Weisure and the Creative Class?
Work-life balance as it has traditionally been understood, where there is a discrete separation between work and leisure, and between the professional and the personal sphere, appears to be a thing of the past. To most Gen Y-Fi:ers, work will be an all-consuming thing not because it is forced upon them, but because they choose it. As members of an educated, global elite, Gen Y-Fi:ers are among the privileged workers who can view work as a means to self-fulfillment, not merely survival. They’re part of a small but by some accounts growing segment of the population, which Richard Florida terms “the Creative Class.” Florida, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, defines the Creative Class as a group of workers whose economic function is to think up new ideas, create new technology, and produce creative content based on today’s most important currency—knowledge. Members of the creative class are engineers, designers, artists, writers, planners, analysts, managers, and other “creative professionals.” He estimates that approximately 30 percent of the American workforce is part of the Creative Class (up from 10 percent in 1900 and just 20 percent as recently as 1990).
Florida wrote a series of influential books (The Rise of the Creative Class; Cities and the Creative Class; and Flight of the Creative Class) documenting the make-up and impact of the creative workforce. His and other studies show that cities that attract and retain members of the Creative Class prosper and grow, while those that do not stagnate. Florida’s theory, which is not without critics, is that the presence of certain types of individuals—rather than businesses—is the key to economic growth. Moreover, the Creative Class—the future of the American economy, if you buy his argument—envisions their work and lives in a different way than other groups. In a 2003 Washington Monthly article titled “The New American Dream,” Florida wrote that:
The rise of the creative sector has also changed the way people work, as well as their expectations. The American Dream is no longer just about money. Better pay, a nice house, and a rising standard of living will always be attractive. But my research and others’ show another factor emerging: The new American Dream is to maintain a reasonable living standard while doing work that we enjoy doing.
Theoretically, Florida’s analysis and conclusions about the importance of the Creative Class should give its members quite a bit of agency and power. And there is anecdotal evidence that some businesses are increasingly striving to meet the needs of a creative workforce. Urban planners have been the most visible group to embrace Florida’s message: city’s across America are trying to improve their ranking on Florida’s “creativity index,” which includes tolerance (presence and acceptance of diverse communities), talent (basically a crude measure of individuals with at least college degrees), and technology (tech infrastructure and firms), in order to attract the Creative Class.
Still, despite all the attention given to the Creative Class in recent years, so far the ability of this group of workers to command the kind of workplace, policy, and cultural changes that they would need to really flourish has been limited. This is because those workers that find themselves part of Florida’s Creative Class on paper, have no sense of group identity in real life. Creative Classers don’t organize; they don’t agitate or lobby as a collective whole for increased workplace flexibility, for example. Workplace realities seem to happen to them, rather than by them; and when potentially negative changes occur, they have almost no recourse individually.
In the CNN article , “Welcome to the Weisure lifestyle,” Thom Patterson attributes the new term weisure to New York University sociologist Dalton Conley, who claims that: “Activities and social spaces are becoming work-play ambiguous.” In his book, “Elsewhere USA,” Conley claims that Americans are working more and more, which necessitates the mixing of work and leisure. But, in addition, people are “more willing to let work invade their leisure time because, for a lot of Americans, working has become more fun,” Patterson writes.It isn’t as though everyone’s job is suddenly more enjoyable. There are still plenty of tedious jobs out there. The people who are having more fun, according to Conley, are the professionals defined by Florida as the Creative Class.
Creative Classers have embraced weisure, upping the ante once again on their commitment to work. But what has been the response from employers and society? Are workers getting anything back, in the form of an easier time with the “life” part of the equation, in exchange for their renewed commitment?
What are your experiences?
- Astri and Liz