A Full Life

If you’re reading this sat glumly at your office desk you might want to spend a short while pondering this post.

Would you like to spend more time with your family and friends ?

How about more time pursuing leisure activities or keeping fit ?

Most of us could easily come up with a long list of enjoyable, useful, life affirming things we could do with more time – spend more time with the kids, get involved in our local communities, relax and unwinding, prepare better food and eat together as a family more, learn a new skill – or teach one, do something creative, or maybe even do some of that voluntary work or take part in civic society the way government keeps urging us all to do.

But instead we work long hours, both during the day and increasingly into the evening and at weekends, commute a few more and as a result feel under constant time pressure as we try to balance all the things we know we should be doing: help the kids with their homework, buy and cook healthy food, get involved with the community, try to keep fit, find time to see friends, not to mention finding time for ourselves and our own interests and relaxation. Modern life can be hectic.

Not all time is equal of course – we might have a couple of hours free before bed, but after our long work day, commuting and the necessary family and domestic duties, all we might be good for is veging out on the sofa in front of the TV or aimlessly messing with our social networks. Time is no use if you’ve got no energy left.

If this sounds exactly like your life, and you’re feeling sorry for yourself . . . wait a moment, because there’s another alternative.

Millions in our societies are also struggling with unemployment, and as economic austerity bites deeper, many have little optimism about their working futures – the young, the ‘more mature’, those with obsolete skills, those suffering from poor health or disability and those with other family care commitments, usually women.

The conventional economic cure for our current economic woes is yet greater efficiency – less people doing more work for less money.

Somehow, we’ve managed to build societies in which millions of people are unemployed, desperate for meaningful work – while simultaneously, millions of others work long hours in jobs they hate, and are too tired as a result. While some of us are overworking, over spending and over consuming, others can’t afford a decent quality of life.

There is a seemingly obvious solution every school table of six year olds would spot.

Why not share the work out more ?

Seems obvious doesn’t it. Reducing the working week, giving people free time to do ‘all that good stuff’ and creating jobs for more people appears to be a ‘triple-win’: good for the economy, good for our quality of life and good for the environment, as, it is argued, people will become less attached to status driven resource based consumption, deriving more enjoyment from their relationships.

A reduction in the working week to an average of 21 hours is being championed by the think tank The New Economics Foundation, as a way of breaking the live to work mindset, rather than working to live. Many other futurists have previously argued the same thing – assuming increasing technology would provide us with ever more leisure time, instead of driving a desire to do ever more work. Keynes himself imagined we would all be working a 15 hour work week by 2030 . . . probably not going to be one of his more accurate predictions.

But this seemingly obvious solution, of sharing the work out, has a couple of major obstacles – firstly working fewer hours means bringing in less money, and those on comfortable incomes may not immediately see the attraction of this, secondly it’s simply not reasonable to expect those on already low hourly rates to simply reduce their hours, so there would also need to be a corresponding increase in the minimum wage.

Will we see societies higher earners giving up a significant slice of their income in exchange for more leisure time, and a better quality of life ?

Sounds unlikely ?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

For sure, not everyone agrees we should all be working less – another think tank is reported as recently proposed scrapping the UK’s bank holidays to boost GDP, but increasing numbers of people do appear interested in downshifting, simpler living, anti-consumerism, slow living and all aspects of sustainable living. Many also recognise the advantages having a more equal society would bring.

I don’t imagine our governments are about to institute 21 hour maximum work weeks any time soon – but those of us who are in the fortunate position of having options regarding our working week might want to give it some serious thought.

Many of us could get by just fine with a little less money, and would enjoy finding ways to constructively spend the extra time. I know I did, when I moved to a four day week a couple of years ago :)

Less work, consume less, for more jobs, and more time with your family and community – what’s not to like ?

I’d love to hear your views.


Photo from Seo2 via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – It IS the Winning or the Losing that MattersMore Equal than Others, The End of Growth and Keeping Out the Giraffes, 8 Quick Ideas to Help You Slow Down10 Ways to Have Enough Money and Stuff


  1. I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gaskell (“North and South”, and now “Mary Barton”) and have been struck over and over by the similarities of working conditions now and in those unruly days of the Industrial Revolution. Workers are still exploited, profits still flow to the pockets of the unfeeling rich, and even though our jobs have become much safer on the whole, our labour contracts still largely obey corporate, not human, rules.

    One of those corporate rules is that companies are in the business of making money (not making goods or providing services). They must maximise profits. If they can employ one person for 60 hours a week, that’s a lot cheaper than employing two at 30 hours a week each, because the additional employee needs overhead: health benefits, pension, what have you. It’s really that simple.

    And right now, in a recession, it’s like then when the textile trade was slow and mill hands got turned away by the score, and for the remainder the masters had complete control over the wages and the hours. Already, in the US, many hourly paid jobs don’t come with paid vacation days; heaven help you if your child gets sick. Or companies hire people on a “temporary” or “part-time” basis indefinitely, so they don’t have to provide benefits. Etc.

    Of course corporations are ruthless. Rue and compassion are profoundly human emotions. Which makes corporate personhood, as wielded in the US, a travesty.

  2. Thanks Mandeep – always nice to hear about more vegetables being grown :)

    It’s quite a complicated issue isn’t it . . . I certainly wouldn’t claim to have all the answers, but it seems to me the concept of ‘work in order to consume’ is fraught with difficulty, causes many problems and is ultimately unsustainable.

    There are a lot of alternate models and ideas being pondered, and indeed tried in different places – sharing economies, local economies, time based economies, the Venus Project etc and I’ve recently become familiar with the idea of Unconditional Basic Income – which seems very similar to the ideas in your link. http://youtu.be/YQzz654G-6g

    Always happy to hear any views :)

  3. I completely agree with the sentiments of this post. I have reduced my working hours considerably, am growing my own veg and herbs (to the extent that the current space I’m in permits), etc. I also have the impression that this is a direction in which many others are moving.

    While the reduction of working hours and sharing work is an interesting idea, and has been around for a while, there is another more radical idea being propagated at the moment, which I believe would bring even greater prosperity to the world: Basic Income (see http://www.basicincome.org/bien/aboutbasicincome.html).

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone could do whatever they did best/enjoyed most, if the money needed to exist/survive was never an issue? Wouldn’t it be liberating to be able to work if you wanted to, rather than because you had to (for money)? Imagine the creativity that would flow!

Speak Your Mind