I don’t know about you — but I like to be productive.
Whether what I produce is tangible or intangible, productive work feels good.
When I get into the flow of writing something, the sense of accomplishment and excitement is difficult to put into words. This also applies to spending time altering my websites and learning new ways to improve upon them.
Unfortunately, our culture is fixated on the idea of hard work. Put your nose to the grindstone, get your back into it, push, go go go. That’s why the unions came into being — so that employers couldn’t literally work their employees to death.
The other fixation that goes with this is profit.
While many companies do right by both consumers and their employees, there are many more that don’t. They use the fewest people they can for the most hours for the least money. Oh, and contractors are great because then they don’t have to pay them benefits or do anything that might incur further costs.
Profit is money ABOVE and BEYOND operating costs. Yes, it’s a goal of any business. But when that number is in the BILLIONS of dollars — that should reflect back to the employees far more often than it does (just look at Amazon, for example).
To add insult to injury, we force ourselves and others to put in surreal amounts of time dedicated to working. Time that, truthfully, isn’t necessary.
The problem is that hard work isn’t always productive work.
This is even truer for the service economy that dominates 2/3 of the American workforce.
The 8-hour workday
In the late 1800s, the notion of an 8-hour workday came into being. Eventually, the US Congress passed laws to make it the standard. This was thanks to labor unions working to keep people from being forced to work without breaks for too many hours. In 1940–79 years ago — the 40-hour workweek became law.
During the height of the industrial economy, this was necessary for physical, mental, and emotional health. The people would build things over those 8-hours. But without breaks, they would suffer injuries, make mistakes, and even died before the regulations were put in place.
As we have shifted into the service economy, the 8-hour workweek remained the model. But because of the nature of most of these gigs — there are seldom 8 straight hours of work. Two or three hours here, an hour there, sometimes four or five hours in a row of true work. But 40 hours a week? Not often.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. Some people legitimately work 80 hours a week. I think this is deeply unfortunate in that it gives them ZERO work/life balance. While some people choose this and are okay with it — many others don’t.
Here’s the part of this that’s most distressing. Rather than embrace the idea of working smarter, business leaders focus on working harder. Hence why, over the last 4 decades or so, a job that used to be done by 3 people is now done by 1 person.
And if those in charge have any say, that person is paid the lowest salary they can get away with, few or no benefits, and “incentive” to work overtime. Use them up, spit them out. That’s too-many business models presently.
The pandemic exposed instabilities
When COVID-19 caused the economy to be shut down for about 5 weeks, we suddenly saw that the status-quo was riddled with all sorts of problems. “Profitable” businesses were crying for aid. Numerous small businesses were hurt — and as the pandemic has continued are gone. Restaurants went out of business because dining out is too high an exposure risk.
What’s more, lots and lots of service economy jobs that required you to go to an office were suddenly able to be done from home. And for a lot of people, they were far more productive working from home than going into an office 8-hours a day. Many found that they needed half that time to complete their work tasks.
The way we do business as a society began in the industrial revolution — but has evolved. Hence, why the majority of workers are in the service industry rather than agriculture or manufacturing. (As I wrote before — this is also where the incredible gaps have been formed and exploited in American culture — particularly in this most recent election).
Fear, Cultural Understanding, and Divisions Between Us
Our fear-based society is now more apparent than ever before — but the why of that is still largely a mystery.
But big corporations — in particular — are unwilling to change. So long as their shareholders are happy — to hell with the people on whose backs they make their money.
That, too, is why the federal government can’t be bothered to offer REAL COVID-relief assistance — because the politicians’ shareholders care only about their profit margins.
So here we are, still in the middle of an out-of-control pandemic, facing a coming societal shift. What we need to do is alter the collective consciousness and put our focus on smart work rather than hard work.
Smart work and what it is
Smart work is just that. Smart. It’s work that you do that makes sense, in the time in which you do it.
Working smarter is about timely effort. Rather than the continuous expectation of the 8-hour workday, working smarter is recognizing the value of work in a timely fashion.
Let’s say, for example, you have an 8-hour block that is your given workday. But rather than expect work during the whole 8-hours, you do an hour here, two or three hours there, as befits the need of your job.
In customer service, this might be being ready to answer a call — but not just sitting there doing nothing but awaiting the next call. You work for a time in that overall block — but the expectation of work is not the whole 8-hours.
This is why so many businesses have claimed that work-from-home was untenable. Because in doing so, they lose the ability to force workers to stay at their desk, be under constant supervision, and pretending to be working to keep the bosses happy.
This seems like a pipe-dream fantasy, right? Just working when work comes up inside a block of time where you are meant to work?
Our so-called leaders want us to believe that. And so, for the most part, we do. But — you and I have the power to change this.
Unsurprisingly, this won’t be easy.
Getting big-business on-board with smart work
This is the biggest challenge. How do we get those people aboard for this idea?
I wish I knew. Between false beliefs in lack and scarcity, greed on the part of the business owners, lack of willingness to change, and general selfishness among people — there’s no, singular, viable way to do this.
Except for this — your awareness. You, knowing and being aware of the idea of smart work instead of hard work, can spread the concept. The more it spreads, the more people see it as a much more sustainable idea — the more it can start to gnaw on the collective consciousness.
Every single revolution started small. You need to see what you are capable of. When you recognize that you have more power than they would like you to have — you gain the ability to DO more, too.
Thus, if you can see how smart work is better for your overall health than hard work, you can share that idea. As more and more people come to see it for what it is — especially with increases in automation — we can all make more of our time and energy.
When the workers remember that they are the only reason that the shareholders have a company to invest in — they are empowered. Today’s way is not how it has always been — and evolution and change go on.
Our culture demands hard work. What we should focus on instead is smart work. That empowers more people, strengthens their mental, physical, and emotional health — and that makes EVERYONE better.
It’s time to change the model from trickle-down to trickle-up. Changing the focus from hard work to smart work is one key to making that happen.