How You Spend Your Free Time
April 9th, 2019 | Essay
Work sucks. I like to think that we all know that.
I work a lot. I work at Megaconglomocorp, or something like it. Working at a multi-national company means there's always someone awake in their own work hours to send you a friendly reminder to provide that info about those shipments by end of day. End of which day? Which shipments? I don't know, just get me the info please dude my boss has asked me like three times already and I can't keep stalling him I'm already under an evaluation review please, dude. Please.
The work as it were, never ends. Corporate gigs tend to have a lot of issues with work hours seeping into life hours. I base this by all the internal advertising and focus about "maintaining work/life balance" at my cozy little gigantic, behemoth-like company. Posters in the bathrooms about the importance of family; don't forget us while you're pooping, Robert. Hour long sessions hosted by some kind of expert telling you basically to not eat so shitty and to walk around a little bit every hour. Half-day workshops to discover your "true meaning" in life, oh it just so happens to be related to the company. Weird. Had no idea that'd happen. Guess it's great that you found yourself working here, huh?
On paper it sounds great and progressive. Companies acknowledge that work is always there and that turning off from work is just as important as doing the work itself for long-term sustainable performance. Except, that's not what actually happens. The inbox doesn't stop just because the poster in the bathroom says your kid is playing baseball without you. Your colleagues in Australia are desperate for you to answer their question about plastic pricing. Your bosses boss sends email all night, maybe you should get email on your phone so you can answer her urgent asks. Maybe everything seems kind of urgent lately.
The first thing to go is lunch. You don't take lunch now, you go get it from the cafeteria and eat it at your desk while continuing to work. You're still behind. So you start staying an hour or two later once or twice a week to catch up on work that is getting backlogged. Then you start coming in an hour early on other days, to get ahead of work before other people start working.
Pretty soon you've hit the magic number: 50 hours a week. It doesn't really sound too drastic at first. A nine to five job is 40 hours, sure 50 is more but the shit never ends so you've gotta do something to mitigate it. Sure you work some nights and weekends. You've hopped onto calls while you're on vacation. That's just how it is.
Fuck that. "How it is" sucks and falling into this corporate trap of piling hours means you work for free like some asshole. I know this because I'm just about the king of the assholes with all the free time I have worked. Let's look at it closer using my Megaconglomocorp's current policies to model some of the numbers:
Despite it being a "40 hour work week" you actually only are contractually listed for 37.5 hours weekly because you get a 30 min lunch every day.
You get 9 company holidays every year, and 18 days for paid time off. Let's assume going forward you take all of this time off every year. This means that one year of work is equivalent to 1,748 hours. Cool.
From now on you decide to skip lunch. Now you're working 1,878 hours a year. You're working 17 days for free. You've basically eaten up all your paid time off, if you took it.
Now let's say you work an average of an extra hour a day while skipping lunch. 2,137 hours a year. 52 days for free.
Chasing after glory and making more spreadsheets than you'd like to admit, you decide "fuck it," let's work two extra hours a day and skip lunch. 50 hours a week. 2,398 hours a year. 86 days for free.
This is the state I've found myself in for the past seven years. It's not that unrealistic. I know a lot of folks who work these same hours with me, albeit arranged differently. I know some people who work more than these hours. I'd argue that if you have email on your phone you are never actually off work any longer; just on call during off-hours. Your brain in a state of passive engagement, waiting for a new notification, still primed to regurgitate those plastic prices that Australia was asking about earlier.
So if you're stupid enough to work 50 hour weeks at a company, the other stupid thing you can do is last a long time at the company. Keep giving free time to someone and eventually, like being necked by a vampire, you have your life force completely sucked out of you. This more or less happens when you start giving up your free time to the faceless machine you work under. Also you cry in the bathroom, or hear coworkers crying in the bathroom, or you go home and eat a pint of ice cream sometimes as coping mechanisms to deal with the stress and heavy workload. Just like, super uncool stuff.
Let's look at how much you actually work over the course of seven years if you're working large chunks of it for free. For the sake of argument, let's look at someone working just contracted time, someone working the average full-time worker hours according to the US Dept of Labor, and the hours that I work, being a humble idiot:
Here you can see the real impact of the sustained assholery that I have committed. In just seven years, I've managed to work the hours of 9.6 years.
Think about that for a second. I worked 2.6 years FOR FREE at a company I don't even like. Forget about company holidays or PTO, or even the salary I've given up, I'll never recoup 2.6 years of my life.
It's not a great look here for the average american full-time worker, either. In seven years, they've managed to work an extra year for free. If you extend out this view to 40 years, for that fabled 40 year career all at one company, the numbers get really scary. If you're the average american full-time worker, in a 40 year career you will work an extra five years totally unpaid. You think a Rolex at the end of a 40 year career is anything special? Not like companies still do that, but a low-end Rolex is somewhere around 1% of what you gave them for free in this scenario. Watches should be bought all around.
And for those of you wondering, if I managed to squeak out 40 years at Megaconglomocorp, I'd work just shy of 55 years. 15 free years. For even a modest desk jockey corporate bullshit artist like me, based on my salary that'd be literally giving them a million dollars worth of my time, for nothing. Here's a million dollars, board members. Hope you like it.
You wonder why so many people die within a few years of retiring? It's because they figured out how to do the impossible and worked 55 years of spreadsheets in only 40 years time. Companies should just give you a going away coffin instead of a going away watch. It'd be more practical at least. Does Rolex make a coffin?
So what's the moral of the story? There is none, really. I'm not going to tell you to only work 37.5 hours every week at your ultra-competitive corporate gig that pays extremely well for relatively small amounts of total effort. Interns work at these companies for free, just to try to get in and work at a discount. You can be replaced, and will be replaced if the company doesn't think the transaction of "you-work-we-pay" isn't favorable for them any longer. So, work your free hours. Let your life degrade. Keep collecting the check. Go on vacation once a year. Turn 7 years into 9.6 like a sad magician. I can't tell you how to live your life.
As for me, I'm getting the fuck out of here.
Thank you for reading.
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