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Working less, solution to just about everything (2)

By News Express on 19/03/2018

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Is there anything working less does not solve?

What’s more, work and leisure are becoming increasingly difficult to disentangle. A study conducted at the Harvard Business School has shown that, thanks to modern technology, managers and professionals in Europe, Asia, and North America now spend 80-90 hours per week “either working, or ‘monitoring’ work and remaining accessible.” And, according to a British research, the smart phone has the average employee working 460 more hours per year - nearly three weeks.

It’s safe to say the predictions of the great minds didn’t exactly come true. We are long past due for Keynes’ prophecy. Around the year 2000, countries like France, the Netherlands, and the United States were already five times as wealthy as in 1930. Yet, as we hurtle into the 21st century, our biggest challenges are not leisure and boredom, but stress and uncertainty.

The solution to (almost) everything

Recently, a friend asked me: What does working less actually solve?

I had rather turn the question around: Is there anything that working less does not solve?

Stress

Countless studies have shown that people who work less are more satisfied with their lives. In a recent poll conducted among working women, German researchers even quantified the “perfect day.” The largest share of minutes (106) would go towards “intimate relationships.” At the bottom of the list were “work” (36), and “commuting” (33). The researchers dryly noted that, “in order to maximise well-being, it is likely that working and consuming (which increases GDP) might play a smaller role in people’s daily activities, compared to now.”

Accidents

Overtime is deadly. Long work-days lead to more errors. Tired surgeons are more prone to slip-ups, and soldiers who get too little shuteye are more prone to miss targets. From Chernobyl to the space shuttle, Challenger, over-worked managers often prove to have played a fatal role in disasters. It’s no coincidence that the financial sector, which triggered the biggest disaster of the last decade, is absolutely drowning in overtime.

Climate change

A world-wide shift to a shorter work-week could cut the Co2 emitted this century by half. Countries with a shorter work-week have a smaller ecological footprint. Consuming less starts with working less – or, better yet – with consuming our prosperity in the form of leisure.

Unemployment

Obviously, you can’t simply chop a job up into smaller pieces. The labour market isn’t a game of musical chairs in which anyone can fit into any seat and all we need to do is dole out places. Nevertheless, researchers at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have concluded that work sharing – in which two part-time employees share a work-load traditionally assigned to one full-time worker – went a long way towards resolving the last crisis. Particularly in times of recession with spiking unemployment and production exceeding demand, sharing jobs can help to soften the blow.

Emancipation of women

Countries with short work-weeks consistently top gender equality rankings. The central issue is achieving a more equitable distribution of work. Not until men do their fair share of cooking, cleaning, and other domestic labour will women be free to fully participate in the broader economy. In other words, the emancipation of women is a men’s issue. These changes, however, are not only dependent on the choices of individual men; legislation has an important role to play. Nowhere is the time gap between men and women smaller than in Sweden, a country with a truly decent system in place for childcare and paternity leave.

Aging population

An increasing share of the older population wants to continue working, even after hitting retirement age. But where 30somethings are drowning in work, family responsibilities, and mortgages, seniors struggle to get hired, even though working is excellent for their health. So, besides distributing jobs equally between the sexes, we also have to share them across the generations. Young workers who are just now entering the labour market may well continue working into their 80s. In exchange, they could put in not 40 hours, but perhaps 30 or even 20 per week. “In the 20th century, we had a redistribution of wealth,” one leading demographer observed. “In this century, the great redistribution will be in terms of working hours.”

Inequality

The countries with the biggest disparities in wealth are precisely those with the longest work-weeks. While the poor are working longer and longer hours, just to get by, the rich are finding it ever more “expensive” to take time off, as their hourly rates rise.

In the 19th century, it was typical for wealthy people to flatly refuse to roll up their sleeves. Work was for peasants. The more someone worked, the poorer they were. Since then, social mores have flipped. Nowadays, excessive work and pressure are status symbols. Moaning about too much work is often just a veiled attempt to come across as important and interesting. Time to oneself is sooner equated with unemployment and laziness, certainly in countries where the wealth gap has widened.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have the ability to cut a big chunk off our working week. Not only would it make all of society a whole lot healthier, it would also put an end to untold piles of pointless and even downright harmful tasks (a recent poll found that as many as 37 per cent of British workers think they have a “bull-shit job”). A universal basic income would be the best way to give everyone the opportunity to do more unpaid but incredibly important work, such as caring for children and the elderly.

The good life

When I told people, in the course of writing, that I was addressing the biggest challenge of the century, their interest was immediately piqued. Was I writing on Terrorism? Climate change? World War III?

Their disappointment was palpable when I launched into the subject of leisure. “Wouldn’t everybody just be glued to the TV all the time?”

I was reminded of the dour priests and salesmen of the 19th century who believed that the plebs wouldn’t be able to handle getting the vote, or a decent wage, or, least of all, leisure, and who backed the 70-hour workweek as an efficacious instrument in the fight against liquor. But the irony is that it was precisely in overworked, industrialised cities that more and more people sought refuge in the bottle.

Now we are living in a different era, but the story is the same: In overworked countries like Japan, Turkey, and, of course, the United States, people watch an absurd amount of television. Up to five hours a day in the US, which adds up to nine years over a life-time. American children spend half again as much time in front of the TV as they do at school. True leisure, however, is neither a luxury nor a vice. It is as vital to our brains as Vitamin C is to our bodies. There’s not a person on earth who on their death-bed think: “Had I only put in a few more hours at the office or sat in front of the tube some more.”

Sure, swimming in a sea of spare time will not be easy. A 21st-century education should prepare people not only for joining the workforce, but also (and more importantly) for life. “Since men will not be tired in their spare time,” the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in 1932: “They will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid.”

We can handle the good life, if only we take the time.

•Lawrence Chukwuemeka Nwaodu is a small business expert and enterprise consultant, trained in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, with an MBA in Entrepreneurship from The Management School, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, and MSc in Finance and Financial Management Services from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Netherlands. Mr. Nwaodu is the Lead Consultant at IDEAS Exchange Consulting, Lagos. He can be reached via nwaodu.lawrence@hotmail.co.uk (07066375847).

Source News Express

Posted 19/03/2018 7:36:10 PM

 

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