The official working week has been reduced to 35 hours a week in France. In most countries in world, it is limited to 45 hours a week. The trend during last century seems to be unequivocal: less work, more play.
Yet, what may be true for blue collar workers or state employees - is not necessarily so for white collar members of liberal professions. It is not rare for these people - lawyers, accountants, consultants, managers, academics - to put in 80 hour weeks.
The phenomenon is so widespread and its social consequences so damaging that it has acquired unflattering nickname workaholism, a combination of words "work" and "alcoholism". Family life is disrupted, intellectual horizons narrow, consequences to workaholic's health are severe: fat, lack of exercise, stress - all take their lethal toll. Classified as "alpha" types, workaholics suffer three times as many heart attacks as their peers.
But what are social and economic roots of this phenomenon?
Put succinctly, it is outcome of blurring of boundaries between work and leisure. This distinction between time dedicated to labour and time spent in pursuit of one's hobbies - was so clear for thousands of years that its gradual disappearance is one of most important and profound social changes in human history.
A host of other shifts in character of work and domestic environments of humans converged to produce this momentous change. Arguably most important was increase in labour mobility and fluid nature of very concept of work and workplace.
The transitions from agriculture to industry, then to services, and now to knowledge society, increased mobility of workforce. A farmer is least mobile. His means of production are fixed, his produce mostly consumed locally - especially in places which lack proper refrigeration, food preservation, and transportation.
A marginal group of people became nomad-traders. This group exploded in size with advent of industrial revolution. True, bulk of workforce was still immobile and affixed to production floor. But raw materials and finished products travelled long distances to faraway markets. Professional services were needed and professional manager, lawyer, accountant, consultant, trader, broker - all emerged as both parasites feeding off production processes and indispensable oil on its cogs.
The protagonists of services society were no longer geographically dependent. They rendered their services to a host of geographically distributed "employers" in a variety of ways. This trend accelerated today, with advent of information and knowledge revolution.
Knowledge is not geography-dependent. It is easily transferable across boundaries. It is cheaply reproduced. Its ephemeral quality gives it non-temporal and non-spatial qualities. The locations of participants in economic interactions of this new age are transparent and immaterial.
These trends converged with increased mobility of people, goods and data (voice, visual, textual and other). The twin revolutions of transportation and telecommunications really reduced world to a global village. Phenomena like commuting to work and multinationals were first made possible.