When Sweden realised that fewer and fewer people were becoming nurses who would care for their ageing population, they conducted a two-year experiment in which they shortened the working day to six hours instead of eight.
The results were positive. The nurses handed in fewer sick leaves, felt healthier, and boosted their overall productivity by 85%.
Sweden, however, chose to not go ahead with the plan because it was far too expensive to continue, as the nurses were being paid the same for the same amount of work.
To the slaughter
This year, with Qurbani Eid falling, cruelly, on a Saturday, instead of the usual three days off, most employees received one extra day to celebrate and rest.
On Thursday and Friday they spent all day bargaining for cattle, walking through the dung-infested streets, came back home, woke up in the morning the next day, went for Eid prayers, came back home again, spent the morning looking after the slaughter and the hacking, went all around town distributing the meat to family and friends and the needy, only to wake up the next morning with the dread of work the next.
This isn’t uncommon.
I cannot speak extensively for other nations, be it more developed or less, but, from what has inevitably become the norm here, especially in the “corporate” sector (and elsewhere too) is a schedule that overtakes life, as opposed to one that complements it.
Thursdays people rejoice. On Saturdays, I see it in the faces of the desperate worker-cogs, faces clutching on to the dying hours of the last weekend, dreading the backbreaking cycle of work-to-live-to-work.
This year, with the excruciatingly few number of Eid holidays, it seemed, last Sunday, that it was my friends and cousins and fellow citizens who were headed for the slaughter.
Are we all Sisyphus?
In most places, holidays are few and far in between. Most people plan their lives around these days, waiting for when they will come around.
The incessant need with which they crave these holidays states one rather sad fact: People are not happy with their lives.
Bangladesh’s booming economy and hyper-capitalism (which I’ve mentioned incessantly before) do little to assuage the manufactured need that most young blood feel: Study business (and oversaturate the market with BBA graduates), work at an MNC (prestige, status), earn more money (more of the same, and so that one can afford the nicest things).
After all, a very concrete path has been set, which requires us to take care of our family, to get married in dhoom-dharakka fervour, maybe buy an apartment some day if we haven’t inherited any, do something ourselves once we start loathing our respective bosses, et cetera.
But these massive life goals, all of which require financial support, ignore the nitty gritty of the quotidian.
They forget that each day has one good moment: When we can leave work.
And each week has one good day: The 24 hours from Thursday night to Friday night.
Once that’s done, we, like Sisyphus, must push that boulder up the hill all over again, so that it can roll back down again, and we rinse, and repeat.
Where’s the satisfaction, the joy, the meaning in that?
Maybe we need to reimagine how we work, and how we get things done. If work has become dread, what is motivating people to keep going back?
Society, not just here, but the whole world perhaps, has lost sight of what’s important: Happiness, satisfaction, self-actualisation -- at the risk of paraphrasing John Lennon.
Nine-to-fives have steadily eroded into myth; five-day work weeks too. Some places are kind, but go to a bank and you see the smartly dressed 20-somethings burning the midnight oil away along with their souls.
I do not mean to condescend workaholics or those who enjoy this sort of work; but what has become apparent is that not only are corporations taking advantage of the artificially generated greed imbibed in most young people in the country, but that most people, sadly, have accepted it as their life’s calling.
No one is saying that the Swedes had the perfect idea, or even that we should move away from allowing people the freedom to earn as much as they want, however they want.
But the system we have in place right now, which utilises such an anarchistic approach to well-being, a wellbeing which has invariably intertwined itself with material gains, is leading to an overworked, tired, deeply unhappy generation.
Maybe we need to reimagine how we work, and how we get things done.
If work has become dread, what, in the end, is motivating people to keep going back?
Is it money? Is that enough? And do we really want to raise a generation whose primary objective is to be richer than the rest?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.