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Posts Tagged ‘work-life balance

The solution to (nearly) everything: working less

Had you asked John Maynard Keynes what the biggest challenge of the 21st century would be, he wouldn’t have had to think twice.


In fact, Keynes anticipated that, barring “disastrous mistakes” by policymakers (austerity during an economic crisis, for instance), the western standard of living would multiply to at least four times that of 1930 within a century. By his calculations, in 2030 we’d be working just 15 hours a week.

In 2000, countries such as the UK and the US were already five times as wealthy as in 1930.

Yet as we hurtle through the first decades of the 21st century, our biggest challenges are not too much leisure and boredom, but stress and uncertainty.

Gino Raidy shared this link. April 18 at 2:35pm ·

“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.”

(As Jimmy Carter said lately: “Men don’t give a damn if women don’t take on their responsibilities for a fair system on discrimination”

Excessive work and pressure are status symbols. But overtime is deadly.|By Rutger Bregman

What does working less actually solve, I was asked recently. I’d rather turn the question around: is there anything that working less does not solve?

Take climate change. A worldwide shift to a shorter working week could cut the CO2 emitted this century by half. (Car travel to work for example)

Countries with a shorter working week have a smaller ecological footprint. Consuming less starts with working less – or, better yet – with consuming our prosperity in the form of leisure.

Overtime is deadly.

Long working days lead to more errors: tired surgeons are more prone to slip-ups and soldiers who get too little shut-eye are more prone to miss targets.

From Chernobyl to the space shuttle Challenger, overworked managers often prove to have played a role in disasters.

It is no coincidence that the financial sector, which triggered the biggest disaster of the past decade, is absolutely groaning with people doing overtime.

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 quantified the “perfect day”. The largest share of minutes (106) would go toward “intimate relationships”.

Down at the bottom of the list were work (36) and commuting (33). The researchers noted that “in order to maximise wellbeing it is likely that working and consuming (which increases GDP) might play a smaller role in people’s daily activities compared with now”.

Obviously, you can’t simply chop a job up into smaller pieces. Nevertheless, researchers at the International Labour Organization have concluded that job sharing – in which two part-time employees split a workload traditionally assigned to one full-time worker – went a long way towards resolving the last economic crisis.

Particularly in times of recession with spiking unemployment and production exceeding demand, sharing jobs can help to soften the blow. (Which requires plenty of training and coordination?)

Furthermore, countries with shorter working weeks consistently top gender-equality rankings. (In many part of the world, men work less and the burden is heaped on the women)

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.

Take Sweden, a country with a truly decent system for childcare and paternity leave – and the world’s smallest work-time disparity between men and women.

Besides distributing jobs more equally between the sexes, we also have to share them across the generations.

Older people increasingly want to continue working even after hitting pensionable age. But while thirtysomethings are drowning in work, family responsibilities and mortgages, seniors struggle to get hired, even though (some) working has proven health benefits.

Young workers who are just entering the labour market may well continue working into their 80s. In return, they could put in not 40 hours a week for all those years, but perhaps just 20-30.

“In the 20th century we had a redistribution of wealth,” one leading demographer has observed. “In this century, the great redistribution will be in terms of working hours.”.

And then there is the issue of economic inequality.

The countries with the biggest disparities in wealth are precisely those with the longest working weeks.

While the poor are working longer hours just to get by, the rich are finding it ever more “expensive” to take time off as their hourly rates rise.

Nowadays excessive work and pressure are status symbols. 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% of British workers think they have a “bullshit 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.

“But wouldn’t everybody just be glued to the TV all the time?”, you may wonder.

Actually, it is precisely in overworked countries like Japan, England and the US that people watch an absurd amount of television. Up to four hours a day in England, which adds up to nine years over an average lifetime.

Sure, swimming in a sea of spare time won’t be easy. But that’s why 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.

Is it anymore feasible to strike a work-life balance?

What I thought I would do is I would start with a simple request. I’d like all of you to pause for a moment, you wretched weaklings, and take stock of your miserable existence.

Nigel Marsh speech in Feb. 2011

00:29 Now that was the advice that St. Benedict gave his rather startled followers in the fifth century.

It was the advice that I decided to follow myself when I turned 40.

Up until that moment, I had been that classic corporate warrior — I was eating too much, I was drinking too much, I was working too hard and I was neglecting the family.

And I decided that I would try and turn my life around. In particular, I decided I would try to address the thorny issue of work-life balance.

So I stepped back from the workforce, and I spent a year at home with my wife and four young children. (Great when you can afford this sabbatical every now and then)

But all I learned about work-life balance from that year was that I found it quite easy to balance work and life when I didn’t have any work. (Laughter) Not a very useful skill, especially when the money runs out.

So I went back to work, and I’ve spent these seven years since struggling with, studying and writing about work-life balance.

And I have four observations I’d like to share with you today.

The first is: if society’s to make any progress on this issue, we need an honest debate. But the trouble is so many people talk so much rubbish about work-life balance. All the discussions about flexi-time or dress-down Fridays or paternity leave only serve to mask the core issue, which is that certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family.

Now the first step in solving any problem is acknowledging the reality of the situation you’re in. And the reality of the society that we’re in is there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. 

It’s my contention that going to work on Friday in jeans and [a] T-shirt isn’t really getting to the nub of the issue.

The second observation I’d like to make is we need to face the truth that governments and corporations aren’t going to solve this issue for us. We should stop looking outside.

It’s up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the type of lives that we want to lead. (Adding more pressures on the individual in order to relieve the responsibilities of the governments and elite classes)

If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance. It’s particularly important — this isn’t on the World Wide Web, is it? I’m about to get fired — it’s particularly important that you never put the quality of your life in the hands of a commercial corporation.

Now I’m not talking here just about the bad companies — the “abattoirs of the human soul,” as I call them. I’m talking about all companies. Because commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of you [as] they can get away with.

It’s in their nature; it’s in their DNA; it’s what they do — even the good, well-intentioned companies.

On the one hand, putting childcare facilities in the workplace is wonderful and enlightened. On the other hand, it’s a nightmare — it just means you spend more time at the bloody office. We have to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want in our life.

The third observation is we have to be careful with the time frame that we choose upon which to judge our balance. Before I went back to work after my year at home, I sat down and I wrote out a detailed, step-by-step description of the ideal balanced day that I aspired to.

And it went like this: wake up well rested after a good night’s sleep. Have sex. Walk the dog. Have breakfast with my wife and children. Have sex again.  Drive the kids to school on the way to the office. Do three hours’ work. Play a sport with a friend at lunchtime. Do another three hours’ work. Meet some mates in the pub for an early evening drink. Drive home for dinner with my wife and kids. Meditate for half an hour. Have sex. Walk the dog. Have sex again. Go to bed.

How often do you think I have that day? (Laughter) We need to be realistic. You can’t do it all in one day. We need to elongate the time frame upon which we judge the balance in our life, but we need to elongate it without falling into the trap of the “I’ll have a life when I retire, when my kids have left home, when my wife has divorced me, my health is failing, I’ve got no mates or interests left.”

A day is too short; “after I retire” is too long. There’s got to be a middle way.

A fourth observation: We need to approach balance in a balanced way. A friend came to see me last year — and she doesn’t mind me telling this story —  and said, “Nigel, I’ve read your book. And I realize that my life is completely out of balance. It’s totally dominated by work. I work 10 hours a day; I commute two hours a day. All of my relationships have failed. There’s nothing in my life apart from my work. So I’ve decided to get a grip and sort it out. So I joined a gym.” (Laughter)

Now I don’t mean to mock, but being a fit 10-hour-a-day office rat isn’t more balanced; it’s more fit.  Lovely though physical exercise may be, there are other parts to life — there’s the intellectual side; there’s the emotional side; there’s the spiritual side. And to be balanced, I believe we have to attend to all of those areas — not just do 50 stomach crunches.

Now that can be daunting. Because people say, “Bloody hell mate, I haven’t got time to get fit. You want me to go to church and call my mother.” And I understand.

I truly understand how that can be daunting. But an incident that happened a couple of years ago gave me a new perspective. My wife, who is somewhere in the audience today, called me up at the office and said, “Nigel, you need to pick our youngest son” — Harry — “up from school.” Because she had to be somewhere else with the other three children for that evening.

So I left work an hour early that afternoon and picked Harry up at the school gates. We walked down to the local park, messed around on the swings, played some silly games. I then walked him up the hill to the local cafe, and we shared a pizza for two, then walked down the hill to our home, and I gave him his bath and put him in his Batman pajamas.

I then read him a chapter of Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach.” I then put him to bed, tucked him in, gave him a kiss on his forehead and said, “Goodnight, mate,” and walked out of his bedroom. As I was walking out of his bedroom, he said, “Dad?” I went, “Yes, mate?” He went, “Dad, this has been the best day of my life, ever.” I hadn’t done anything, hadn’t taken him to Disney World or bought him a Playstation.

09:04 Now my point is the small things matter.

Being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life.

 It can transform society. Because if enough people do it, we can change society’s definition of success away from the moronically simplistic notion that the person with the most money when he dies wins, to a more thoughtful and balanced definition of what a life well lived looks like. And that, I think, is an idea worth spreading.




February 2023

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