The former Soviet Union instituted the “continuous workweek” known as neprervka almost 100 years ago. Weekends didn’t exist. Families couldn’t see each other much. Burnout was pervasive. The experiment didn’t last long. In today’s workforce, flexibility is the expected norm with the caveat that work can get done anywhere and at any time thanks to technology. Instead of balance, we work much harder today and don’t know our neighbors.
Life in America works when there’s a calendar otherwise we lose sight of the life we have to live. Japan is another schedule-driven society I know all too well. The work we do overtakes the work needed at home and in the community. Technology is creating more imbalance when it should make us more civic-minded citizens.
This insightful article highlights some startling examples such as Home Depot’s evolution from FT retail employer to just another revolving door for part-timers. Technology helps with scheduling and workforce productivity. A business succeeds thanks to technology but hurts the average worker. The end goal is seemingly to employ 24×7 part-time workers just like the failed Soviet experiment. If we work all the time we won’t have time to revolt with our neighbors against a government and business world suppressing civic life. One-dimensional plutocrats lacking maturity and human empathy take reins because we didn’t have time to do our homework with our neighbors.
Home Depot was a recent client of mine. Back in the 90s, I recall it being a company of experts. The retail stores excelled with full-time workers and experts. You could always count on the friends you made at Home Depot. Home Depot’s band of experts created a positive employee and customer experience. Things changed in the 2000s when Home Depot changed its full-time work culture into a part-time one without experts. The store experience was pretty bad, and the online experience was even worse.
When I fast-forward to the most recent years — as I helped Home Depot move its customer service capabilities onto a smartphone — things have dramatically improved as Home Depot connected its brick-and-mortar experience with its mobile and online channels. The low-cost flexible workers have become ‘experts’ with customer knowledge at their fingertips. While over-scheduling a part-time workforce has certainly been good for Home Depot’s stock performance and for customers like me, the employee experience hasn’t improved. Only store managers are full time. They watch their stores like hawks, replacing workers frequently.
I’ve always worried about the kind of experience these part-time employees might be having since I consulted at the headquarters. Since I don’t think it’s fair to punish part-time workers struggling to support their families, I tended to give everyone 5-star ratings on the mobile experience surveys. The Atlantic article highlights the role scheduling has played in diminishing quality of life including time for civic life. As 2019 comes to a close, it’s become much harder to achieve the civic goals I set out for myself.
Neprervka has been resurrected in new ways. We are wired 24×7, tethered to our phones, becoming customer support for our companies, but not for the sake of customers. The end goal is survival — in order to pay the bills and raise law-abiding children. “It takes a village” was a proverb I heard often back in my schooling days. The culture of our hometowns — whether back in Texas or in the backwaters of Asia — has disappeared as we embrace what is tantamount to a socially-stratified corporate lifestyle in ritzy urban centers. The pressure never ends to be at the top of your game. There’s only one winner for every race. Losers go home. The carefree freedoms of the local coffeehouse culture (from childhood) have been replaced by a virtual prison — where our phones connect us to our humanity — not conversations around a cooler with our families and neighbors.
Making a difference in the world has become a big deal if you tie it to the opportunity to make a big sale. If you garner good enough PR you just might keep the government off your back. Corporate Social Responsibility deserves more executive ownership and visionary action since many government leaders are not up to snuff. As citizens, we need to reprioritize our lives to avoid rule by hegemonic forces such as the tech industry which has successfully hijacked our minds.
Nonetheless, our shared fate is being sealed by a faceless boardroom of plutocrats making painful decisions equivalent to those passed down by dictators like Joseph Stalin a hundred years ago. Our phones gave us this convenient lifestyle but also distracted us enough to elect stupid people into public office. Too many things on the schedule blind us from seeing the light.
Let’s join forces with our neighbors for the greater good before we lose our vacation and weekend time, too. 😁