by The Inmate
The following is a letter I wrote to The American Prospect in response to “White-Collar Woes,” a review of Susan Reed’s book, White-Collar Sweatshop.
Dear Overworked Editors,
What is most interesting to ponder about American workers is not their dissatisfaction with work, but their seeming satisfaction. Susan Reed writes in her review of White-Collar Sweatshop [“White-Collar Woes,” April 9, 2001] “. . . there is no widespread rebellion in corporate America . . .” If we accept the proposition that most employees are satisfied then the question becomes a resounding, “Why?” This is the most important and revealing thing to consider in the business world.
Take a brief look at corporate life: most white-collar (and blue-collar) jobs have little intrinsic value, overbearing bureaucracy inhibits much potential job enjoyment, autonomy in decision-making is often an illusion and the weekend, if the employee actually gets a full one, is primarily used for recovery.
There are two reasons for the “satisfaction.” We have become a culture of work. Work defines people’s status and, more importantly, workers, now living in Nietzsche’s prophesied society void of a viable Center, seek their meaning in work. Corporations attuned to this fact rarely do anything to discourage it and many attempt to promote it for economic reasons.
Secondly, corporate culture and corporate gurus who write such “classics” as In Search of Excellence, promote work as the single most important source of meaning. The truly disturbing aspect of this is that workers have assimilated it in an almost Puritan sense, that is, they no longer need an outside source to motivate or force them to work long hours, their own guilt and ideas about “excellence” will push them into 50, 60 and 70 hour weeks—high status in the work world.
It is no wonder that new retirees need to be debriefed in order to deal with all the time they now possess and, ironically, had looked forward to for so much of their working lives. The corporate diet did little to prepare them for leisure–and leisure is what workers need. It is, according to Josef Pieper in Leisure, the Basis of Culture, “a form of that stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear.” No wonder they call it business.
Editor, The Corporate Asylum