In his remarkable 1883 work The Right to be Lazy, French radical socialist Paul Lafargue made a telling observation:
“Cannot the labourers understand that by over-working themselves they exhaust their own strength and that of their progeny, that they are used up and long before their time come to be incapable of any work at all, that absorbed and brutalized by this single vice they are no longer men but pieces of men, that they kill within themselves all beautiful faculties, to leave nothing alive and flourishing except the furious madness for work.”
Certainly the drive to work longer hours has come to dominate American labor, as longer hours are the only way to to maintain life in a consumer culture.
From the Hamilton Project:
And there’s another question, posed by Harvard Business Review Senior Editor Sarah Green Carmichael in a 19 August 2015 essay:
Is overwork actually doing what we assume it does — resulting in more and better output? Are we actually getting more done?
There’s a large body of research that suggests that regardless of our reasons for working long hours, overwork does not help us. For starters, it doesn’t seem to result in more output. In a study of consultants by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to. While managers did penalize employees who were transparent about working less, Reid was not able to find any evidence that those employees actually accomplished less, or any sign that the overworking employees accomplished more.
Considerable evidence shows that overwork is not just neutral — it hurts us and the companies we work for. Numerous studies by Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and her colleagues (as well as other studies) have found that overwork and the resulting stress can lead to all sorts of health problems, including impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease. Of course, those are bad on their own. But they’re also terrible for a company’s bottom line, showing up as absenteeism, turnover, and rising health insurance costs. Even the Scroogiest of employers, who cared nothing for his employees’ well-being, should find strong evidence here that there are real, balance-sheet costs incurred when employees log crazy hours.
If your job relies on interpersonal communication, making judgment calls, reading other people’s faces, or managing your own emotional reactions — pretty much all things that the modern office requires — I have more bad news. Researchers have found that overwork (and its accompanying stress and exhaustion) can make all of these things more difficult.
Today’s workers hunger for the right to be lazy
And now comes another study revealing the deep craving of the working class for more leisure, a validation of Lafargue’s central argument.
From the University of Durham:
Over two thirds (68 per cent) of the public would like more rest, according to the world’s largest ever survey on the topic.
The results of the survey, led by Durham University researchers, also revealed that nearly a third (32 per cent) of respondents said they need more rest than the average person, while 10 per cent think they need less.
Rest and well-being
More than 18,000 people from 134 different countries took part in the Rest Test, an online survey to investigate the public’s resting habits and their attitudes towards relaxation and busyness, and the results were unveiled during BBC Radio 4’s programme The Anatomy of Rest.
The survey found that those who felt they needed more rest scored lower in terms of well-being. Similarly, those who responded saying they think they get more rest than average or don’t feel in need of more rest, had well-being scores twice as high as those who wanted more rest. This suggests that the perception of rest matters, as well as the reality.
Dr Felicity Callard, principal investigator on the project and social scientist in the Department of Geography,said: “The survey shows that people’s ability to take rest, and their levels of well-being, are related. We’re delighted that these findings combat a common, moralizing connection between rest and laziness.”
Five most restful activities
The survey asked people to choose the activities that they find the most restful. The results show that the top five most restful activities are those often done alone:
- Reading (58 per cent)
- Being in the natural environment (53.1 per cent)
- Being on their own (52.1 per cent)
- Listening to music (40.6 per cent)
- Doing nothing in particular (40 per cent)
Dr Felicity Callard continued: “It’s intriguing that the top activities considered restful are frequently done on one’s own. Perhaps it’s not only the total hours resting or working that we need to consider, but the rhythms of our work, rest and time with and without others.”