What is work?

BoogieBoogie Shipmate
edited March 27 in Purgatory
@KarlLB made me think when he said -
KarlLB wrote: »
Three things that are often confused are hard work, activity, and usefulness.

Yesterday I spent many hours learning to use a new (to me) video editing programme for producing our Church’s online services. I didn’t consider it hard work at all. It was interesting, rewarding and challenging. But if I’d been asked to do it in my spare time for work I would have grumbled.

During this pandemic we’ve discovered, on a level never really appreciated before, the most important jobs - yet they are all comparatively low paid still. We value them more than ever, but we don’t pay them a decent wage.

Many of us have also discovered that longed-for free time isn’t as much fun when there is an abundance of it and nowhere to go.

Hard work to me is anything which is boring and mindless eg cleaning the house - but my friend loves it and works as a cleaner even ‘tho she doesn’t need the money.

Is it all about choice? If we choose to break rocks all day it’s not ‘hard work’? Is it about the physicality of the work? Or the amount of mental energy needed? How tired we are after we’ve done the work? (ask someone with Long Covid!)

Asda staff have been battling for equal pay for years because staff who work in the chain’s depots receive£1.50-£3 an hour more in pay than the shop workers. https://tinyurl.com/yxnjxc7w I don’t understand why there was a discrepancy in the first place.





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Comments

  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    To my mind, work is what you get paid to do. I have been retired for about seven years now, and have been struck by the difference between what I did for pay and what I do now. Until recently, I used to have nightmares relating to jobs that I had left decades before, for example. Also, there is a weird persona one takes on when working, where one is "passionate" about things that the non-work you couldn't care less for. There really isn't anything in my experience that is similar to professional employment. I had what I considered to be a satisfying and useful career in medical instrumentation, but I don't miss it at all.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    That's a pretty narrow view of work. Cleaning other people's houses and cooking their food and taking care of their children is work, but doing all this for your own family isn't?
  • The trouble is, that the idea of work becomes very vague, without the notion of payment. OK, I work hard on our allotment, but I would hesitate to call it work.

    I was never thrilled about work, actually. Over-rated.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Dave W wrote: »
    That's a pretty narrow view of work. Cleaning other people's houses and cooking their food and taking care of their children is work, but doing all this for your own family isn't?

    Well, here is a pretty broad definition of work. But I was communicating a personal sense of what work meant to me. You are free to disagree, and may even develop outrage at how dismissive it is of other endeavors. But I can't help but see the dismissiveness going the other way.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    The trouble is, that the idea of work becomes very vague, without the notion of payment. OK, I work hard on our allotment, but I would hesitate to call it work.

    Is it? I've long thought that the distinction between paid and unpaid work was a way of specifying what is (and isn't) valued by society. Unpaid labor, such as housework, food preparation, or child care, tends to skew heavily female in most Western societies so it's regarded as not really being "work" at all.

    An interesting corollary to the idea that only paid work counts as work is that slaves don't work.
  • There's also the problem that, if they compensated all the currently-uncompensated work, as a society we'd go under financially. I'd be willing to say that the majority of work is unpaid--not just family tasks, but stuff through church, volunteer work, neighbors helping neighbors, and so on.

    But yeah, it doesn't help at all to live in a culture where, if you don't get paid for it, a lot of people figure it's worthless.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    tclune wrote: »
    Dave W wrote: »
    That's a pretty narrow view of work. Cleaning other people's houses and cooking their food and taking care of their children is work, but doing all this for your own family isn't?

    Well, here is a pretty broad definition of work. But I was communicating a personal sense of what work meant to me. You are free to disagree, and may even develop outrage at how dismissive it is of other endeavors. But I can't help but see the dismissiveness going the other way.
    Touchy, touchy. One would almost think you have lived a very sheltered life. But thanks for allowing me to disagree with you!

    At the risk of seeming too dismissive of someone's paid professional employment, here's a post from the blog of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis with some estimates of the value of women's unpaid work:
    For 2018 (the most recent data available), the dollar value of women’s unpaid work in the U.S. was equal to 86% of all the economic activity recorded in the state of New York. In other years—say, the late 1990s and late 2000s—the value of women’s unpaid work even surpassed New York state GDP. And keep in mind this value is at the low end of the possible range because we use the federal minimum wage and not, for example, higher state minimum wages let alone market wages that correspond to the specific work being done.
  • Well, yeah, that's sort of obvious (that they're using minimum wage). I read that thinking, "New York? New York? Since when did a single state make THAT MUCH money?"

    Now if they'd said "86% of the economic activity in the contiguous States," I might have thought it reasonable.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    edited March 27
    Even at market rates that would be pretty unlikely. That would be saying the dollar value of the women's unpaid work is nearly equal to all the paid work of all the women and all the men in the contiguous states (I'm unsure why you're excluding Hawaii and Alaska.) I doubt that cleaning, cooking, and child care pay enough to make up that big a difference.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    There's also the problem that, if they compensated all the currently-uncompensated work, as a society we'd go under financially. I'd be willing to say that the majority of work is unpaid--not just family tasks, but stuff through church, volunteer work, neighbors helping neighbors, and so on.

    I'm not sure that's a macro-economically valid analysis. It treats money spent as if it disappears into a black hole, never to be seen again. This is a valid way to view things from a micro-economic standpoint. Once a business or household spends money, it's gone. But macro-economically every expenditure by one person is someone else's income. Doubling the scope of paid economic activity in the U.S. (using your rough guess) does not necessarily mean financial collapse. It could actually be a boost to consumer spending as the new income stream is re-directed back into the economy. No one ever complains that decreasing the unemployment rate is going to bankrupt the country in other, more conventional circumstances.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    No one ever complains that decreasing the unemployment rate is going to bankrupt the country in other, more conventional circumstances.
    Not in public anyway, at least not since Norman Lamont said unemployment was a price well worth paying to keep inflation down. I suspect that if you hung around more right-wing neoliberal sites you'd probably find someone complaining that getting rid of unemployment would drive up wages.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Crœsos wrote: »
    No one ever complains that decreasing the unemployment rate is going to bankrupt the country in other, more conventional circumstances.
    Not in public anyway, at least not since Norman Lamont said unemployment was a price well worth paying to keep inflation down. I suspect that if you hung around more right-wing neoliberal sites you'd probably find someone complaining that getting rid of unemployment would drive up wages.

    Now that you mention it, this has been a consistent criticism of the Federal Reserve. The organization has a dual mandate: to control inflation and maintain full employment in the U.S. economy. Many critics claim that the Federal Reserve is far too willing to sacrifice the latter in pursuit of the former.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    The trouble is, that the idea of work becomes very vague, without the notion of payment. OK, I work hard on our allotment, but I would hesitate to call it work.

    Is it? I've long thought that the distinction between paid and unpaid work was a way of specifying what is (and isn't) valued by society. Unpaid labor, such as housework, food preparation, or child care, tends to skew heavily female in most Western societies so it's regarded as not really being "work" at all.

    An interesting corollary to the idea that only paid work counts as work is that slaves don't work.

    Well, I thought that "work" is multiply ambiguous. Its unmarked meaning is paid employment, hence working on my allotment is not work. However, in the scientific sense, (transferring energy from object to object), it is, and unpaid work is also classed as work. And of course, there are lots of related senses, e.g. my watch isn't working, does this work for you, work it out, etc. Dictionary entries must be quite long.
  • Hyperbole, folks. I was searching for some large number. But really--a single state?
  • There's also the problem that, if they compensated all the currently-uncompensated work, as a society we'd go under financially.

    There are 168 hours in a week. Even if someone who "works" full time is paid to work 40 of them, they're awake unpaid for maybe double that. And a lot of that time will be spent cooking, cleaning, entertaining children, and all the rest of it.

    Does it still count as "work" if you live alone and you're cleaning your own home, so you are the only beneficiary, or does it have to be cooking and cleaning for other family members to qualify?
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Does it still count as "work" if you live alone and you're cleaning your own home, so you are the only beneficiary, or does it have to be cooking and cleaning for other family members to qualify?
    As far as I’m concerned it counts even if you’re just doing it for yourself.

    Perhaps a reasonable definition might be something more along the lines of work is what you’re paid to do, what you do yourself (child care, cooking, cleaning, yard work, etc.) rather than paying someone else to do it (whether because you can’t afford to pay someone else to do it or you chose not to do so), or what you do for others (including churches or charities) so they will not have to pay someone to do it.

  • RuthRuth Admin Emeritus
    It gets fuzzy when you're talking about something you enjoy doing. Lots of avid gardeners wouldn't call it work, though some people make a living at it.

    I've had people ask if I've ever thought about opening an Etsy shop for things I've knitted and crocheted, and the answer is no way in hell, because I don't want to turn these things into work. Making things because I just want to or for people I care about is a great hobby. Selling things I make to strangers would be work. I don't want to monetize making things because I think doing it for money might ruin the enjoyment for me.
  • Fuzzy is the right word. Many words and meanings have fuzzy edges, and you can go crazy looking for precision. I was thinking about doing a crossword, not very worklike, unless you do it professionally.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Hyperbole, folks. I was searching for some large number. But really--a single state?
    Yes, one pretty big state. New York's GDP ($1.75T in 2019) is about 8.2% of the total US GDP.

    Here's another way to look at it: women's paid labor contributes $7.6T to US GDP (Center for American Progress), so if they were also paid for 86% x $1.75T = $1.51T worth of currently unpaid work it would be about a 20% increase in their income. (That's at the current federal minimum wage; at $15/hr it would be about twice that.)

    So it's a lot, but maybe less than you would think because the minimum wage is so low compared with the average income/hour.

    The method the Fed used to estimate it is straightforward:
    • Take the number of women above age 16 and multiply by 26.7 hours, which is, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of hours per week women spend on unpaid household work.
    • Multiply this weekly value by 52, the number of weeks in a year.
    • Multiply the result by the federal minimum wage.
    • Divide this annual dollar amount by the consumer price index to adjust for inflation.
  • Oh, household work. So we're not counting church work, neighborhood care, trips to the grocery, carpools, caring for the elderly living outside the households (including travel time, shopping, and accompanying to various appointments), Scouts, etc. etc. etc.

    Really, I have a hard time seeing how they got 26 hours even within a household--unless the massive demands of childcare aren't counted, or are averaged out over a great many people without younger children. Maybe that's the cause.
  • Ruth wrote: »
    It gets fuzzy when you're talking about something you enjoy doing. Lots of avid gardeners wouldn't call it work, though some people make a living at it.

    So playing board games with the big kids isn't work, but the millionth game of "magic animals rescuing baby animals" is work?

    I think I've mentioned before that I am in the fortunate position to enjoy my paid job. If I was independently wealthy, I'd choose to do it anyway. Does that make it not work, but all the stuff I don't get paid to do (cooking, cleaning, wrangling kids, ...) is work?

    Or you mention gardening - the amount of gardening I choose to do at my house is entirely up to me. Beyond the bare minimum (mow often enough to keep the city off my back), I can do nothing, or I can spend all my time in the garden.

    But I'm getting perilously close to suggesting that unnecessary work isn't actually work, which rules out lots of people's paid jobs.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Oh, household work. So we're not counting church work, neighborhood care, trips to the grocery, carpools, caring for the elderly living outside the households (including travel time, shopping, and accompanying to various appointments), Scouts, etc. etc. etc.

    Really, I have a hard time seeing how they got 26 hours even within a household--unless the massive demands of childcare aren't counted, or are averaged out over a great many people without younger children. Maybe that's the cause.
    You'd probably have an easier time seeing how they got what they did if you'd follow the links.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Yes, I think whether or not a task is personally enjoyable is generally irrelevant to whether it is work. I think for the most part, when people say things like “it’s not work, I enjoy it,” what they mean is “I don’t mind doing it” or “I enjoy it so much it doesn’t feel like work.”

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    An interesting corollary to the idea that only paid work counts as work is that slaves don't work.

    Or that slaves don't count.
  • SojournerSojourner Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Yes, I think whether or not a task is personally enjoyable is generally irrelevant to whether it is work. I think for the most part, when people say things like “it’s not work, I enjoy it,” what they mean is “I don’t mind doing it” or “I enjoy it so much it doesn’t feel like work.”

    Or: it’s my paid work and I enjoy it and know that I am bloody lucky to do so

  • As you will all know from having read my thesis*, I explored this and had to find an answer to how I would define work (as against leisure). And yes, it is a complex and convoluted thing to answer (even in the literature).

    Broadly speaking, I concluded that work is what you have no control over the nature of it. There are other factors, but this means that someone else defines what you do. Pay is not the point (paid an unpaid work is equivalent in terms of a definition). The other important aspect was that it provides something for your employer.

    * :lol: :lol: :lol:
  • SojournerSojourner Shipmate
    Or in my case patients ( or clients, a term I detest)
  • As you will all know from having read my thesis*, I explored this and had to find an answer to how I would define work (as against leisure). And yes, it is a complex and convoluted thing to answer (even in the literature).

    Broadly speaking, I concluded that work is what you have no control over the nature of it. There are other factors, but this means that someone else defines what you do. Pay is not the point (paid an unpaid work is equivalent in terms of a definition). The other important aspect was that it provides something for your employer.

    * :lol: :lol: :lol:

    That's interesting. I cooked dinner last night, unpaid, I think. I worked at it jolly hard, but I wouldn't say I'm going to work now, whereas cooking in the restaurant is both work and working. Reminds me of Marx and our labour being alienated from us, and standing opposed to us. Presumably, this follows Feuerbach who argued that religion alienated human characteristics, so that they oppose us and oppress us. Entfremdung in German.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    As you will all know from having read my thesis*, I explored this and had to find an answer to how I would define work (as against leisure). And yes, it is a complex and convoluted thing to answer (even in the literature).

    Broadly speaking, I concluded that work is what you have no control over the nature of it. There are other factors, but this means that someone else defines what you do. Pay is not the point (paid an unpaid work is equivalent in terms of a definition). The other important aspect was that it provides something for your employer.

    * :lol: :lol: :lol:

    How interesting it must have been to research this topic!

    I also think ‘being able to give it up at any time’ has a large factor in how we see work.

    I can work hard for my charity - difficult work which involves sleepless nights akin to having a young baby, lots of mopping up of widdles and broken skin due to puppy crocodile teeth.

    But I know it’s voluntary and I don’t have to do it - so I enjoy it because of the end result, an amazing pup who becomes a life changer for a VI or blind person. The rewards (for me) are indescribable.

  • One extra dimension that occurs to me is: 'what would be the consequences if I did not do it/if nobody did it?' I wonder if that is part of the definition of what is and isn't work
  • SojournerSojourner Shipmate
    Bugger-al, in my case, but then I am blessed with excellent colleagues
  • Boogie wrote: »
    But I know it’s voluntary and I don’t have to do it - so I enjoy it because of the end result, an amazing pup who becomes a life changer for a VI or blind person. The rewards (for me) are indescribable.

    That was a critial part of my definition - it can be voluntary and enjoyable (contra other definitions), while still being externally defined. What that part of my research showed me is that defining "work" in a meaningful way is extremely complex. You actually need a context within which to define work before you get a sensible definition.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    Yes.

    Cleaning my house is work - horrible, tedious, boring, repetitive work with little reward as the mess is soon back again. But it’s unpaid, so doesn’t count as work in most people’s eyes.

    When I did work full time I employed a cleaner and paid them well.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Heat is work, and work is heat.


    (I'll get me coat!)
  • A starting point would be this: Work is doing something that needs to be done.

    But it’s only a starting point, because it leads to the follow-up question, “Who decides what needs to be done?”

    In the case of paid employment, it’s the employer who decides. If a professional cricketer is employed by a club, then playing cricket is the work he does. But not all cases are so easily answered.
  • Marvin the MartianMarvin the Martian Admin Emeritus
    Work is the stuff you do because you have to, as opposed to than the stuff you do because you want to.
  • AravisAravis Shipmate
    That sounds like a good definition - particularly as it allows for some overlap. You may enjoy most aspects of your job, or some household tasks, but they’d still have to be done even if you didn’t enjoy them. Probably if you do enjoy them, you’ll do them better and prioritise them more.
    Years ago when I was sharing a house with a couple of friends, we had a sticker system on the kitchen calendar; if you undertook an undesirable communal job (e.g. unblocking a drain) you got a merit sticker. If just one person was getting merit stickers, then the others would know they had to pull their weight more. In a household of conscientious people it worked extremely well.
  • Broadly speaking, I concluded that work is what you have no control over the nature of it. There are other factors, but this means that someone else defines what you do.

    So self-employed people don't work? Authors and artists don't work? (Yes, I'm sure you're simplifying quite a lot to give us just a couple of sentences.)
    Aravis wrote: »
    You may enjoy most aspects of your job, or some household tasks, but they’d still have to be done even if you didn’t enjoy them.

    But they don't. Take the gardening example. Most gardening doesn't have to be done. Beyond the minimum required to keep your property sanitary and respectable-looking, it's optional.

    The same goes for housework. There's a wide array of standards of cleanliness, and it's up to you which one you want to live with. People can live perfectly well in houses that are messy and/or dirty.
  • Work is the stuff you do because you have to, as opposed to than the stuff you do because you want to.

    Type 1 fun is something your enjoy while doing it. Type 2 fun isn't enjoyable while doing, it's enjoyable after, sometimes in the telling. Or just because it's over.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited March 29
    Work is the stuff you do because you have to, as opposed to than the stuff you do because you want to.

    Type 1 fun is something your enjoy while doing it. Type 2 fun isn't enjoyable while doing, it's enjoyable after, sometimes in the telling. Or just because it's over.

    By that definition having root canal work without anaesthetic is Type 2 fun.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    Work is the stuff you do because you have to, as opposed to than the stuff you do because you want to.

    Type 1 fun is something your enjoy while doing it. Type 2 fun isn't enjoyable while doing, it's enjoyable after, sometimes in the telling. Or just because it's over.

    Many would put exercise in that Type 2 bracket.

  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    KarlLB wrote: »
    Work is the stuff you do because you have to, as opposed to than the stuff you do because you want to.

    Type 1 fun is something your enjoy while doing it. Type 2 fun isn't enjoyable while doing, it's enjoyable after, sometimes in the telling. Or just because it's over.

    By that definition having root canal work without anaesthetic is Type 2 fun.

    I don't recall enjoying the aftermath of a root canal. The most I can say is that I was no longer miserable.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    tclune wrote: »
    KarlLB wrote: »
    Work is the stuff you do because you have to, as opposed to than the stuff you do because you want to.

    Type 1 fun is something your enjoy while doing it. Type 2 fun isn't enjoyable while doing, it's enjoyable after, sometimes in the telling. Or just because it's over.

    By that definition having root canal work without anaesthetic is Type 2 fun.

    I don't recall enjoying the aftermath of a root canal. The most I can say is that I was no longer miserable.

    I.e. "just because it's over"
  • I think root canal comes under Type 3 fun: you suffered, everyone's glad they weren't you, and they enjoy your regaling them with the story of your suffering "the dentist broke my root in half, put her foot on my forehead for leverage on the corkscrew until the shard of tooth popped like a champagne cork and hit her in the eye".
  • RussRuss Shipmate
    Seems to me there are several related meanings (like many words, maybe ?).

    One is your vocation in life. (Which may change over the course of your life).

    One is to do with physical or mental labour being arduous or fatiguing.

    One is things you do because you feel you have an obligation to others to do them. Like Ruth's knitting - not wanting to be obliged to do what one freely chooses to do, because that would turn it into work.

    One is things where you will the end but don't enjoy the means (which is not a million miles away from the idea of Type 2 fun).

    An activity like writing a book may be work for any or all of those reasons.

    But none of them seem to justify the notion that other people have some sort of obligation to pay you for doing the gardening...

  • Broadly speaking, I concluded that work is what you have no control over the nature of it. There are other factors, but this means that someone else defines what you do.

    So self-employed people don't work? Authors and artists don't work? (Yes, I'm sure you're simplifying quite a lot to give us just a couple of sentences.)

    Self-employed people are usually contracted to do work for others - so the control over what you do goes to the "others". OK, you have a lot more freedom in how you work, but the nature of the tasks involved are defined by other people.

    Authors and artists - driven by their agents. So yes, this is included. Driven by their public wanting them to produce.

    I mean, feel free to read and argue with me if you want....
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    The emotional labour (caring, soothing, placating) often done by women in relationships with men.
  • Is thinking work?
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    Is thinking work?

    Creative thinking? for me, no - it’s relaxation.

    Learning? yes, for me it’s a hard slog and always has been. I do it for the end result.

  • Is thinking work?

    Yes, most certainly yes. When I was doing my Master's project (theoretical physics) 95% of the labour was thinking and 3 hours working on it I was shattered.
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