>employment, jobs, labour, wages, work <positioning <agency
see also> productivity
ft.com 10-3-2023 How Cal Newport rewrote the productivity gospel – by Courtney Weaver
… Newport, who has the affably square looks and slicked side parting of a Mormon missionary, doesn’t do much public speaking. For one, he doesn’t like to travel too far from his wife and three young children. For another, he does not enjoy it. “I don’t mind actually getting on the stage,” he told me. “But I just don’t like — I’m just too introverted.” On this occasion, he agreed to appear at East City Bookshop, an indie bookseller in Capitol Hill, in conversation with David Sax, a Canadian journalist who had a new book out titled The Future is Analog.
The room was packed with attendees ranging from early twentysomethings to retirees. But as Sax self-deprecatingly acknowledged to Newport: “Let’s face it, 90 per cent of the people in here are here to see you.” When Sax polled the room to confirm, about two-thirds of hands in the crowd went up.
Newport, a preternaturally upbeat millennial with a penchant for dad jokes, is an unlikely messenger. The nihilistic backlash around work post-pandemic seems primed for a more caustic style of guru. But the quiet radicalism in Newport’s books on productivity and his coping strategies for 21st-century knowledge workers have helped him sell more than two million copies in 40 languages, making him a celebrity in the field. More than 300,000 people download his Deep Questions podcast each month. His multimedia output — the podcast, a YouTube channel, a newsletter and online courses — has helped propagate his methods, acronyms and terminology, all of which are designed to challenge the performative busy work, or “hyperactive hive mind” as Newport calls it, that dominates modern office culture.
At the event, Newport and Sax held forth on a variety of topics, ranging from Zoom’s ability to translate the human experience (not well) to the future of the office (less presenteeism, more flexibility). Afterwards, more than a dozen people queued for Newport to sign copies of his books. One couple had driven three hours from Lexington, Virginia, and were set to make the return trip later that night. “I wasn’t going to miss this when I heard there’d be a live event,” the woman said. A visiting theologian from Ireland loved Newport’s book Deep Work. “You can’t write sermons if you’re distracted,” Newport told him. “I hear from so many pastors.” A middle-aged sculptor said she had come to “fan girl” about the author’s theories on slow productivity. “I guess it warms my heart, because everything I do takes for ever,” she confided.
Newport is not the first person to make a name for himself in the time-management space. As he likes to point out, the economic concepts of productivity and value-added labour date back to Adam Smith. While much of the focus in the late 20th century was on trying to get as much done in as short amount of time as possible, most of the more recent popular books on the subject have essentially argued the opposite: that the way to get more done is to do less, exemplified by bestsellers such as Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy and Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.
Newport’s books are part of this oeuvre, tapping into a sense of exhaustion that has surged in the wake of social media and smartphones and the evaporation of work-life boundaries. Being in a massive open-plan room with all of your co-workers makes it hard to focus. But so does being alone, tending to constant Slack notifications and email. It’s for precisely this crisis that Newport offers answers.
My first encounter with Newport’s work was on a 2018 holiday in Patagonia. My now-husband brought Deep Work along in his suitcase and confidently announced, somewhere amid the glaciers of Torres del Paine, that he had seen the light and would be approaching his work in a new way. That smugness lasted until he returned to the office.
When I relayed this story to Newport last year, he laughed. “That’s my mission: to spread temporary smugness,” he deadpanned. He had sympathy for my husband though. “It’s like with professors in the summer [telling themselves], ‘OK. Everything’s possible. I’ve got everything back under control. I’m going to simplify things.’ By mid-October, you’re just in reaction mode all the time.”
We were sitting in Newport’s study in Takoma Park on the leafy outskirts of Washington. Newport and his wife had redone it during the pandemic, painting the walls a rich shade of cobalt. Books lined the built-in shelves. Not a paper or Post-it littered the desk.
Newport came up with the idea of “deep work” during his time at MIT, when he was surrounded by “these brilliant theoreticians”. The MacArthur Genius Grant winners around him, who had solved some of the world’s biggest mathematical theorems, had the ability to concentrate deeply on a single problem or project for an extended period, he observed. According to Newport, there are certain people who are naturally good at deep working. Top theoretical computer scientists, for instance. Chess players. Mathematicians. And then there are the rest of us who lament our inability to make progress on meaningful, long-term goals or difficult projects. We tend to look away from the task at hand, reflexively refreshing our email browser, Twitter or this website.
Published in early 2016, Deep Work advised ways to increase focus, eliminate social media and cultivate boredom, which gives the mind the space for creative thinking. Many of the tips in the book trigger the same satisfaction of a top-to-bottom home reorganisation or day one of a New Year’s diet. They offer a sense of control, in this case not over clutter or self, but over time.
Neither Newport, nor, it seemed, his publisher, a Hachette imprint, were banking on big sales. Then an assistant professor, Newport had a pedigreed résumé but had struggled in the publishing world. At college and as a graduate student he’d written student advice books with punchy titles such as How to Win at College. Yet as he aged out of the demographic he was writing for, he struggled to find a broader audience. His first attempt to write for an older readership, a career guide titled So Good They Can’t Ignore You, didn’t meet expectations. For the follow-up, he was offered a lower advance.
Newport’s publisher didn’t put money into Deep Work’s publicity — opting for “a silent launch”, as he puts it — so the author decided to push it himself. He pored over a self-help book about the secrets to publishing a bestseller, then promoted his title on his blog, newsletter and any other website or podcast he could find. Week by week, sales started to climb. As of last year, it had sold more than 1.25 million copies. Following Deep Work’s success, sales for So Good They Can’t Ignore You also took off, paving the way for two further books. Digital Minimalism, published in 2019, outlines a “digital detox” to reform our content-addicted brains and 2021’s A World Without Email is a polemic.
Laurie Abkemeier, Newport’s longtime agent, told me his books had always been about the same thing: “work smarter, not harder”. The best students at his Ivy League college, Newport observed in one of his earlier works, were not the ones camped out 24-7 in the library, but those who were able to carve out time for fun and to clearly delineate between work and non-work.
More recently, he has advocated a similar principle: that it is possible to balance professional success with a family, friends and personal pursuits — and that big career decisions should be made with those other things in mind. Don’t take the time-demanding, high-on-busy-work promotion that looks good on paper, Newport advises. Take the job that allows you to support your lifestyle goals, whether travelling and seeing the world, taking summers off or hours that allow you to spend more time with family.
On days when Newport is not teaching, he likes to divide his day into two sessions. The first shift is for deep work, that requires his highest cognitive attention, and the second for work that is slightly less cognitively intense. The shifts rarely focus on the same project, a distinction that is key and allows him to make incremental progress on multiple fronts. He usually ends his day around 5pm and tries to avoid looking at email outside his normal working hours. In the morning, after dropping his kids at the school bus, he takes out his physical planner to “figure the day out”. “If I don’t do that, I lose 50 per cent of my ability to produce things,” he said.
I quizzed Newport on how to bring more “deep work” to the FT (his prescription: less Twitter; no Slack), then we walked to a nearby storefront office space that Newport had converted to a recording studio. His producer, Jesse, was already there.
They were planning to experiment with hosting live-video discussions with callers, interspersed into the traditional episode format which largely consists of Newport monologuing on a range of clickbait-y topics. (“Overcoming to-do list paralysis”; “How to organise your life with an optimised values plan”; “Four tips to becoming a more disciplined person”.) It was the first time they’d tried the tech, and Newport was dubious, if characteristically sanguine. “It might be, by the way, a whole disaster,” he remarked cheerfully.
After slipping into the bathroom to change from a polo into a dress shirt, he sat in front of the microphone to speak to the first caller, a young man who worked full-time in finance, but had recently received a scholarship to pursue a masters degree. The course was self-paced, so he’d thought he could balance it with his job and other commitments. But a couple weeks in, he was struggling.
Newport listened thoughtfully. It looked like the caller needed to take a more calendar-centric approach to his life, he said. “The résumé-centric approach is: Oh, it’d be really cool to have this degree to be really useful. It’d be really cool to have written a novel. So why don’t I do this? Oh, I want to run a marathon. That would look cool. Let me start training for a marathon.” By contrast, Newport continued, “The calendar-centric approach to your life is looking at the time you have available . . . [asking yourself] does that seem sustainable?”
The caller nodded. Newport continued: “That’s, by the way, how I approach my life. I get that exact same sinking feeling in my gut when I’m staring at my calendar and it’s not working. My wife knows this. This is what she thinks of as Monday morning syndrome: when I’m doing a weekly plan Monday morning in a period where my schedule has got too complex, I just feel terrible, because I’m forced to stare at the calendar, and it doesn’t fit. And nothing makes me more unhappy.” He paused. “We’ve got to trust that gut.”
Next on the line was a 34-year-old Greek robotics programmer calling from Silicon Valley. He’d moved to the US to get a PhD and had used Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, as a road map to excel in his career, leaning into the fast-developing software side of robotics and eventually leaving academia to work for a series of start-ups. He was now at one of the top self-driving car companies in San Francisco, had high performance reviews and was on track for promotion. He had avoided what Newport calls “the first control trap” — trying to get more autonomy over his work before he had the professional credentials to back it up. But he worried he was now falling into the second one: his job was going so well, it was hard to walk away.
“I got too excited about the performance and the promotions and the compensation and recognition that I’ve kind of become too busy,” he said. Much of his time was now spent responding to Slack messages or troubleshooting short-term problems, rather than doing the actual software engineering he enjoyed. Yet the idea of leaving now felt difficult. “I have too many responsibilities. My compensation is too good to ignore, if you will.”
Newport had two remedies: the programmer should talk to his manager about creating a better ratio between deep and shallow, or reactive, work. Next, he should think deeply about his future, imagining what his ideal life would look like at age 40 and 50 — not just in terms of his job, but as a whole. “Smell it, see it, taste it, as we like to say,” Newport told him. “Then look backwards and say: how do I get there?”
Newport was born in Houston, Texas, the son of Kim, a computer programmer, and Frank, a sociologist who would spend almost three decades as editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll. The family relocated to the suburbs of Princeton, New Jersey, when Cal was eight. As a kid, Newport was “prematurely old”, by his own account, interested in sports and computing but anxious to make his way into the real world. By high school, he and a friend, Michael Simmons, had started a small business called Princeton Web Solutions, offering website-building services to local companies during the dotcom boom.
Newport’s father drove them to their first client meeting, to which they wore ill-fitting department store suits and carried a spiral-bound pitch they’d had bound at Kinkos. They ended up signing a contract for about $1,000 and later outsourced the web design work to a company in India, because, in Newport’s words, he and Simmons “weren’t very good graphic designers”. When I spoke to Simmons on the phone, he said one of his lingering memories of his friend was Newport’s time on the track team where he briefly became the school’s fastest runner in the 400-metre sprint, but only by pushing himself so hard that he would throw up after every race.
Newport told me that when he and Simmons formed the company he would spend hours in Barnes & Noble trawling through business self-help books, giving him a lasting appreciation for the genre. “You’re like, ‘Oh, I see how I could make changes going forward. They’re going to bring positive things into my life,’” he said. “That feeling is super powerful.”
Unlike some other authors in the genre, such as Malcolm Gladwell, who tend not to offer explicit advice, Newport has leaned into the practical. His books are structured for ease of comprehension: Deep Work is broken into two parts: The Idea and The Rules. He is not averse to bullet points, bolding key phrases or putting definitions in shaded boxes, and he sometimes includes equations. A classic, which he used in a 2007 blog post, is:
Work accomplished = (Time spent) × (Intensity of focus)
He contrasted it with a less accurate formula, which he pointed out many students erroneously subscribe to:
Work accomplished = Time spent studying
“Here’s the problem,” Newport wrote. “Even with little breaks, there are only so many consecutive hours of work you can manage before your intensity of focus crashes (in practice, this value is probably close to 2-3 hours for most students).”
During one of our conversations, Newport told me he had recently gone down a Quentin Tarantino rabbit hole and found some parallels. “He wasn’t ashamed of genre.” Newport said he felt similarly. “My whole thing is I’ll go straight for the jugular, with, like, ‘Do this’, ‘Do that’, and ‘Here’s an acronym for our system’, but also mix it in with legitimate social critique.” Others shied away from the self-help genre, he said, because they thought it made them seem lowbrow. One easy way to solve this problem, Newport wryly observed: have a PhD in theoretical computer science from MIT.
Newport is one of several experts seeking to address some of the contradictions plaguing the professional class of knowledge workers, or as he describes them, people who “use their brain to make a living”. Henry Ford looked at “average man minutes per Model T produced”, Newport has noted, and assigned workers to assembly lines where they would operate continuously for eight hours a day. But for knowledge workers, the situation is different. Because companies have failed to figure out how to measure and value their productivity, “the fallback,” he said, “was pseudo-productivity, which was: well, let’s just use activity as a proxy for productivity”. This is a problem because prolonged intense activity actually leads to lower productivity, as well as burnout.
Many digital tools introduced in recent years have made things worse. While it may take only a moment to check an incoming email or Slack message, the momentary distraction can seriously derail your mind from the task it was working on, making it harder to refocus. A senior partner at one of the big-four consultancies who identifies as a Newport fan told me that he had watched his firm succumb to “crappy meetings with no focus, too many people, and interminable poor PowerPoint” over Zoom, where many of the participants were disengaged and busy with other tasks. All of the internal meetings only hurt the firm’s ability to serve its clients. “Our work requires DEEP thought . . . It’s what our customers pay very high fees for!” he told me. “Insights only really start flowing after 45 minutes of deep absorption.”
To counteract this, the partner said he had become a “passive resister”, blocking out three-hour meeting-free blocks for real work and pushing for any vital meetings to be compressed or put into written queries instead. Because of his seniority at the firm, he was able to get away with it. Other colleagues were not so lucky. “I genuinely think that the quality of our work is considerably lower than it was 15 [years] ago,” he said. “But people work harder, are busier and definitely more tired.”
While my husband’s attempts at implementing Deep Work may have been unsuccessful, others have credited Newport with dramatically altering their life and work, giving them the framework to evaluate a new career opportunity or supercharging their productivity. When Newport put out a note in his newsletter that I was writing an article about him, I received emails from dozens of fans from all over the world who had stumbled upon his writings or newsletter or podcast, sometimes accidentally, and had since become acolytes.
One reader told me he used to work from 10am to 8.30pm but, thanks to Newport, had found a way to now reduce his hours to between 8.30am and 4.30pm, becoming more relaxed and gaining a better sense of his priorities. Another said he used Newport’s strategies to cram an eight-week graduate-level course into the 10 days leading up to the birth of his son, allowing him to be fully present for his family that first month of his child’s life.
Thera Marie Crane, a co-editor of the Nordic Journal of African Studies and mother of four young children, reached out to me from Helsinki, saying she was taken aback by Newport’s Digital Minimalism and his description of social media as a slot machine, engineered to give us random dopamine hits and build addiction. “I was sort of raised with… you know, antipathy towards gambling and the destruction that it wreaks,” she said. “And then to realise that here’s… the same thing. Only what I’m gambling with is my life.”
I heard similar refrains from other Newport devotees who were drawn to his prescient digital detox gospel in the face of humanity’s internet gluttony. As Mike King, an angel investor and IT strategist, put it: “Our founding fathers were learning Latin. We’re watching cat videos.”
Yet even some of Newport’s biggest fans say they sometimes find his practices more aspirational than actionable. “I am so enthusiastic about the book that I actually contemplated lying about how well it’s worked for me,” Janelle Ward, a researcher in the tech space, wrote to me from the Netherlands. Last summer, she experimented with taking a “totally unplugged” weeks-long holiday to Germany’s Black Forest. “I’m determined to rewire my brain to pre-social-media levels of concentration,” she wrote in her out-of-office message, providing a link to Newport’s Deep Work. The holiday was successful, close to perfect. The transition back to work? Less so. “I feel a little bit like I did as a child returning from church camp: I just can’t seem to live up to expectations. My brain has not rewired.”
I knew what she meant. When I read A World Without Email, it brought home the extent of my own debilitating dependence on the portals I had convinced myself were vital to my work. Sure, I might not tweet constantly or spend hours trawling Facebook. But how many times was I refreshing my inbox each day? Once every six minutes? Every two? As soon as Newport named the affliction I was living with, I noticed it everywhere. Was I able to stand in line at a coffee shop for five minutes without looking at my phone? Could I go a whole Saturday without checking my email? How long would it take me to finish writing an article without an open Gmail tab taunting me in the background? Was my phone making me feel more connected and happier, or was it preventing me from focusing on anything but shallow tasks?
An obvious criticism of Newport’s ideas is that he is talking to a subset of the population that has the luxury of doing “deep work”, a privilege not afforded to those outside the knowledge sector or people juggling multiple responsibilities, such as caring and work. Another objection is that his ideas are very hard to implement. Occasionally, he’s done talks for C-suite executives, explaining the negative impact of constant office communication. The result is always the same: “No one changes anything,” Newport told me.
While Newport believes that the post-lockdown period and Zoom fatigue may finally usher in a new dawn in corporate work culture, he is aware of the difficulties. “To completely rebuild the way we collaborate . . . That’s, like, an impossible ask.” Besides, he has no interest in leading the revolution himself. “What was exciting was figuring out all those ideas together and seeing if they can, like, change the way that people understand something . . . I don’t want to go help Bristol Myers Squibb, you know, improve their email.”
Newport’s two upcoming titles — Slow Productivity and The Deep Life — are what he calls his “midlife crisis books”. The idea for the former, which is to be published next year, came from a dark night of the soul in the first year of the pandemic, when Newport failed to publish any research papers due to the “chaos” that came with trying to work from home, in lockdown with three young children, and the inability to fully collaborate with colleagues. “I’ve never published zero papers before . . . I was stressed out about it,” he told me. His follow-up, The Deep Life, will look at the many ingredients, both inside and outside of work, that make life meaningful.
There are three principles to “slow productivity”, as Newport defines it: “doing fewer things; working at a natural pace; and obsessing over quality.” Some of his favourite historical slow productivity practitioners include Galileo, who according to Newport took some 18-odd years to work out the details of his pendulum experiment, and Isaac Newton, who spent a good four years working on his initial article on gravity theory and another three to expand that article into Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.
By Newton and Galileo’s standards, we are all doing just fine. The main takeaway, Newport said, was to focus on doing the important things, the things that matter to you, and that will continue to matter in the years to come. Newport is following his own advice. In the years since he began writing about productivity, he has come to re-evaluate his own professional strengths and weaknesses. “Often when I’m writing about something, I’m echoing, you know, a realisation I’ve had in my own career, or something I’ve been grappling with personally.”
He sees an eventual merging of the writing he does for a general audience with what he covers in his academic work. “My plan… is to push those worlds even closer together in the sense of, like, writing more actual academic papers on technology and society, digital ethics.”
The year he wrote Deep Work happened to be the year before he received tenure at Georgetown, a feat that required a high volume of publications in competitive academic journals. “I remember it being cognitively incredibly exhausting. It didn’t feel sustainable.” Slow Productivity is an attempt to reconcile his outsized professional ambitions with the constraints of his current life: as a parent of young children who is accomplishing some of his goals at a slower-than-he-would-like pace.
It’s OK to take your time, he’s convinced himself. “You’re up and down; busy periods, non-busy periods. Give that five years, you’ve done really important stuff. And to me that all feels more sustainable.”
bigthink.com/ 7-3-2023 Modern workplaces don’t mix well with our ancient survival instincts. Here’s why: The modern workplace was not designed with the human brain in mind. This disconnect can make it difficult for us to engage, feel safe, and reach our potential at work. Developmental molecular biologist John Medina discusses how we can make our workplaces more brain friendly. By Kevin Dickinson
fortune.com/ 2-2023 ‘Resenteeism’ is the latest trend plaguing workers, and it’s even more dangerous than quiet quitting – by Jane Thier
rotacloud.com 2-2023 Resenteeism: what is it and what to do about it? by Clea Grady
“What is resenteeism? – Resenteeism is a new workplace term that describes the feeling of staying in a job despite being fundamentally unhappy. Concerns around the cost of living, job security, or a lack of preferable alternatives means that many people are choosing to stay where they are, but actively resenting it.
This resentment can extend to their workplace, the organisation as a whole, and even the people they work with. In short, resenteeism is a bitter pill for all concerned and a worrying new workplace trend.
Is resenteeism the same as presenteeism? – Presenteeism is the idea of people being in work — i.e. they’re ‘present’ — but being unproductive while they’re there. Whether it’s due to mental or physical ill health, or a matter outside of work that distracts, presenteeism refers to when an employee is physically on the job but does very little work during their scheduled hours.
Conversely, those suffering from resenteeism may maintain good or satisfactory levels of productivity. They’re also unlikely to make their feelings known to their line manager, and probably more likely to express them in various ways to colleagues and peers. This makes resenteeism difficult to spot, but damaging to staff morale and workplace culture. ‘Resenteeiers’ will typically feel frustrated and trapped at work, where ‘presenteeiers’ are just ‘going through the motions’ and turning up when they shouldn’t.While presenteeism is performative and passive, resenteeism is active by its very definition and can therefore be particularly destructive….”…
forbes.com 30-1-2023 The Real Reasons For Big Tech Layoffs At Google, Microsoft, Meta, And Amazon – by Bernard Marr
.Between them, some of the world’s biggest tech companies have collectively laid off more than 150,000 workers in recent months….So, what is the true reason for these mass cuts that have left tens of thousands (80% of them in the US) out of work? This was what data experts at 365 Data Science attempted to get to the bottom of when they decided to run their own analysis of the figures.
…The data collected by 365 Data Science also shows that a narrow majority of the staff who were let go (56 percent) were female. This is worrying, given that the tech industry has spent much of the last decade attempting to address the gender imbalance already present within the field – particularly within technical and engineering roles. It doesn’t exactly send out a great message to potential new female hires that, as well as a pay gap and a lower likelihood of progressing into senior roles, they will have to content with a greater chance of being let go. ….
…So, is it the case that the tech giants simply expanded too far, too quickly? Or is it that innovations in AI and automation have created a situation where the fastest way to save money is to replace people with machines? In truth, it’s likely to be a little of both. None of the companies have specified automation as a driving force behind the moves, but given the job roles affected and reading between the lines, it’s tempting to draw the conclusion that it is a contributing factor.
economist.com 17-1-2023 Incomes are rising in America, especially for the poorest – But those in the middle, hit by inflation, have less to cheer about
theguardian.com 15-1-2023 The Zoom revolution largely benefited men. Is job sharing the way forward for women’s workplace flexibility? With the right match of people and division of responsibilities, workplaces may well find themselves getting two minds for the price of one – by Amy Bach
…”…The federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) published its annual Gender Equality scorecard last month, highlighting that the gender pay gap has stagnated at 22.8%, despite advances in hybrid work arrangements.
Harvard Business Review recently conducted research on stereotypes that showed women are often assumed to be less committed to their work and careers than men, especially if they’re mothers. With this as our (disappointing) baseline, we need to start thinking beyond remote working as a one-size-fits-all solution for workplace flexibility. …
…This dark underemployment relates to seniority – and the accompanying salary differential. Yes, most women returning from maternity leave opt to delay a return to full-time hours.
Of my circle of working mothers – all amazing go-getters – only one went straight back to full-time work after having a baby. Most tried, however, to maintain the senior role they had prior to having a baby in a part-time capacity, with the same story from their employer each time – your old role is full-time only.
Years of hard work invested in building up a career, erased in one conversation. With women representing seven out of 10 primary caregivers, it’s a wonder we don’t have a wider gender pay gap….”…
ft.com 14-1-2023 The Rise of Corporate Feminism – Allison Elias on the injustice of the ‘office wife’ – by Isabel Berwick
Gen Z is facing a “national crisis,” according to social psychologist and NYU professor Jonathan Haidt. Haidt told the Wall Street Journal that Gen Z women are going to be less successful than Gen Z men. That’s partly because many Gen Z women are facing mental health challenges like anxiety.
…Women still aren’t earning as much as their male coworkers. As Gen Z enters the workforce, the problem could get even worse. That’s according to social psychologist, author, and NYU professor Jonathan Haidt, who said that while the gender gaps across some fields have improved in recent decades, they “might begin to widen in the 2030s.” The reason: Millions of Gen Z women — many of whom Haidt says could be depressed, anxious, and less inclined to take risks — will be flooding into the workforce. …… With the onset of social media — especially Instagram — depression rates skyrocketed, Haidt said. At the same time, Gen Zers were spending less actual time together, with childhood experienced “largely just through the phone.” Now, Haidt said, there has “never been a generation this depressed, anxious and fragile.”…
stealthoptional.com 23-11-2022 Robot Workers will exacerbate income inequality, states report – How far do robot workers push out humans? It seems that there’s evidence to prove it’s a lot. – by Lewis White
Via MIT News, a new study co-authored by Acemoglu has detailed the rise of automation and how it affects real people. The study looks at automation over the past 40 years and how it has changed human life, and it shows a worrying path forward. …
“Technological change that creates or increases industry productivity, or productivity of one type of labor, creates [those] large productivity gains but does not have huge distributional effects,” said Institute Professor at MIT Daron Acemoglu. “In contrast, automation creates very large distributional effects and may not have big productivity effects.” …”…
mit.edu/ 21-11-2022 Study: Automation drives income inequality – New data suggest most of the growth in the wage gap since 1980 comes from automation displacing less-educated workers.
dazed.digital.com 11-2022 The class pay gap: from today, working class people work for free – A landmark study has found that people with a working class background earn thousands less a year than their middle and upper class counterparts for doing the same job – by Serena Smith
According to a landmark study on the UK’s class pay gap, on average, people from working class families earn thousands of pounds a year less for doing the same jobs as people from middle and upper class families. The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) found that professionals from working class backgrounds earn £6,718 less a year on average. Working class women and most ethnic minorities are also particularly disadvantaged, with professional working class women earning £9,450 less. Professional working class Bangladeshis were the worst off, earning £10,432 less. …
economicsftd.com 19-11-2022 Firming up Hierarchy – by Blair Fix
…”…in this post, I unpack data from a landmark 2019 paper called ‘Firming up inequality’. In that article, economists Jae Song and colleagues use data from the Social Security Administration to reconstruct the income distribution within US firms from 1981 to 2013. Their results are a goldmine for studying the hierarchical pay structure within firms.
Using Song’s data, here’s the idea that I’m going to test. I think that the recent rise in US income inequality is being driven by a redistribution of income within firms. In short, I believe that corporate hierarchies have become more despotic. …
To visualize how US income got redistributed between 1981 and 2013, we’ll repeat this calculation for every income percentile.
Figure 8 shows the results. Here, income percentile is again on the horizontal axis. But now the vertical axis shows the change in relative income between 1981 and 2013. (By definition, the median income remains unchanged.) We see that most of the redistribution action happened among top incomes. The richest Americans saw their relative income grow by a factor of 5.
Now we’re getting to the core of the redistribution puzzle. Over the last four decades, a mysterious social change caused top US incomes to explode, but left the majority of incomes largely unchanged (in relative terms). The result is an L-shaped redistribution of income, shown in Figure 8.
What caused this transformation? I think the answer is simple: US firms became more despotic….
… When it comes to the despotism thesis, we’re in the early stages of this investigation. And in a sense, that’s odd. For decades, US income inequality has been rising. And the evidence that this inequality is being driven by corporate despotism is not exactly subtle. Relative to the average worker, CEO pay has skyrocketed. So you’d think that economists would be clamoring to test the despotism thesis. But in large part, they are not.
The roadblock is mostly ideological. In the eyes of mainstream economists, firms are units of ‘production’. So if CEO pay increases, it’s because CEOs have become more ‘productive’. It couldn’t be because CEOs have used their power to enrich themselves. No, that (straightforward) explanation would ruin the ideology that mainstream economists are pushing — the ruse that all is fair in capitalism.
The alternative that I’ve proposed here is that firms are not units of production; they are units of power.7 Firms are hierarchical organizations shrouded in the cloak of corporate law. And today’s corporate rulers — like all elites before them — use their power to enrich themselves. On that front, the Song evidence suggests that US elites have recently upped their game, sending a torrent of income from the bottom to the top of the corporate hierarchy. In short, US firms have become more despotic.
Or at least, that’s my black-box hypothesis. Admittedly, we’re a long way from having many lines of evidence that support the despotism thesis. But hopefully this situation will change with time, as more social scientists start to connect income with hierarchy.
And regarding the Song data, I’ve only scratched the surface. So stay tuned for another dive into US hierarchical despotism.
businessinsider.com 3-11-2022 Gen Z’s not lazy — they’re just refusing to put up with the toxic work culture that boomers created – by Kim Kelly
bbc.newsnight 19-10-2022 generation uncertainty
lrb.co.uk 7-2022 On the Diassembly Line – by K. Forrester
>pay + conditions
independent.co.uk 22-8-2022 It’s now impossible for the average worker to live decently in Britain – A person on the average income in the UK is already struggling to make ends meet. Anything that tips the balance against them now literally leaves them beyond their limits – by Richard Murphy – read article on his blog
theguardian.com 14-8-2022 ‘A sweatshop in the UK’: how the cost of living crisis triggered walkouts at Amazon – Inside the protests taking place at the online giant which is accused of exploiting workers and awarding derisory pay offers – by Chris Stokel-Walker
>workers rights, unionisation
fortune.com 12-8-2022 A 33-year-old who worked at Starbucks for 13 years got fired over a month-old violation. It led to a union walkout and a viral video that has racked up 21 million views on TikTok – bu Christine Mui
…”…Over 13 years, he’s served countless customers, learned details of their lives, and even “watched their kids grow up,” the former shift supervisor said. When a wave of labor activity spread through Starbucks locations across the country, he got involved as a lead organizer at the store he typically works at in Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., which became one of the first in the country to unionize.
On Aug. 5, the 33-year-old had just clocked in for his shift at a different Starbucks in the town of Tonawanda when the store manager pulled Amato outside for a conversation and fired him for a month-old violation connected to closing the store early, a decision that he said left him “blindsided.”
“I mean, it’s been 13 years. It’s how I get my paycheck. It’s how I get my insurance. It’s how I make a living,” Amato told Fortune. “To have that pulled from under you…it was a devastating moment.”
But when he left the store that day, he didn’t leave alone. All six employees working in the store with him at the time walked out in a show of support. Several Starbucks Workers United union members and staff from other locations in the area joined them in what quickly became a major viral TikTok video with over 21 million views.
The caption on the video reads: “When your entire store walks out after management unjustly fires your co-worker for being a union leader.”..”…
>work/life balance, flexible, precarious, rights
guardian.com 1-5-2022 In the name of job flexibility, ‘Uberisation’ is spreading its tentacles across society – From health workers to beauticians, cleaners to academics, the erosion of our rights at work is setting us back a hundred years – by Kenan Malik
work>work ethic, ambition, alienation, work/life balance, gen-z, antiwork, capitalism, alienation
vox.com 22-4-2022 Gen Z does not dream of labor – On TikTok and online, the youngest workers are rejecting work as we know it. How will that play out IRL? By Terry Nguyen
American workers across various ages, industries, and income brackets have experienced heightened levels of fatigue, burnout, and general dissatisfaction toward their jobs since the pandemic’s start. The difference is, more young people are airing these indignations and jaded attitudes on the internet, often to viral acclaim.
Today’s young people are not the first to experience economic hardship, but they are the first to broadcast their struggles in ways that, just a decade ago, might alienate potential employers or be deemed too radical. Such attitudes might abate with age, but the Great Resignation has inspired a generation of workers to speak critically — and cynically — about the role of labor in their lives. …”…
work>work ethic, ambition, alienation, work/life balance
nytimes.com 15-2-2022 The Age of Anti-Ambition – When 25 million people leave their jobs, it’s about more than just burnout – The New York Times Future of Work – Dive into the magazine’s annual exploration of the ways in which work, and our lives with it, is changing. By Noreen Malone
earlymagazine.com 4-2-2022 Losing Our Ambition: Is This The Year We Resolve To Work Less? – by James Greig
…”…In 2022, it’s striking that many of the resolutions that people are making about work are not about getting better at one’s job at all, as in previous years, but about doing far less of it. The assumption that work ought to be a source of meaning in our lives has—rightfully—come under attack in recent years. “Work, for the vast majority of people, is not, as it promises to be, a viable means for self-expression, but an affront to freedom—something that eats up our lives,” writes Amelia Horgan in her acclaimed non-fiction book, Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism. In the US, workers were found to be working the equivalent of one day of unpaid overtime per week, while another study revealed that people spend an average of eight hours a week replying to work emails in their own time. It’s a feature of the way the economy is organized that our employers are incentivized to wring every ounce of productivity out of us that they can, which has led to a widespread culture of over-work.
In Steal as Much as You Can, a book about the culture industries, Natalie Olah writes, “It’s essential to remember that in the market economy, you—your body and your mind—are no more than a commodity in the eyes of your employer.” In light of this, she advocates viewing your relationship with your bosses as an antagonistic one, and resolving to do the bare minimum at work…”…
work >theory, Marx, work ethic, alienation, human nature
academia.edu/ 2022 What Karl Marx Got Wrong About Work (7 videos, 1 hr)
1. Karl Marx and The Right to be Lazy 06:15
2. The Protestant and American Work Ethic 03:12
3. Contemporary Issues of Work and Overwork 09:30
4. Contemporary Marxists on Work 10:47
5. Proposed Solutions to Work and Overwork 07:33
6. Marx on Alienation and Human Nature 12:26
7. What Karl Marx Got Wrong About Work 10:59
INSTRUCTOR Hailey J . Crockett … earned her BS in political science at Frostburg State University in 2017. She earned her MA in political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield in 2019 . Hailey’s MA thesis was a Marxist Critique of Work and Its Problems. She works in public libraries and continues to study theories of work and anti-work Marxist theory.
What Marx said about work and productivity
Son-in-law Paul Lafargue’s concept of laziness as a virtue
The history of the Protestant and American work ethic
Contemporary Marxist theories of work and the work ethic
Six things Karl Marx got wrong about work
>employment, jobs, labour, work >gig economy, precarious
theguardian.com 11-2021 Gig-working in England and Wales more than doubles in five years – This article is more than 2 months old – Percentage of workers paid by platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo jumps from 6% in 2016 to 15% now – by Sarah Butler
…”The number of adults in England and Wales working for gig economy companies has reached 4.4 million and is now two-and-a-half times bigger than in 2016, according to a report highlighting the rise of insecure working practices. Almost 15% of working adults now get paid by platform such as Deliveroo, Uber and Amazon’s delivery arm Flex, compared with about 6% in 2016 and just under 12% in 2019, according to research for the TUC union carried out by the University of Hertfordshire and the consultancy BritainThinks. Prof Neil Spencer, who co-authored the research, said it indicated that gig work made up a substantial part of the UK’s economy and added: “I expect it to grow.”…”…
ft.com 1-2022 What the “slackers’ manifesto” forgets
>work…- finance, trading
cityam.com 19-1-2022 Four-day working week pilot launches in UK with 100-80-100 model: Full pay and productivity but 80 per cent of the time – By Michiel Willems
nymag.com 12/2021 Good-bye, Goldman Sachs – Getting a job there was a dream. The pandemic changed my perspective. By Nathan Risser
…”…The most accurate representation of life within the walls of an international investment bank is actually the thriller Margin Call, set on the cusp of the global financial crisis at a firm that closely resembles the one I worked for. Goldman is a quiet place where serious decisions are made and a veneer of calm hides the inherent drama of what is happening beneath. People speak in buzzwords and jargon, and poker faces hide what they’re really feeling. I had quickly learned to fit in, but, during lockdown, my shell wore thin. My ability to put on a front was tested to its limit and, eventually, failed. …
Without the camaraderie and perks of office life, I realized I had become a simple input-output moneymaking machine. Deliverables that normally had 24-hour turnarounds were expected before lunch on the same day. Normal business hours were scrapped as seniors moved their schedules to fit their personal needs. Some logged on at five in the morning, others slogged it out until midnight, and juniors like me were caught in between. Quality of life deteriorated for us all in different ways. My peers were pulling 100-hour weeks in cramped apartments with no ability to blow off steam at the pub. Senior staff had to generate revenue while taking charge of their children’s education and dealing with an increasingly demanding book of clients. This was the case in many companies, but in February 2021, the well-being of Goldman employees became a hot topic after a group of junior analysts presented their managers with a survey decrying their working conditions. …
Throughout my time at Goldman, like all employees, I had my ups and downs and moments of extreme stress. I wasn’t the best at dealing with it. I suffered bouts of depression that, at their worst times, led to suicidal thoughts and sessions with the on-site psychiatrist. The first thing the psychiatrist told me was that I wasn’t alone, that many employees sought counseling. That made sense, I thought at the time. Goldman employees are exceptionally driven and hardworking. But when I read the leaked analyst survey, I felt others had put into words what I hadn’t been able to. On the penultimate page is a list of quotes from junior employees. One in particular hit home: “My body physically hurts all the time and mentally I’m in a really dark place.” I realized there was a connection between the way I was working and how I felt. It was hard for me to admit to myself that I was suffering mental-health problems. When you’ve had it drilled into you that you’re a winner, that you are at your desk because you’re the best, and that any obstacle can be overcome if you just work hard enough, any admission of weakness becomes taboo…hen I resigned, I don’t think anyone was surprised. One of my bosses started planning my work handover. The other told me I was doing the right thing. On the day I left, I went into the office one last time. Around a third of my team had trickled back in. I took the card everyone had signed that said “Sorry you’re leaving,” grabbed the detritus from my desk, and walked out. I wish I could say that all my worries melted away, but I was scared. While it’s a high-stakes, risk-loving industry, finance is also one of the safest places an indebted, uncertain graduate can end up…
As I stood at an empty underground station, months of feeling there was no route out of the career I had so enthusiastically signed up for came flooding back. I got on the train and told myself that, however long it took, I was starting over. I was going to stand on escalators, resisting the urge to run, for as long as it would take to become myself again.”
theguardian.com/ 12/2021 At 75, I still have to work’: millions of Americans can’t afford to retire – Number of US workers aged 75 and up expected to increase 96.5% over next decade as some say ‘we must work until we die’ by Michael Sainato
…”…Over the next decade, the number of workers ages 75 and older is expected to increase in the US by 96.5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with their labor force participation rate projected to rise from 8.9% in 2020 to 11.7% by 2030, a rate that has steadily increased from 4.7% in 1996. By 2040, the US population of adults ages 65 and older is expected to increase to 80.8 million from 54.1 million in 2019. The number of workers who retired during the pandemic was about 2 million more than expected. 50.3% of US adults ages 55 and older said they were out of the labor force due to retirement in the third quarter of 2021, compared to 48.1% in the third quarter of 2019, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. Though in recent months, the unretirement rate of US workers has gradually increased toward pre-pandemic levels. As the ageing US population grows, participation in retirement plans has declined since 2000. Nearly half of all families in the US have no retirement savings at all and inequality among Americans based on retirement savings is greater than income inequality. Over 15 million adults ages 65 and older are economically insecure, with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line, with Black, Hispanic and women ages 65 and older more likely to live in poverty. “I have no savings, no assets, I don’t even own the home I’ve been renting for 15 years,” said Dr Lisa Natale, 65, a chiropractor in Hawaii who put herself through school as a single mother. “There’s no way I could afford to retire.” With the average estimated social security retirement benefit in 2021 at $1,543 a month, even with a 5.9% cost of living adjusted increase for 2022, millions of Americans who rely on social security benefits are forced to continue working past retirement age in order to make ends meet…”…
sciencefocus.com 7/12/2021 Artificial intelligence quietly relies on workers earning $2 per hour – Amazon Mechanical Turk, described as “artificial artificial intelligence”, uses low-paid workers to complete mini-tasks that AI can’t do on its own. By Phil Jones
…”This kind of work, often known as ‘microwork’ – due to the brevity of the tasks – is becoming increasingly popular. Growing numbers of sites such as Clickworker, Appen and Playment now host large crowds of workers who undertake these short data tasks, often for very little payment. One study found that the average wage of a worker on Mechanical Turk is less than $2 an hour, with only 4 per cent of workers earning over $7.25 per hour, the US minimum wage. Tasks are very short, running from around 30 seconds to 30 minutes and often pay as little as a few cents. The tasks can be very repetitive and are often opaque to the point of being impossible to relate to a larger project. A 2020 study by academics found that contractors often offer very little detailed information on their tasks and on the purposes they serve. This means that workers have little idea of what they are precisely working on. This is of particular concern when workers might be supporting a technology such as facial recognition software, which has serious ethical implications.
The work is also highly insecure. Workers are usually categorised as ‘independent contractors’, so they do not enjoy the rights and benefits afforded full-time employees working for the companies that contract them. This means that workers will usually work for multiple contractors over the course of a single day, which in turn means that workers must continually search for new tasks. A significant portion of the day must be given over to finding work, rather than actually doing work that pays. The majority of this work is currently done in countries in the Global South such as India, Kenya and Venezuela. But some studies suggest that this kind of digital work is also on the rise in countries such as the UK.”
ft.com 4/12/2021 The future of work – The Great Resignation – ft reviews work books
thetimes.co.uk/ 11/2021 dear-dolly-my-friends-all-earn-more-than-me-and-i-cant-keep-up
ft.com 11/2021 The night shift is back as Americans work overtime to clear backlogs
theguadian.com 11/2021 The Great Resignation has employers sweating. It’s time to escalate the pressure – This is a once-in-a-generation ‘take this job and shove it’ moment – which gives workers an upper hand. Let’s demand better hours, pay and work-life balance – by Erika Rodriguez
“Despite quizzical think pieces on the motivations behind the Great Resignation, anyone who pays rent or a mortgage knows why this “labor shortage” is under way. After years of inflation and stagnant wages, the pandemic has revealed the value of labor, the worthlessness of commutes and office culture, and the importance of finding personal comfort in times of increasing precarity. In other words, we are living in what labor economist Lawrence Katz calls “a once-in-a-generation ‘take this job and shove it’ moment” – which gives workers a once-in-a-generation upper hand. The potential of this cultural moment is not limited to the 2.9% of the workforce who have quit their jobs in the past few months. As CEOs scramble to maintain retention rates, those who have kept their jobs can express solidarity with resigning workers and contribute to the cultural shift by slowing the pace of productivity. …”…
theguardian.com 10/2021 ‘My students never knew’: the lecturer who lived in a tent – Higher education is one of the most casualised sectors of the UK economy, and for many it means a struggle to get – by Anna Fazackerley
…”Research published this month found that nearly half of the undergraduate tutorials for which Cambridge University is famous are delivered by precariously employed staff without proper contracts. The UCU says this is a familiar story across the country…”…
ft.com Is my teenager’s pay rise a sign of things to come? G Tett
theguardian.com 10/2021 Behind the scenes, film and TV workers want less drama – It’s a glamorous industry, but the bullying culture can make working conditions unbearable Eva Wiseman
amazon.co.uk 2015 Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber
From bestselling writer David Graeber, a powerful argument against the rise of meaningless, unfulfilling jobs, and their consequences. Does your job make a meaningful contribution to the world? In the spring of 2013, David Graeber asked this question in a playful, provocative essay titled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” It went viral. After a million online views in seventeen different languages, people all over the world are still debating the answer. There are millions of people—HR consultants, communication coordinators, telemarketing researchers, corporate lawyers—whose jobs are useless, and, tragically, they know it. These people are caught in bullshit jobs. Graeber explores one of society’s most vexing and deeply felt concerns, indicting among other villains a particular strain of finance capitalism that betrays ideals shared by thinkers ranging from Keynes to Lincoln. Bullshit Jobs gives individuals, corporations, and societies permission to undergo a shift in values, placing creative and caring work at the center of our culture. This book is for everyone who wants to turn their vocation back into an avocation.