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Work until you drop... The middle class virtue

by Ron Holdraker
July 10, 2021

The old world concept of the American workweek if fading. Dad worked in a factory, Mom worked various jobs when I was young and somehow made ends meet. We were average, what I would call middle class folks, set in the ways of post war, long ago depression days.

All four siblings worked while growing and it was expected the word “lazy” would never really appear.

Upon high school graduation it was settled. You either went on for higher education, or entered the working class in some form. The days of taking off summer were now history.

Vacations? Those were luxuries squeezed in between settled shifts. I remember very few as all settled into the 40+ hour workweek.

Luxuries came in the form of a raise, perhaps a new/used car and a color TV. You basically worked until you dropped. Ahh, yes, retirement. If you lived that long, you won the brass ring of living. Children, grandchildren were all the rage.

Food stamps, unemployment insurance were considered a form of failure and scorned upon. Everybody worked, worked, worked and all was well in the world.

There are 365 days in total with 104 weekends and 252 working days when only counting the 9 public holidays that are celebrated in all states. Now we are adding national holidays and things are changing.

Screeeeche! Things began to slowly change, first with Baby Boomers and even more with following generations. People began looking at life in a different fashion. No longer did you simply work at Kodak, retire and die. Now, people wanted more out of life. Divorce became a key word as it grew, vacations and day off found some sort of purpose as time passed. The middle class wanted more as they began looking inwards to this thing we call life.

Modes of transportation opened up a new reality. Clocks became the enemy in a world of change. Media made things seem to happen faster and the unveiling of the internet brought tons of possibilities.

Whoa! What’s this? People in Sweden work a Standard (?) six hour day? People are “balancing” family life, private life, with something called flexible days/hours?

In Germany workers have a minimum of 24 holidays! Today most collective wage agreements (?) provide for holidays of six weeks or more and most employers give  holiday pay.

Iceland has successfully switched to a 4 day workweek, with production either staying at the same level, or increasing.

Well, at least those Japanese have their heads on straight. Japan has some of the longest working hours in the world. Nearly one quarter of Japanese companies require employees to work more than 80 hours of overtime a month, according to a 2016 government survey. Those extra hours are often unpaid.

The Japanese aren’t taking enough time off, either. A study by Expedia found that Japanese workers on average didn’t use 10 of their paid vacation days, and 63 percent of Japanese respondents felt guilty for taking paid leave.

Japan, except for third world countries on the brink, have all but abandoned what used to be considered normal work. Now, even the Japanese are slowing down. Families are starting later in life and there is more emphasis on relaxation.

Here, in the good old U.S.A. the Monday through Friday 9 to 5 routine  was all the rage. While the standard work week is 40 hours long, many Americans end up working notoriously longer hours. In the US, your work day doesn’t end when you go home. Employees are generally expected to keep up with e-mails and deadlines after work, and the higher you move up the career ladder, the more will be expected of you.

Whump! Then came the pandemic. Suddenly workers’ jobs, hours and locations were cut. As the world and nation adjusted, people realized just what the term ‘rat race’ had become.

It seems the world and nation began to rebalance, workers and employers began to realize a change was hitting them in the face. No longer did some companies require expensive office space. Working at home became the new mantra as fewer returned to the office grind. Suddenly, workers began to realize their impact and were not ready to return to the old ways. Time is money became more retrospect.

Workers and employees were faced with the ‘new reality’.  Fast food workers, waiters, factory, office workers wanted more out of life. They failed  and fought to return to ‘work’ normal. 

Working towards inevitable death took on a whole new meaning. Work time and patterns are changing as people want to live under a new, less formal in many ways format.

Now, flexible life styles will follow and time, no longer the enemy, becomes more enticing.

What about me? I will admit we did the home/office thing decades ago. In this job of newspaper, I still do not want to retire. I worked 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, but now I have decided, being 70, that perhaps slowing down a bit, it was time to take more time off. Yes! Weekends are mostly mine/ours. I poke my head into the home office on Saturday and Sunday, but decided most of the days would be self-fulfilling.

The daily grind of newspaper will get done all the same. More time with the boys and grandchildren would be primary and even Mondays would be less newsworthy, maybe even some of Tuesdays.

I have agreed, reluctantly, to more day and weekend trips. Instead of hoarding money away, we are spending some of our gains. What? We have actually planned two weekends away in New York City! We are filling out days off with various bookings and events.

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