Before the Industrial Revolution the average number of hours worked in the western world was less than 6 hours per day. Some say we worked less than two and a half days a week.
I won’t quote what the average number of hours are today, but it’s more for everyone I know personally. I’m certain many people reading this would work in excess of 12 hours on certain days.
So what happened?
We got stooged. The industrial revolution made it possible for a larger segment of the population to work year-round, since this labor was not tied to the season and artificial lighting made it possible to work longer each day. Peasants and farm laborers moved from rural areas to the factories and work times during a year has been significantly higher since then the important innovation of piece labour. That is, the ability to earn income based on output. Think bolts in car doors.
Over time longer hours lead to greater amount of industrial accidents and workplace injuries. Unions formed and laws changed on the factory floor. But, the office was a different place altogether.
Office workers – salary based workers who where historically in management worked for salaries. A fixed wage for a fixed number of hours. My father constantly reminds me that in his day office workers only worked from 9am until 4.30pm. That tradesman and factory workers were the only people who did extra hours. And they did this to make up for the pay discrepancy which was favour of salary workers.
Clearly times have changed. If you are working in a large corporate, cubicle farm, in front of a screen or any place where you don’t get your hands dirty then chances are your are part of the ever growing white collar underclass. Here’s the some of stuff that defines members of the White Collar Underclass:
- A fixed salary with no overtime (factory workers, tradesman, retail staff all have overtime)
- Regularly working beyond the ‘official hours’ including weekends.
- It is expected that you arrive before and leave after your official hours.
- No representation in your industry to protect employment conditions.
- No tax benefits or uniform allowances, because your work clothing doesn’t have a logo on it. Even though it is in real terms a ‘uniform’ and costs you 10 times what hands on workers wear to work.
- Your annual performance review is based on the subjective assessments of your direct manager who may or may not like you.
- You work in a large building full of people who look and act like you do, and no one really knows what anyone else does.
- In an economic downturn, you panic, because you know what you do is essentially expendable.
- Large parts of your day are dealing with procedure, invented by other workers to justify their own existence.
- You look at a screen for large parts of your day, but have restrictions on what information you can bring onto the screen from the outside world.
- You feel as though your rarely use the skills acquired in the formal education you needed to get that job.
- You can work for days, weeks and months without any physical evidence of tangible outputs of what you have done. You don’t make or fix anything real.
If some of the above apply to you, chances are you are part of the white collar underclass. A group of people who have been victimized by efficiency. A group of people who don’t do anything real. Which is why there will be a significant value shift and higher pay going to people (like tradesman) who make stuff. Simple supply and demand. In the past 50 years companies have became so good at what they do, that very few people really do anything, including you. But you are giving so much of your time… you know it, and it eats at your soul.
Startup blog advice: Earn your living. Do something that adds value, not takes up space. Even if it must be done at nights and on weekends. Even if it provides no income. The human soul feeds on real activity, not simple economic existence. Feed your soul in 2010.
It was easy for white collar workers to be smug during the 1980’s. Their blue collar counterparts faced a dire future as hands on jobs increasingly went overseas to low cost labour markets. It even made it possible for information workers to extract larger salaries as the profitability of their organizations soared. The white collar desk jockey rode the wave of efficiency as corporations globalized and consolidated manufacturing.
Life has a funny way of going full circle. And now it’s our turn, the white collar worker. We are also an endangered species in developed markets.
Yep, you and me. We too, will be outsourced. All us accountants, IP Lawyers, Engineers, Computer Programmers (insert university educated profession here).
Don’t believe me? Then consider this: In India each year there are over 300,000 Engineering graduates and over 400,000 IT graduates who will happily work for 10% of what conglomerate X pays you right now. It’s only a matter of time before large corporations, who are usually struggling for top line growth, can get over the emotional barrier of having a large corporate head office and go offshore. The spreadsheet will make that decision for them. But this time the barriers will be lower than when all the call center went overseas because consumers wont even notice. Society wont care either. They are sick of people earning well above average incomes in ivory towers. No one will feel sorry for us.
What to do?
Stop being a factor of production and start organizing them. Stuff gets done, things can be built, and anything which is done at a desk is about to disappear to low cost labour markets. The way information workers can survive is through undertaking entrepreneurial endeavors (corporate & private). Be able to manage complex projects and by managing situations and people, not doing stuff. The age of the entrepreneur is about to become something which is so significant it changes work just like the industrial revolution did.
Startup blog says: Are you ready?
Get ready at Startup School.