If you’ve ever considered your traditional 9-5 job hellish, you’re not the only one.
Douglas Coupland has claimed that “the nine-to-five is barbaric.” And with that in mind, according to the famed Generation X author, work as we know it—and the workplace—are coming to a crashing halt in the future. In a Konica Minolta’s Spotlight Live event on the world of work, Coupland noted that people no longer believe in having a job for life (i.e. working for one company for 30+ years and then retiring with a gold plaque and a sizeable pension). Instead, they will have to “learn to adapt to a freeform schedule,” where work life and personal life all flow together.
In short, Coupland suggests that every day will be a “Wednesday”, referring to the fact that companies such as Facebook encourage their staffers to work from home on Wednesdays. Coupland argues that there will be no more weekends, but rather work will take on ultimate flexibility, and ebb and flow through all aspects of life. Workers who need the structure of a traditional brick-and-mortar 9-5 job will experience a serious learning curve in understanding how to navigate working remotely and being completely responsible for meeting work and life demands simultaneously.
Coupland takes his workplace theories one step further, stating that automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will make some existing jobs obsolete. The middle class as we know it, he argues, is facing a certain death and will be replaced by a “global mobile class” that is fueled on broadband access and increased productivity. Jobs will no longer be categorized as full-time or even part-time, as work will just become part of the natural order of life.
To some extent, Coupland’s prediction is already coming true. Automation is replacing the need for some jobs, and work-life balance is attainable for those who have work flexibility. But some of Coupland’s other hypotheses—such as the demise of the middle class or that jobs won’t be categorized as full-time or freelance, for example—may be too sweeping (and soon) to make.
Just take John Maynard Keynes, for example. The revolutionary economist predicted, almost 100 years ago, that shifts in work dynamics meant that the work week would be cut to just 15 hours in his grandchildren’s lifetime. Workers would experience far more leisure time, living standards would be higher, and in theory, workers would have a better chance at achieving work-life balance.
But he was wrong.
U.S. workers are working harder than ever. Although workers have shorter vacation days, they don’t even use those up. So why was Keynes wrong? The Guardian article “Economics: Whatever Happened to Keynes’ 15-Hour Working Week?” explores this question and notes that, for starters, it appears that despite all the hemming and hawing, U.S. workers get a certain pleasure out of their jobs, one that’s not so easy to replace with the kind of happiness Keynes speculated would come from working less.
Consumerism also plays a huge part in why workers continue to work more. While not everyone is comparing their lives to the Kardashians, they sure are paying attention to the shiny new car in their neighbor’s driveway—and they’re willing to work harder to get it, too. And with a widening earnings gap, workers feel the need to work longer hours in order to boost their purchasing power.
Coupland and Keynes are both spot on when it comes to work flexibility, though. In theory, workers can work a 15-hour workweek, thanks to flexible work options, and (under certain circumstances) earn a decent income. Technological advances are making it easier than ever to work when and where we want to. But how exactly the modern workplace shapes up (and whether companies and workers will embrace all the changes) still remains to be seen.
photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com