Unpaid Time Distribution

The flip side of paid time is unpaid time. Of course, sleep makes up a significant block of unpaid time. When we are not asleep, we often resort to describing unpaid time in terms of paid time. For instance, we may extend a vacation a week, or so, add days to sick leave or months to maternity leave, embark on a year-long sabbatical, etc. as a formal leave of absence. In other words, unpaid time is taken away from a job or formal tasks in accordance with the terms of an employment / work contract. This can be where there is an agreed upon time to return to paid work or it can be the result of termination or retirement where there is no intent to return. Regardless, unpaid work, in the eyes of many, is the absence of paid work.

Unpaid time beyond sleep covers a wide range of activities. Most often these activities are associated with public and private sector organizations that provide recognition for services rendered by volunteers or documentation on resumes for hands-on business and academic experiences gained by interns.

The diagram below illustrates how these widely endorsed categories of volunteerism and internships might be distributed across Maslow’s Hierarchy:

While volunteerism and internships cover an explicit set of unpaid time activities, more often than not we spend our unpaid time in undocumented behavior. This manner may be important to us, but frequently we consider it trivial or inappropriate for others outside of select family members, friends, and acquaintances to know about. As a result, we choose to keep other people “in the dark,” so to speak, which features in the title of the diagram below:

The “dark side” may sound sinister, but the reality is that most of us have occasions when we don’t want others to know where we are and when we are there, what we are doing, and who we are with. With the rise of social media, sophisticated communication systems, and all manner of invasive technologies, it has become extremely difficult to go dark so that one cannot be found. One way for those committed to this degree of anonymity can do so is by going off the grid.

More commonly, though, opportunities for paid time simply dry-up or our personal situations are such that we cannot take advantage of them and we become unemployed – perhaps chronically so 1. This condition is similar to the unpaid time engaged in volunteerism and internships except it is not a position one necessarily chooses to be in – it just happens due to life circumstances. Even though we may be spending unpaid time providing several basic needs for ourselves as well as our children, elders, or family and community members with health issues, that time is not reflected in conventional economic indicators nor does it allow us to qualify for supplementary income through a social contract. We are uncounted, invisible, and marginalized. And that is a dark place, indeed.

  1. Long-Term Unemployment: The Economy’s ‘Secret Cancer’

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