Thursday, August 10, 2006

Shorter, 4-6 Hour Workdays Would Benefit Us All

Call for six-hour work day.

Working four to six hours a day is the key to happiness, according to a new report.

In the quest for money and status, Australians are among the hardest workers in the world.

But Sydney University academic Dr Caroline West says while work delivers self-esteem, income and social ties, more than four to six hours a day will bring anxiety, exhaustion and a poor quality of life.

"We've structured our lives so the majority of our waking life is devoted to work, which might bring us more money but doesn't make us more fulfilled," Dr West said.

"So long as there's a trend to work these really long hours you'll continue to see the plateauing and decline of people's wellbeing."

Dr West said almost a third of Australian full-time workers worked more than 48 hours a week and 30 per cent worked 50 hours or more.

After analysing a range of studies over the past few years, Dr West, who has published her findings in the Australian Law Reform Commission Journal, says the idea of a six-hour day is not a fantasy.

"I don't see any reason why it can't realistically happen," she said.

"It's going to require a lot of structural reform, but I think the time is ripe for addressing it as an issue."

She said the concept of the four- to six-hour working day - originally flagged by economist John Maynard Keynes in the early 1900s - would even help productivity.

But with competitiveness and the quest to "outdo one another" ingrained in society, most people weren't convinced that working less would make them happier, she said.

Dr West's research shows most people would rather work longer hours and have more money than have extra leisure and family time.

She said people who don't have money and who don't value work as their number one priority often risked being ostracised, or dubbed as lazy.

"It's difficult to be someone who places priority on leisure if you're surrounded by people who just care about money, or care about it more than other things," Dr West said.

For now, only a select privileged group with alternatives such as job sharing arrangements could afford the shorter hours, she said.

It's quite a pathetic situation. The article actually says people would rather work long and hard than be with their families and friends.

Well, not me. I've had exactly one year of working experience and I've watched it steadily suck the soul right out of me without being able to do anything about it. Up till now, that is. My contract allows for me to switch back to 4 days a week, which is exactly what I'll be doing a few weeks from now. The arrangements are being made right now at my company.

You may be wondering why I am posting this, as it has nothing to do with technology at first sight.

Here's why:

Technology is what is responsible for industrial revolutions which have great impact on our society. With every industrial revolution, the quality of our lives has increased by lessening our workload.

Think about it:

We started out as cavemen, running around in the jungle for about 25 years fighting off sabretooth tigers and grizzly bears.

Then we built societies for ourselves and we started working on the land. Work was still physical and hard, but at least we had the protection of the village or town.

Then we built machines. Still lots of physical work, but the workday eventually decreased to 10 hours. Henry Ford later decreased the workday further to 8 hours.

Welcome to today. We're still working 8 hours, but most of it is intellectual now. Light-load office jobs.

The first reports of people wanting more free time (as opposed to what the article states) are already coming in. Also, research has showed that a 4 day workweek makes people more productive, provided the work is properly planned. I heard this on the radio while plowing away at my lame 5 days / 8 hours job. And yet we all kept going at it as if we didn't hear it.

After all those industrial revolutions, life is still crap. We sleep one third of our time, work one third of our time and a great deal of the other third is spent doing things that are absolutely necessary, such as travelling (to work, blegh), bathing, shopping, preparing food, eating, etc. We are rewarded only with much too short weekends and too few days off, in which nobody has any time for anybody because we're too busy doing other things that need to be done.

Virtually no time is left for personal development. And somehow we are expected to maintain our social contacts and find girlfriends in this little bit of time as well. Some people are really good at accepting this situation. They apparently have no problem shoving their own desires aside and are happily grinding away, fulfilling their role as a miniscule gear in our beautiful system.

They're lying to themselves. Would they really spend 8 hours a day doing their current job if they were free to decice what to do? Have these people been brainwashed to such a degree that they cannot function without the system holding a double-barreled shotgun to the back of their heads?

Slaving away your entire life just to buy a pile of bricks and rooftiles seems like a poor man's life to me. But who the hell am I. Just some nutcase who manages a techblog in his spare minutes, I recon.

But there is hope.

Thanks to exponential acceleration in our technological progression, we are seeing industrial revolutions following up much faster. Soon, we can expect one every few years. And with every revolution, life gets better.

The first revolution we will see in about ten years, is that of nanotechnology which has the potential to make products extremely cheap and outperform our current products by about a factor of thousand. Recent developments suggest robots will soon be entering the mainstream and they will be taking plenty of our jobs away. You'd think this would cause huge economic depression. But keep in mind that if our economy is entirely automized, robots will be doing all the work and we'd be free to party all day singing yippee yippee.

So it seems to me we've all got something to look forward too.

It sure is a shame I was born in 1978, though. I'd rather be born in 2000.

Then again... having gone (and still going) through this barbaric society, I might actually not take all of tomorrow's technology for granted.

Because that's exactly what young people growing up right now will be doing.

But me... I've gone through the cesspit of the backwards eighties and nineties...

Tomorrow's technology might actually make me happy.

All I have to do is hang in there...

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5 comments:

J said...

I really like this post. :)

Armchair Anarchist said...

Hi there, J-W. Been following your blog for a while; read this post and had to pitch in on the subject myself. As you don't have trackbacks, I thought I'd leave a comment and point you towards my response.

Thanks for the heads-up, and keep on blogging! Soon we will all live in a lazier world...and then there'll be more time for having a beer with interesting people, right? :)

Jan-Willem Bats said...

Great feedback you guys.

Thumbs-up this stuff on www.stumbleupon.com if you like it.

People for a Shorter Workweek said...

I totally agree! You can't really have a life working 8 hours per day, 5 days a week. It leaves you virtually NO time during the week and minimal time on your two days off since you have to run your errands, etc.

Chris Phoenix said...

Nice post, and I agree. As we get more automated, there'll be less boring stuff to do, and fewer jobs... and my question is, will we be retired, or unemployed? It's a matter of perception and security--both of which exist in the context of society.

While working less sounds like a very good idea, quitting work entirely may not be. Jamais Cascio has a very excellent recent post on, among other things, lack of scarcity--and present-day examples--and evidence that it might be too boring. I encourage everyone who found this thread interesting to read his post.

Chris