Overwork

Stowe Boyd
Obsessed with the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future. Futures. Research. Dissent. http://workfutures.org. http://stoweboyd.com

Take a deep dive into Overwork with this hand-curated series of 10 time-tested articles and videos from around the web. We’ll guide you through, one link per day, in the app or in your inbox.

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Workism is a state of mind that leads people to working more than is good for them, and which can break the barrier between a work identity and self identity. In the worst cases, people people can collapse under the weight of their expectations, or great mental distress if — for example — they lose a job. Many organizations implicitly or even explicitly promote overwork as a cultural norm.


Stowe Boyd has been studying work and the tools we use to adapt to the future for the past three decades. His calling is the ecology of work and the anthropology of the future. He is the managing director of Work Futures, a research group, and is a contributing editor at Gigaom, where he researches emerging work technologies. Stowe coined the terms 'hashtag', 'work management', 'social tools', 'workboard', and 'spreadbase'. He edits several newsletters on Medium, including Work Futures Update and Gigaom's Work Week.

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  • Topics covered: work, future of work, productivity, time, life
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Deep Dives are carefully hand-curated series of time-tested articles and videos from around the web.

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In our current age of email and smartphones, work has pervaded more and more of our waking hours — evenings, mornings, weekends, vacations — rendering the idea of a fixed workday as quaint. We’re driven to these extremes by some vague sense that all of this frantic communicating will make us more productive.

Stowe Boyd

In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, the leadership strategist Greg McKeown argues that to combat busy culture and create a healthier and more productive work environment, leaders should say “yes” to only the top 10% of the tasks presented to them. Show through your actions that your core duties are your priority, and make saying “no” to other work the norm.

Stowe Boyd

The economists of the early 20th century did not foresee that work might evolve from a means of material production to a means of identity production. They failed to anticipate that, for the poor and middle class, work would remain a necessity; but for the college-educated elite, it would morph into a kind of religion, promising identity, transcendence, and community. Call it workism.

Stowe Boyd

Since the early 2010s, as the crisis of work has become increasingly unavoidable in the US and the UK, these heretical ideas have been rediscovered and developed further. Brief polemics such as David Graeber’s “bullshit jobs” have been followed by more nuanced books, creating a rapidly growing literature that critiques work as an ideology – sometimes labelling it “workism” – and explores what could take its place. A new anti-work movement has taken shape.

Stowe Boyd

There’s a ceiling on how much more someone can get done by simply spending more time at work. After about 48 hours a week, a worker’s output drops sharply, according to a Stanford economist. Other research has appeared to support this finding. While there may be an initial burst of activity from overworking, people who work more than 55 hours a week perform worse than those who go home at a normal hour and get some rest.

Stowe Boyd

‘Total work’, a term coined by the German philosopher Josef Pieper just after the Second World War in his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture (1948), is the process by which human beings are transformed into workers and nothing else. By this means, work will ultimately become total, I argue, when it is the centre around which all of human life turns; when everything else is put in its service; when leisure, festivity and play come to resemble and then become work; when there remains no further dimension to life beyond work; when humans fully believe that we were born only to work; and when other ways of life, existing before total work won out, disappear completely from cultural memory.

We are on the verge of total work’s realisation.

Stowe Boyd

Commitment to work is no longer the consequence of organizational loyalty. It is an expression of talent. This shift still allows organizations to exact commitment by offering that precious appellation, “top talent,” in return.

Stowe Boyd

For almost everything in life, more is better up to a point when it ceases to be better. Love is a good thing. Right? But obsessive love is a bad thing, and it causes people to hurt one another, if not kill one another. And so, this is a case of, we have ridden, if you will, the horse of efficiency, to having a more productive economy. But past a certain point, chasing after more efficiency without regard to anything else is having some consequences that are unexpected entirely. That includes having an economy where the median family in America, is stagnating and has been stagnating for many years, while the top 1% are having a better economic time than ever. That’s an inadvertent consequence of the obsessive push for efficiency.

Stowe Boyd

Like other threads in the future of work, workism and overwork are enmeshed in many other threads, like work/life balance, work culture, and even the architecture of the workplace. To learn more about other aspects of the future of work, read Work Futures Update and other posts at Work Futures.

Stowe Boyd

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