Ozone (O3) has a rather mixed reputation. High up in the stratosphere it protects us from too much radiation from the sun, but down on earth in our respiratory environment it causes and amplifies respiratory difficulties. Hence, it is very important to differentiate the 2 different layers and differential effects of concentrations of ozone in the air. A forthcoming study in the Lancet Regional Health Europe (Nov. 2023) by Tianyu Zhao et al. demonstrates the long-term, negative effect of higher concentrations of Ozone on lung function. The prospective cohort study followed individuals in multiple states and locations over 20 years and corrects estimated effects for other environmental effects (fine particles PM 2.5 pollution) and green environment. Faster decline in spirometric lung function is highly likely to be caused by higher ambient ozone concentrations. The study is based on 3000+ observations from 17 centres in 8 countries in Europe. Older persons in the range from 35 to 55 had a steeper decline in ozone-related decline in lung functions.
This is rather bad news for older persons living in inner cities where both ozone concentrations, mainly in summer, heat and micro-particles cumulate. Similarly, areas with frequent so-called inversion micro-climate, (a layer of cold air on top of SMOG blocks the renewal of air for extended periods) face particular health risks. Professions that work long durations outside in the sun or the exercise of sports during high ozone day-time run higher risks for a deterioration of their lung functions in the long-run. The medical evidence is there now, also for Europe, what had been shown already for the US before.
It is time to adapt our lifestyle to these health risks. High effort physical work outside should start as early as possible in the morning hours or even before sun rise. Staying indoors is highly recommendable for older persons and persons with reduced lung functions (asthma risks) during such periods of high ozone concentrations. Like it or not, even wearing a mask outside, when it is sunny and hot would be preferential, but is rather inconvenient. We need to shift airing living rooms or offices without climatization to early morning hours rather than ambient temperatures in the afternoon, when ozone peaks are prevalent.
These effects and remedies have been known for some time, but the evidence is much more compelling now (Zhao et al. 2023). Climate change in form of global and local warming, particularly in inner cities, will only exacerbate these effects in the coming years. Prevention measures need to be considered in public health measures as well as urban planning. We can do it, if we want to. Start now to benefit from the effects a decade later or for the benefit of younger generations. (Image: Int. Encycl. of public health, p.702).
There is an important distinction between job satisfaction and satisfaction with one’s work. Being satisfied with the work you have done or something you created or co-created has become almost a privilege. Production in capitalism has mostly different objectives like rent seeking rather than satisfaction with one’s work. Compromises between both are a major learning process about the functioning of labour markets. Remote work, for some, contributes a lot to more job satisfaction. For others a healthy work environment is the top priority. Many people however focus simply on pay packages and this is often out of sheer necessity to escape poverty eventually. Trades have a tradition to allow satisfaction with one’s work, more than most jobs in industry. Flat hierarchies and subordination to your own standards, rather than pressure from supervisors, are much more common. Recognition of your work adds to the pay you receive. Job turnover is related to job satisfaction but also to satisfaction or even identification with the product of your work.
There is more to work than pay. Recognition in form of winning a price in a competition may help to keep awareness high that pay is only one element of remuneration. “meilleur ouvrier de France“ is such a kind of recognition. It encourages people to try new things and test new ideas. This is a major source of satisfaction with one’s work. We might even feel sorry for someone shouting “I can get no satisfaction”. He probably has to try in a simpler or different fashion rather than to try harder. The city Dijon in Burgundy seems to have a pretty high number of people with high levels of work satisfaction and happy to show it.
The empirical evidence on life stress is relatively clear cut. Based on the animal model, life stress causes multiple metabolic disorders among them “insulin resistance, glucose and lipid homeostasis, as well as ageing processes such as cellular senescence and telomere length shortening” (Kivimäki et al. 2023). Besides sleeping we spend most of our life in work-related contexts. Stressful commuting to work and stress at work create a rather unhealthy lifestyle. More stressful working lifes have very likely contributed to currently increased risks of obesity around the globe. Unhealthy nutrition adds to risks just as too little exercise or walking. Time to act for the benefit of all of us. It is not correct to put the blame on individuals, if we know that work and life styles jointly contribute. Urban planning can do a lot to contribute to insulin resistance of inhabitants through more walking or cycling paths for all not only in the wealthier suburbs. The more stressed winner of the daily race might come last in the longer run.
One of the defining principles besides the job description, working time, working place, remuneration of a work contract is the subordination to a superior. The employment contract entails some more or less strictly executed form of direction, but a right of direction nevertheless. This element of subordination has become a major issue in the definition of whether you are effectively an employee or a self-employed person. The digital revolution had enlarged the kinds of subordination. Platforms and algorithms, that distribute work among several employees (but named platform workers) disguised the subordination to a superior level of management to the platform and its seemingly anonymous algorithm. Many young riders were saying, I don’t like bosses, but I am willing to accept a “technical” platform that distributes work tasks only seemingly in a non-discriminatory way. Due to a failure of labour legislation to regulate early enough a thriving model of fake self-employment developed throughout Europe and beyond. Labour Courts have contributed a lot to correct the disguised subordination. Even Uber is advertising that they only operate as a broker of tasks, but have no subordinated employees. The related issue of subordination remains largely the same. Subordination to an algorithm of the distribution of tasks is the end result.
Many start-up enterprises use Kanban boards to facilitate project and team management. Shifting tasks between employees, introducing new tasks and self-selection of tasks are potentially subordination-free allocation of tasks (example software). Flat hierarchies seem more manageable through the use of such tools. The number of tools that integrate other office functions is impressive. When testing such tools, that become more popular also in the distribution of household tasks, beware of the data-hungry nature of such tools. For example, https://trello.com/ warns correctly in the small print that for its full functionality it would need to have permission to use “your” camera, microphone, contacts, photo library, calendar etc.
This demonstrates that subordination, nowadays, is complemented by the algorithmic use of a lot of privacy, we would never have agreed to a boss in person should even ask for. The new and old subordinators have powerful tools at hand, the subordinated will have to get their act together and limit the amount of subordination they are willing to accept.
Again, this is a generational topic. The low threshold to accept technical subordination in younger generations, your autonomous level-5 car is breaking earlier than you even perceive a risk, is confronted with the higher threshold to accept personal subordination for youth. Interestingly, for older generations the obverse is true. All in all, we have ample reason to rethink and re-define also in legal terms the manifold, disguised and new forms of subordination related to work.
Since the COVID-19 crisis we witness a steep increase in the interest to working from home or from remote places. Originally during the pandemic spread of the virus, remote work was the only way to stay in contact with employers and fellow employees for all those not considered as essential workers. Many employees and employers, for the first, experienced that working remotely can have multiple positive effects. First of all, saving time and stress as well as CO2 reduction due to less commuting is beneficial not only for individual employees, but also for society at large. These benefits are substantial.
In my opinion the most substantial consequence is the rethinking of several fundamentals related to work that have gone unquestioned for decades or even centuries, which is: Work happened predominantly at the work place. Digitalisation had changed this partially already, but the willingness to implement far reaching reforms related to work for millions of employees remained rather limited before the Covid-19 pandemic. Nobody had to go on strike to force employers to accept remote work. Suddenly employers, in some instances, were begging employees to please do your work from home or anywhere else. Now we are in the historically rather unique situation that both employers as well as employees try to reap the benefits of the unexpected revolution of remote work potentials including new digital tools to organise remote work (example “scoopforwork”). Employers found out they can do with much less office space than they previously thought they would need to accommodate all employees. Employees found out that saving on commuting time saves energy and frees time resources for other, potentially more healthy ways of life. A new balance of work and private life could be arranged at home. So much for the theoretical expectations.
In practice many women realised that they suddenly found themselves thrown back into working at home and in the home all the time again, with men still less willing to share household work equally. Unsuitable work spaces at home, arranged rather ad hoc, became a health and safety issue usually considered to be part of the employers’ responsibilities.
The results of the real-life experiment of forced remote work are still under scrutiny. To turn them into beneficial arrangements of voluntary remote work which is empowering, emancipating, increasing degrees of freedom for employees would be a huge step ahead. The full spectrum of negotiations is involved. Legislation, collective agreements and 1-on-1 solutions are needed to reap the benefits on all levels. Comparable to the industrial revolution during the 19th century, drawing millions of workers into factories and coal mines, we are at the beginning of a new era of digital and remote work that governs solar and wind farms for energy provision as well as 3D printing of industrial components.
It seems that we shift from the blue collar to the white collar to the no collar world of work. Working remotely in my t-shirt under the cherry tree is not the worst of a revolution (guard against cherry picking by employers and new layers of inequality). It might take a generation or two to accomplish this. With threatening, pervasive climate change we probably have to make it happen sooner rather than later.
Take work, take vacation = workation.
Take flexibility, take security = flexicurity.
Take business, take leisure = bleisure, not pleasure.
Blending notions or building hybrid terms is a powerful way to get discussions going or to challenge standard notions of work, security and leisure. At first sight these hybrid notions give the impression of a new, interesting approach to an established narrative. Adopting a new hybrid notion allows to blur the well-defined borders between established definitions. New narratives have their imaginative charm about them, only these hybrid notions tend to tip the balance in favour of work, flexibility and business, most of the time.
Additionally, there is a generational effect to it. Younger generations feel already more at ease with english-sounding new concepts. Feeling part of a new, cool approach to work is catchy. However, do not forget about the second part in all these notions: vacation, job security and leisure are fundamental rights of workers. Health and safety at work and in the medium- and longer- term depend on the latter notions. Sustainability and prevention of burn-out as well as depression hinge on taking time for leisure and vacation. Something nice in the immediate, might turn out to be very costly later on. Shifting costs related to health from employers to employees (or society) at a later time is in the end an unfair deal.
Just try a workation once and you are likely to value a real vacation much higher the next time. Why not do a workation in reconsidering the distribution of work within your household, couple or family. In this sense I am all in favour of a workation for men, most of whom still shun away from a fair distribution of care work at home. Happy Workation!
The smurf series of comics has been a world-wide success as children-books. Many adults enjoy re-reading some of their old comic books to their children or grand-children. Now let us try it the other way around. Our children try to sell us the concern for the environment by talking to us through the designs of smurfs, Schlümpfe or Strümpfe, as they are called in various translations. Maybe this way we are more open to take a serious look at the Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN. Easily accessible and getting us through an emotional connection might work better than tedious lengthy documents and statistics of continuous failure (e.g. on hunger) of most parts of the world.
Tell the story of the smurfs with the SDGs in mind. See how far you get in remembering the whole list of 17 stories. Build a narrative around each of the images. There is no way around getting nearer these goals for our very own survival as a species. Intergenerational communication works both ways from young to old as well as from old to young. Design your own characters, if you like, with the same SDGs in mind. Only this way we shall broaden the supporters for the goals beyond the expert circles of politicians and policy advisers. Happy drafting and rapid implementation! We can do it, if we want to.