On Work and Leisure

February 18, 2010

There is a moment in the horror movie The Shining when the main character played by Jack Nickolson has finally lost it. He has been holed up in a snow-bound resort in Colorado with his wife and son, serving as caretaker to the property while writing his “book.” His behavior has become more and more erratic and finally his wife sneaks into his office and begins to read the manuscript that he has been working on for days and days. All she reads, repeated over and over again on page after page is “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy….” Things quickly go down hill from there.

It was recently reported in the media that while most MA firms have seen a turn around in their business over the past few months, they are still not hiring new workers to match the increased demand. The claim is that they are taking a “wait and see” approach to how things go in the future.    Sounds reasonable, yet, I think there is also something else going on here. I wonder whether many of the companies have gotten used to having their present employees, especially the salaried ones, work uncompensated extra hours as they “picked up the slack” to cover the jobs of those who were laid off.    Initially, these employees were told this would only last until things turned around again. Most, who were already working 40-50 hour weeks, glad to still have a job, were willing to work 10-15 hours extra to do so, with the expectation that as soon as the economy got better, their job would slow down again. But, from what I hear, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Unfortunately, I think companies have gotten used to having their employees work long hours and are in no hurry to hire. The employee continues to work more hours for the same pay which leads to the inevitable personal cost for them: stress at home and work, less time with the kids, less time for rest and relaxation, less time to volunteer within the community, and less time to attend civic and social engagements like town meetings and church groups.

Now, granted most of my evidence for this is anecdotal, but I think I’ve heard enough stories to support my argument. I was recently talking with one woman who along with her boss and co-workers has been working 55- 60 hours a week for the past year. When she suggested to her boss that this was unreasonable given that the company was doing well again he told her that he had said as much to his boss who told him, “If you don’t want to work the hours, there are plenty of people out there looking for a job who will.” Here in the parish, a number of people who used to give volunteer time as religious ed. teachers or on committees and such have had to drop out because of work demands. In conversation they tell me how much more their jobs are demanding of them.

This is an unfair and unjust situation for today’s workers but it is an outgrowth of a long process of economic change. Over the past few decades we have moved away from a manufacturing economy with the practice of hourly wage as compensation to a service economy that allows for more salaried compensation. There is no longer any “overtime.”    In some instances, companies would pay bonuses as a trade-off for the extra hours. But, in a down economy, bonuses are few and far between.    So people are working longer hours and making less.

The Catholic Church teaches that “those responsible for business enterprises … have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits.” [Catechism 2432] Those within our community, especially those of Catholic faith, who are business managers and directors have a duty to balance the increase of profits, “which make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and guarantee employment” [2432] with a just wage, “the legitimate fruit of work.” [2434]

Perhaps, too, we need to rediscover the idea of Sabbath rest. “Just as God ‘rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,’ human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.“ [2184] In response to the non-negotiable work demands that are being place upon many, maybe we need to streamline those demands on our time that we can control and focus on those things that are really important – faith, family, friends – and renewing – human interaction and relaxation.    Is it possible for us one day a week, say Sunday, to turn off the blackberries, the email accounts, and the cell phones so as to turn off work for a day? (Hopefully our jobs allow that!) Can we schedule a meal either at home or with family at some point during the day? How about scheduled quiet time (nothing like a Sunday nap) with a good book or a DVD? Finally, attending Sunday Mass together as a family is always a good thing. This may mean that we have to make choices about which weekend commitments we keep and which we let go of, but the end result – rest, renewal, and a deepening of faith and family ties – I think is worth the effort.