Keynes (1930) argued that as technological advancements are made, people would work less and have more time for leisure activities. He described this as solving the ‘economic problem’. Whilst huge changes in technology have been witnessed since 1930, has the ratio of work to leisure actually changed in favour of the latter?
Works by The Economist (2006) and Gershuny (2008, 7) agree with Keynes, stating that people are spending more time on leisure activities, and have far more free time than ever before. However, there is actually evidence that leisure time ‘for employees is shrinking’ (Meyer, 2008). Schor (1992) also argues that, in the last 20 years, Americans are spending, even more, time working than previously. So what exactly is going on?
In complete contrast with Keynes’ argument, it seems that technology has actually increased many peoples’ workload and decreased their leisure time (Raconteur, 2016). ‘Phones and emails enable bosses to pester staff at all hours’ (Guardian, 2014), so even when not in the office, employees are having leisure time encroached upon. Developments in communication technology, such as phones and emails have increased the 24-hour nature of business, causing an increasing demand of ‘immediacy’ from managers. This is evident all around us, such as parents having conference calls on the school run, or replying to emails in bed at night. Is there any separation between work and leisure anymore? For business today, workers are now ‘permanently’ available, which can increase productivity and efficiency for firms. However, employees may often be distracted from work by children and spouses if work and leisure are combined, which could have negative implications for business today.
There is an alternative reason as to why work time has increased at the expense of leisure time. After the 2008/9 economic crash, there was a ‘shift in mentality’ (Guardian, 2014) of the British workforce. With a complete lack of job security and sharply rising unemployment figures (Guardian, 2008), employees felt the need to work harder in order to try to keep their jobs, therefore leading to a decrease in leisure time. This implicated business because there was a more productive workforce, but it needed to be decreased in order for businesses to survive, causing conflict between firms and employees.
Different people will have different answers to whether work or leisure is more important. The two are often seen as the same thing by business leaders (BBC, 2015), which can often lead to their jobs invading leisure and family time. Although careers are important for both monetary and psychological reasons, it seems difficult to argue that work should be prioritised over friends and family.
However, the blending of work and leisure is not necessarily a modern phenomenon. Certain jobs have always combined the two, such as farming (Guardian, 2014), where job and life almost completely overlap. So perhaps blurring the two isn’t such a bad thing, considering farmers have been doing it for thousands of years.
Combining work and leisure can also be beneficial to lots of different people. The concept gives the ‘magical freedom to be in two places at once’ (Guardian, 2013), which can be very advantageous for working parents, allowing them to increase their flexibility around their jobs and family commitments, provided that they enjoy their jobs, of course. Combining work with leisure is only considered negative if the two are treated as conflicting opposites; once this frankly out-dated opinion is ignored, the possibilities of successfully combining work with leisure are endless.
Louise R. Rysiecki studies BSC Business Management at Southampton Business School. The views in this article are those of the author. This article is part of our ‘Making Work Real’ series.