In historical times, many societies operated a two-tier (a tier is a level in a system or organisation) system made up of people who controlled and those who worked and were controlled. Work was not an activity to be enjoyed. However, another group of people emerged alongside this system. They were the merchants and artisans. Merchants worked for profit, and artisans (people skilled in arts and crafts) worked for wages.
These were the people who first gave us the idea of work as paid employment. Today, people need to work in the same way they need to eat and drink. This is what we call the ‘work ethic’. (An ethic is an idea or moral belief that influences the behaviour, attitudes and philosophy of life of a group of people.) People work for the money they need in order to live well, but there is another reason beyond this basic motivation which makes people want to work.
Work gives people a feeling of being useful. In a pre-industrial society, the work ethic did not exist. Work and leisure went together and only part of Sunday was taken as time off. In this society, singing, talking, drinking and gossiping went together with work. With the emergence of the work ethic, leisure and holidays were separated from work, thus changing the former ordinary social system of interaction.
During the Industrial Revolution, for most people, work was so unpleasant that leisure was considered as a kind of freedom. Yet, in spite of the fact that life was hard and work was tiring, people slowly changed from having to work to wanting to work. Today, the work ethic is so strong that people feel it is their right to work. The questions we should perhaps be asking ourselves are, firstly, whether we really like our jobs and secondly, even if we like them, whether they are really necessary.
Many kinds of work are disappearing as natural resources are used up and new technologies appear. For example, computers are already replacing people in order to do boring, repetitive jobs and to improve efficiency. To a large extent, the price of labour, as compared with the cost of the new equipment, determines which jobs will be replaced. However, the new technologies will create new jobs both in the computer field and in the leisure industry. It has been predicted that new technology could result in a period of growth and prosperity. This, however, does not mean that the ever-growing number of unemployed people will drop.
What it means is that finance and resources will become available to improve social services, education and the health service. The quality of life can be improved with better facilities and a significant increase in the workforce behind the services. It has taken more than a hundred years to reduce the working week 45 from 60 to 55 hours, then 48, 44 and now 40. The next step will be a reduction to 35 and then, perhaps, to 32 hours.
The current five-day working week will become a four-day or even a three-day event. In order to achieve this shortened working span, paid holidays will probably be increased and the age of retirement will be lowered. However, attitudes to work must change as well. Community life ought to become more important and the leisure industry needs to be expanded to cater for the needs of both young and old people, all of whom will have more spare time.
In Europe, only France has taken this problem seriously enough to appoint a government official responsible for ‘free-time’. Making changes in the education system could solve a lot of problems. In fact, creativity and sensibility could start a totally new period, perhaps a new ‘Working Renaissance’.
A. What do the following refer to? 1. ‘this society’ (line 18):
2. ‘they’ (line 29):
3. ‘all of whom” (lines 52-53):
B. Mark the statements as True (T) or False (F).
1. The two-tier system consisted of working people and another group who controlled them.
2. Today, people work only because they need to eat and drink.
3. Improvements in technology cause many kinds of work to disappear.
4. Leisure industry will become more important if the working hours are reduced and the retirement age is lowered.
C. Mark the best choice.
1. To emerge (line 4) means to .
a) work b) control c) begin to appear d) enjoy an activity