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On Point On Slacking 524

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the stuff-to-listen-to dept.
Wellington Grey writes "This week the NPR show On Point has an excellent episode exploring slacking and the American work ethic. (note that it's audio) It touches on some issues that may be of interest to geeks such as outsourcing, the church of the subgenius and the eternal conflict between wanting to be a lazy bum and wanting to work hard. What do slashdotters think: does America need more slack or more work?" It is summer vacation after all, right?
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On Point On Slacking

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  • I've found that in all of my jobs there are people willing to work and do their job and their are people who will just do what they need to get by.

    Personally, I feel this has to do with how they grew up. Rarely do I find someone that was spoiled during their life become a good worker. I think that America needs isn't so much more slacking or working, but the kids do need to be raised to earn what they get so that once they get into a true paycheck job they have the mindset to actually work and do their job and be team member.
  • Lazy? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joe Tie. (567096) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:09PM (#15436796)
    Most westerners, and Americans in particular, are sleep deprived as the norm trying to get in some semblence of a life between work. The majority of us have also become stimulant addicts in an attempt to make this easier, which in turn makes the stress of the day even more severe. On top of all that, we live in a society where it's increasingly difficult to stay abreast of the latest changes in science, society, and the world and where most of us lack the time to comfortably allocate study time for the sake of pure learning. There's little time for quality family time, especially with those not in our own household. And there's precious little time to work on independant and alturistic projects which in theory could be of benefit to soceity. And if one finds any of that objectionable, he's instantly tagged as lazy.

    The world is one messed up place sometimes.
  • At what point (Score:2, Insightful)

    by falcon8080 (975701) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:10PM (#15436805) Homepage
    does taking a break so as to relax the mind and body become slacking?
    Ive noticed that some of our office tenants enforce a 'no web browsing' rule, but allow employees to head outside for a smoke break...
    It blows my mind that certain activities are considered slacking activities whilst others are as necessary as going to the bathroom. Of course spending 4hrs looking over /. might be considered excessive...
  • by Rod Beauvex (832040) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:10PM (#15436817)
    It's not that Americns are lazy, rather there is just no reward for working hard anymore. Gone are the days where initiave, hard work, and a little ingenuity was rewarded. Now it's just a another day of busy work.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:11PM (#15436824)
    "Instant communication, anytime, anywhere", "That's how business gets done", "Business at the speed of thought", blah blah blah.
    When was the first time you regretted hearing the phrase "twenty four by seven"?
    How many weeks of vacation do the Europeans get?

    Goddam right I need some slack.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:11PM (#15436831)
    We are a nation of slobs and lazy asses.

    I never understood that perception.

    A lot of the stereotypical hard working nationalities/races will "slack-off" too when given the chance. See this book [amazon.com] for what happens when the hard working immigrant Asian, Mexican, Eastern European, etc.. has children in this country.

    I think a lot of the work ethic of immigrants is because of desperation. They HAVE to work as hard as they do. We, on the other hand, are "hooked in" to this society and economy and therefore don't have to work as hard - or, better yet, we work smarter - because we know better.

  • by DrMrLordX (559371) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:12PM (#15436835)
    No, that this question is even being asked shows we're still burdened by the remnants of a Puritan work ethic. Compare the average American worker to those in other post-industrial economies and you'll find that we work more hours per week and get less vacation time per year.

    One of the major differences between Americans and people from other countries/cultures isn't in how much we work but rather in how we spend our free time. Some of us are remarkably sedentary. There may also be stark differences in how hard we work while "on the job", but I've found that, overall, American workplaces are continuing to push for higher productivity from fewer workers. This trend forces each individual worker to be more productive by working harder or working smarter (sometimes both). It's getting hard to slack on the job in many fields.
  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:17PM (#15436894)

    Seriously, we need more vacation. If we got more vacation, we wouldn't need to slack off at work at all. We'd be rested enough to do our jobs. But we don't get nearly enough. [infoplease.com] We're not slacking - we're dog tired, burnt out, whatever you want to call it. Give us more time off and I'll bet productivity will go up more than enough to compensate.

    And cut out PTO while you're at it. Only thing that does is lump your vacation days and your sick days together. It'd be a good idea if we got enough of them but we don't. So every time someone at the office gets the flu, they think "If I take sick days off I'm losing vacation days - and I want to go to the Bahamas this year" and come to the office anyways. And get everybody sick.

    Stop treating time off like a loss to the company - it isn't. Healthy and happy workers make for a better company.

  • by nEoN nOoDlE (27594) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:18PM (#15436910) Homepage
    That this even is being asked illustrates a very serious problem in this country.

    I don't think that's an accurate assessment. I don't know how things are like overseas, but Americans take a lot of pride in their jobs. "What do you do?" is one of the first questions asked after an introduction to another person. We put our own personal value into the jobs we do. That this question is being asked illustrates to me that Americans have been spending so much time working that they're wondering if they spend too much time doing it, and if there's something else that might be more important.
  • by farrellj (563) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:20PM (#15436922) Homepage Journal
    For the years I worked in the US, I worked more national holidays, unpaid overtime, and from home than any job, including my own business, in Canada. I believe that studies find Americans work more hours than almost any where else, but are ultimately less productive than most other countries. Hours at work do not equal productivity!

    I know people who work/worked at a certain US hardware vendor where members of the software *engineering* group are forced to work 24 hour on-call as FIRST LEVEL support on over 5,000 servers at various sites around the US in addition to their regular work. Is it any wonder why they keep on loosing members left, right and center, and can't recruit people? Is it any wonder why their engineering work frequently slips and or is badly engineered?

    ttyl
              Farrell
  • by MrWa (144753) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:21PM (#15436934) Homepage
    That this even is being asked illustrates a very serious problem in this country. We are a nation of slobs and lazy asses.

    The serious problem being that some people want to ruin the fun for everyone else by pointing out the obvious. I completely agree.

    Suprising that the virtues of laziness are delved into much. Not just in Perl programmers but in all aspects of work, the desire to be lazy leads to getting more done with less effort. That's what the policy wonks in the Fed call increased productivity - which is good for the economy.

    There is a reason that the US has done so well despite being lazy assess...

  • Re:Europeans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GeckoX (259575) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:23PM (#15436956)
    Gotta move over there or something.

    I've managed to scratch my way up to 5 weeks of vacation over the years. I've had that for 2 years now. Sounds great right? Yeah, if I could actually freaking take them. You try taking 5 weeks throughout the year when your stupid manager only gets 3. It's pretty easy to see that time slip through your finger tips. Sure, you must get compensated, but I don't want an extra 2 weeks of pay that just gets taken in taxes fer christ sakes!

    We absolutely work too hard. I'd be more inclined to be happy with very little time off if I was responsible for saving peoples lives every day. But when I do this to line some assholes wallet? Is it worth it? HELL NO!!! The problem is, it sure beats the lines down at the soup kitchen.

    bloody f'ing capatalist society.
  • Re:Europeans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:25PM (#15436981) Journal
    "That's because, as a rule, european folk have enough problems that most people see no point in highlighting yet another."

    I'm sure those Europeans will be crying themselves to sleep in their beach chairs while you are in your cubicle.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:28PM (#15437026)
    No kidding. Americans make less than they did 5 years account when you count in inflation, higher gas prices, and other fun stuff. My boss expects more and pays less. I have not gotten a raise for 3 years. Am I lazy compared to 3 years ago? A bit. I put in as much as they pay me for. They pay less, they get less.

    What I find amazing is that most co-workers i've had tend to be lazier than me. I hate to be racist, but I've noticed certain groups put in less effort. I really don't understand the indian outsourcing. After working with indians for years, I can safely say the most lazy american is more efficient. I currently work at a university which caters to indian students. We advertise in india. I see a lot of indian students everyday. I'm also a computer science major. Everytime i've done a group project with an indian they always fail and I always get an A because I had to do all the work and even the professor can see that.

    Companies want harder working employees? Give them some incentives like a minimum of cost of living increases (that match inflation). Actually promote hard workers, and compensate them. Consider stock options, 401k, other benefits and discounts. At my university, upper level employees get a major discount on laptops and other devices for home use. They buy the systems from dell in volume and pass the savings off to employees. It only takes a few days of seeing a lazy employee get perks or at least not get yelled at before you want to get lazy too.

    My boss rewards two of my coworkers for their lazyness by buying them beers after work. WTF. They are more fun to hang out with so they can sit on their ass all day. Come to think of it, maybe I should just follow the indian system of least resistance. Don't do anything unless you're specifically told too and do it half assed so you won't get asked again. I'm limiting my comments to indian technology workers. I've met some brilliant indian doctors.
  • Re:Lucky you. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Medievalist (16032) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:33PM (#15437068)
    Jesus fucking Christ, this is the United States, land of the free. Where are the breaks for the people that make this country profitable?
    You mean the illegal mexican immigrants?
  • by moankey (142715) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:33PM (#15437069)
    If we look at history and culture, it would appear slacking started occuring during the baby-boomer generation. Some people's parents or grandparents.

    The transition from loyalty and hard work all of a sudden shifted to feeling good and rebelling. Since then the mindset is still the same just evolved to match the current time we live in.
  • by trazom28 (134909) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:40PM (#15437145)
    It was tagged flamebait, but is a valid point. IT support jobs are unique in the industry. If it all goes right, you never know we exist. If it all goes to hell, it's our fault. Mix in with that, that IT Support is an area of business that rarely if ever turns a profit. Management doesn't like that.

    Referring to the article - a look at job postings tells you what people are looking for. Someone who lives for their job. A recent posting here hear listed the descriptions of several different careers under the heading of one job. They wanted a Cisco certified person, who would also fix all the computers, printers, etc at the location, and in their spare time, program for their in house application and support their web page entirely. Anyone who takes that job isn't lazy - they're burning out and overworked.

    I'm finding a hard time finding a (better) job than I am in now, because frankly, I make my wife and kids my priority in life. I won't make it a common practice to put in 50+ hour work weeks. I don't mind the occasional weekend work or night work, but I flatly refuse to live for my job. I live for my wife and kids, and any employer who refuses to understand that is in my opinion, not worth working at.
  • by ChicagoDave (644806) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:47PM (#15437223) Homepage
    Personally, I cycle through very ambitious work periods and then into very home/family oriented periods. I still work hard, but I'm less focused on my career and "getting ahead" and more interested in the tasks at hand. During the ambitious times, I'm usually pushing my managers, owners, coworkers, and myself to get better at everything.

    I think Americans work hard, but I think there's also a selfishness across the board. Corporations are less inclined to care about work/life balance and employees are less inclined to care about where they work or for how long.

    No one is really investing in this relationship anymore.

    Maybe it's because more people now understand that the only way to make "real" money is to own your own business. Or maybe corporations have become greedy bastards that don't care about our communities anymore.

    I think we all know how to work hard, but only do so when the need arises. We're not a country of hardworkers just because that's what you're supposed to do. We cut corners because we can and because we see everyone else cutting corners.

    It's probably not a healthy thing for the future of our country.
  • by rossifer (581396) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:51PM (#15437261) Journal
    I have not met a single soul outside of the medical and legal profession whose actual and typical workload could not be accomplished in 30-40 hours of real honest work.

    And I have yet to see a creative job where it is practical to work more than 20-25 hours on task week after week. This includes time spent during overtime and/or excessive overtime. Other time is spent exchanging ideas with other people, rest breaks (recharging eyes, body, and mind; allowing ideas to percolate), company meetings, dealing with personal issues (these become a larger part of the workday when overtime has been mandated), going to the bathroom, etc. Best of breed software development teams average 20 on-task hours per week per person. Typical teams average 12-15 on-task hours per week per person.

    In my experience as a software developer, as a team lead, and as an entrepreneur: 30-40 hours of "real honest work" for a creative worker can not be done in the average week. Perhaps in one exceptional week (the crunch week), but not the third crunch week in a row. If you force the issue by standing over shoulders or requiring lots of overtime, or whatever: you guarantee low quality results.

    To expect that people are on task for all or even most of their time in the office is just dumb.
    To expect that creative people can work overtime and sacrifice other parts of their lives without consequences that will impact job productivity is even more dumb.

    The problem is that most of them spend at least 2 hours a day screwing around, reading Slashdot, reading CNN, chatting in the aisles, or doing make-work while waiting for somebody else to deliver something that they need to continue their legitimate work.

    This kind of slack time is critical to have in the "normal" schedule. If you don't have time like this, your organization has no room to react to new demands. Fundamentally, it's the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. The first is worthless without the second. I say this as a supervisor of people who read slashdot (hi, Mike).

    If you disagree, please take some time out of your busy schedule, read Slack [amazon.com] and Peopleware [amazon.com] and afterwards, I'll be more than happy to continue the conversation.

    Regards,
    Ross
  • Re:Europeans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @01:58PM (#15437329) Homepage
    I've managed to scratch my way up to 5 weeks of vacation over the years. I've had that for 2 years now. Sounds great right? Yeah, if I could actually freaking take them

    My company recently instituded a use-it or lose-it policy wrt vactions. We used to be able to carry over past the fiscal year, now we can't.

    Now, at the start of the fiscal year, we file a plan for the next 6months, and file a second one half way through the fiscal year that leaves us at zero balance by end of fiscal year.

    I'm taken a 'screw you' policy -- if I've booked vacation (because they made me) and they won't allow me to carry it over, their deadlines are their problems.

    Admittedly, they can and do give special permission in a few cases to carry over. But if I had to book it 6 months in advance, and I actually scheduled/paid for something, I take the position that if you hadn't forced me to book it so long ago, I wouldn't have paid for it and be on the hook for it.

    It's a stupid policy, but I'm happy to make them die by their own sword as it were. "Oh, sorry, I've got a flight booked, you should schedule your deadlines when I schedule my vacation. You've known for months I wouldn't be here."

    Take your vacation. It's good for you.
  • Re:Europeans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GeckoX (259575) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:02PM (#15437360)
    Absolutely. And I do take my vacation whenever I can.

    This last year though, it was my 2 weeks over christmas that got pissed away, not a planned booked trip to hawaii or anything. Point to note, and for my own ref in the future: The company has NO FUCKING BUSINESS knowing WHAT I do with my time off. It doesn't matter whether I've got a flight booked, or am spending 2 weeks at home with my family, but they WILL take advantage of a perceived difference if given half a chance.

    Trust me, next time they ship late, and it's their own fucking problem, NOT mine.
  • by SeeMyNuts! (955740) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:03PM (#15437366)
    "American workplaces are continuing to push for higher productivity from fewer workers"

    Absolutely. I've seen this at several workplaces (two professional and one factory setting), and the result is burnt out workers and confused managers wondering why everyone is burnt out! The management is seriously so dense that they can't understand why higher quotas are not a motivational tool. I've also seen an instance where management used the wrong formula to calculate labor needs, and laid off people based on that formula. When people complain, the response is, basically, "deal with it."

    I know the overall quality of living is higher now than it was 100 years ago (economic growth, mainly), but the overall feeling I get is that we are moving back towards the 19th century in terms of how employees are valued.

    Part of the percieved laziness and fatness of Americans is weight gain due to stress. Many people I know are stressed to the limit and wondering why they are unhappy, in spite of being "well educated" and having supposedly "rewarding professional careers".

  • Re:Europeans (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:03PM (#15437367) Journal
    When they want to build the largest dam in the world (which is an engineering marvel that will put out as much electricity as 15 nuclear power plants combined), they just do it, and don't worry about the environmental, social, or historical implications.

    You missed one - they're also (mostly) ignoring that it crosses a significant fault line. I've yet to hear how they are going to address this. But, hey, that's progress, right? Didn't I also hear last night on NPR that they're just now recognizing that one of their rivers (yangtze, I believe) is going to be "dead" in just five years given the state, and increasing, pollution dumped into it? Progress, indeed!
  • Speaking for UK (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Karem Lore (649920) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:13PM (#15437466)
    As UK is part of Europe I thought I would say that the statutory mininmum holiday is actually 20 work days (plus national holidays). In essence this works to about a month. I actually have 25 and build up more for overtime and weekend work. However, this is because Europeans (and the UK is amongst the closest to US policy) are attempting to maintain a social agenda which includes family time. The problem is in the mentality (not insinuating, just reflecting).

    US people have to fight for their jobs and so tend to do "extra" to maintain their job because it is easy to get fired. The UK is not so easy, and countries like France it is near on impossible to get fired (and even if you do you get paid for a year...they also get 35 holidays a year and 35 hour work weeks mandated by law, any more and you can recover in extra days off)...

    SO the moral of the story is that the people are to blame for a) not preventing your government for bringing in anti-social work ethics (a.k.a capitalism) and b) for accepting the situation enforced onto you by your employee (bring back the Unions).

    Karem

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:18PM (#15437524)
    In many cases I think it's the opposite. A lot of people are raised to think that "work isn't fun, that's why they call it work". They end up choosing a career based primarily on earning power or some other criterion having nothing to do with personal satisfaction. They then try to find meaning in what they call their "real" lives, perhaps centered on family or other outside activities. Some of them may rise to the level of adequacy at work because they're afraid of losing the income stream they need for their outside life, but they'll never excel because they're really not interested in what they're doing. To be fair, I'm not saying that everyone who has family or an outside life is uninterested, some people like their work and like other things too. I'm just saying that good work performance is not simply the result of mechanistic childhood programming to perform. If people do well, it's because some aspect of what they do at work is giving them a sense of accomplishment. Paul Graham has written extensively on this type of thing. See www.paulgraham.com.
  • by Politburo (640618) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:26PM (#15437599)
    "What do you do?" is one of the first questions asked after an introduction to another person.

    Is this because we take pride in our work, or because we don't have anything else to talk about?
  • Re:Europeans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pla (258480) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:33PM (#15437671) Journal
    You try taking 5 weeks throughout the year when your stupid manager only gets 3.

    A simple solution to that "problem" exists, which I've personally used for years (I don't get five weeks, but I don't really want more than one or two full-week vacations per year anyway) - First, allocate the time you specifically want; Then, set aside two or three days as "emergency sanity vacations" to use whenever; Next, literally throw darts at a calendar to pick another five or so random days (sounds stupid, but when you hit one, you will enjoy those random days more than just about any other holiday or vacation time you will ever take); finally, counting back from the end of the year, take every Monday (or Wednesday if you prefer a mid-week-mini-weekend) off to use up the rest.

    IT managers frequently can't live without certain people for weeks at a time, but it takes a lot of damned gall to refuse you one day per week (even if it takes you three months of four-day weeks to use them all up).

    Personally, I have the career goal of someday getting 10 weeks of vacation, so I can make every week a four-day week (which, since most companies give 60-80hrs of holidays usually falling on a Monday or Friday, will still leave me my full one or two weeks to take "long" vacations).

    Not gonna hold my breath, though. And in IT, if I managed to get all 4-day weeks, that means I'd only end up working around 40hrs per week. ;-)
  • Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Medievalist (16032) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:34PM (#15437680)
    I don't think I understand what you are saying...

    If you are saying "rich people should get more breaks" I disagree big time. Rich people have proved they can get rich in the current system and therefore don't need any breaks - they are already successful and the system is working for them despite the disgusting crybaby attitude so many of them seem to have.

    If you are saying "people who build houses and do woodwork don't contribute to profitability" I still disagree. Wealth is the product of labor - people like yourself (and illegal mexican migrant laborers, for that matter) are the root source of wealth, and should therefore get some profit. Fat cats smoking dope in penthouses shouldn't get all the profit at the expense of their employees.

    As for "billion dollar corporations", they aren't people and so I don't give a rats ass about their whining. Why should I? They are already successful and everything's going their way. They don't need me (or anybody else) to give them any "breaks". I applaud their success, sure, but I'll give them a hearty "fuck you" when they ask for more tax breaks and more government handouts.
  • by jpellino (202698) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:49PM (#15437830)
    Part of the problem is how work and play are partitioned, or not. We've traditionally seen work as part of the productive part of our lives, and play as the kick-back-and-do-what-I-like part. When we were young, you came home from school. put your play clothes on and went out to make mud pies or whatever. There was a distinction. It has been mostly that way for adults, too - work 9-5 then kick back or wait for the weekend.

    Now it's fuzzier. Technology has done two things - (1) made work ubiquitous and (2) it is allowing us to micro-manage our leisure. Your phone (allegedly a productivity tool) now can be your TV and hi-fi and you can have it anywhere always. Which means you have a personal TV and hi-fi whenever the mood strikes. You used to haev to go home to do those things. iPod even more. I can't remember the last time I fired up an actual stereo stack just to listen to music.

    And we take entertainment in smaller bites, because it's available, in many forms. Restaurants are increasingly entertainment venues, as opposed to functional greasy spoons. Your car is now an entertainment center. My instant-on laptop is a theater, hi-fi, arcade, and and and... I have XM radio, and I use exactly three stations - 150, 151, 153 - the comedy channels. That turns my two 45 min commutes into entertainment. So I get to kick back and laugh out loud for a small chunk of time that I can't seem to afford otherwise. Ditto podcasts. That's a change that's far more entertainment than dialing around hoping something comes up, or screaming at Rush for three hours....

    I still think we're on a net gain with the mix. but it could turn around in a very short time...
  • Perspective... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @03:00PM (#15437942)
    Ok, I'll lay it out for you.

    I've been in IT since 1984 (while still in college). Most of my jobs have been ok; some interesting, like adminstering a Cray II at NASA Langley, or being lead Unix SA at the NYT SSC in Norfolk, VA and remote admining their production systems in Boston; some not so interesting. There were always things to be done, and never enough time to do them.

    I met my wife in 1985. She was a teacher, an excellent teacher. The kind of teacher teachers should be. She was always well prepared, and kept her students challenged and interested. She taught English and Gifted Education. She was often even busy during the summer keeping herself prepared for the next year. I routinely helped her with things, especially on the computer. We were always busy.

    As a result, we had very little time to actually enjoy the fruits of our labors. Sure, we spent a lot of time together (shopping, movies, house/school work, etc), and tried to take long weekend trips (during the summer or school breaks). Those times I cherish. We enjoyed every minute of our 20 years together, but it wasn't enough - not nearly enough. We simply expected to do more "real vacation things" when she retired in the summer of 2006.

    Well, here's how it went. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November of 2005 and died January 13, 2006. She never got to enjoy her retirement and we never had the opportunity to really travel or do the things we had put off until "later".

    Perhaps we should have tried harder to dedicate more down time, but that's not the work ethic under which we were raised and it's difficult to ignore. Lesson learned, though too late for me.

    I think there's too much emphasis in the US business world on doing more work, with fewer people -- you know "worker productivity". As a result, people feel pressured into working more and guilty about taking time for themselves or their family.

    The traditional Eurpoean model is much more family friendly. A month off every year with no work strings attached sounds pretty good to me.

    I know that work is important, but you can always find another job; you can't find another family or another life.

    Remember Sue...

  • Re:Europeans (Score:3, Insightful)

    by darkmeridian (119044) <william.chuang @ g m a il.com> on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @03:18PM (#15438115) Homepage
    China is experiencing the cultural evolution every developing nation goes through on its way to industrialization. Early American government, though founded as a democratic republic, fell into some disarray with the Alien Sedition Act. The Civil War was fought over the slavery of a race of humans dragged here in chains merely because they were black. With the Industrial Revolution came child labor and exploitation of the poor. Secrets were kept during the Cold War by assertion of national security. Big companies dumped PCBs into the East River while making their electronics. The list is much longer. The point is clear: all countries experience bumps while they grow their economy. In fifty years, if things progress the way they have been, Chinese citizens will stand up against their government and demand their rights as humans. And then we are screwed.
  • by Proteus (1926) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @04:02PM (#15438458) Homepage Journal
    First, let me get the definition out of the way: "slacking" is "not working when one is supposed to be working". Vacation, therefore, is not slacking, but reading Slashdot at work probably is.

    There are certainly times when slacking is an issue. If an air-traffic controller is playing her DS when she should be watching the radar, there's certainly a problem. When people slack so much that they aren't meeting the requirements of their work, there's a problem.

    But I'd argue that a little slacking in most industries is actually good for business.

    The problems really enter when management sees work as quantitative when it is qualitative. Knowledge workers are typically qualitative workers -- that is, it's more important (in general) to do their tasks well then to get a lot done. These people should be allowed to have some unstructured recreation at work (if they were allowed, it wouldn't be "slacking" any more! ;D), because it allows them to do better work.

    It's pretty unusual for someone to be able to simply sit and work for long periods of time, every day, on something that requires a significant chunk of brain power. Anyone who's done significant development knows that the best way to solve some kinds of problems is to do something completely unrelated for a while. When I get stumped, I play Lumines [ubi.com] for a while. It's usually only a few levels in when I suddenly think of something helpful, and can get back to work.

    I've also noticed that the most talented and truly productive (measured in terms of quantity * quality) developers, business modellers, architects, engineers, etc. have long ago recognized this need to "percolate" on occasion. Good management lets people "slack" a little during work time, because they know that these same people are often "working" during their fun time. I know that some of my best solutions have occurred to me late at night while playing Final Fantasy or browsing for fun from home. If work is going to encroach on my "fun time" (and really, it can't be helped in knowledge work, because you can't turn off your brain), then it's reasonable to get in a little fun at work, too.

    We don't need more work, or more "slacking" -- we need to stop forcing the dichotomy when it doesn't make sense.
  • by PrairieShark (857176) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @04:38PM (#15438813) Homepage Journal
    The problem isn't so much the number of hours you work, it's more a matter of if you enjoy them or not.

    I was a SysAdmin for years, during which time I worked 50 hours on a *short* week. A typical week was closer to 70, and I had on many occasions done in excess of 100. I had to take a laptop with me when I went on my 3-weeks-after-10-years vacation to Arizona in January (Arizona in January sure beats Ottawa!). I ended up working 1 to 2 hours a day while on "vacation". Every damned day.

    I hated my job, but I was too busy to look for another one.

    Then I got cancer, and lost my left kidney. (Well, I didn't _lose_ it; the surgeon took it out, sent it to the Lab and the report came back "malignant'). As part of my recovery, I was *forbidden* to lift anything heavier than a 10-pound bag of sugar, *required* to have a nap for at least 1/2 hour a day, and it was suggested I find a less stressful lifestyle. I was basically confined to the house for 6 weeks. The after-effects of the anasthetic left me unable to concentrate on much of anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I could read the newspaper's comic page, but that was about it.

    There's a lot to be said for a short nap in the afternoon. All of it positive.

    When I was able to go back to work, I could handle it, but now the 100-hour weeks annoyed me. So, I quit SysAdmin-ing (I don't think that's an actual word...), and now work as Tech Support for a much smaller firm. I do on-call sometimes, but mostly I get to do a 40-hour work week.

    Eliminating stress _does_ make a difference. I've noticed it. My wife's noticed it. My son and daughter-in-law noticed it. I get fewer cold/influenza bouts, because I'm not so run down. I _swear_ I'm wiser now, but that could just be because I'm alive (and therefore older) and appreciate it more.

    If you aren't happy with what you do, it'll kill you, regardless of the hours/days/weeks schedule.

    If you enjoy what you're doing for a living, the amount of time spent doing it doesn't really matter all that much.
  • by rantingkitten (938138) <kitten.mirrorshades@org> on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @04:51PM (#15438943) Homepage
    I grew up thinking "9 to 5, an hour for lunch" was normal and expected. At the time (early 80s) it probably was. Little by little, it has eroded, a half hour here, fifteen minutes there. Most "normal" workdays are 8 to 5, half hour for lunch, and staying late is expected -- if you take off right at 5 in most places, you're going to get some looks.

    Remember when only certain, time-critical jobs required people to carry pagers? You could tell someone was a doctor or a stockbroker if he was carrying one. Everyone else left work at work. Nowadays, you're expected to answer your cellphone at any time day or night if the boss calls.

    Vacation time gets slowly whittled away. Years ago, maybe you accrued one day of vacation per month. Then it was half a day. Then you couldn't roll those days into the next fiscal year -- use 'em or lose 'em. (You probably lost 'em.) Sorry, it's for "productivity" reasons. We need more "productivity" from our worker bees. I don't think you're typing as fast as you could be. With another 3wpm you could save thirty seven seconds per quarter, you slacker. Is that a personal call I see you making? You're not on the interworldwebnet, are you? That's a productivity loss! Why aren't you being productive? I know you've been here since 8am, worked through lunch, plan to stay late, and probably take client calls from your cellphone while sitting in traffic, but goddammit, be productive!! Work it harder, make it better, do it faster, makes us stronger!

    Americans work insane amounts. (I realize we are not alone in this, so cork it.) It's especially insane when you realize that "productivity" hasn't really increased that much. We show up earlier, stay later, take less breaks, but in any given day, the average office yob only has so much to do. Now they just have to spread their bit of work over nine hours, instead of seven or eight.

    The push for almighty profit has taken a lot away from society. Contrary to what conservatives love to believe, there is more to life than making money. Not long ago I was listening to some doofus on the radio prattling to the host about what a lazy bunch of losers France was. His justification for this was that their economic growth isn't as fast as ours.

    There seems to be an awful lot of this mentality, and it sickens me. Sure, they get tons of free time. What is it, eight weeks of vacation a year? Ten? 35 hour workweeks or something? In other words, time to enjoy life and do something you enjoy? Oh, but their economic growth isn't as fast as America's! WHO GIVES A SHIT?

    Most people are not doing anything so important that it requires five eight-or-nine hour days. I have my doubts that most people would admit that, but that's another problem in our culture of profit profit profit -- that we tie our identities so intrisically to our jobs, that it feels insulting to hear that what we're doing really isn't all that important. But I'm telling you, and all the other Joe Timesheets and Eddie Punchclocks out there, that really, if you only wrote TPS reports four days a week instead of five, nobody would notice. Things would still get done.

    I take that back -- the only people who would notice are those who directly profit from your efforts. So while 99% of the workforce would like to go the fuck home and enjoy what life has to offer, we're trapped in soul-crushing hellholes by the 1% that controls these things.

    Right now it's a beautiful day outside. I can see it from my window. I could be out there sunbathing or reading or falling in the water as I try to learn to use a kayak or getting sighed at by my friend as he tries to explain for the tenth time the difference between these knots as we prepare to go rock climbing. I could be playing with my cats, throwing Frisbees at my girlfriend's dogs, or just taking a nap. Instead, I have to stay here. There is nothing for me to do in the office today, but I have
  • Re:Lazy? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Eli Gottlieb (917758) <eligottlieb@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @06:02PM (#15439566) Homepage Journal
    They spend most of their day trying to look busy while actually doing nothing.

    There would be far less incentive to pretend to work if we could leave once the real work is finished! Instead, even "professional" workers, whose work is measured in tangible output rather than hours worked, are forced to pad their days with unnecessary hours spent in the office so that they can keep their job and receive their pay.

    In short, management seems to value a slacker who looks like they're doing something for 8 hours every day more than an industrious worker who gets everything done in 4 or 6 hours and wants to go home.
  • by Nate4D (813246) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @09:00PM (#15440866) Homepage Journal
    I worked a summer in a lumber mill, which is generally speaking a notch easier than full-blown factory work.

    It was dang hard work. I worked on the cut deck, and the mill hit 100+ degrees Fahrenheit more often than not.

    Like the GP said, it was everything the crew could do to stay caught up. In fact, we usually didn't - we were lucky if we could keep the belts and elevators that moved the wood around from jamming.

    I'd drink around 120 oz. of fluid in a day, to stay fully hydrated.

    I joined corporate America almost a year ago, and I've been stunned at how little work is actually done. The team I'm on has a release cycle of almost _twice_ the length it would have to be, unless I'm some sort of undiscovered programming genius (I assure you, I'm not).

    If you've never worked manual labor, well, you're missing a lot of things that can't be understood about it without trying it.

    I'm 22, by the way - so it's not like hard work is a relic of the sweatshops.

Money doesn't talk, it swears. -- Bob Dylan

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