The 30 Hour Work Week
I’m a big fan of the idea of reducing the work week. Long working hours give us the false impression of getting a lot of work done, but the evidence doesn’t support this. I’ve worked long hours, I think they make us lazy and causes a whole load of social and health problems:
- We’ve substituted endless mandatory conference calls for well designed asynchronous collaboration methods that we used for decades, anyone remember meeting minutes?
- We’ve substituted working late for good project disciplines, like planning, estimating and real team working
- We think that all the hours we work are created equal, whereas the first 10 are most likely 2 or 3 times as effective as the last 10.
- We ‘leverage’ global teams when we used to use co-located ones that in my experience were 2-3 times more effective
- Global working means emails and conference calls at night and weekends, time when we should be relaxing and thinking allowing us to come back to work refreshed and energised. Instead we come back just one step closer to burnout
- Accountability that we used to place with leaders has been fragmented by endless ‘governance’ and status meetings and meddling bosses
- Senior management now expects middle management to know ‘everything’ that’s going on in their business, which draws everyone’s focus to the urgent and away from the important
- The slack time that we used to investigate and fix problems, to learn new skills and explore new ideas has been absorbed by emails we don’t need, reporting that no one reads and conference calls where no ones listens
- The quiet offices that we used to work in have been turned into distraction zones, where we struggle to concentrate while listening to everyone else shouting at their phones
- We’ve been asked to absorb the jobs of those that have been made redundant and are now unemployed. But we can’t absorb them, we just stop doing anything that’s not urgent, leaving the ‘important/not urgent’ work to pile up until it’s big enough to create a crisis
- We don’t have much time to experience the joys of life, so we spend money on things instead, despite the fact that the ‘best things in life aren’t things’
- Chronic stress is insidious, affecting us negatively in dozens of ways that we are only just starting to understand, but we know that stress related illness is increasing, another crisis in the making
I experienced all of these changes over the last 15 years, my working hours crept up, my effectiveness went down. My engagement at work was gradually replaced by frustration and weariness. My robust good health gradually replaced by chronic illness that I coped with with ever increasing medication. Then I said enough is enough!
I now work an average of 16 hours a week, take a week’s holiday every month and another week as a ‘think week’. I’ve stopped attending routine conference calls, I’m brutal with email rules to clear my mailbox of dross, I focus on only areas that will make an impact. I work mostly on ‘important/not urgent’ work, confident that few other people will be doing the same. I try not to do the same thing twice. I work on reaching as big an audience as possible as efficiently as possible though online video, blog posts and highlight reports.
Of course because of my chronic health problems I’m a special case, but there has to be a better way for all of us and NEF is campaigning for it, with its work on the 30 hour work week. Here’s a quote from the New York Times:
We need a slow but steady move toward a 30-hour week for all workers. This will help solve a lot of connected problems: overwork, unemployment, overconsumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other and simply to enjoy life.
People working shorter hours generally have a smaller ecological footprint. If you are tied to the workplace for 40-plus hours, you don’t have much time for the rest of your life. So things have to speed up. You travel by plane or car instead of train, foot or bike. Convenience-driven consumption takes a heavy toll on the environment.
I also recommend the book Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency to anyone who doesn’t understand that you can be too busy
This post and the picture above is dedicated to my daughter who is travelling the world for the next 2 years, teaching in Hong Kong and China over the summer, teaching English and learning Japanese for a year at the Japan University of Economics and then hopefully learning about how to design a more life enhancing built environment for the future in the Netherlands.