and politics rather than an actual need to work the hours. And there was a time when I put in these hours in the vain hope of getting ahead. With hindsight it was the arse licking that was important rather than ability.