Magazine article The Spectator

There's More to Life Than Work

Magazine article The Spectator

There's More to Life Than Work

Article excerpt

'The English disease' was a phrase once coined to describe our propensity to strike, but these days the national malady is our eagerness to work. We regard employment as the default mode of life, and leisure as a reason for guilt and remorse. So after the summer holidays Britain has returned to the safety of the workplace: with memories of Mediterranean beaches fading faster than the tans gained there, workers are resuming their daily toil.

The highest profile sufferer from the English disease this summer was Lord Browne, the chief executive who had to be told by his fellow BP directors that, despite his wishes, he must clear his desk at 60. It's unlikely that the oil company boss has to struggle to work by Tube, but surely if anyone has the choice of not getting up early, battling with other commuters and being incarcerated all day in an office, they would take it. It seems a no-brainer that not working is better than working, that free time is preferable to doing someone else's bidding; yet somehow paid employment has been moved from the liabilities side of life's balance sheet and redesignated as an asset.

Between Catholic devotions and the Protestant ethic, we have fallen for the line that working is good and time off must be minimised. We rationalise this by arguing that work is interesting, offices are pleasant, we have lots of friends there - and we may be promoted. Well, all right, it's better than working in more spartan conditions, but we shouldn't redefine that as liking the job - we simply prefer it to a worse one. Stoically telling ourselves that if we have to do it we might as well enjoy it is also nonsense;

it is like the hostages who end up sympathising with their kidnappers.

If we did not have to spend so long at work, we would have the time for genuinely interesting pursuits and would meet friends at the tennis club or the bar or wherever else we spent our leisure.

For those who crave the status offered by office hierarchies, there are pecking orders in the pub and positions on the tennis ladder. Instead of trying to be a captain of industry we could divert our ambitions to becoming captain of the golf club. It isn't necessary to work hard to play hard.

Nor is our perverted love of work directed solely at ourselves. Those with jobs don't simply dismiss those without as either the idle rich or the scrounging poor; they regard hard work so highly that they want the nation to retain an army of manual workers. …

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