Culture and Employment - The Art of World Building
Jun 222020

Unless independently wealthy or living with their family, most people need a job. On a cultural level, what we’re looking for is a typical number of hours worked in a day and how many days per week. A related question is whether positions pay enough or whether people need additional employment, or to combine income with a spouse, extended family, or friends who share living expenses. Working out this detail for every position would be very time-consuming without much payoff for us or audiences, so focus on what’s most common. Do most people at a given class level need to work two jobs or is that uncommon? If it’s very common, it can become part of a culture and is therefore expected.

The 40-hour work week is a decent average for humans, who work more in some industries. But consistently going beyond an 8-hour day, 5 days a week leads to worker burn out (and to make our world different, we should alter this). If we need many characters with lives that are miserable in our setting, exceeding this is one way to achieve it. Laws sometimes forbid such a thing, which can lead to secondary jobs, though perhaps there are laws against that as well. But the state often mandates minimum pay rates, though such a thing is more likely in SF than fantasy due to increased government. Some companies allow variations, such as 4 10-hour workdays a week, so perhaps this is common in our fictional world. Maybe people must work almost every day but only 4-6 hours. Do they have long days mixed with short ones, with a name for each type?

Another employment issue is how early or late people tend to work in a day. Perhaps early rising is standard, or working into nightfall (or both). Taking a break during the afternoon, such as for an extended lunch break of hours, might be common in the culture. This is called a siesta and results from a combination of a big, heavy meal at lunchtime and excessive heat, both of which can lead to drowsiness. Consider adding this to any culture near the equator or other hot areas; that culture can spread to other regions that don’t have the heat. Many businesses will close for 1-2 hours during this period, a fact that characters will take into account when they need supplies. A siesta also lets people stay up later, extending social life. Is a siesta so common that sleeping chambers are part of the office environment? Imagine the privacy and security concerns subsequently raised and steps to mitigate them. These sleeping rooms might be coed or not; imagination the combination of coed and nudity.

Are children allowed to be brought to work? Can a woman breastfeed at work at all, and is this openly or is a room set aside? Are daycare facilities available in this society and do they provide adequate care? Maybe it’s so expensive that some mothers or fathers don’t work and stay home to raise children while the other spouse works.

On that note, are women in the workforce? Are men? What about children, and at what age? Is any gender or age group discriminated against, given better pay and benefits, or denied certain types of employment? Is there cultural shift underway or is the status quo rigidly maintained? When rights are restricted in a supposedly free society, there’s often a “two steps forward, one step back” shift toward more freedom, due to resistance. Decide if such a movement is needed in the setting and how it might impact the story. We don’t need incredible details on this unless it’s a major story element, but a decision about employment opportunities will certainly impact the outlook of all genders. For example, a woman who can’t get a decent job might take to adventuring (or piracy) if she’s got the skills and personality for it.

We can consider many aspects of employment, such as whether people get vacations or holidays at all, health and other insurance benefits, pay raises, and what type of abuses must be endured from management, coworkers, or the public. We can model a SF world similar to but more advanced than an Earth society, but fantasy might require reimaging employment; on the plus side, with less formal organization (i.e., companies), there are fewer policies, for example, to decide upon. That someone has a great or crap job, in their opinion, can sometimes be enough, and all we may need is their comparison to a better or worse life that someone else has, with a few details that amount to discrepancies between what is and what could be.


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