We need to get rid of mandatory work hours

Posted: 2022-08-21 16:47:00 |
Last update: 2022-08-21 17:22:00

Why this blog post

I hate having to work for a set amount of hours every week.
No matter how much I like my work, this always ends up leading to me dreading to return to my job after weekends. Especially at the height of summer, when everyone seems to be going on vacation and I realise I stayed at home for an entire summer again.
But jobs are not there to please the workers (sadly) so I thought I'd write down a bunch of reasons why letting go of the concept of a mandatory amount of hours (at least in jobs where doing so makes sense and for people who work similarly to me) would benefit not just the workers but also their employers and society as a whole.

How getting rid of mandatory work hours would benefit workers

I am not stressed by the work I have to do at all.
I am a very fast worker and its much more common for me to be blocked by someone else's slow progress than for me to block anyone.
I don't even mind having to crunch every once in a while if that's necessary to get a project done.

I am, however, extremely stressed by the fact that no matter how I perform, I have to complete a set amount of hours.
I am extremely privileged to have a job where I could (before this cost of living crisis hit) afford to live a pretty comfortable life while only working 75% of what is considered normal, but it still stresses me out.
It feels bad that when I complete my work well and fast, the result of that is not that I can spend more time on my hobbies or just relaxing, but rather have to find a new thing to fill the rest of my week.

Days where I don't have set tasks are more stressful to me than days where I've got a full kanban board of stuff to do.
This is because I am constantly terrified of being seen as "slacking off" or "lazy". A trait that has been attributed to me my entire childhood and youth because of my (at the time) undiagnosed ADHD.
The short term fix to this issue would be to make sure that I've always got enough on my plate, but in reality this would just lead to me burning out from doing too much.
The real fix to this is to give me a realistic amount of tasks for any given timeframe and let me log off once I'm done with them.

Another thing is being able to get the healthcare many of us need.
It should come to no surprise that doctors generally work at similar hours that other workers do.
This means that in order to access healthcare, those of us who are privileged enough to be allowed to move their hours around at will have to spend even longer at work to make up for the lost time needed to get their therapy, prescriptions or other care.
This is super demoralising because these are not things we do because they are fun. We do them because we need them.
It also means that many are unable to access this healthcare at all.
I used to have a doctor who sent me HRT prescriptions without seeing me a single time during the two and a half years I was a patient with her after my initial appointment.
Not because I couldn't get an appointment but because my job at the time left me incredibly inflexible in time planning and she had impossible open hours.
For that entire time, I had no idea if the amounts of hormones I was taking were correct because I didn't do a single blood test.

In Germany, there is a law that states that all workers who work more than 6 hours have to take at least a 30 minute break.
This makes sense and it protects workers from bosses who don't let them take a break to get lunch.
However, it also leads to work days that are much longer than they should have to be.
If I make myself a somewhat healthy lunch, my break will usually take more than an hour.
While I am allowed to take breaks that long, it also means that for every 7 hour day, I will have more than 8 hours of time in which I cannot do what I want.
Add to that a commute and many workers will spend 10 hours or more preoccupied with work every day.
I can work 5 hours at once without needing any break. If I let myself do that and don't get distracted by meetings, I can usually get a ton of stuff done.
More than what any worker should be expected to do in a single day.
But I can't just work for 5 hours at once and then stop for the day because I have to do 7 hours and therefore need to place a break somewhere.
After said break I always take some time to get back into the flow, if I manage to do so at all.

This is almost definitely not how everyone feels. I can only speak for myself obviously. However, I believe that many people, especially those with ADHD or similar neurodiversity, may find these paragraphs relatable.
I don't think "clock watching" is a thing because workers hate to work.
I believe it is a thing because the average worker can only concentrate for about three hours a day.
We all would be happier if we could just leave after doing the amount of hours that works for us. (Fun fact, I know that on a good day, I can easily spend 5 or more hours being productive at once without feeling stressed out afterwards at all.)

How getting rid of mandatory work hours would benefit employers

Workers who spend time relaxing, educating themselves, doing their hobbies or caring for their families are more productive than clock watching workers who cannot wait for their day to be over.
Workers who have spent half a day doing these nice things will come back more energetic than than those who collapsed onto their couch after a work day that was too long.
Workers who feel like they have to be there will start to resent their job, even if there is nothing wrong with it. This is because having to do something is being stripped of our autonomy, which is literally the definition of violence. Most people don't want violence to be done to them (at least not in a work context 🙃).

Workers who have not just spent a 40 (or whatever else amount of hours) work week are more likely to agree to fix stuff that breaks on a weekend.
Sure, this is not something that should be expected of everyone, but I would not mind working a couple of hours during the weekend if it's an emergency. As long as I don't feel like I need every minute of free time to relax from the stress of the week, like it is right now.
Yes, I would probably come in to fix something on a Saturday right now as well, but you shouldn't expect me to do anything on the Monday after.
If I had a lower baseline of stress, having to do something outside of my work hours would impact me so much less that I would still be able to do my regular work in the next week as usual.

Did I mention workers educating themselves already? I did, but I want to go deeper into it.
I am a bit of a weirdo, in that I spend my own free time and money on hosting a private Kubernetes cluster.
I also build my own websites and do other coding stuff and I try out interesting new frameworks.
Now at my current job we will likely be switching some of our hosting stuff to Kubernetes soon.
What a nice coincidence that we already have at least one experienced K8S admin who has set up multiple clusters and fixed multiple broken setups.
I learned all of these Kubernetes things simply because I was interested in them and now they benefit my employer, who doesn't have to send anyone to expensive training events or hire someone new for this project.
Now the bad news: I am currently so stressed out that I haven't written a single line of code in my own time in months. I still do some maintenance on my cluster, but I don't try out new tech because I need all of my time to recover from the work week.
That's not so great and would not have happened if I weren't forced to complete a set amount of hours every week.

How getting rid of mandatory work hours would benefit society as a whole

People who are less stressed are more creative.
People who are creative make art, come up with new inventions or work on open source software. (Among other things)
The entire internet is built on open source software maintained by a way too small way too stressed out amount of people.
That is a problem.
Also, I think we all enjoy art and while technology alone won't solve the climate catastrophe, it will be an important part of the solutions we as a society will need.

People who are less stressed out are more likely to prepare their own food and take part in carbon negative hobbies such as gardening.
Both of these things can have a measurable impact on the climate.
Personal action won't save us as long as we let fossil fuel companies ruin our planet for short term profit but we are also not going to get out of this mess without people taking any personal action.
Just like wearing a mask, you alone won't stop a pandemic and our governments would have to do a much better job if they actually wanted to end it, but it's also only getting worse if you chose to leave your mask at home.

So, what can we do?

This depends a lot on who "we" are.
Sadly, my employer is not likely to be able to free me from the need to do a certain amount of hours because I work for a company whose main product is the hours of its workers, who are working on products for other companies.
So it does not actually matter much how much I manage to do during my hours, as long as it's enough to get projects done during the timeframe agreed upon with the customers.

However, there is still the potential for change.
Believe it or not, the 8 hours work day is actually a tremendous success accomplished by widespread unionisation.
In the earlier years of the industrial "revolution", there were no rules for how much a worker could be forced to work and many worked 12 hours or more.
In comparison to that 8 hours were really humane.
However, machines were (and are continuing to be) invented that made getting stuff done so much quicker.
So why should that increase of productivity be left for the bosses to enjoy? When we, the workers, can get more stuff done in less time, wouldn't it make sense for us to just work less while still getting enough stuff done to keep the company going?
Why is the goal of almost all economic entities unlimited, cancerous growth, when everyone could easily life a nice life in a post scarcity society built up using technology and with fair redistribution of wealth?
While unions are unlikely to be able to end capitalism, we can use these arguments to fight for a normalisation of the 20 hour work week. 4 days of work with 5 hours each could easily become the new normal. Doing this would probably even increase productivity. (See above)
Join a union. Found a works' council. Join and start worker's movements to fight for a better life for everyone.

We also haven't had any good general strikes in a long while...

Remember that none of the privileges workers have today were won without a fight.
Remember that there are people who are continuously fighting to take them away from us.
And don't forget about those who cannot work! Implementing a universal basic income would make fighting for a better work life less risky while also helping those who cannot work.