Start Up Blog

The white collar underclass

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 3, 2010

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:

  1. A fixed salary with no overtime (factory workers, tradesman, retail staff all have overtime)
  2. Regularly working beyond the ‘official hours’ including weekends.
  3. It is expected that you arrive before and leave after your official hours.
  4. No representation in your industry to protect employment conditions.
  5. 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.
  6. Your annual performance review is based on the subjective assessments of your direct manager who may or may not like you.
  7. 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.
  8. In an economic downturn, you panic, because you know what you do is essentially expendable.
  9. Large parts of your day are dealing with procedure, invented by other workers to justify their own existence.
  10. 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.
  11. You feel as though your rarely use the skills acquired in the formal education you needed to get that job.
  12. 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.

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