Friday, January 08, 2010

For less work

And meanwhile, over in the Independent, Johann Hari examines Utah's experiment with a four-day week, and thinks it looks pretty good. Better access to government services, lower greenhouse gas emissions, fewer sick days, and - most importantly - much happier people who don't want to go back. All of those benefits come from a minor change: working the same hours, but in a different pattern. But Hari thinks we can do better. Currently, workers in western nations are trapped in an arms race against each other, forced to work longer and longer hours by job insecurity and forced competition. And this has a tremendous cost, both in human happiness and human health:

This isn't our choice: virtually every study of this issue finds that huge majorities of people say they want to work less and spend more time with their friends, their families and their thoughts. We know it's bad for us. Professor Cary Cooper, who has studied to effects of overwork on the human body, says: "If you work consistently long hours, more than 45 a week, every week, it will damage your health, physically and psychologically." You become 37 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart-attack if you work 60 hours a week – yet one in six of all Brits are doing just that.
According to the OECD New Zealanders work more annual hours on average than UKanians. 22% of the total workforce (and 29% of all full-time workers) work more than 50 hours a week. 10% of us (13% of full-time workers) work more than 60. We're trapped by this rat-race just as much as them. But there's a way out. Like France once did, we could legislate for shorter hours:
It was the equivalent to an arms treaty: we all stop, together, now, at the 35 hour mark. The French population became fitter, their relationships were less likely to break down, their children became considerably happier, and voluntary organisations came back to life. According to the national statistics agency Insee, the policy created 350,000 jobs, because so many people moved to job-shares to ensure their post was filled five days a week.
Such a move would ensure that the market served us, rather than the other way round. It would make us happier, healthier, better off. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening under the current government. But hopefully we can make it happen under the next one.