The Difficulty of Distinguishing Work and Leisure Today
In “Work and Leisure” by Roger C. Mannell and Donald G. Reid, “Emergent Working Society of Leisure” by Neil Ravenscroft and Paul Gilchrist, and “Working at Fun” by Deborah Rapuano, the definition of work and leisure has undergone a transformation from the traditional separation of the two terms into combining the different spheres of activity in different ways. A key reason is that as society has changed, becoming a global economy and providing new sources of creative endeavors for some members of society, some individuals have been able to combine their work as an economic activity with intrinsically motivated work that provides the same kind of personal fulfillment that usually occurs in leisure activities.
An example of this combination of work and leisure is the “work” of artists, architects, and other creative professionals who gain personal satisfaction out of what they do, as described by Ravenscroft and Gilchrest. At the same time, other individuals who start out pursuing an activity as a leisure time pastime, such as some of the pub musicians described by Rapuano, may find what started out as a fun activity becomes a source of work as it is turned into a marketable commodity for which they receive pay.
Accordingly, while work and leisure can be two different aspects of life under some circumstances, they become intermingled and might become part of a continuum depending on how different individuals pursue a work-life balance. On the one hand, for some individuals, especially those at the lower economic stratum of society, work and leisure are generally separate, such as for a factory or farm worker, who has to work to make a living, and leisure for them is largely a non-work activity, devoted to activities with their families, social drinking with friends, participating in or watching sports, going to movies or musical gatherings, and enjoying other sorts of celebrations. While there might be small opportunities for leisure activities during the work-day, such as on short coffee or lunch breaks between shifts or listening to music while doing routine activities, generally employees, commonly called “workers” to highlight that they are considered workers in this role, engage in leisure time activities off the job.
Conversely, for professionals, knowledge workers, managers, company owners, and entrepreneurs, especially those who have attained a higher economic status, work and leisure become comingled, and many activities that might be considered leisure activities if they were not engaged in with others in the same profession, industry, or profession, have a work component. For example, a sales manager or company owner might go to a sales conference to improve his or her success in sales, but before, between, and after seminars, the individual might visit exhibits, participate in breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, and networking parties, and have drinks at a local nightclub with others at the conference that are both enjoyable and for business purposes. While part of the event is devoted to learning about techniques and strategies for improving one’s ability to work better and smarter, much of the event is devoted to having fun. Yet, even while having fun, one is engaging in these activities with business colleagues who might be a source of future business, so leisure is contributing to one’s success at work. As result, leisure becomes an independent variable as well as a dependent variable, which is shaped by the type of work the professionals, managers, company owners, and entrepreneurs are engaged in). However, since what is work and what is leisure at the conference are so intertwined, can they really be separated?
Mannell and Reid point to this difficulty of keeping work and leisure separate under changing times, requiring a new way of defining them. As they observe, the earliest research was based on considering work and leisure as separate spheres of life, so that researchers examined such things as the “changing allocations of time between work and leisure” or the trade-off people engaged in between earning money (at work) versus having more free time (in leisure). Also, researchers examined the relationship between leisure as an independent variable, and examined how the type of work people engaged in influenced their leisure activity. Some of their theories reflected this perspective, such as the spillover theory in which people engaged in leisure activities with characteristics “similar to their job-related activities and tasks,” such as the computer professional enjoying activities on the internet during their free time. Another of these theories is the compensation theory, in which a person is viewed as making up for their deprivations at work or seeking to satisfy needs not fulfilled in work by engaging in very different activities, such as when a sedentary worker goes on an adventure travel expedition for fun. Even the neutrality approach is based on the idea that work and leisure are two separate domains, in that people “compartmentalize their experiences of work and leisure.”
However, while Mannell and Reid illustrate how leisure and work was defined as different spheres by the earlier researchers, they illustrate how later researchers developed changing definitions in response to changes in society. As they conclude after describing a number of studies showing individual differences in the way people relate work and leisure in their lives:
“These types of findings suggest that people do differ according to the ways in which work and leisure are related and organized in their lives. There does not seem to be one dominant relationship between work and leisure, but rather a variety of possibilities that differ depending on immediate social and economic circumstances, and important individual differences in needs, attitudes, and personality that are likely the result of socialization influences.”
Mannell and Reid also make an important distinction between leisure just for fun and relaxation and “serious leisure”, which involves participating in pursuits that require developing skills and expressing a long-term career-like commitment. Though they discuss this type of leisure in the context of research on retirees, who find that engaging in more active and serious forms of leisure help them feel more positive about themselves and better cope with retirement, this distinction could apply to anyone who takes up a leisure activity seriously and may later turn it into a career. Two examples of this are the weekend painter who decides to become an artist or the player in a garage band who decides to go on the concert circuit and earn enough money to make a living with his music.
This idea of the merging of leisure and work is also expressed in the notion of a continuum of work and leisure practices discussed by Ravenscroft and Gilchrist, citing the work of Rojek in proposing the notion of civil labor which is based on the idea that the “separation of work from subsistence needs in Western societies has allowed people to develop suites of activities through which they can express their identities.” Building on Rojek’s ideas, Ravenscroft and Gilchrist propose that there has been the emergence of a “working society of leisure” in which leisure is comprised of self-determined work and through which people can gain a mix of “social, psychological and financial rewards.” Such a society, they contend, is illustrated by the creative workers they studied in Hastings in South East England, who chose to work at creative activities they loved, even though they might not make enough money to sustain themselves through that work, but found other ways to keep their creative activities going, from using savings, inheritances, or part-time work to support themselves.
This kind of blending of work and leisure is also shown in Rapuano’s description of some pub session musicians in Ireland and Chicago, who may be drawn into turning their music into work, because of market-driven, profit oriented incentives resulting in commercialized sessions. Though most of the musicians still participate for fun, some turn this into work, such as becoming session organizers and committing to play on a regular basis for a paying audience.
Thus, I would agree that under certain circumstances work and leisure can be considered two completely different aspects of life, such as when people dislike their work or clearly distinguish their activities as work, and they engage in other activities which they consider leisure non-work activities. On the other hand, for other people, work and leisure may blend together, such as for the creatives or professionals who gain their identity and fulfillment through their work. To a great extent, the distinction can be economically based, in that those on the lower socio-economic levels who hold lower status jobs may be more apt to think of their work in one sphere and their leisure in another, while those in higher income and higher status jobs have the luxury of choice, so they may select jobs which they really enjoy and find fulfillment.
Still, there are exceptions, such as the creatives who love what they do but don’t make much money at it such as the creatives described by Ravenscroft and Gilcrest, as well as actors, artists, and writers anywhere, who have difficulty making a living at what they do, but continue to do it for the love of their art.
However, apart from economic considerations, this distinction should be viewed from the perspective of the subjects and their way of defining leisure and work – a more phenomenological view. While structural patterns, such as economic conditions, may contribute to work and leisure being defined as separate domains of life or combined in some way as part of a continuum where the work-leisure balance shifts for different people based on their lifestyle and time devoted to work or leisure activities, the meaning of the activity engaged in is also important, since different individuals may define the activity in different ways. What may feel like work to one person (like the factory worker) may seem like leisure to another (such as the creative worker who feels totally fulfilled by what he or she is doing). Thus, it is important to combine both a structural and an intrinsic motivation approach in defining work and leisure.