The 'overtime epidemic' in PR is a myth

The economist, Keynes, predicted in 1930 in his famous essay that we'd all be working 15-hour weeks and we'd be confronted with how to find purpose with all our leisure time.

The overtime epidemic is a myth; we just like to get ahead and stay there, argues Colin Cather

As subsequent analysis by modern economists has shown, he was both right and wrong.

Keynes was witnessing a flourishing of science and technology, and a relatively new-found understanding of wealth-creation, and he was playing it forward 100 years in an essay addressed to his grandchildren (or, if you like, us).

And so, in our own PR industry, we are faced with a couple of conflicting headlines. One - about agencies adopting a 4-day week (not quite the 15 hours of Keynes, but still…) and another about an epidemic of overtime.

We have technological gains of our own.

I’m writing this on a Macbook in a cafe, about to send it wirelessly to someone to edit. I wouldn’t have believed that possible, twenty years ago. The efficiency. The ease. Right?

So why do I still work so many hours? Surely all this advantage would’ve converted into long lie-ins and short days and weeks?

Nope. Because Keynes was right about the growth. We’re all (collectively, in our developed economy) wealthier than 1930. He was wrong about what we’d do with the gains.

We (or at least, I) want more.

As Robert Skidelsky (economist) and his son, Edward (philosopher) have discussed - enough, is never enough.

I want our agency to grow, because I want to do more, better work. Because I’m just a little bit competitive. I don’t really want to step off the merry-go-round.

When I was much younger, and less well-off, I wanted to get more well-off. And to learn more. And to do better than others around me.

So, yes, I learned to work smarter, but I also learned to work more.

The overtime epidemic is a myth, if we think it’s either new, or it’s because we’re being driven by overservicing bollocks.

We always did this. We like to ‘get ahead’ and ‘stay ahead’.

Our technological gains bring fresh learning challenges - so we put the time in to keep pace or to get ahead of the curve.

I’ve got a reading list I’ll never get through. I can see that there are twelve messages on Slack waiting for me. Some of them will be about a digital comms landscape that I need to constantly educate myself about, or my team will think I’m a dinosaur.

I’m comforted by the knowledge that I’m not ploughing a field, or working down a mine. I’m drinking a flat-white and typing this on a laptop that I’d quite like to upgrade.

Colin Cather is the creative director at Bottle

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