Do you feel your job is the only thing you are living for? Are you constantly aching for a little more time off? Is toxic workplace culture causing you unbearable stress? You aren't alone. Most of us have to work for wages, and our workplaces are not only sapping us to make us miserable but they're also killing us.
Work-related psychological injuries and chronic diseases are spreading fast. The unemployed are worse off. You better be working in a job or else, it is akin to going through hell.
Work Stress Is a Slow Killer
It's easy to understand that stress has a series of neuro-endocrine reactions. Prolonged physical and psychological stress impairs the body's stability, causing diseases or even sudden death.
It's time to call the hard work bluff to create a cultural shift. A pay cheque that robs us of our time for rest, restoration, and relationships outside a job is servitude. Those pushing us to worship hard labour whilst conveniently ignoring our health, no longer deserve to be our cultural icons. You can't fire your boss who tells you hard work is everything but you can knock them off the pedestal unless they sign you a pay cheque identical to the one they take home. Which they won't.
Bosses Can Make and Break You
Parasitic bosses are like the Pied Pipers of folklore, leading us on in the rat race and into the abyss. They will gaslight you in the name of professional duty and glorify work as 'sacred' even if it damages your health.
When you agree to work without ample rest, you give your bosses your consent to abuse you. What kind of world has all this hard work created if it's making people and the planet sick? Must we now work harder for more money to treat work-related illnesses?
If this culture has conditioned you, you will likely reinscribe the same abusive patterns in a workspace or at home, where you get to be the boss. Women from marginalised social groups and "housewives" doing cheap or free domestic labour so you can do your job are bearing the heaviest burden.
When labour is cheap, rest has a higher cost for the worker. Pandemic trauma and high-intensity work combined hit those facing systemic inequalities the hardest.
Be It Office or WFH, Exploitation of Labour Is Constant
Meanwhile, some smartasses are busy telling you Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos works less and earns more than you because you are doing something wrong. They won't admit how the mega rich are good at working a corrupt system without qualms or that most of humanity is working too hard to make the handful of the richest richer.
It's not as if human beings don't like working or should only rest. But don't let anyone fool you into thinking that the current social organisation of labour is the best we can do. Some offices will offer gyms and recreational activities. What people need is rest that is free of office control.
The phasing out of work-from-home is causing anxiety to many who'd have to return to workplace surveillance (though, in some cases, their absence might bring domestic workers some some relief).
We all need more time off from work to nurture our minds, bodies, families, communities, and the planet, which is work too.
In a world that spends $8 million on health, the wellness economy has bloated to a colossal $4.5 trillion. Working overtime to juice profit from the work-related health crisis, these wellness gurus are fake if they refuse to acknowledge the root of toxic work culture —capitalism propped up by state oppression.
Capitalism Makes One’s Right To Rest a Tough Bargain
If you still think only utopians or "dangerous" radicals diss capitalism, you must open your eyes. The proof is in the polluted air our children are breathing, the ravage climate change is wreaking, and our broken mental health.
Structural shifts don't happen overnight and will still need jobs, but for incremental change to begin, we must say 'no' to work-related abuse. Work deadlines are about pushing workers to make more profit quickly. In most cases, there'd be no dire consequences if everyone slowed down a notch. Most things can wait over the weekend, and the world won't collapse.
People should not be rewarded for punishing their bodies; rest should not be doled out as compensation. As psychologist Jen Wolkin tweeted, the truth is, "Rest is not a reward. It's a neurobiological imperative." If your work degrades the quality of your life and reduces its duration, can you even call yourself a free human being?
Puritan moral ethics and caste patriarchy that made servility for a handful of elites into a virtue long ago serve capitalism well today. People's right to rest is hard to defend because the state-capital nexus benefits from keeping us toiling. That also explains why state socialism isn't so different from capitalism.
Unplug To Restore Work-Life Balance
Hyperconnectivity creates a highly invasive work ethos. In France, where the work week is limited to thirty-five hours (anything over that kicks in overtime), there is a law that gives employees the right to disconnect. Large companies must ensure that employees don't have to reply to them outside work hours.
It's not as if wage workers live in dreamland in France. But French doctors can also grant sick leave for burnout, and workers are compensated for the loss of salary until they feel well again.
Sure, there are caveats I am not listing here, and France is no utopia. It's part of the club of wealthy nations that outsources hard work to the Global South and keeps it poor. But, at least, these laws provide cushioning to their workers and boost the culture that shuns overwork rather than worships it.
Support Groups Help Break the Chain
Next time a colleague wants to confront bosses about non-office hours, why not back them solidly? There's power in numbers. If bosses say other companies will snap up deals if you rest, then reach out to people in competing companies and start a dialogue. Everyone is in the same trap. The challenge isn't as impossible to overcome as it might seem initially.
Remember what Amerian anarchist-feminist author Ursula K. Le Guin said of capitalism: "Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings." In her novel, The Dispossessed (1974), Le Guin imagined a society where no one had to do dangerous or menial work all their lives. People shared all kinds of work in a rotational system and did the least desirable tasks in the shortest shifts during the year. Le Guin explored holes in this utopia, but at least she dared to imagine something different.
Another famous anarchist-feminist, Emma Goldman who wrote of syndicalism in 1913, saying the goal was to fight for immediate gains just as trade unionists did.
However, syndicalists weren't "stupid enough to pretend that labour can expect humane conditions from inhumane economic arrangements in society".
Goldman said the idea would be to concentrate energy on the complete overthrow of the wage system to reconstruct society. Direct action, sabotage, and the general strike were forms of syndicalist resistance. Sabotage and general strike may not be everyone's cup of tea. However, nothing should prevent us from taking direct action—conscious individual or collective effort to protest against social conditions. What's more urgent than staying alive?
(Noopur Tiwari is an independent journalist based in Paris and the founder of the feminist platform “Smashboard”. She tweets @NoopurTiwari. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)