Work Issues

In Design for a Better World, Don Norman writes about work issues:

Except for scholars who study and trace the path of history, the rest of us are often unaware of its impact. We are born into the world, and our early experiences and belief systems seem so natural and obvious that it is difficult to imagine any other possibility. People take for granted the basics of their everyday life: living in a family, going to school, learning the topics taught in a certain way there, getting a job, and so on. In many countries, jobs take one away from family for most of the daytime hours and oftentimes into the night. All of this is taken for granted.

Why must the demands of work separate families, though? Why must some cultures demand long hours of work, often from dawn to dusk, six days a week from its citizens, leaving partners and children to struggle throughout the day on their own? The need for a large number of workers at one site started early in history-for example, in the massing of people by the Egyptian pharaohs to build the pyramids. In part, it was a natural result of the rise of cities and nations, where people were concentrated. Providing food for large numbers of people required workers to congregate, whether in Baghdad’s cooking competitions in the ninth century or in Venice’s building of ships in the early twelfth century. The standardization of work in factories took place at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1700s for the weaving and spinning of silk and cotton as well as for the manufacturing of household goods in Great Britain.

The path taken by Western countries of the world and exported globally controlled the lives of the workers, treating them as if they were machines to be used until they wore out and then replaced. Time dominated the lives of the workers, with bells and whistles telling them when to start and end the day, when breaks were permitted, and when they could eat lunch. Time dominated the work, and work dominated wellness, satisfaction, and family. Did it have to be this way? No.

Norman writes about family separation:

Families were separated, with those employed rushing off to their jobs, often not to return home until late at night. I have seen the workers in South Korea and Japan work long hours every day and attend the quasi-obligatory drinking sessions after work. These sessions end so late that the workers do not have time to make the long commuting trip back home, so they stay overnight at the many hotels that catered to this need. Workers often do not return to their families for days. Their work habits are slaves to both the clock and the perception of doing work. In fact, the long hours mean that the workers are sleep deprived, often falling asleep at conferences and meetings and on the commuter trains. Studies have shown that long hours produce less work than the shorter, more focused hours used in some countries.