[EAS] Time and Money

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Oct 30 23:46:20 EST 2006

(from INNOVATION, 25 October 2006)

       Time IS money -- especially if you're paid by the hour. A 
series of recent studies at Stanford found that people who are 
accustomed to being paid by the hour, like lawyers and retail clerks, 
perceive time differently than salaried employees. Hourly workers 
perceive time as a commodity that's almost equal to cash. When given 
the choice between more time or more money, hourly workers usually 
choose the bucks. They're nearly always willing to put in more hours 
to earn more pay. No wonder most Americans feel overworked. As one 
observer pointed out, leisure time loses some of its appeal when you 
stop and realize what that unpaid hour will cost you. As the 
opportunity costs of not working become clearer, people can become 
motivated -- or stressed out. People who see time as money feel more 
stress, the studies found, because the opportunity costs of not 
working weigh more heavily on them. This kind of workaholism can 
easily be cultivated in others, with the simple stroke of a 
calculator. After salaried employees were asked to compute their 
hourly rate of pay, they, too, began to indicate a willingness to 
work more hours if it meant more money. The "time-is-money" attitude 
also affects their decisions to do non-compensated work. Hourly 
workers spend about 36% less time volunteering than salaried people.
(Stanford Graduate School of Business Aug 2006)

Several themes intersect here. Firstly, I am reminded of Juliet 
Schor's classic study "The Overworked American: The Unexpected 
Decline of Leisure," of the workoholic American. More recently Schor 
has been researching the related behavior of the workoholic as 
consumer, in "The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need."
Secondly, we ought to reflect on what we get paid for. Though the 
time-keeping invented by the 12th century Benedictine monks became 
steadily secularized into "business scheduling," the unit of work was 
still not the hour, but the job in the sense of task (e.g. making and 
delivering a dozen oak barrels). If you were good at what you did, 
you would presumably equate time and boss, and after one task you had 
to go look for the next one.
With the advent of rote assembly line work, whether of Ford motor 
cars or McDonald hamburgers, payment by the hour fully smothered the 
equation of independently performed task with payment. A job became 
the dread continuum of Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times."
The ascent of service work over manufacturing, and the banding 
together of professionals into larger groups like law firms, which 
steadies the supply of work, led to the professionalization of hourly 
work. Anxiety about lost opportunities may be compensated by higher 
hourly rates.
What the "real job" is, that can become distorted or forgotten.   --PJK

"Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have 
forgotten your aim." 
               --George Santayana

More information about the EAS-INFO mailing list