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Rebranding Wage Slavery: An Intentional Imbalance

The title of the article, belonging to the Herald Sun, is “Time to Embrace Life’s Imbalance”.

It sits squirrelled away in the bottom corner of page 26 of today’s business section, a measly couple of hundred words. Easy to overlook.

In it, we are compelled by “business consultant” Judy Reynolds to forfeit a good work-life balance and instead adopt an attitude of “intentional imbalance”.

There’s two words we don’t often hear thrown together. I wonder where else we’d like to implement an “intentional imbalance” in our lives?

The article mentions a study by the Australia Institute, which found that the balance between work and life had worsened for nearly five million workers in the past five years. Five million, in five years. That’s nearly the entire population of Victoria. Imagine, as you’re walking around today, that every person you encounter is part of that group, and then marvel at the size of even the small percentage of that five million you’ve witnessed in a single day. In human terms, we’re not talking about a minority.

Although the piece has been penned in the language of choice, there is nonetheless the sneaking recognition that for those five million people whose work-life balance has worsened, the likely scenario was not one of a comfortable selection between option A or option B, with pros and cons to consider on each side, but rather grim acceptance or financial ruin.

Does the author of the article believe that people will voluntarily choose to increase their own suffering and enjoy it simply by changing the way they talk about it? Who among us stands to benefit from longer work hours and increased job insecurity. the two phenomena listed as “main culprits” for the causation of poor work-life balance?

It seems that the blurring of the lines between our work life and our private existence is a source of some discomfort to many employees. Many companies and workplaces now encourage some form of technological linkage with their hierarchy, whether it’s by smartphone, email or through an intranet/employee website. While many upwardly mobile workers use technology after hours to further their careers, this use of communications technologies after hours has also been correlated with an increased reporting of work-life conflict, and it’s really any wonder. Leaving behind the stresses of the workplace when the clock ticks over to finishing hour is I’m sure a feature of the terrain in the vast majority of employee’s minds.

We like to have clear cut boundaries between when we must be “on” in terms of our responsibilities, persona and outward behaviour, and when we can simply relax and be ourselves. The encroachment of business into our private lives in this way seems likely to cause more than a little existential discomfort in a situation that should ideally be free from unwanted external observation or interaction.

In fact, several studies conducted into the effects of work-life balance on the psychological and physical wellbeing of employees point fairly strongly towards a good work-life balance being a stepping stone to enjoying better health.

A study published in the Journal of Social Service Research indicates that “results show that employees who viewed their work schedules as flexible reported higher levels of work-life balance, which in turn were associated with positive paths to well-being.”

Investigations carried out by the Government of South Australia point to the same conclusion. “Work life balance initiatives increase loyalty and dedication, and decrease employee absenteeism, improving client service and enhancing business reputation overall.”

This 2002 study even suggests a benefit for employers:

“Many employees reported clearly benefiting from the flexible policies/practices offered by their organization. HR managers also generally believed that such policies/practices yielded tangible business benefits, including improved employee morale, greater employee commitment and performance, and reduced casual absence and turnover.”

In real economic terms then, supporting employees in their movements towards more balanced schedules gives us happy, committed and productive workers. This seems like a sound investment, a win-win situation that extends beyond the employer/employee dyad and out to the clients and families of the two.

So the question floating to the surface of this muddied pond seems to be, “who stands to benefit from the adoption of an ‘intentional imbalance’ in our work-life arrangements?”, and we don’t have to look far to answer that.

It seems Judy Reynolds is more than comfortable employing doublespeak to gussy up worker suffering.

Rather than addressing the problem itself, namely that five million workers (and more) are dissatisfied with the security of their jobs and the amount of time worked, Reynolds simply entices us to call our suffering by any other name.

The phrase “intentional imbalance” is a re-branding of wage slavery. What it means in real terms, stripped of the doublespeak, is that we are being beckoned by the business community to smilingly accept infringements on our rights at work. We are being told that things are not going to get better, and that rather than calling a turd a turd, we should simply spice it and serve it as gourmet.

Adam Smith’s condemnation of the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind” is as cogent now as it was when it was written. We cannot acquiesce to those who would run the world along the lines of “all for ourselves, and nothing for anyone else”, and this undermining of workers serves to perform exactly that function.

Who benefits from job insecurity? Business, of course, who can simply replace unruly workers with cheap overseas labour should they have the cheek to stand up and exercise their legal rights. They need not even follow through, as the threat of replacement is often more than enough to quash any organised resistance to damaging workplace policies. It may be too obvious to warrant mention, but longer work hours means exhausted workers, and the likelihood of a tired man causing a fuss is significantly lower than that from a well rested individual.

The observant reader will have noticed by now that these negative effects on the lives of workers are anything but good for the economy, so in practice, those businesses without access to government subsidies or the ability to whipsaw labour forces over international boundaries will likely suffer as much as their workers from this justification of abuse.

Ms Reynolds concludes her stunning insights into the topic with the suggestion that we “work out a plan that includes [our] goals for work, family, friends, health and recreation.”

I say we add to that list the direct and active opposition of Ms Reynolds’ absurd attack on the backbone of this country, and that we work to “intentionally imbalance” any attempts to implement it in our own lives and the lives of our friends, family and co-workers.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.


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  1. maggiesummers

    Feudalism by any other name?

  2. Lee

    Private sector slavery is becoming increasingly more common these days. There is little consideration for the impact their demands and their illegal actions have on their employees’ lives.

    My partner is employed as a full time casual working 38 hours per week, the same days and hours every week, year in, year out. Try getting a home loan when you’re employed as a casual, regardless of how many hours you work each week. As a young man, try finding a wife and raising a family when you’re employed as a casual. Most women are looking for men with secure jobs to support them as they give birth and raise the kids until the kids are old enough to go to school. He recently had to work on a Saturday and was paid no penalty rates. He got no other day off in lieu of working Saturday on top of his full time week. His much needed day of rest and for attending to an urgent private matter was lost.

    A friend told me of his experiences in a new job a few months ago. After working for a business for a month and with no forewarning, the new staff were told one afternoon that they had to complete an online induction course that night in their own time. If it wasn’t completed by the following morning they would be sacked. It wasn’t the first online course he had to complete at short notice in his own time. The last time the employer pulled this stunt, the course took 7 hours to complete and ate into my friend’s much needed sleep time. Then he was expected to go to work next day and operate heavy machinery in a safe manner on less sleep than he needs. Fortunately he had no other commitments on this particular evening and his internet connection was working.

    A vote for Liberal results in the erosion of the basic human right to employment for a fair wage and with fair work conditions.

  3. Rob Marsh

    “new staff were told one afternoon that they had to complete an online induction course that night in their own time. If it wasn’t completed by the following morning they would be sacked.”

    This right here is why we need stronger unions and better protection for workers rights. There is no way a manager, a director or a CEO would tolerate an imposition of this kind, and judging by a common standard of fairness there’s no reason anyone else should. This is one of the areas where having a basic income would come in more than handy, as the financial security it confers allows workers the room to move on issues that negatively affect them, and stops employers being able to hold unemployment above their heads as a punitive measure for non-compliance.

  4. stephentardrew

    My brothers and sisters no more should we sit back and let the ordinary people suffer for no reason other than greed, power and control.

    What is existence without some quality of life, financial security and adequate accommodation?

    Is it only the wealthy elites that deserve some reprieve from the vagaries of life?

    Have we become so mean as a society that we willingly throw our fellow citizens onto the scrap heap of low wage impoverishment?

    Just look at the US where food stamps and other essential support programs are wound back while corporate welfare and profits continue to grow.

    Have we forgotten we are the means of production and the creators of wealth through our labour and consumption of the goods that make the wealthy obscenely rich?

    We old time unionists, having fought this battle before, are witnessing the erosion of all we stood for in support of our-selves and our fellow workers.

    Once more into the breach dear friends or our children will be lost for generations to come as our word teeters towards social inequity and environmental decay.

    The time is not too far away whereby we will have to make a stand or meekly suffer the consequences.

    Those with long memories recall how the army and police were used to intimidate and incarcerate those who stood for social justice.

    The point is have we got the courage to fight for what is right and just?

  5. Lee

    “Just look at the US where food stamps and other essential support programs are wound back while corporate welfare and profits continue to grow.”

    Just look at the US, the self-proclaimed greatest nation in the world, where 80% of the population are now either living in poverty or close to it. When are Australians going to wake up and stop copying US disasters?

  6. Kaye Lee

    Not only are workers tired, they are in debt. Using nominal gross domestic product, Barclays estimates household debt at 130 per cent of GDP, which is the highest level on record. The ratio compares with 78 per cent globally, down from an all-time high of 81 per cent in 2010.

    While consumers and mortgagors are busy racking up debts, Australian companies have become more thrifty. Non-financial corporations reduced their gearing from 84 per cent of GDP in 2008, as the GFC began to bite, to 67 per cent in 2011. Companies had since leveraged up again to where debt represents 76 per cent of GDP. Even still, corporate Australia was markedly more prudent than the country’s individuals.

    “With high levels of leverage by world standards, where debt is concentrated in the household sector, we see this as a vulnerability in the event of another global shock,”

  7. Wun Farlung

    Well said brother, keep your powder dry we will need it soon
    yours in solidarity

  8. Divergent

    @Lee:casual Brian Howe gave a national press club speech on this very topic Also so-called housing shortage/housing boom would be corrected if immigration were reduced to replacement levels. see letstalkbooksandpolitics /2012/05/economic-advantages-of-declining.html However, COALition has us thinking there’s no immigration problem because of “stop the boats” smokescreen while quietly building BIG Australia. We have the fastest growing population in OECD. A city the size of Canberra coming in every year. Why? Dry arid continent, poor soils etc makes this unsustainable in the long term.

  9. mars08

    “With high levels of leverage by world standards, where debt is concentrated in the household sector…”

    What better way to discourage the drones from taking industrial action??? So many are living pay to pay and any time lost on strike would be a disaster.

  10. Wun Farlung

    A city the size of Canberra every year. Why?
    One reason is , so lazy, unimagintive and gutless Governments can give the impression of economic growth. More immigrants need houses,cars goods and services and cost the Government virtually nothing.

  11. The Lion

    When you hear the question WHY DO WE NEED UNIONS? This is the reason!

  12. stephentardrew

    I understand completely mars8.

    Been there and done that however we did risk it and survived. Mind you a lot of workers suffered along the way.

    I wonder which is better indebted servitude or activism.

    The point is when will the tipping point be reach for there surely is one.

    Yes Kaye Private debt is the noose around workers necks and the seeds for another economic collapse through real estate bubble or whatever else the financial sector can throw at us.

  13. Lee

    Thanks for the link, Divergent. I had a quick glance but will read thoroughly later.

    We should be investing in the training of our own young people instead of bringing in people on 457s in large numbers. About 6 weeks ago all the gas mains in our area were replaced. A few of the workers came to our place to do work on different days and every weekday morning for a few weeks I walked past several of them on my way to the bus stop. Every single person that I heard speak was a migrant. I wonder since the provision of gas services has been mostly privatised, is anyone here still offering apprenticeships for gas fitters? Quite possibly not and so we have to bring in skilled workers from overseas while our own quite capable young people are left sitting on the sidelines with no future.

  14. Divergent

    @Lee You might also take a peek at this /2013/09/does-australias-prosperity-depend-on.html We’re on track to exceed 100 million by the turn of the century. You’re spot on about quick fix 457/migrant workers vs trade skilling locals. But the intent is to supress the market overall and thus lower wage costs. Company XYZ can say the market rate for your skill is X thousand less than we’re paying you thus you have to take a pay cut to meet the market rate. Doesn’t say anything about the quality of your skills though.

  15. eli nes

    Great story, Rob!!!!
    I am certainly glad that businesses, with access to government money, cannot employ overseas workers or take over those without such access!!!.
    Still who would have thought we would hear scott morrison say ‘there is only one side of politics try to save the budget and that is the coalition.
    Is he performing a balancing act with blaming labor for, not only, causing the economic crisis that isn’t a crisis, and leaving a debt crisis that isn’t a crisis but also it is labor’s fault for not saving the coalition’s budget based on these crises????

  16. Wally

    I heard the other day they are considering making trading hours 24/7 obviously on the back of the LNP cutting out penalty rates. People want real jobs that provide 38 hours work for a realistic wage inline with the cost of living, sick pay, holiday pay, job security and penalty rates. All the LNP keep pushing is reducing costs to create jobs, they are not creating jobs they are enslaving the most vulnerable workers and as Lee said earlier how can you get a housing loan or car finance when your work is casual. Lets define casual, look at the boss the wrong way or stick up for your rights and you are no longer employed.

    Some of the business models used by retailers are responsible for the industries demise and the so called managers/CEO’s are too dumb to realise they are responsible. A few interesting observations I have made.

    First was a friend working in the warehouse of a clothing chain was employed on a casual basis for 20 – 25 hours a week on the minimum wage. At the time many employers followed suit cutting back staff, make them casual employees, reduced work hours and as a result customer satisfaction decreased and then like the company my friend worked for they wonder why they ended up in liquidation. Obviously if you screw the workers to the point where they have no disposable income left the retail sector is going to suffer.

    Harvey Norman is a classic example of how greed and stupidity combined can have a negative impact on the economy over a long period of time. Interest free sales, “Come on in and start paying next year.” So they offer goods to people who really cannot afford the goods and then when the payment terms are not met they slug the customers with massive interest charges that tie up funds for several years. What a bloody great business model that is and then Jerry Norman has the audacity to talk on TV about how weak retail sales are.

    The banks have a classic way of making home owners believe they are saving money when they are in fact ripping people off. Extending your home loan to renovate, buy a new car or to pay for an overseas holiday sounds inviting until you look at the interest you are charged instead of the interest rate comparison to a personal loan. If you took a personal loan you would need to pay it off over 5 years so a $20k loan at 15% interest would require monthly payments of $486 with total interest of $9k. The same $20k added onto a mortgage with 15 years left to run at 7% interest could add over $20k in interest. Unless you increase mortgage payments to the same amount you would pay on a separate loan there is no savings in extending your mortgage. The only saving is on a monthly payment basis.

    There are so many more examples of bad business nowadays it makes me wonder how the managers can sleep at night.

  17. Lee

    Capitalism requires a high level of unemployment for it to be effective. Workers then become so desperate that they accept really bad working conditions and business owners think they make more money. But people have less money for discretionary spending and that hurts businesses. I don’t understand why anyone who isn’t a business owner would think that Work Choices (or whatever badge it wears this week) and importing workers on 457 Visas is a good idea. It is quite common in the US now for workers to be working 2 or 3 jobs and still not earning minimum wage. Yet the sheeple in Australia are still determined to follow the failed American model.

  18. Florence nee Fedup

    One could say slaves have it better. The slave owner has to provide shelter, clothing and food. They are value animals, just like other stock, must be cared for/. Like other stock, they have a money value.

    With the industrial revolution, low wages and not other responsibility, the worker lost his value. If one dies, there was always another to taker their place.

    .Master/slave moved onto master/servant. The servant, one could say, has less freedom and rights, than the slave.

  19. CMMC

    Abbott is going to stand in front of many flags today and talk about ice, the drug.

    Is he going to admit to being an ice addict? That would explain his irrational behaviour.

  20. Florence nee Fedup

    Seems there was Not one flag. Will have to check that. He will look naked, without such a back drop. The in polling in his office must be working overtime. Heard Cash brush aside the question of why the defunded the National Drug Council. A body that was near completing a report on what they seeking by new Taskforce, run by Lay. Truth is, they are back flipping on cuts made to drugs programmes since coming into office.

  21. Zathras

    That’s why the economy needs a constant unemployment rate of around 5% – to keep wage pressure down.

    It also keeps those debt-ridden employed in a contant state of fear and anxiety about joining that eternal queue themselves.

    The main difference between wage slaves and plantation slaves is that the former have to feed and clothe themselves.

  22. Neweyboy

    This is what capitalism in its purest form is all about and we experiencing it now. Screw the little people, keep them down and control them. If you speak your mind or say no the wealthy barstards they label you a left wing looney and eventually you end up on the scrapheap with nothing. It is real and it happening people!

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