Temporal control at work: Qualitative time and temporal injustice in the workplace

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In recent years, political theorists have been increasingly attentive to the unequal distribution of temporal resources among social groups. Marx, writing in 1858, had already argued that time is an all-purpose means necessary for the development of productive and enjoyment capacity, and therefore, the question of the complete development of individual is also a question of the distribution of temporal resources (Shippen 2014). Time, as Juster (1985) suggests, is now regarded by many as a sort of “currency” that should not be wasted because of its economic values. The growing talk of “work-life balance” indicates that the logic of utilizing time for production beyond human limits is a general phenomenon. But not all groups suffer from the time pressure equally. Robert Goodin and colleagues (2008) were among the first to point out that the distribution of “discretionary time”, which means time not spent on bodily, economic, and social necessities, varies significantly across different social groups in different regimes—people in liberal welfare regimes are suffering more than people in social democratic regimes. Echoing Goodin, Julie Rose (2016b) emphasizes that liberal proceduralists fail to see that time is not a specific good which is only valuable for some particular purposes, but a general good that is of its own importance for effectively realizing social and political freedom.

Nonetheless, these recent works, despite their importance in drawing our attention to the distinctive role of free time and the reduction of work time as a solution to overwork, have not sufficiently explored how common forms of temporal control, such as night work, weekend work, split shift, last-minute call-in and send-home, as well as flextime, impact employee's well-being and freedom. This article argues that the patterning of free time is of equal significance to the quantity of free time. The article problematizes the direct connection between freedom and free time, arguing that unless free time satisfies certain qualitative criteria, it might not enhance workers' freedom. By extension, the article further argues that forms of temporal control that require workers to constantly work a non-standard schedule are unjust in that these workers' free time is much less valuable to them as compared to the free time of workers on a standard schedule.

The goal of the article is to bring into view the normative relevance of the quality of time and thus to problematize several forms of temporal control that might not appear explicitly unjust from a purely quantitative perspective. For that reason, the article says relatively little about what a just temporal arrangement overall would look like. That is a complex issue that involves both questions about what justice requires with respect to quantitative amounts of free time and possible tradeoffs between qualitative and quantitative dimensions of time or between both of those and other forms of compensation. These are important topics but beyond the scope of this article. Given that most working population spend a majority of their waking time at work, this article focuses on problems of qualitative time resulting from work scheduling. This is not to say that non-work related problems will not affect the quality of our free time. For example, Schor has shown us that one of the reasons why people cannot genuinely enjoy leisure time is the constantly rising expectations due to the “culture of upscale spending” (1998, 4). Similarly, Frank (2020) has also shown the behavioral contagion effects of “expenditure cascades”, which also contribute to a rising consumerist culture.1 These are important questions that deserve further exploration, but they are beyond the scope of this article due to limited space.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-238
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Social Philosophy
Issue number2
Early online date12 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by Grants-in Aid from the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture of Japan ( 04263104, 054040439, 0557052, 04304051, 08407026 ); the International Scientific Research Program grants 05044163, 07044254, and 09044293 from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture; a research grant for health sciences from the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare ; and grants 5A-2 and A8-1 for cardiovascular diseases from the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare.


Dive into the research topics of 'Temporal control at work: Qualitative time and temporal injustice in the workplace'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this