4.1.2 Your work – past, present, future

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Unit 4 Contents

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What work have you done – whether in a shop, office or factory, whether at home or in a school, whether for pay or not?

What was it like to do it? Fulfilling? Boring? Lonely or sociable?  Physically hard?  Intellectually difficult?  Mundane?  Creative?

If your working life is mainly in the future, what do you expect from work?

What about people you know – family and friends?

The list of possible words describing how we experience work could go on.

Most people who work full-time spend half their waking hours on it Monday to Friday – if not more.  In recent decades, many in Britain have been subject to what’s been called the ‘long hours culture’.  They work 50 or 60 or 70 hours a week.

What about rest?  How much rest/leisure/recreation do you have each week – i.e., time when you’re not doing something you have a practical obligation to do?  Do you have at least one full day without work every week – a ‘Sabbath’ day?

What ‘sector’ is your work in – private, public, ‘third’ or domestic?  Which sector will your future work be in?  We’ll look at what these terms mean in a moment.

Until the emergence of mechanized manufacture about 200 years ago, there was not, for most people, a sharp distinction between home and workplace.  In a primarily agricultural society, with much smaller cities than we have now, many people lived on or close to land that they farmed and much manufacture was very small-scale and based in the home – ‘cottage industry’.  So most people did not ‘go out to work’.  Doing this is a relatively recent feature of working practice.

To some extent, this is now reversing.  In several areas of working life, there is now an expectation that many people will do some or much of their work at home.  To give one specific example, the British government body that regulates ‘social housing’ (housing associations and local authority landlords), the Homes and Communities Agency, recently closed some of its regional offices and expected employees to work from home.  This is made possible by technological developments of the last 20 years – the internet and email.

What is your experience of the relationship between home and workplace?  Some people find they like a very sharp distinction – and might actually be grateful for a lengthy commute between the two, so that the struggles of work don’t intrude on home, family and friends.  Others can’t stand the way that that distinction means their life is in separate compartments.

For many years between the 1950s and 1970s, a radio presenter and historian in the USA, Studs Terkel, interviewed people on his programme about their experiences of working life.  He simply let them tell their stories.  This led to a book that contained many of these interviews: Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.  It became a bestseller.  Take a quick look at the Wikipedia page about this.  It summarizes a few of the stories.

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Reading (4pp)

Wikipedia entry about Studs Terkel, Working

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Below is the link to a BBC webpage at which you can listen to audio-clips of the experience of work of five people in different parts of the world in the twentieth century.  Each lasts four to five minutes.  You might like to listen to a couple of them, partly as a way of provoking further reflection on your own experience.  But if you are short of time, I suggest you pass over this.

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Optional audio-clips (each is c.4½ mins)

BBC World Service website: ‘Workers of the World’

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End of 4.1.2

Go to 4.1.3 Different ‘sectors’ of work

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