Monday, November 03, 2014

Working Too Hard

Esther Kaplan writes about Americans who work too hard.  One consequence of the "jobless recovery" can be exactly that:  Fewer people doing far more work.

That can have serious consequences, because people are human, need rest and sleep, and make mistakes if they are overworked. 

Most of Kaplan's examples come from hospitals, though it should be noted that treating nurses as if the nursing forests were full of dead trees in need of felling is a longer term trend*.  But similar concerns apply to other "post-recovery" industries, including schools, factories, mines and stores.  Overwork can kill or hurt, and the victims are not only the workers themselves.

As an aside, this aspect of working very hard is seldom addressed in the moral sermons about the need to work hard rather than to ask for help.  Nobody is at their best after a twenty-hour shift in a hospital, say, and I wouldn't want someone investing my money (to give an utterly imaginary example!) after they have been working twelve to fourteen hours without a lunch break.  I don't want truck drivers on the roads without adequate sleep and breaks, either. 

Then there are the related concerns:  Workers have families and if workers are always supposed to be working (at least always available for work), the family duties will suffer.

At least many nurses have unions.  The non-unionized workers have few options when the labor markets push them into the choice of working incredibly long or tiring hours or not working at all.
*Caused by a complex mixture of events:  Less severe patients are sent home so the average case-mix in the hospitals is sicker, even if there might be fewer patients overall, the pressures to cut costs by reducing the staff at hospitals, especially in for-profit hospitals, and the fact that defining the output of nurses is difficult and can be debated over.  For instance, which tasks should be performed by nurses and which can be performed by other, less expensive staff, is something that can be manipulated.