Tuesday, February 23, 2010

21 Hours - Why a Shorter Working Week Can Help Us All to Flourish in the 21st Century

A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, 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.

This new report by nef sets out arguments for a much shorter working week. It proposes a radical change in what is considered ‘normal’ – down from 40 hours or more, to 21 hours. While people can choose to work longer or shorter hours, we propose that 21 hours – or its equivalent spread across the calendar year – should become the standard that is generally expected by government, employers, trade unions, employees, and everyone else.

The shape of the report
The report first describe the way people use their time today. Next, it looks at experiments with shorter working hours and some of their effects. It considers how our notions of ‘normal’ working hours emerge, and then set out reasons why a move towards 21 hours could help meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. Finally, it explores the main problems that arise and how these might be addressed.

In conclusion
We are at the beginning of a national debate. This report makes the case for a substantial reduction in paid working hours, aiming towards 21 hours a week as the norm. The current norm of a nine-to-five, five-day week in paid employment does not reflect the way most people use their time. Unpaid work is generally overlooked and undervalued. A much shorter working week offers very considerable benefits to the environment, to society, and to the economy. There are serious problems to confront in the transition from where we are to where we want to be: they are mainly concerned with the impact on earnings and on employers’ balance sheets. We have set out suggestions for addressing these problems, acknowledging that an important pre-condition is a strong democracy and an effective and accountable government. Our suggestions include ways of incentivising employers, compensating lost earnings, sharing unpaid time more equally between women and men, and changing the climate of opinion. None of these options will work on its own and there are doubtless many more possibilities. The next step is to make a thorough examination of the benefits, challenges, barriers, and opportunities associated with moving towards a 21-hour week over the next decade. This will be part of the ‘Great Transition’ to a sustainable future.

Check out the full report on the web site of the new economics foundation. It is available for download in pdf.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, this is a challenge to capitalism, so it won't be discussed in our market-totalitarian society.