by The Inmate
. . . the length of time of labour required under the present system is too great, and that, far from leaving the worker time for rest and education, it plunges him into a condition of servitude but little better than slavery.
Resolution of the Working Men of Dunkirk, New York, 1866
In the 1880’s an Italian physiologist, Angelo Mosso, drew blood from a fatigued dog and injected it into a rested one. The rested dog immediately became exhausted. From this experiment and other research Mosso surmised that fatigue obeyed natural laws. He also invented the ergograph, a mechanical device to measure fatigue in humans and search for ways to reduce its effects. For Mosso fatigue was a poison. He believed it had a cause and ultimately a cure.
In the early 1900’s Wilhelm Weichardt, a German physiologist, began testing a vaccine to eliminate fatigue. Antikenotoxin supposedly staved off its effects and was even converted into a gas that could be inhaled(with impunity for those with future political aspirations) until its exaggerated claims of success proved to be false. Others also attempted to find ways to prevent fatigue. In one experiment researchers injected concentrated caffeine into a test group. I am not kidding. A CEO reading this has probably already shot off several emails about the possibility of “intravenous caffeine drips (IVCD’s).”
In The Human Motor Anson Rabinbach excellently chronicles these events and the history of fatigue research. Fatigue was viewed as one of the major factors that prohibited workers from performing at optimum levels of efficiency during their seven twelve-hour shifts per week. Whoops, I’m sorry. It wasn’t seven, but six–the fortunate workers only had to work a half day on Sunday. If fatigue could be eliminated employers believed workers would be happier and more productive hence raising profits substantially. Because they did not want to bore workers with excesses of time, reduction of hours was not a consideration. What compassion!
Then comes the twentieth century. The Asylum, of course, has matured into a civilized entity. Force, in the form of mandatory overtime, has a new ally to encourage employees to work long hours: guilt. Work has almost become a new moral imperative. Juliet B. Schor in The Overworked American quotes an executive as saying that anyone “demanding a forty hour week should be ashamed to claim citizenship in this great country,” as if the only thing that makes a country great is its economic health. The early promise of technology was that higher rates of production would mean a shorter work day and more leisure. It has not happened. The Jetsons don’t live here. The reality, as pointed out by Sebastian de Grazia, is that modern man works longer hours on a yearly basis than did the peasants of medieval times who enjoyed with holidays and Sundays 167 days off per year. That’s a four day work week. Maybe the dark ages weren’t so dark after all.
Enter the workplace coffee machine. As you know, I work in the Asylum’s mail room. Every place I deliver to, with few exceptions, has a coffee-maker. This would be neither suspicious nor alarming if the coffee was being sold to employees for profit, but it’s free. Free? When do corporations provide anything for free?
The reason is obvious, but like any good corporate memo I’ll state it anyway: caffeine can delay the effects of fatigue caused by overwork. Go ahead, says the corporation, suck down that fifth cup–on us. Dump in that sugar, add that reasonable facsimile to cream, stir, have a seat and stay a while–a long while–there is much to do and we don’t want to hire anyone else to do it, because that might be humane and if there is one thing we do not want in the workplace–it’s humanity.
Josefa Ioteyko, a Polish physiologist, wrote that fatigue was “a defense which protects us against the dangers of a work pursued to the extreme.” Instead of attempting to mask fatigue with caffeine or other methods it would be better to heed its warnings. It is disastrous that the pervading work culture views long hours as a medal of honor and not the stress-producing, relationship-killing and fulfillment-detractor that it is.
Thomas More had it right: a six hour work day. This leaves time for family and/or friends, leisurely meals, thinking, napping, great sex, fine wine, music and books. It allows time to pursue the good life: rest and education, the life that is buried under fatigue caused by overtime, deadlines and “personal growth opportunities” pursued by the upwardly mobile.
Memo: To the Asylum. Keep your free coffee. To hell with your overtime and your emergencies and your trite view of meaning and your promises of future rewards at the expense of good marriages, good parenting, intellectual depth and spiritual awareness. Employees want and need undertime.
The Corporate Asylum provides its readers with numerous fatigue reduction alternatives to coffee, candy and sodas including, but not limited to, adrenalin injections, individually wrapped concentrated sugar cubes, cyanide pills(the ultimate in fatigue reduction), a sleep vaccine, bamboo shoots to jam under fingernails, newly released criminals to threaten you and any children’s cereal currently on the market.