Work isn’t so bad

Although we spend much of our waking hours working, the emotional experience of work, versus non-work, remains unclear. While the large literature on work stress suggests that work generally is aversive, some seminal theory and findings portray working as salubrious and perhaps as an escape from home life. Here, we examine the subjective experience of work (versus non-work) by conducting a quantitative review of 59 primary studies that assessed affect on working days. Meta-analyses of within-day studies indicated that there was no difference in positive affect (PA) between work versus non-work domains. Negative affect (NA) was higher for work than non-work, although the magnitude of difference was small (i.e., .22 SD, an effect size comparable to that of the difference in NA between different leisure activities like watching TV versus playing board games). Moderator analyses revealed that PA was relatively higher at work and NA relatively lower when affect was measured using “real-time” measurement (e.g., Experience Sampling Methodology) versus measured using the Day Reconstruction Method (i.e., real-time reports reveal a more favorable view of work as compared to recall/DRM reports). Additional findings from moderator analyses included significant differences in main effect sizes as a function of the specific affect, and, for PA, as a function of the age of the sample and the time of day when the non-work measurements were taken. Results for the other possible moderators including job complexity and affect intensity were not statistically significant.

That is from a new paper by Martin J. Biskup, Seth Kaplan, Jill C. Bradley-Geist, and Ashley A. Membere.  Such meta-analyses have their problems, but I consider other kinds of analysis, with complementary results, in my forthcoming book Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero.

Via Rolf Degen.


But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself.

He loved Big Business.

Excellent one there, clever.

But in reality he's not wrong. For most work is a positive experience beyond just a paycheck. Mature adults want to engage the world outside the home, to be useful there, needed. Nothing wrong with it.

'For most work is a positive experience beyond just a paycheck.'

Tell that to someone working in an Amazon warehouse or any other place with routine security screening waiting to be searched before being allowed to leave. On their own time, of course. As noted by the Supreme Court in its decision allowing this practice - '"The security screenings at issue are noncompensable postliminary activities. To begin with, the screenings were not the principal activities the employees were employed to perform—i.e., the workers were employed not to undergo security screenings but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package them for shipment."

See, you just need to learn to love Big Business. The Supreme Court generally does.

Amazon generally pays more and treats its employees the same or better than other warehouses, according to first-hand testimonials.

You did notice that the Supreme Court decided in a case called 'INTEGRITY STAFFING SOLUTIONS, INC. v. BUSK ET AL'?

See, it wasn't Amazon engaging in such practices, it was simply a contractor. And there is no question, much like Walmart, that Amazon has attempted to improve practices that have brought it massive amounts of bad publicity.

Of course, one could wonder why those practices started out from such a low starting point, but that might cross the line of being mean to billionaires.

Why would anyone resent a companies effort to prevent employee theft? Makes no sense. Some companies have gone out of business due to employee theft. It would be irresponsible to not take steps to prevent it.

'Why would anyone resent a companies effort to prevent employee theft?'

If you pay me to wait to be searched before exiting the building, I certainly would have no problem with it. Demand that I wait until you let me out, with the waiting period starting as soon as I am off the clock, then I have a problem - though apparently the Supreme Court doesn't.

I’ll think about it the next time I’m waiting, on my own time, to be groped by the TSA.

Sure - because the difference between a government security agency and a private employer is impossible to distinguish in the MR comment section.

And don't forget waiting in line when returning to the U.S. from another country - it isn't just the TSA that reserves the right to fully search your person and possessions.

What would the Amazon employees be doing if they did not work for Amazon? 28 hours a week at Dunkin‘ Donuts pouring coffee ? Microwaving meat paste at Taco Bell ?

Maybe they’re functional adults with agency and we shouldn’t second guess their decisions to take gainful employment at Amazon. But sure, drive up the cost of labor more and then have a melt down when industries respond by automating or offshoring.

It’s not being mean to billionaires, it’s the insidious stupidity of the do-gooder busybody wanting to make warehouse employment illegal.

'and we shouldn’t second guess their decisions to take gainful employment at Amazon'

You do realize that the law suit was made by 'Amazon' employees, right? And we shouldn’t second guess their decisions to take legal action against at 'Amazon' as one assumes they are functional adults with agency.

'of the do-gooder busybody wanting to make warehouse employment illegal'

Our, in the actual case, of 'Amazon' employees wanting to be paid for the mandatory waiting time they were subject to as part of their employment.

I correctly describe how most people enjoy work and derive positive meaning from it and prior does his thing where he picks out some edge case and thinks it's relevant.

Never change, prior.

Yes, Amazon is certainly an edge case. Why, barely anyone has heard of the company, nor how its warehouses are run.

As for the uplifting work involving the fast food industry (undoubtedly another edge case only involving several million Americans) as noted by Hmmm writing '28 hours a week at Dunkin‘ Donuts pouring coffee ? Microwaving meat paste at Taco Bell?' the less said the better, right?

It depends on your working relationship with your boss. This is the number one reason why people quit. Get this right, then other things like co-workers, compensation, work-life balance, etc come into play.

i'm a simple man. if a corporation pays me good money i can put up with more bs. if they don't pay me well, then they can f off and i won't put up with their bs.

Wally from Dilbert had the best advice on work-life balance: Don't do any work, and don't have a life.

Cowen jumps the shark

A complete whore for corporations.

He hasn't jumped the shark - this was the sort of thing that was considered completely normal among GMU econ dept faculty more than 3 decades ago.

Probably the only difference is that instead of being one among generally obscure academics, Prof. Cowen's moon shot has led to many more people finally being able to see what he and his colleagues have believed for decades.

I'm not sure if the world can handle this much contrarianism.

The utopian view: work is rewarding (Fourier)
The economist view: work is painful (Adam Smith)
The meta-analyses view: work is painful and rewarding (cited study)
The philosophical view : work is rewarding because painful (Bain, 1892; Sidgwick, 1907; Allen, 1930; Bühler, 1928; Mulligan, 1988; Johansson, 2001)

"The meta-analyses view: work is painful and rewarding (cited study)"


"some seminal theory and findings portray working as salubrious and perhaps as an escape from home life."

Oh cmon. That's way understating things. Working provides you with your teleology and your only opportunity for self-actualization.

That's why you should go deep into debt to get a degree from Yale Law, Wharton etc. That's why you should spend the first 10 years of your working career doing 14 hour days in the office of Skadden Arps, or an SV startup. That's why you must move away from your friends and family, live in an "adult dorm" in NYC or SF and postpone marriage and childbearing.

Most people never do any of that. You're talking less than 1% of the work force.

This, but unironically.

Despite or maybe in part because I am on call 24 x 7 and do get the 2am calls I like to separate work and home as much as possible. Sometimes it feels like it’s work-life integration rather than balance. I tried to extend the borders while working on my MBA and went the traditional on campus route so that home was home, Work was work and school was school, each two offering a change from the third. I will work from home occasionally but full time telecommuting sounds like a nightmare trailed on slightly by doing an online degree in anything. This despite not being any kind of a people person.

Only jobs in the 100-150k range are that enjoyable, with a few exception (high paid professor and entrepreneurs). Once you get into the higher pay scale as a salaried employee in finance, law or other professional services, you’re life can be brutal. I enjoy the actual work I do and the people I work with, but I also receive 300+ emails a day and have to work until midnight most week days. Under those conditions, home life is a smaller fraction of life and the two conflict in stressful ways, how that stress gets allocated is this study is unclear.

how that stress gets allocated is this study is unclear

This is a great point. How anybody could think within-day studies would answer this question, I have no idea. I can imagine a world where 4 hours of work per day led to optimal fulfillment, but high achievement at work can easily lead to satisfaction at work at the cost of very poor satisfaction over all.

Work could be better. The point is not to escape work or to make it tolerable so that we have economic growth to infinity. The point is to make work more meaningful and fulfilling for more people.

"The point is to make work more meaningful and fulfilling for more people"

Exactly. There are still people who think that life outside of work is meaningful and fulfilling, and that work is just to earn money to live on. The state must reeducate these people out of their delusion.

It is my contention that Western People have been bred to like work via centuries of agriculture and early capitalism. The ones that didn't like hard work couldn't earn enough to sustain the children.

Other environments, like say Africa or India, didn't have such a powerful winnowing effect because their environments didn't reward work as such, either diseases or animals were the main determiner of who got to have children, or it was a patriarchal society where the winners were men either physically strong, or having very good social skills.

The result is that most western men, even when they are financially able, do not like to work. Contrary to the commentators above, people are willing even to do menial work, like say Walmart greeting, to do so. This actually is the true cause of inequality - in theory by the permanent income hypothesis/marginal utility analysis when you get to about $10m in assets you should stop working and enjoy life. Reality is that people like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos continue working hard to accumulate billions even when there is absolutely no way they can spend even a fraction of their wealth. It also causes other problems - young people are being held back from positions of influence because older folk are clogging up the good jobs. Younger people in their prime therefore don't get to contribute as much as they could.

Working and a job aren't the same thing. A job, as it's now perceived, is a relatively new development in human history, Humans have always had to work, only recently have they had jobs. The advance of capitalism and the industrial revolution has meant that loser nitwits that once grubbed weeds in the baron's turnip patch their entire lives can now be a small cog in the big machine and enjoy making payments on a flat-screen TV or a bass boat and trailer.

> marginal utility analysis when you get to about $10m in assets you should stop working and enjoy life

Seems like a very narrow conception of utility, that only admits leisure and consumption.

I'm not surprised at all that titans of industry keep working, building an empire, in some cases single-handedly shaping the future of the human race. Why would anyone be surprised that they don't retire to .. what? Work on their golf game?

(Plus the selection effect that people who work as a means to an end will never have the ambition to get there in the first place)

And what about work we love vs. work we hate? I love my job (and not b/c of my boss or b/c it provides escapism as other comments suggest). Can this paper be reduced to "I love things I love and I hate things I hate?"

Some interesting consequences that may (or may not result):

1. UBI may not result, then, in the labor force decline Tyler fears. if work produces benefits that cannot easily be purchased, then people will want to work...although 'work' here may mean intense dedication to a hobby or volunteering.

2. Marxism makes much of taking the 'surplus value' of the worker but might not some of the 'surplus value' actually be the benefit of working? Centuries ago we toiled in the field, today we pay a gym membership to toil on the weight machines.....

This 'dedication to a hobby' creates almost no value for others, while the real work makes workers happy AND makes other people better off. Tyler is pointing out that work is more enjoyable than it is commonly perceived to be.
I don't know anyone who volunteers 40+ hours a week.

I'm guessing plenty of people are OK with their job but hate the commute -- the hellish limbo between work and leisure

For some, perhaps many, the hellish limbo is the best part of their day. Their commute might take place in a comfortable automobile, they might listen to the music or podcasts they find most entertaining, they could chat on their magic phones with friends or others' spouses. They needn't listen to intimidating bosses, wives or husbands, or whining offspring. Darting through traffic is likely to be the most exciting experience of a mundane, boring, meaning-less day with ample opportunities to one-up other drivers.

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