Living to Work or Working to Live?

This is a question that most professional managers end up asking themselves somewhere along their careers. Of course, there are no easy answers but it may be illuminative to take a look at some of the responses to this question that thinkers have come up with in recent times as also in the past.

Modern economists try to seek answers to the question through a framework of a theory of market forces and Game Theory and while this ends up including the issue of “mate selection”: and marriage as well, the primary focus is on the market factors that regulate the trade-off between work and leisure. The basic model is known as the “backward bending supply curve”: of labor.

This approach leads to the conclusion that as a particular society or economy develops, more and more people spend more time on leisure, or, in other words they can be said to be working to live than living to work in such societies.
Statistical studies seem to bear this out, or at any rate, the researchers who did the studies claim that they do so. For example, a “study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, January, 2006,”: found that over the period 1965 to 2003 leisure for men increased 6-8 hours a week while for women the increase was 4-8 hours a week which translates into 5 to 10 weeks of additional vacation per year assuming a 40 hour week.

Similarly, a separate study (the results are not exactly comparable but captures the trend) in 2006 by the “Leisure Economics Research Center of the People’s University, Beijing”: found that over the past 20 years, leisure had increased by about 5 hours a week for men while for women the increase was more at 6-7 hours a week.

In India, the reverse seems to be happening. More and more people seem to be spending more time at the office, less time with their families, less time for vacations and less time for themselves. While this may be true for certain sectors of the economy, which may be intrinsically more stressful, any overall study of work and leisure across the entire Indian population may show that the Indian economy too confirms to this direct correlation between development and leisure. Other indirect measures captured by the human development index would suggest that this is so.
Be that as it may, modern companies recognize the issue as a management problem that should be addressed. And what better way to address it but try and blur the distinction between leisure and work? Concepts such as “work as fun” cover many types of activities that managements, leaders and HR managers can adopt to help reduce the existential angst that day to day stress generates in most employees.

The so-called “casualization” of the workplace, in terms of dress code – more formal wear giving way to less formal wear, behavioral norms – superiors trying to be more accessible than in the past, etiquette – more informal ways of interacting with colleagues, has been a direct result of conscious attempts to blur the distinction between work and leisure.
Many new age organizations relying heavily on information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been able to introduce flexi-timings and grant employees the freedom to work from anywhere including from home. This again tends to blur the distinction between work and leisure.

To most employees, however, it always seems as if the owner of the business can have all the leisure while employees do all the work. The ownership issue is certainly important. Many companies, therefore, have an employee stock ownership plan which seeks to address this as well, to the extent possible!
Whichever way we may look at it, in modern day meritocracy there is no escaping from this existential angst.
Ultimately, it is a matter of individual circumstances and choice: how much leisure can you afford now in the trade-off between work and leisure? It may always be more prudent to get back to work now and think of leisure later, especially now that you have finished reading this article at leisure!

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