Mashable recently posted a story entitled “Say farewell to your 9-to-5. Here’s why we’ll all work flex schedules soon.” The image above is a clue to why it’s a no-news story for much of the workforce.
Mashable’s story isn’t all crap. It’s pitched at young professionals, and brings up factors like employees’ desire for training, a corporate trend toward having many satellite offices rather than singular large central offices, a movement toward offsetting and/or sharing shifts and jobs, and the growing ability to work from home.
Many professionals, young and old, know all about working from home already, and there have been many grousing (and rightly so) articles about how texts and emails from bosses allow the workplace to claim many off-the-clock hours from workers’ lives.
But those french fries up there hint at another world, one removed from the professional office job perspective of Mashable’s writer.
The world that already has shifted from regular, predictable shifts for workers to a demanding form of flex scheduling. Various service industries (and I’ve worked in a few examples of these in the past) such as grocery and other retail stores, restaurants of all types (don’t forget fast food!), construction and repair, hospitality (motels and hotels) have already worked on flex scheduling for years. Workers are scheduled for shifts that vary widely, change quickly, and are often added or canceled at the last minute. It’s simply a fact of life for many already: work schedules are unpredictable. Employers minimize full-time offerings and maximize the number of part-time employees to avoid offering benefits, or simply to maximize the pool of available workers so that it’s easy to find someone to bring in for a shift at the last minute during an unexpected rush of business.
And for the people stuck at part-time hours by this arrangement, this flex scheduling makes it extremely difficult to maintain the two or three jobs that many workers need to put together full-time pay.
Something that Mashable’s story may have missed, as well, lies in the future: automation. Many of the office and administrative jobs that they’re talking about are as automatable as a fast-food grill. Which is to say, very. There’s a pretty darn good chance that as automation progresses, part-time flex-scheduling will work its way up the socioeconomic chain and affect the people that Mashable’s Alexandra Levit was writing about, not just the low-down un- and semi-skilled workers her article fails to see.
Her article is focused — and that doesn’t in and of itself make her a bad person. Perhaps she’s writing about the world she knows and hesitates, for a short article, to take a broader view. Perhaps she hasn’t thought of the fact that what she describes is already here for a large number of workers. Maybe, like for so many, the lower classes are very easy to overlook. It’s not like any of them are a significant part of the media eye. Perhaps she doesn’t give a damn. Perhaps her next article will be about exactly what I’m writing about here. I don’t know. I don’t know her. Her article is light, airy. Look what innovations are coming in scheduling, to make our professional lives easier to integrate with our lives outside work. Well, I don’t think that’s the point of changes in scheduling. I think the point she sees is how changes are sold. The point, as always, is effective use of the resource of workers in order to maximize profit. And resources, which is what you are, dear workers of lower and middle classes, not to mention most of the upper, is what you are first and foremost. Nobody is a person in the eyes of the P&L.
One way or another, it looks like the way workers are scheduled will continue to change. And like the growing gap of inequality between rich and poor in the United States, I think it will drag the professional class down much closer in kind to the un- and semi-skilled service worker than they’re going to be comfortable with.