If you're reading this, the odds are shockingly good that you're overworked and underpaid, or, at the very least, not compensated for anywhere near the hours you work.
Government statisticians, media reports and popular mythology make much of the fact that American workers are more productive than ever - the last consecutive quarters of l999 recorded a 5% growth in worker productivity. This rise frequently gets cited as a major reason for the country's long, high-tech inspired economic boom.
In the late l990's, according to economist Stephen S. Roach, productivity sped up fastest in the so-called service sector - transportation, public utilities, trade, finance, insurance, real estate, and a broad array of professional and business services. Collectively, this segment of the economy employs 77% of the workforce that isn't in government or on farms. Contrary to myth, Roach says, these people aren't low-paid, unskilled hamburger flippers and chain-store underclass. Nearly half of them are knowledge workers - like many of the people reading this - now the largest occupational category in America. In fact, almost all tech workers, from programmers to administrators to developers, are knowledge workers.
The government maintains that the average work week in the service sector is 32.9 hours; no different than a decade ago, and five hours shorter than in l964.
Roach and other economists have long argued that these figures are absurd. Surveys by the Labor Department and private pollsters suggest that people in knowledge jobs work a good deal longer. That means lots of knowledge workers aren't getting paid for the work they do.
"The dirty little secret of the Information Age," wrote Roach in Monday's New York Times [you have to join, but it's www.nytimes.com] , "is that an increasingly large slice of work goes on outside the official work hours the government recognizes and employers admit to."
Roach has a very powerful point. Laptops, cell phones and beepers, hand-held computing devices, fax machines and wireless technology mean that tech and knowledge workers can now work all the time - in their cars on the way to and from work, in planes on business trips, in their own homes. Tech and service workers are tied to their workplaces, and can hardly ever escape.
Although few companies openly insist on this, workers who want to remain valuable are understandably driven to work through nights and weekends. If they don't, they know their colleagues and co-workers might be. People hard- wired into their work are commonplace in the tech workplace, a particularly challenging environment for obsessive personalities. In fact, new technology has nearly obliterated all of the traditional lines between office and home, work and leisure time. This is a phenomenal boon to employers and companies, who get more work than ever for less cost. In that context, almost all non-entrepeneurial workers in the so-called knowledge workplace are almost surely underpaid.
College students report something of the same phenomenon - technology keeps them studying, socializing, messaging and researching much of the time, much more than is acknowledged by school administrations.
In fact, this round-the-clock work ethic is an integral part of the high-tech economy. Does anyone reading this actually work 33 hours a week? Or even 40?
Postal employees, cops and assembly-line and factory workers can boost their incomes by working overtime. But how can knowledge workers, who are already working most of the time? Workers who think for a living have a hard time boosting their efficiency.
Beyond that, there are numerous social and health implications: fatigue, stress, single-mindedness, and lack of balance and recreation in life.
Perhaps the toughest thing about being a round-the-clock knowledge worker is that you can't even acknowledge it. The rest of the world, including media and government, thinks you've got it made.
Question: How many hours do you work each week? Is it remotely close to what the government says?