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Negative Effects of 24/7 Business Culture The social importance of the workplace is likely to be increasingly emphasized. Human beings are social animals: we need contact with others to give us a sense of purpose and worth (and it's worth remembering that at the beginning of the twentieth century, alienation for workers was commonly associated with production line manufacturing). The assumption that social contact with others occurs primarily through face-to-face interaction is based on our empirical observations of people working in contemporary organizations with current technologies. While this may characterize social interaction today, we cannot conclude that this is immutable. Generational differences in the use of technologies such as mobile phones suggest that forms of social interaction in this sense are quite plastic. The growth of virtual communities online also suggests that for some, satisfying and in some sense real social interaction is taking place. New and emerging technologies will increase the range of possibilities, allowing people and organizations, over time, to make different choices about how they use hybrid environments to satisfy professional and social needs. In the near term, the increased social role of the workplace is likely to continue to blur the division between work and leisure. Some organizations are already acknowledging this blurring, and are looking at a “homing from work” rather than a “working from home” strategy (Cullliford 12). This can involve breaking down traditional components of work and office space to introduce domestic and social elements.
It also suggests giving work a centrality in people's lives that many find uncomfortable. Movement in this direction will face considerable resistance. While few people today would endorse the Marxist thesis of an irreconcilable contradiction between the interests of labour and capital, real conflicts of interest exist between businesses determined to extract productivity from their workers and individuals attempting to lead balanced, fulfilling lives. The emergence of 24/7 business cultures places people under pressure to lead 24/7 busniess lives. A significant minority may already find the once distinct spheres of work, life and play woven into a seamless satisfying whole. For the majority, however, this transformation has not occurred. Within this new work/life culture, the balance of interest between employer and employee will need to be renegotiated. Through the last half of the twentieth century, a consensus emerged on aspects of employment such as the length of the normal working week, with working time outside these limits considered overtime. Expressions such as 9-to-5 reflect the widespread acceptance of this consensus. The idea of “24/7” potentially threatens this consensus. Some groups affected by these changes are able to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment on an equal footing with their employer, but this is not the case for many groups. In the realm of work, existing social legislation may act as a brake, preventing transition to more productive and sustainable ways of working. In many countries, for example, legislation sets a maximum for the number of hours that can be worked in a week.
This is intended both to protect workers from unscrupulous exploitation and to broaden participation in the workforce. While neither of these goals should be abandoned, the mechanisms used to achieve them will have to be radically rethought in the context of the new economy. Limiting the number of hours spent in the office, as the legislation currently does, serves to advance neither the protection of workers from exploitation, nor to broaden participation in the work force. Inertia inherent in social and physical structures must be overcome if the potential of the new economy is to be realized: if society as a whole is to reap in full the potential benefits of the new economy a new consensus reflecting the interests of all must be constructed. Even if we remain optimistic about the capacity for technologies to change the ways in which we work and the work we do, we shouldn't presume such a transformation inevitably to be for the better. An important but often neglected aspect of temporal diversity is employment that occurs mostly in the evening or night, or on a rotating basis around the clock. Although we do not have comparable data over time to rigorously assess the trend in non-day work shifts, there are strong indications that such employment is on the rise as we move toward a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week economy. As of 1997, only 29.1% of all Americans worked mostly during the daytime, 35–40 hours per week, Monday through Friday—the “standard” work week.
Removing the limitation of 35–40 hours, and including those working part-time and over-time, the percentage increases to 54.4%—a bare majority (Presser 1778). As consumers, we witness the movement toward a 24/7 economy by observing that stores are increasingly open evenings and nights, it is easier to make travel reservations or order goods with a live voice on the phone at any time of the day or week, and we increasingly expect medical care and other services to be available to us at all times. A new phrase, “24/7” has quickly become common parlance to denote around-the-clock availability. Both the existing research and the new findings suggest that employment at nonstandard times presents some major challenges to U. S. families. While there may be advantages, the data suggest that in many ways employment at nonstandard hours and weekends adds extra stress to families with children, and with regard to night work, may substantially increase the risk of separation or divorce among the married. While some parents may prefer such schedules, employment at nonstandard times is driven by demand and generally recruits those with limited job possibilities. This includes mothers moving from welfare to work who often experience a misfit between their required hours and days of employment and the availability of formal childcare, and have to put together a patchwork of informal arrangements to hold on to their jobs. In conclusion, employment in a 24/7 economy presents many challenges for U. S. families. The research to date hints at many of these, but we have much more to learn.
We should not be turned away by the complexity of the issue. Indeed, I contend that when work and family research does not take into account the nonstandard work schedules of employed family members, it is likely to be missing some important explanatory variables for the outcomes of interest. Moreover, work and family policies cannot continue to ignore the temporal diversity of working families, especially those of low income. Failure to explicitly acknowledge such diversity compromises the effectiveness of such policies, as exemplified by the misfit between childcare availability and the work hours of many mothers moving from welfare to work. The movement toward a 24/7 economy, in my view, will not be reversed in the decades ahead. It may be slow in pace or even stalled by a weakening economy, but I believe the long-term trend is toward more employment around the clock, particularly in the service sector. I hold this view because the 24/7 economy is driven by factors external to the family that are not likely to change in the foreseeable future. For better or worse, families will increasingly need to respond to these challenges.