How the Bustle Culture Ignores Time Poverty: Working Long Hours Without Choices
In a world where Elon Musk works 100 hours a week, an Uber driver works 40 hours a week alongside a full-time 40 hour job. Yet one is a multi-billionaire, while the other is working class, barely making ends meet. If they both work roughly the same number of hours, why is their situation so different?
Boasting of his long working hours and “busy” lifestyle, Musk tweeted that “no one has ever changed the world in 40 hours a week”. He also insisted that “doing what you love won’t feel like work”, that everyone should “work up to 100+ hours a week to bring about change in the world”.
It’s easy to see how laudable his statements seem on the face of it. Phrases such as “change the world” and “love won’t look like work” conjure up a cause-focused attitude, sounding like you’re living in a clichéd Hollywood movie that glorifies entrepreneurial hustle. It’s no longer enough to love your job, you have to be obsessed with it, promote it on social media, and show off your workaholic lifestyle to other employees and employers on platforms like LinkedIn.
An impressionable young generation is now being brought up in the all-consuming reality of workaholism. According to Bloomberg, 36% of Gen Z freelancers joined project-finding platform Upwork during the pandemic, and Digiday reported that up to 72% of Gen Z users wanted to pursue a side job. The number of Egyptian freelancers has also increased, with local platforms such as Al7areefa, Virtual Worker Now and Employ already entering the market to compete with global platforms.
The insistence that a meaningful life can only be born by working the same hours as a multi-billionaire is not only harmful, but lacks compassion for those who have no choice but to struggle to create a basic standard of living.
The scam is not always glamorous, especially not in Egypt where poverty forces young people into precarious and sometimes unhealthy forms of informal employment. As more and more young workers try to balance different jobs and freelance, reforms are needed to ensure they not only reach their full potential, but also have alternatives. how they approach their time and work schedules.
There is a disturbing motive behind the way the “disrupted” lifestyle is easily heralded given the backdrop of rising prices, expensive living costs and inequality that have driven other groups in society more deep in poverty, while neglecting the larger structural and global issues that compelled them to work overtime. Participating in this culture of “hustle” and enduring the torture of trying to earn a living well above one’s salary is treated as if it’s not only necessary, but celebratory.
What needs to be announced instead is not the “frantic” lifestyle, but how the world can alleviate time poverty among the poor. Time poverty is known as working long hours without choice because an individual’s household is poor or would be at risk of falling into poverty if the individual reduced their working hours. This includes time spent in the labor market, domestic work or other activities such as the search for water and food. Research has found that time poverty also has strong gender dimensions, as women are expected to perform very long hours of domestic work for their families.
To alleviate the lack of time, more needs to be done on the provision of vouchers for services to reduce the burden of unpaid work and unconditional cash transfers (UCTs). This, in turn, will improve well-being, reduce stress, and decrease relationship conflict. For example, the story of Egypt’s Takaful and Karama program can be replicated on a much larger scale, where households receive a monthly transfer of 325 Egyptian pounds (EGP). The Universal Basic Income (UBI) model, a regular cash payment that every individual receives, can also be implemented in some cities or communities.
The idea of flexible working hours can also be explored for working-class families and has proven to be a great way to help employees find a better work-life balance, which translates by improving performance at work, with the example of Belgium. Belgium is now the latest country to allow employees a four-day working week, as well as the right to log off and ignore messages from work outside office hours. Several other countries have adopted a four-day work week schedule, including: Iceland, Japan, Scotland, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.
It’s understandable that it doesn’t work for all industries, but experimentation might provide answers as to why it might be a better alternative. For example, when Henry Ford reduced the workweek in his automobile factories from six days to five without a pay cut in 1926, the decision followed years of experiments that proved production would not suffer.
“We can get at least as much production in five days as we can get in six, and we’ll probably get more because the pressure will bring better methods,” he said.
Undervaluing ourselves and the work of the working poor does the economy a disservice. Likewise, failing to modify our work schedules to reflect our changing realities during a pandemic and global economic crisis sets a troubling precedent.
It is high time for politicians and employers to recognize the growing pressures forcing more households to work overtime and to re-analyze working conditions for a better environment that puts the health and financial security of workers first.
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