Death of 9-5 Office Work: Fantasy or Reality?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 2/18/2015 01:30:00 AM
The end of the office era will not be missed as the butt of endless jokes.
As someone who does not particular enjoy adhering to 9-to-5 white collar office work--as the saying goes, few will say "I wish I had spent more time at the office" on their deathbeds--I have watched changing patterns of employment with some fascination. The United States having invented the wretched thing, we are now watching how work patterns change there. In an environment characterized by greater job insecurity, white collar work is now changing not only because employers cannot guarantee employment for years on end but also because people are increasingly fed up with office culture. In other words, the supply of and demand for monotonous office slaving are both on the wane:
For much of the past century, the Era of Big Work — the 40-hour workweek and its employer-provided benefits — were the foundation of our economy. That was then. Now, independent work is the new normal. Freelancers, independent contractors and temp workers are on their way to making up the majority of the U.S. labor force. They number 42 million, or one-third of all workers in the nation. That figure is expected to rise to 40% — some 60 million people — by the end of the decade.

A number of factors both economic and cultural are causing the independent workforce to swell. Technological advances and globalization have greatly contributed to the erosion of traditional work arrangements. The private sector's need for speed and adaptability is increasingly incompatible with maintaining a large, full-time workforce. And of course, the Great Recession has put to rest the notion that there is such a thing as a stable full-time job.

It's true that many have been forced into this brave new world of freelance work by external factors. But many are getting into it by choice because independent work aligns with a paradigm shift in values that is happening both at work and in the marketplace.
The overall argument is that lifestyle changes are driving employment pattern changes. If you are not an avid consumerist, then there is no need to work so much to mindlessly buy tons of junk like Americans of previous generations:
Some argue that millennials don't buy big-ticket items because they can't afford them — for instance, the number of cars purchased by the 18-to-34 demographic fell almost 30% between 2007 and 2011. But that's only one factor in a much larger equation.

In reality, millennials tend to value experiences more than things. Their consumption habits are driven less by what kind of job they have and more by their pursuit of ever-evolving technology, brands that align with their ideals and sustainable and social purpose purchasing.

From what we buy to how we work — and why we do either — the American economy is undergoing a change every bit as epic as the shift a century ago from an agrarian society to an industrial one. When workers left the farm for the factory, there were, undoubtedly, plenty who mourned the loss of the old way of life, while others eagerly looked to the next era with vision and enthusiasm. The same is true today.
To be sure, it's trickier to find employment freelancing and working independently. Sure you set your own work hours and thus can schedule your life accordingly. However, this may instead translate to lower and irregular pay contrary to the largely positive account given above by head of the US-based Freelancers Union who would of course offer such a spin on their activities.

However, the soul-crushing nature of pencil-pushing is compounded by the health-destroying nature of spending hours and hours sitting behind a computer. This was well-recognized at the inception of office work; however, it's only now that the full health consequences are being documented. It is probably no wonder that the US became a byword for obesity during a time when office work became the norm instead of "manly" labors:
The solution, then as now, was straightforward: exercise throughout the day. [19th century office work critic Dr. Dudley] Sargent went on to invent a series of exercise machines that, save for some antiquated features and materials, wouldn't be out of place in a CrossFit facility today. And for office workers unable to pop down to a gym for a workout, Sargent and his followers had more prosaic advice: Stand, don’t sit.

All this advice is getting a second life, and with good reason. The remedy, if not the diagnosis of potential health risks, remains valid, even if the medical reasoning has changed. Simply put, sitting motionless for long stretches of time is bad for the body and the mind.

But our renewed concern for the ill effects of sitting probably reflects our collective disquiet with the changing nature of work in this country. Not so long ago, many Americans labored at physically demanding jobs in the nation’s factories, mills and mines. But these have largely disappeared, increasingly replaced by rows upon rows of people sitting hunched over a computer screen.
Rest assured that I do not spend hours on end behind a computer screen even if my tasks as an academic are still largely of this nature. It's just that I have more leeway when choosing when to work writing academic articles....or blog posts for that matter. All the same, the death of the office cannot come soon enough when reality shows based on it will be quaint reminders of a curious period in human history.