How Standard Workweek Culture Turns Us Into Mindless Consumers

Did you complete your 200 days of nothing new challenge?

I know many of you have already completed your experiment. You hopefully discovered the power of thrift stores and maybe downsized a fair bit.

But now that’s it’s done, you find yourself falling back into old habits.

Buying clothing you don’t need. Collecting meaningless trinkets. Needlessly updating your electronics.

I know because that’s what happened to me. After I completed my first 200 days of nothing new, I started buying things mindlessly once again. Instead of using patience and creativity to find what I wanted preowned, I just went out and got it.

After I started doing the challenge again, I’m once again forced to be thoughtful about my buying habits.

But without the restraints of a challenge, most of us will fail to consume rationally. We ignore the consequences of buying new. We mindlessly, carelessly and selfishly consume.

But it’s not just you and me. There are broader forces working to cause us to consume. These come from the structure imposed on us by standard work culture. Here me out.

I’m very fortunate to work from home doing freelance writing. This is something that I quit my job in engineering and built up to do.

Working from home affords me with many benefits:

  • The ability not have to own many clothes
  • The ability to greatly reduce how many hours I spend on work. That is, I can skip things like commuting, getting ready and packing lunches.
  • The ability to choose the hours of work during which I feel the most productive. I’m not a morning person, so I use my morning time for exercise, reading and meditation. I work in the afternoons and evenings. Since I can work according to when my energy levels are highest, I get more done in less time.
  • Being able to stop work and go for a walk in the sun during the day whenever my heart desires

Thing is, I don’t believe that these luxuries should only be open to entrepreneurs or freelancers.

Hear me out.

I started my career in business consulting, then moved into public sector management, and then into a startup.

Despite the job descriptions, not once did any of these roles require me to be in an office and work 8 hours a day.

Most of the time, a 4 to 6 hour investment in time would have sufficed. But I dragged out tasks over the 8 hours so as to feel productive.

I was not a delinquent worker by any means. I would always get good reviews from supervisors, and would always try to solicit more work. But there just wasn’t enough work to go around.

Even when I did work a full 8 hours, it was hardly ever necessary for me to be in the office. Oftentimes, I would communicate via instant messaging with coworkers that were steps away. Hours would go by with hardly any in-person communication.

Despite this, I was expected to drag myself through a grueling morning routine of getting ready and commuting.

If you’ve felt this way too, you’ll be happy to know that we’re not alone. This 2013 Gallup poll showed that only 13% of workers are engaged at work. The majority (63%) come into the office, work 2 hours in the morning, and do nothing the rest of the time.

We are all feeling the pain.

The traditional workweek is outdated

Here are the standards of current work culture:

  1. You need to work 8 hours a day
  2. You need to work 5 days a week
  3. You need to take a break at lunch time
  4. You need to work between the hours of 9-5
  5. You need to sit in a office chair at your desk (and don’t you dare leave for too long)

I would have more sympathy for these standards if there was evidence that they were necessary for a productive workplace.

Except there is evidence to the contrary.

In fact, there are multiple organizations do things very differently, and still manage to be profitable and productive. Examples:

  1. Basecamp: A quote from their about us page “Our headquarters are in Chicago, but everyone at Basecamp is free to live and work wherever they want. Many of us love working remotely – we literally wrote the book on remote working!”
  2. SEMCO: A Brazilian company where employees do not have a fixed time and place to work.
  3. Gap Outlet: Lets their employees work when, where they want with unlimited vacation.
  4. Treehouse: Company works 4 days a week, and promotes a work-from-home culture. Read Treehouse’s blog post about it here.

But for whatever reason, this outdated model that everyone dislikes persists.

How your lifestyle is shaped by the workweek

As a result of this work culture, we are forced to into accepting a certain lifestyle. A lifestyle during which your free time is focused on weekends and evenings.

A lifestyle which sacrifices the best hours of the day, and the best years of your life, to sitting in a neutral-colored cubicle.

In such a lifestyle, there is never enough time.

With commuting, work, eating, family and sleeping, there is hardly any time left in the day to do other things in life. These may be important, including exercising, pursuing interests and hobbies and participating in your community. But most people just cannot find the time and energy to fit everything into the 6-10pm window between work and sleep.

It’s easy for a work-from-home hermit like me to say “no” to excess makeup or updating my clothing collection. Not so much for someone walking into a judgmental office environment everyday.

It’s easy for me, with a completely autonomous work schedule to meet people via online classifieds and find the items I need and want. It’s easy for me to live with less, because my life is simpler and more flexible.

But for most of us, we aren’t afforded the time to participate in green living. We don’t have the time to figure out how to grow a bit of their own food, or make sure the recycling is sorted. Heck, many don’t even have time to cook.

People are stressed and pulled to the limit. Devoid of energy, we buy without thinking.

Workers suffer and the planet suffers as well.

Yet nothing changes

What would employees, who far outnumber management and business owners, choose when presented a choice between a flexible workweek or the outdated model we currently follow?

Obviously, the flexible model, which allows for greater freedom, time and health.

Unfortunately, our workplaces are not democratic institutions. Although most workplaces may solicit and even encourage feedback from employees, employees are often too afraid to give their true opinion in case of being penalized.

In any case, no employer is forced to accept the opinions of their employees. They will merely consider it.

What can you do

Things seem to be changing. With more and more employers offering flexible and remote work arrangement for their employees, other may follow suite to remain competitive.

But it bothers me that employees have to wait. People and the planet are suffering today from the harms of standard workweek culture. Why should we have to wait while management and business owners (the minority in the workplace) change their minds?

If you are tired of waiting, as I was, there are a few options. You could branch out into freelancing work. Or you can find work that is done remotely.

There are even websites that specialize in matching workers to remote work, such as Power to Fly.

If not, be aware that work culture makes it difficult to live a sustainable and minimalist lifestyle.

Any efforts you make are valuable.







One thought on “How Standard Workweek Culture Turns Us Into Mindless Consumers

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked from home the past several years and can’t imagine ever going back to an office job. I am not freelance so I do still work a 40-hr week, but I work 4 10s and have some flexibility even on work days which gives me the flexibility I want. I’m always amazed when companies balk at employees working from home when their entire job can be done on a computer. I’ve never even met my current employers in person. 🙂

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