Eleven reasons for a shorter working week

  1. We would have more time for living

Work can be fulfilling and enjoyable, for the fortunate. But we don’t live just for work. We live to mess around and play football and party and love and to make things and cook things and understand things and improve the world around us and learn how to do new things. Is the balance right, or does too much of our precious energy end up in the office?

2.       We would have more time to look after each other

Children need care. Parents need care. We all need care, support and help from time to time. More space in our lives would enable us to give more of what most of us want to give. The current way doesn’t allow enough space for care, leading to all sorts of problems.

3.       We would have more time to create our communities

Community bonds are vital in sustaining society and making individuals happy. This is not controversial, and most people mourn the demise of community, but if all our energy goes into work, little is left to put into the community spider’s web of connections and favours and reciprocation and small organisations.

4.       All could have some work, rather than some having too much and others none

Our current norm is for most people to work for most of their time, and for a minority not to work at all. Neither of these options would seem either to generate quality of life, or to distribute income sensibly. Better to share out the available work.

5.       We could work more productively

People who work shorter hours get more done per hour, as do people who are happier. Moreover, many skilled and talented people stop contributing economic work because other commitments leave them unable to work full time, and part time work is not available that uses their skills.

6.       We could work more innovatively

Do people come up with ideas, inventions or new ways of doing things after they are exhausted from long hours of drudgery? No, they tend to do it when they have space, when their minds are fresh and while they are doing something else. Shorter working hours create the conditions for innovation.

7.       We could stop wasting out lives doing pointless stuff

The riposte to point 4 is that the economy can generate full time work for all who want it, that there is no fixed ‘lump of labour’. This is the wrong approach. How much of the work we do contributes something useful, and how much is a ‘nonsense bullshit job’, as David Graeber eloquently puts it? “What does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law?”

8.       The environment can’t take all the pointless stuff…

Seen in historical terms, a relatively small proportion of jobs in developed countries now involve the physical fabric of our lives. But still, we stretch the planet to breaking point by consuming too much. Before very long this will put far more pressure on all of us. The answer to our economic conundrum cannot be to continue to generate ever more material wants and then create jobs to fulfil them – it just won’t work for much longer.

9.       …and even more so because the poorest countries do need more stuff

The majority of the world’s people live on next to nothing, with a family in one or two rooms, expecting only some of their children to survive (and not necessarily to survive childbirth themselves), with intermittent, precarious but extremely hard work, and maybe just enough food. These people do need more stuff, which means the fortunate consuming less, if we are to stay within global environmental limits.

10.   Women and men could have it all

Women and men in the UK are brought up to expect equal opportunities. Then they have children and suddenly the women look after the kids and miss out on the wider world, and then men go out to work and miss out on the kids (with minor modification, perhaps, but this is still the dominant pattern). Why on earth do we still do it this way, when many people would be much happier dividing the work-in-the-world and the caring work more equally?

11.   Older people could have it all

When jobs were hard and physical, perhaps it made sense to retire. But now, we work long hours until a certain moment moment arrives, and stop dead. This means not enough time for the rest of life before that point, and too much after, leading in many to a loss of sense of purpose and painful adjustment, not to mention inadequate income. How much better to work fewer hours, but for longer?

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