About time. The benefits of a shorter working week

A shorter working week for many people is a fantasy, reserved for later life, a transition to retirement or if you’ve won the lottery.     Many work long hours and are encouraged to work even more, often in order to keep their job, whilst colleagues around them are victims of the latest restructure.       In times such as these, people can be made to feel lucky that they have a job and that their commitment to the company and increased productivity will result in increased growth.      That’s what I hear many of my friends who work in large companies tell me they are led to believe.

Last week hundreds of people turned up at LSE (including me) to listen to the New Economics Foundation talk [talk available on video and podcast] on the shorter working week, based on their report 21 hours.      The speakers Professor Juliet Shor referencing her latest book True Wealth and other recent research, Professor Robert Skidelsky  drawing from research for his new book which will be published later this year by Penguin and Professor Tim Jackson summarising and reflecting and responding held enlightening, fascinating and almost completely convergent viewpoints.     The  21 hour week could

  • solve unequal distribution of working hours, redressing the balance of those that want to work less hours (for less pay) and those that want to work more (because they are unemployed or under-employed), providing more distributed security for everyone
  • increase personal value we get form work, if we find work that is meaningful
  • provide the possibility to decrease our carbon footprint from leading less stressful lives (travel slower, eat slower) and as a result increase our connection to and harmony with nature
  • give us increased health as a result of less stress and therefore less time off sick
  • valuable and rewarding leisure time
  • more effective social and family interactions
  • respect for ourselves and others
  • less conspicuous consumption, or unconscious consumption, so therefore a tendency towards using goods/services that make a difference to our lives and as a result driving the development of sustainable and useful goods

What strikes me as underpinning all of these great outcomes to a shorter working week is more fairly distributing working hours.     As I now know from this session, our continuous obsession with productivity doesn’t increase growth and doesn’t increase productivity.   However productivity as an obsession, means there is way to go to change the way we think and operate for a new world of work.   As stimulus to think about what that new world of a shorter working week would look like, I’ve thought of some ways we could enjoy our new working life.   We could

  • Have multi-faceted portfolio careers as conceptualised by the philosopher Charles Handy, increasing our ability to adapt and be resourceful.
  • increase our knowledge about subjects that interest us or take formal educational qualifications
  • take vocational qualifications that increase our skills or crafts, widening our future opportunities
  • Job share with others as a way to distribute hours
  • Take more than one job to increase income either permanently or temporarily, or just simply to enjoy the variety of stimulus more than one job would afford

I am sure there are others to add to the list, please let me know.  For a starting point I can see that this would make each individual

  • Increase range of economic output
  • Be more motivated
  • Less stressed
  • And ultimately… more productive,
    • but on the individual’s own terms, rather than those that are set by employers and old-style economic approaches

The development of a shorter working week seems very fit for a social co-creation project, where we start to explore ways to make this happen.   If anybody is interested in starting a small group meet up about this, let me know.

Caroline Southard



One Comment to "About time. The benefits of a shorter working week"

  • Sam says:

    I totally agree with this….I work in a big corporate and have done for a long time and cannot believe that being productive is still equated with the hours spent hunched over your laptop!!!
    Also the lack of appreciation of outside work skills can contribute to your work.
    Thank you for the informative post

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