Elon Musk is a danger to us all. He says: “No one ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.” Well Elon, not everyone necessarily wants to change the world, but in case we do, he adds that to do so, you need to put in “80, sustained hours a week, peaking at about 100”. No wonder his wife left him.
We haven’t always been so work-obsessed. During the middle ages, in England, peasants would work just 150 days a year. Until relatively recently, work was seen as painful toil, and best avoided. But something changed in the 16th century – we started to think that work was morally good. Five hundred years on, #ThankGodIt’sMonday has made it saintly. Now we have a Protestant work ethic without the pressure of taking Sunday off to go to church. Instead, we should toil 24/7, taking #workinglate selfies to prove it.
Well sod that for a game of soldiers. We know that not working can make us miserable; people who work tend to be healthier, work can give us a sense of purpose and meaning. It connects us with other people. At a minimum, work provides money as well as something to do with our time.
But too much work can be toxic. Working very long hours can be bad for our health. Ultra-long hours can kill. Ergomania can lead to problems such as depression, anxiety and addiction and can cut us off from friends and family, leaving us with only colleagues. If work disappears, work obsessives often have nothing to fall back on. A job loss can become a deep existential crisis.
Instead of boasting about the hours we work, we would be better off listening to Bruce Daisley, a Twitter executive: “Go to lunch, get a good night’s sleep and shorten your work week.”