Work: have we been getting it all wrong?

“In summer the grasshopper sang, while the ant worked. In winter the grasshopper had nothing, while the ant had a whole cupboard full of goodies. And some more in the freezer in the garage.” So ran the story of ancient Greek Fabulist Aesop. And his ideas have been used ever since to justify ever more Work as the supreme human virtue. From the Bible (also big on ants) through Weber and the Protestant work ethic to the efforts of such intellectual luminaries as Priti Patel and Dominic Raab [1] who characterised British workers as” among the worst idlers in the world,” work and a long hours culture have been exalted as the ultimate pinnacle of the human condition. Dissenting voices such as Keynes and Trades Unions having been crushed in the 1980s,,by the mid nineties it was common, at least in London where we lived, to hear of people like lawyers and doctors who were working fourteen hours a day, plus commutes. And bringing stuff home for the weekend!

Yet British productivity remains low compared to both advanced European countries, and the United States. Is there a chance that all these long hours are actually a drag on progress? Our indefatigable correspondent Mr Peter Seymour would like to present two lines of evidence which seem to open up debate, to say the least

Jandra Sutton of the Metro tried to run her life on a four hour working day [3] She was amazed not only at how much more productive she was, but at her burst of enthusiasm. It made us think-have you ever worked with one of those types who never seemed to go home, but lived at their desk? Did they really do more than everybody else?

And anyway, is working in huge 12-15 hour blocks really good for your health. What if it’s disrupting your sleep plans? Tanyel Mustafa, again of Metro[4] fame thinks we may have evolved to sleep in completely different ways

Ever since youth people are continually harassed to work harder, work longer, work quieter. work smarter, work…..well just work more really. To become ants, not grasshoppers. Wise admonitions-or just gaslighting?

[1] Britannia Unchained 2012

[2] https://www.economist.com/britain/2021/11/20/britains-economy-does-not-lack-oomph-but-productivity-is-lagging?

[3] https://metro.co.uk/2022/04/03/could-a-four-hour-work-day-make-us-more-productive-i-gave-it-a-go-16378826/

[4] https://metro.co.uk/2022/04/03/could-a-four-hour-work-day-make-us-more-productive-i-gave-it-a-go-16378826/

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