The Future of Work

When I think about the daily grind of

Nine to Five.

I remember sitting in my office chair

As a recent graduate.

Updating my Myspace profile and

Trying to complete Minesweeper,

Because even though I had finished

All

Of my tasks –

I could not leave the office

Until the clock struck Five.

Like some kind of Marxist Cinderella:

The value of commodity objectively measured

By the average number of hours required

To produce that commodity.

But even though I am not an expert in economics

(Or Marxist theory),

I still don’t understand how the excel spreadsheet of

‘People living in the North who also own fridges’

That I was compiling

Somehow became more

Valuable because I was ‘working’ on it for

Longer.

 

When I think about the daily grind of

Nine to Five.

I remember Robert Owen

And I am grateful that because of him

I now have:

Eight for you, and eight for me, and eight for bed.

Without him I would still be stuck in that office,

Living through a seemingly infinite FOR loop

Of bathroom selfies, adolescent angst, and small red flags.

 

When I think about the daily grind of

Nine to Five.

I remember being told that computers will one day

Save us from the monotony of our work.

I understand how their flawless logic

And impeccable workplace demeanour

Could be put to use in proofreading documents,

Comforting disgruntled employers,

And making the perfect cup of tea.

But how will a computer paint my day dreams,

Introduce new employers to the Cake Table,

Or meet Keith in The Kestrel for a swift half

And a bag of pork scratchings?

 

When I think about the daily grind of

Nine to Five.

I remember that there is more to life than work.

But with four for you, and eight for me, and eight for bed

What are we expected to do with the surplus?

Maybe we could plant a tree,

Or pick up litter,

Or do something else that society classes as

Meaningful.

Like starting a social reform:

More rights for automated machines!

“Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” (Image credit: Independentaustralia.net).

I was inspired to write this poem by Merck’s Future of Work project, and in particular the research of Andreas Steinle, and his visions for meaningful work. As our jobs become increasingly result-oriented it is likely that the traditional 9-to-5 workday will soon be a thing of the past. Could it also be that improvements in Artificial Intelligence would allow for the automation of repetitive tasks, making a 20-hour working week (at the same pay!) a standard for many employers? Whilst this might seem far-fetched, in the 1800s, it was common for people in manufacturing to work nearly 100 hours per week. Thankfully, the eight-day movement, led by Robert Owen (a Welsh textile manufacturer and social reformer) in 1817 under the slogan “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” helped to regulate the working day for UK citizens.

According to the latest statistics, full-time employers in the UK were found to work on average 42.3 hours a week, which is the highest amongst all EU countries. It will be fascinating to see how future practices and innovations reduce this number, and also the extent to which this reduction will be reflected in different sectors – some of which are certainly more reliant on repetitive tasks than others…

 

Disclaimer: This post has been produced in cooperation with Merck. Merck is known as Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany in the United States & Canada.

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