Monday, September 01, 2008

An Unwanted Journey: Day 1013 - Eight-hour day

It was Robert Owen who coined the slogan "eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest" during the early 19th century in Britain. Today, many of us occupied in knowledge work will typically be paid on a 37.5-hour work week. That doesn't address how many hours are actually spent doing work, but I suspect most knowledge workers in general still don't completely balance 8 hours work, 8 hours recreation, and 8 hours rest.

Knowledge workers are said to outnumber all other workers in North America by at least a four to one margin. We benefit our employers by improving the company's business intelligence or intellectual capital. It would be wonderful if it could be said that we do so primarily by a balanced lifestyle in which rest and recreation are as important as time spent directly on business activities. The argument here is that rest and recreation dramatically improve productivity, that perceptive employers understand this, and that workers are correspondingly motivated to keep their lives in balance.

In fact, I think an argument can be made that this is happening. Speaking from a narrow personal perspective, some of the most productive and valuable people I see in business are those for whom balance between labour, recreation, and rest is not just a goal, but a critical pillar of their lives.

A lot depends on definitions, of course. One can define recreation, for example, as spending time on the Internet. But if you're doing so as a course of study, say to gain a certification relevant to your work as a professional knowledge worker, can we really call that recreation? Or if you're checking out your Facebook notifications from your office computer, can we really call that labour? Or if you're checking business email or other computer processing in the middle of the night, can we call that rest?

There will always be tension between laudable goals and the pressures of the moment. But today is dedicated to workers, specifically workers taking a day off work.

And there you go, a blog entry in my Unwanted Journey thread in which the word cancer only appears once!

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