Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

All Work And No Play... [1]

An American-led “puritan work ethic” has for a long time seemed to explain North Atlantic countries’ attitudes to work. Work is good, goes the belief. Time-outs are for slackers and wasters. “You must be very busy” are words we reserve for people we esteem and admire.

What motivates us to bust our buns in the workplace?  The whole idea of work was questioned by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, writing in an age when a strong work ethic was an unquestioned article of faith for almost everyone. “Far too much work is done in the world, [and] immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous”, Russell wrote in In Praise of Idleness (1935). “Leisure is essential to civilization …and the road to happiness lies in an organized diminution of work”.

Time, rather than money, is increasingly what some people think it’s all about. Emerging trends show significant change in attitudes to work over the last two decades, both in the USA and in Europe. The idea of driving oneself to meet stringent self-imposed work standards has tailed off Europe-wide since the late 1980s. Self-confessed workaholics in the UK have dwindled to only one in five. ‘Driven’, ambition-based work-habits made a comeback in the USA in the go-getting early 1990s, but they have been sliding downhill again since 1995.  Rising unemployment is clearly a factor.  Some employers, faced with “impossible” pay-rise demands, have been giving their workers extra time off instead.

So what is work for? The signs everywhere imply that work’s main purpose in people’s lives has less and less to do with amassing material wealth. Only a quarter of people in Europe’s big five markets now claim material success as one of their goals. In Britain the number of success-seekers is falling just as fast. In the USA, more people still cling to what’s left of the American Dream, but that figure has recently receded too.

By contrast, a rising number of survey respondents in Britain, the rest of Europe and the USA are saying that the reason they work is to make a living and survive, as opposed to ambitions of personal development or self-fulfillment. The figures suggest a switch of European interest towards working for an improved personal quality of life.

Dedication to work per se is progressively falling victim to what the French, with a shrug, call “M’en-foutisme”, or “Don’t-give-a-hootism”.

Zone: Ethics & Altruism Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Leisure