What If We All Stop Working?

If you ask yourself and, even, your parents and grandparents, they will probably say the same thing. They worked all their lives really, really hard to get to where they are right now. More importantly, to give you a better chance in life than they did.

Ask yourself again, why study well in school? You study hard to get a good job and create a great career in the end, right? Yet, we live in a society that’s totally unequal as there are those who don’t quite follow the rules but get rewarded while people who worked hard all their lives are often left behind. Let’s face it, the real world can be totally unfair. Really unfair.

So what if we could all stop working on our boring jobs and dead-end careers? Seriously, getting away from the rat race. What would happen? Pretty sure, all hell will break lose really fast. Our cities will become ghost towns. There will be anarchy as society breaks down into chaos. As everyone stopped doing what they’re supposed to be doing, it will be a dog-eat-dog world where each man is for himself.

Yet there’s more to it than that.

What Do You Do?

We get it, sometimes we hate going to parties and reunions when we’re always asked the obligatory question: “what do you do?”

If you happen to be a blogger or content creator, some people may think that it’s not really an actual job or a proper career path. So you’re just like any bum out there on welfare at the bottom of the social ladder.

The fact that you are asked about this question suggests that society dictates your role by the kind of work you do. Your life and entire existence revolve around your social utility. That means not every job is the same; some jobs have higher prestige than others. Ideally, if you contribute more to the greater good then you have greater social mobility than others. The question is, does it work that way all the time?

Work Less

It doesn’t have to be that way, we can’t be working all the time. Technology has helped us automate a lot of work thereby making us more productive than ever before. Surely, we should have narrowed down inequality by now.

If there is one thing that brought about a profound change in the way we think about work — it is the global pandemic. It forced a lot of companies and organisations to rethink how we all work — from work-from-home and hybrid setups to four-day work weeks. There are productivity specialists helping workplaces achieve greater efficiency even with less manpower involved. Automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are being used to handle repetitive tasks.

  • 86% of the country’s workforce are now working shorter hours or gaining the right to shorten their hours.
  • Productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces.
  • Worker well-being dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout to health and work-life balance.

However, not every country can follow Iceland as there are many countries with different attitudes towards work, particularly Japan, South Korea, and China. Long working hours is the norm as their society dictates it. As a result, there is what you called ‘death by overworking’ phenomenon, known as karoshi, gwarosa, and guolaosi respectively, due to the common practice of the 996 work system (9 AM-9 PM, six-day work week).

Working long hours won’t result in high productivity. In fact, many employees try to kill time just to get to the end of the day and work week.

The Politics of Work

The issue of long working hours is often tied up with politics and labour movements everywhere you go. In some countries, government tends to intervene in how much you’re going to work. They have a say in every aspect of your working life from the paycheck you receive to the benefits you should expect to enjoy.

The longer people work, the more they get resentful about their jobs thereby leading to bitterness and apathy towards everyone at work. Can’t blame why people have ended up becoming involved in the ‘Great Resignation’ in the West or the ‘Lying Flat’ movement in the East.

Even if there are politicians willing to listen to the needs of the workforce, there are pressure groups that oppose any changes that would cut down work hours and improve the conditions of every employee.

Redefine Work

By definition, work is our cumulative physical and mental effort to achieve something. Without work, society will fall pretty quickly. The world would stop at a standstill. That’s why someone has to do something to get things done. However, not all work is the same as there are those who get paid and there are those who don’t.

You can’t blame that there are those who have anti-work sentiments not because they are lazy but because they just have a different perspective than most of us. They believe that some work can be done but at a different condition — to work as little as possible to achieve a good work-life balance. What that means is maximising leisure to go along with a good quality of life. At the end of the day, work should be done for things that really matter and not for the sake of it.

Why Work?

Work is something we need to do to get the important things we need to live — food, shelter, and medical care. In a capitalistic society, we get these basic life necessities through the wage we get from some form of work. Although a lot has changed in the past century with the advancement of workers’ rights and empowerment, many people are still working long hours with little to no benefits at all.

We are living our lives where work is the centerpiece of our existence. We are trained to believe that hard work makes the dream work even if some get away by cheating the system. Work won’t necessarily set us free when you can avoid the share of getting your hands dirty. No pain, no gain for people at the bottom of the social hierarchy. There’s no such thing as a free lunch in a closed capitalist system. These are just the ideological justifications that coerce people to work.

Even in a perfect world, we still think about not working by dreaming about that foreign trip we always wanted to go on or imagining winning the lottery. We all want to get away from our current reality and live that utopian fantasy.

The irony is that even if we are given that small window of opportunity to stop working, some of us tend to keep working even if our needs have been met.

Love or Hate?

Do we like to work or hate doing it? It all depends.

If we find it meaningful and rewarding, we’re more than happy to do it even if it doesn’t pay as much as most people would want. So what makes it meaningful?

  • helps us develop our talents and interests to self-actualise
  • grants us autonomy and control over all aspects of work itself and the resulting end product
  • produces something of importance

However, in the real world, there are still a lot of people who find their work meaningless. While there is also a big chunk of the population who remains unsure whether their work is meaningless or not. Well, that doesn’t mean that their job is entirely pointless. There’s a difference between meaning and purpose. Yet, we still can say that there are jobs that can be alienating and that it feels bad to do.

Facade of Productivity

If you come to think of it, a regular work day is not necessarily full eight-to-ten hours. About one to three hours a day is private activities that can be characterised as “wasted time.” Not that it’s considered not good but it takes a chunk off from actual “work.” The truth of the matter is that there are people who use personal time pretending to be productive which isn’t quite downtime or work either.

Part of that personal time can be considered work resistance as something that includes killing time to get to the end of the work day. When you have nothing to do and are stuck at work, sometimes you’re forced to keep the appearance of ‘looking busy’ to give the impression of being productive. Here’s the big conundrum, you’re not actually free of doing anything you want but you’re not also working.

And even if you’re really working, you’re doing a lot of pointless mind-numbing tasks from responding to emails, photocopying documents, or making that TPS report your boss always wanted you to make.

It is interesting to know that this so-called “busywork” is what some people do. When you ask what they do, they really can’t give a good straight answer or justify why their work really exists. They do nothing all day but that. In a world increasingly becoming automated, there are still a lot of people doing all the mundane, pointless tasks.

What’s the whole point? A great many of them do it for the sake of looking productive and important. Why would some mid-level managers think their important when they can just tell people to do their work while they kill time hiding from that facade of productivity? Those at the bottom are stuck with their bullshit jobs while those up above pad their salaries and benefits.

Getting Everyone to Work

It’s the duty of the government to make sure everyone gets to work and minimise the economic effects of unemployment. That’s why there are policies that hope to redirect work into public works and infrastructure projects in order to generate income for people that would be used to spend on goods and recirculate the money into the economy. In this case, work is the political currency for the public good. That’s what US President Franklin Roosevelt did to drive the United States past the Great Depression and the Second World War. In the end, people are exploited to work on difficult jobs for little pay.

On the other hand, there is a separate strategy wherein money is pumped into the business sector in the hope that they will create more jobs. Sometimes workers’ rights are deregulated so that big business can grow. Yet, it all ends up with business executives getting richer and ordinary employees being taken advantage of. Everything is now outsourced to contractors without the benefits of full-time employees as companies want to run their business with a lean, expendable workforce.

Monetising Idle Time

In today’s gig economy where big tech is promising people to become their own bosses and work on their own time. Yet, people end up working longer and earning less. If we just distribute the workload and the benefits more evenly, we can work a little bit less.

In today’s hustle culture, we are introduced to self-made millionaires who started flipping houses and selling them for profit and end up building their own real estate portfolio. We are forced to believe in the idea of passive and multiple-income sources. This modern phenomenon is just another way where work politics gets absorbed into our everyday lives as a way to trick us into exploitative work rather than limiting labor to work that is already meaningful and practical instead of monetising our own idle time.

We have more free time than our ancestors did as our tremendous progress of industrialisation and automation have taken some of the most laborious activities that we used to call work out from human hands. However, new types of jobs have emerged from it so that we’re even working more than before.

We are still asking for work-life balance the same way people a century ago were clamoring for. The thing is that asking for more leisure time is not laziness but efficiency since accomplishing the same amount of work for less time as we automated a bulk of work already so we can have more time on other things. We fail to understand the reason why we automate things in the first place. We just wasted that century of progress by forcing people to continue doing manual work on things that’s already streamlined.

Can We Really Eliminate ‘Work’?

If we all spend about 25% of work hours on meaningless jobs then we end up reducing it to 32 hours per week. Another statistic we have to consider is that one to three hours are completely wasted every day so that would bring work hours down to 27 hours. It may sound absurd that we pluck out numbers just like that but it is less so than what people did in the past when 12-hour days and 12-year-old teens working were the norm.

The best way to determine work hours:

  • to work for necessity and desire
  • to make decisions in common about needs and allocations of resources
  • to establish how much we work and how much is set aside for leisure
  • to remove work from necessity
  • to democratise economic decisions
  • to stop greedy capitalists from profiting off the work of others by hogging everyone else’s free time
  • to eliminate the system that determines the work hours based on how much executives and shareholders earn

Let’s be clear, we don’t want to get back to the old days. It’s all about taking stock of all the time going down the drain for no good reason other than keeping an unjust system keep on running. We all want to enjoy life like we have right now and with more time to actually enjoy it.

Would it matter if you spend more time on other things than doing actual work? Sure, the GDP may drop down a bit. But you know, wealth is divided unequally anyway. The rich are still getting richer.

We reached a point where burnout affects our mental health as more and more people are forced to work multiple jobs just to get buy. We lost the time to spend on things that matter the most — our friends and family.

We need to add a semblance of humanity back in work and not become faceless robots chugging along until we all broke down and die. If we focus more on the productive resources at our disposal than the numbers on the screen, we can dramatically change the future of work and how much time we’re going to invest in it.

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