Do we need a 30-hour work week? Let’s talk about it seriously.

Posted on December 1st, 2016

How about this for an idea? A mandated 30-hour work week? Recently in The Guardian leading UK social policy voice Anna Coote presented the idea as something that makes sense from many angles – social, environmental and economic.

Image via Design You Trust

Image via Design You Trust

And yet we resist the idea. What are we all waiting for?

Technology and automation was meant to see us work less. So why are we working more? Why aren’t we making the call and pulling back from being so ‘busy’?

Me, I think it’s because we’re all waiting for someone to tell us we can. I’ve talked about the importance of creating our own boundaries many times before – we can’t wait for someone to lay out the red carpet for us. The world doesn’t work like this anymore.

But I do wonder if it’s time this critical matter (for our ‘busy-ness is making us sad and sick) might need to be mandated. If ‘someone else’ needs to step in in this instance.

Coote plays with this idea, too and suggests a 30-hour work week could be phased in:

“Suppose all workers over 50 take a one-hour cut in their working week each year. If they start with a 40-hour week, they can be doing 30 hours at 60 and 20 hours at 70. And suppose all young people entering the labour market for the first time start on a 30-hour week – and stay that way, with each new cohort adding to the numbers, until it becomes the new “normal”.”

She adds that this would need to work in line with higher minimum wages.

She outlines the benefits. They’re many:

“We’d have more control over our lives, more time to look after one another. We could slow down and relax more – and rely less on carbon-intensive fast food and travel. We’d have more time to be active in our communities and in politics. We’d have more time to campaign for a new working culture that respects love, family and friendship instead of fetishising ‘hard work’. And most importantly of all we could build an economy that enables people to flourish, instead of one that is entirely fixated on growth.”

What do you think? Do you feel we need to grab hold of this issue and sort it? So we can take back control of our work?

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  • porcupinetears

    30-day work week? DAY?

    Typo I hope. 🙂

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Hour!

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    porcupinetears Reply:

    Excellent. ’cause it’s Thursday and I’m already tired.

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  • Olivia Taylor

    I dropped down to working 4 days a week (instead of 5) and I LOVE IT!!! I am busier now because I have more energy for doing the things that I love. I go for walks more, I help out in my community more and I see my friends more. I did lose money because of it but it doesn’t worry me because I made it work. Sometimes I do work 5 days to help someone out and I am exhausted!

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    Belinda Reply:

    Olivia, I have done the same thing after my partner saw me struggling with working 5 days a week – I have thyroid issues and get fatigued easily now. We are really lucky to be in a good financial position for me to do this. I am also very fortunate in that my employer is extremely supportive of me wanting to reduce my hours. I have every Friday off and it gives me time to recharge, take care of household chores and do things for myself. It is wonderful. I have more energy on the weekend to do things with my partner and see friends and family. I am also more motivated at work because the work week does not drag on like before – it goes fast! Highly recommend a 4 day work week if you are able to do it!

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  • Helen

    Couldn’t agree more. By this time of year everyone is exhausted and frantic. But my year has been entirely different as I cut my weekly “working” hours from 40 to 25 in March. This doesn’t include the work I do at home. I’m still busy, but I can’t imagine trading those hours in for a soul destroying job ever again.

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  • Steph

    Hey, Sarah. Nice post!
    I agree, I think we’re all waiting for someone to admit that good work doesn’t have to happen in a 40 hour time frame. I know I feel sheepish admitting I have about four good hours of creative work in me a day. I don’t know the antidote to this, but I think that freelancing has been a good lesson to me on how to rethink the way we structure work.

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  • Cristy Clark

    I agree… and with a 30 hour work week there would also be more opportunities out there for younger people to get jobs.
    I would speculate that a shift like this could reduce burnout, depression, improve health as people could dedicate more time to exercising and eating well.

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  • Our large government organisation just implemented flexibility in hours by default so flexible hours were open to everyone not just working mums, problem is the organisation and management still value “quantity over quality” when it comes to hours and part timers are treated as second class employees, there needs to be a cultural shift to the benefits to shorter working hours.

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  • Sophie

    I even think 30 hours is too much. Why not 20 or 25? It would surely help with the unemployment issue if we spread the jobs between us all.
    I actually was in a discussion where there was some agreement about the ideal week – 2 days a week paid work, one day a week doing some community contribution, one day a week just focusing on what we are passionate about, and a 3 day weekend. Sounds pretty good to me.
    I’m not waiting for anyone to tell me what I can and can’t do. I’ve set myself up so I don’t have to work too much. I suppose it helps living in an area of Adelaide – not too inner city so I don’t go broke just paying for somewhere to live.

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    Deb Reply:

    I like the sound of that – actually having a day to do something – anything – that’s your passion

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  • Carla

    If you are reading this and thinking “yes we do” but “how is that actually possible?” than I urge you to take the mantra “work smarter, not harder.” I am not by all means one who is lazy and when there is
    work to be done I WORK! But in saying that, so often we find ourselves
    just ‘doing stuff’ for the sake of it. Longer hours doesn’t necessarily
    mean productivity. In fact, most of the time is means the exact
    opposite! Feeling tired, over it, brain dead and unfocused means
    everything taking longer than saying pumping out a good 4 hours straight and knowing you only have time to get done what’s actually necessary!My weeks can vary but on average I’d say I technically “work” about 25-30 hours a week. And my business has never been better!

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  • Annie Degabriele

    I also think people don’t because they can’t. Life’s expensive, even if you live carefully. My husband works 70 hours a week to keep our family above water, (until the little ones are big enough for school). If he had a mandated 30 hours we couldn’t survive. I think the cost of living is going to be bad enough for the next generation. It’s sad.

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  • Deb

    try telling private business that – in the hype for better profits they’re always trying to get more out of their staff. Yes you could do it in some big businesses, and government/public sector, but there is no way you’re going to get the likes of the big shopping centres letting their staff work less.

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  • Christie Wilson

    Pretty sure they mandated a 35 hour work week in France and it was unsuccessful.

    A mindset shift needs to occur where we all – especially employers need to focus on outcomes rather than hours worked. Easier for salary staff rather than wages where they actually are paid by the hour. Wages staff I’m sure would work less hours if they could afford to.

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  • Louise

    I think a shorter days could end up being more productive for work – it’s just not normal for a human to focus on one task for an entire day.
    On the other hand, I’ve read a theory about how the 40 hour work week tires people out just enough, and makes them earn just enough, that on the evenings/weekends they splurge on unnecessary things because ‘they’ve been working hard and they deserve it’. Which means it would actually be bad, economically, if people worked less, because they’d be less tired and stressed so they’d spend less trying to make up for it, and the ‘man’ would lose…

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Or it would be good environmentally…

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  • Kim Hud

    Oh how I wish – the last few weeks I’ve done upwards of 70 hours because of the run up to Christmas. Sadly though as I’m salaried I don’t get paid for anymore than 39.

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  • Maryanne

    That’s so so good Sarah. I’m 52 started working at 16 and have been counting down to 55 to drop a day. This is why I’m one of your fans. I quit sugar on the 14/11/16 to see if that was making me so tired. I now feel I could live to 100. Maybe we could start a petition, once we get 10,000 signatures I believe it has to be mentioned in parliament- Australia. I used to be a caseworker for the youth in the job networking industry & this totally makes sense. After 7yrs of it I feel I could not do anymore , they need a better start to life. ps? On another note. I work in the hearing industry now for the past 7 yrs and Ironically have tinnitus for the past 18 months. I tell nearly every customer who listens about you and how I believe quitting sugar is one of the major contributors to management of this awful sound. Thank you for being you, you have given me my life back as it has reduce 60% and now I’m not as tired anymore.

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  • O’Mafonzie

    It would take an earthquake mindshift to get people to share. Because that’s what it is about. It would create jobs and employers would have to drop the ‘headcount is bad’ mantra. Others need to share their hours and maybe, sometimes, take a drop in salary. Unfortunately employers are mostly only in it for themselves. The corporations have long ago, with their unethical practices, proven that they couldn’t give a damn, as long as their billions come rolling in. You can rely on them not to take that salary drop!

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  • Jennifer

    I kicked off the year with 6 months of no sugar, working as a barista, studying a 2-year a yoga course, living every day.

    Fast forward I’ve landed a ‘dream job’ in the construction industry – 10 hours a day in front of a computer as a grad on the lowest possible salary. I eat sugar to get through the long hours and am definitely feeling sick, sad and older than my 24 years.

    Why I’m here: I feel have to prove myself in this world by working as hard as my parents. And yet, I’m not sure the first half of this year wasn’t actually the best half year of my life.

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  • Anna

    Thanks so much for this post!! Ive worked mon to Thursday for the last 3 years after being in senior corporate roles where I worked long evenings/weekends and ended up in a burnt out mess. I also have pcos so get fatigued easily. My current role doesn’t have the same level of buzz burn it afford me a life and pays well. I’ve just been approached for a senior role with excellent pay back in a large corporate. I have been deliberating maybe it’s a tim to return to a challenge and 5 day week. My friends think I’m nuts. The extra money would be nice but this has been the reminder I need! I’ve had a go at a shoe business, and have qualified as a health coach to help women with pcos on my Fridays off. I’m calmer and happier, my relationships are richer ev if I have taken a pay cut. If we all did a 4 day week with a day off to do what truly makes us happy i wthink the world would be a much better place. Life is too short! Xx

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  • Tam

    Its an interesting idea. I currently work 43 hours a week, but over 3-4 days only (depending on the shifts). I am obviously wrecked on the days I work, but do appreciate the extra days off to recharge, do life admin and then fun stuff at home. For 6 months this year I cut down to 3 days a week working 33 hours and that was brilliant – harder on the pocket though when you are a single and have a dog to support!!

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