Since France introduced the enviable 35-hour work week in 1999, workers’ unions have become emboldened enough to demand even more slack. Thirty five hours is a threshold after which overtime begins: now some employers and unions are in agreement that bosses are infringing on workers’ rights by e-mailing them after work finishes, post 6 pm. No one knows how they’ll be compensated if the boss has the temerity to contact staff after hours, but suffice to say a few thousand lucky employees can now relish blissful, work free evenings, a la dolce vita. The kind which is out of existence in most parts of the world.
Happy hour may begin at six for some in France, in India I don’t think I know anyone who finishes work by then. More and more work-life balance is a luxury only those with financial freedom can aspire towards. Prioritising me time post six seems almost selfishly petty in a slow economy with too few jobs, especially when other people have far bigger problems — like the constant threat of redundancy. I feel sorry for 21-year-olds starting out now. The world seems tougher than it ever was. Leisure as a scarcity is the new reality. I just noticed Slate, a popular online magazine now lets you know exactly how many minutes it’ll take to read each article since they rightly surmise many readers don’t have a moment to spare.
Yet, it’s important to remember human life is broadly divided into two parts: labour and leisure. One is no good without the other. Even in the Old Testament, God creates the world in six days and rests on the seventh. Or to quote Aristotle in all his glittering simplicity, “Wealth is not the good we are seeking; it is merely useful for the sake of something else.”
Every successful entrepreneur, corporate honcho and feminist has mulled over and weighed in on the question of how to manage everything, a fulfilling career, free time and healthy relationships. There are no easy answers, free of compromise. As Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook says in her much talked about book Lean In, “I have never met a woman, or man, who stated emphatically, “Yes, I have it all”.” Like we all fantasize about eating and not gaining weight, we also wish we could afford our lifestyles without work consuming our lives. In a recent survey conducted in the US among women in management positions, only 37 per cent wanted a job with more responsibility and among mothers with children under 18, just a quarter said they would choose full time employment if money wasn’t an issue. The survey didn’t question men but it’s unlikely they’d think very differently.
Even if wanting it all is immaturely unrealistic, we live in a culture where who you are is defined by what you do. But not everybody aspires to set foreign policy or fly private and that’s not so bad. College students who are trying to decide what to do with their lives get so caught up with choosing a money path, they don’t consider the kind of lifestyles they would like to lead in the future. If they did I’m sure even high achieving students wouldn’t be so excited by finance and consulting, where part time can never be an option and job insecurity is a permanent state. But a friend I lost touch with because he was too busy studying in college is an opthalmologist now and he comes to the gym at the baffling hour of 1 pm. There are almost no emergencies since nobody ever dies of an eye ache. Medicine is out of fashion because qualifying is so frustratingly tedious but if you are inclined and choose the right specialisation, it offers plenty of money and loads of leisure. I keep hearing cheesy, wholly unbelievable lines like if you enjoy what you do it’s not work. Given a choice, many of us would opt for big, fat, lazy, quantity time doing absolutely nothing, any day.