Thursday, March 19, 2009

Broke? Nearly Homeless? Unemployed? Cheer Up, At Least You'll Have More Time To Spend With The Kids

By Darryl Mason

How intense is the rage being felt by the hundreds of thousands of Australians who devoted much of their lives to work, and commuting, for the past decade now only to find themselves no better off, and in many cases far poorer, than they were before they started living to work?

The best cure for years of intense, life-dominating, work is not a two week holiday, it's being unemployed. A good few months off always reminds you just how much more life has to offer than 60 hours a week behind a desk, or a steering wheel. Of course, the money's absolutely shit.

And far too many in Australia will learn this is all so very true as the global re-ordering of economies, wealth, trade and financial systems continues to wreak its seemingly endless destruction.

The new poverty, the first blast of long-term unemployment millions of young Australians have ever experienced, will have to be marketed to us as something positive, an overdue fresh look at the 'Work/Life Balance :

With falls in consumer demand starting to affect jobs, the customary "how's work?" is now followed by "has anyone been sacked?" and detailed analyses of how unfair/random/scary it all is. However, to avoid retrenchments many companies are implementing four-day weeks, extending leave, and cutting hours. In a country crying out for work-life balance, those experiencing such alternatives may not want a return to unsustainable patterns of paid work.

Levels of work-life stress have reached epidemic levels, with 55 per cent of employees feeling constantly rushed, and 46 per cent perceiving inflexible working times (Skinner and Pocock 2008, Work, Life and Workplace Culture). Such mismatches between actual and desired work patterns illustrate how organisational cultures are simply outmoded.

Though Australians on average work long hours, professional services firms classically illustrate how workers are reduced to timesheets. Each billable hour increases revenue, and costs firms nothing if employees are salaried. Their logic, therefore, is to equate long hours with greater production, call this "productivity".

Physical and mental health problems become increasingly widespread, carers are denied 'real jobs' because they can't put in 50-hour weeks, while working parents increasingly miss out on the lives of their children.

We could continue this trend towards one-dimensional existence, or we could take a stand.

We know that money doesn't buy happiness, and that our "standard of living" transcends mere consumption. Amongst talk of reducing monetary excess, we have a rare chance to influence that most precious of resources - time.

If we choose to, we could jump off the treadmill of consumption and work. If we choose to, we could redefine our workplaces, homes and communities. If we choose to, we could stop running, and start living.

Living non-expensive lives, that is. Which is not hard when you find yourself unemployed. The less you have, the less you spend. The choice in what is happening to Australian workers now, however, is being made by someone else. It's not quite the same as saying, "Fuck this, I've had enough, I need to get rid of all this work if I'm ever going to learn what living is all about."

Forcing people to reassess their work/life balance by taking away their jobs is more like shock therapy.

Maybe that will be the new way to tell someone they've got the flick : "We've decided you need some time to reassess your work/life balance."

Those who have to sell us the upsides of losing homes and discovering long-term unemployment, to fight the rise in suicides, depression and domestic violence, need to come up with something better, something that sounds a lot more fun than "The Frugal Years" to describe the many dozen months of The New Recession We Simply Had No Choice To Have.

They need to make unexpected poverty and unemployment sound like some kind of fun.

Perhaps that's how the Rudd government can brand market all the unemployment - "It's Not A Bad Thing, It's A Good Thing!"

They could run nightly ads reminding you just how great it is that you now have so much more time to spend with the family, or complete those long overdue home repair and renovation projects, or to reassure you that you can go to the (discounted) afternoon cinema sessions, on a weekday, without feeling guilty.