Working us into an early grave
This is an excellent piece by Esther Kaplan about the effects of our new American workplace hich is looking more and more like the workplace of old --- really old. Like "before there were labor laws" old. She tells a number of individual stories but this gets to the underlying theme:
American workers do work longer hours than we did a generation ago, according to some analyses, and hundreds more per year than our counterparts in France or Germany—the equivalent of six to eight extra weeks a year. We top the Eurozone nations in productivity by 18 percentage points. “Every month the BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] releases its worker-productivity numbers, which measure output per labor hour worked,” says Celeste Monforton, a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) staffer. Montforton, now at the George Washington University School of Public Health, points out that the numbers “go up every month. And that’s because businesses are not hiring new workers; they’re just expecting the old workers to work more, and spitting them out after they get injured.” Some of these gains come from the adoption of new technologies, but others just come from pushing workers harder.
A 2013 survey of its own union reps by the United Steelworkers, which represents such blue-collar industries as oil and steel, found that production pressures, the increased pace of work and increased workloads topped workplace health concerns—outstripping more obvious risks such as poorly maintained equipment. When the reps were asked to give an example of a health or safety problem that had gotten worse over the past year, understaffing led the list. The jobless recovery, in other words, is sustained in part by aggressively overworking those with jobs.
I think this is a trend that's been around a while that's accelerated in the past few years. I recall in the early 2000s during that first wave of layoffs after the dot com bubble burst that companies I consulted for just pushed the workload of the laid off people onto the survivors and refused to hire anyone when profits rebounded. People just worked more, took less vacation and company culture changed in a dozen different ways.
One of the subtle effects of having such a long period of high unemployment is the way it infuses this idea into the bloodstream of the workforce that you have to work beyond your agreed-upon hours. People will do whatever they have to do to keep their jobs in a bad economy. And it's going to take a long period of low unemployment to convince people that they have rights in the workplace again.
This is what that lovely fellow Andrew Mellon meant when he said at the outset of the Depression that having a great big crash would be good for the nation and
...purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up from less competent people.
See? It's all good. For everyone but the worker. But then he'll be very busy so he won't really notice. Busy working.