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Willing slaves of a new work order


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Office workers are spending longer hours at their desks.
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LONDON, England -- It used to be the most downtrodden who broke their backs in the workplace.

Now it's the managers, the white collar workers, who find themselves exhausted at the end of a long working day.

Recent research suggests the average blue collar worker in Europe will put in about 41 hours a week.

For professionals the figure rises to 43 hours a week, while managers can expect to clock up 50 hours before logging out for the weekend.

Now the over-work culture has been exposed in a new book, "Willing Slaves", by British author Madeline Bunting.

"I picked a really polemical, controversial title because I wanted people to sit up and think, 'Why am I giving my free time to my employer?'" says Bunting.

"There's a particular problem with professional, managerial employees whereby they are working incredibly long hours -- about 30 to 40 percent of them are working well in excess of their contractual hours. And the question is why?"

Bunting believes that economic factors such as job insecurity and downsizing have increased the pressure on employees to work ever-longer hours.

But she also thinks successful companies have re-branded the concept of work to make it more central to their employees' lives.

"What they are doing is trying to take over the role other institutions in society used to have, whether it's political parties, religious institutions, churches," she explains.

"As they fall into decline people look to work to give them meaning, purpose, identity in life. And employers are only too happy to take advantage of that and provide that sense of purpose."

One company that celebrates the ideal of meaningful work is ?What If!, a London-based business selling branding and marketing expertise that was recently voted the best workplace in Britain by the Financial Times newspaper.

For ?What If! the key to creativity is to encourage their employees to be themselves in an environment shared with like-minded people.

"Great people like one thing more than any other thing which is being surrounded by other great people," says ?What If! director Sal Pajwani.

Great football team

"It's a bit like a great football team. The biggest thing that motivates the United midfield is being surrounded by the United defense and the United attack. I think that's true in the workplace as well.

"I think that the more you can break down that distinction between work and home and the more you can think of it as part of your life, the better off people will be."

While ?What If! may have had success in introducing new meaning to their employees' attitude to work, Bunting has concerns that the approach may exaggerate the problems of over-work.

"People find office politics and the whole kind of business of keeping the team happy has become a far, far bigger burden of the job," she says.

"And many people often say that they don't really have those kind of emotional skills. That can be really wearing on a manager."

Pajwani recognizes the long hours put in by his staff, but believes it is a consequence of hiring and empowering talented and motivated employees.

"The main thing is that people have got to enjoy their work and they want the challenge, they don't want the easy life," he says.

"And we'd far rather have people that were working hard on a challenge they were enjoying than sitting around and being bored."

For those who love to work and love their work the opportunities have never been greater. The problem is whether the slaves can break free if they find they're losing the will.

"When you're really caught up in it, it's very hard to see a way out and it's very hard to acknowledge just what the cost of it is on the people around you and on your own health and your friendships," says Bunting.

"We've got to create a working culture where it's possible to have responsibilities outside your working life."


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