Many would instantly agree: working less and having more spare time would be great. CNN runs an interesting story about William Powers, a key protagonist of the 20-hour work week. The article quotes: “I could never work 9-5 again,” says Powers. “That kind of work seemed like a form of slavery — giving up your mental, emotional, and intellectual capacities.” If you read this article and the end of a long working day of week, you probably vote Powers for President. The development and policy expert Powers worked 50 hours a week, before he ‘hit a brick wall’ and retreated for a year. When he returned, he slashed his work week to 20 hours. Promoting his new book, he’s now trying to convince others to change the routine.
There’s nothing revolutionary about Mr. Powers idea. The renowned economist John Maynard Keynes already said in 1930 that within a century, we would have only to work for 15 hours a week. This should be the consequence of a strong increase in income per capita, driven by huge productivity gains. Keynes underestimated the productivity gains, while income per capita indeed soared but: we’re still working nine-to-five or even longer. Economists Robert and Edward Skidelsky wrote in their book “How much is enough: Money and the good life” that our wants have seemingly go unsatisfied. Although many of us, in the developed world at least, could go on holiday once a year, for many this is not enough and we work 40 hours a week for a second or third holiday. We’re happy to work over hours to buy a new car with some extras. Nothing wrong with that and that’s for most of us a free choice. Surprisingly, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, high earners work longer hours. This may indicate the main issue: even with a free choice, there seems to be a ‘natural’ driver in us to work more. Despite the drop in US unemployment, the group of workers who seek to work more hours is not diminishing.
However, there are some good points of working less hours. The CNN mentions a tech startup who believes people become more creative when working 6 instead of 8 hours. Staff morale increases as well. Furthermore, it’s mentioned that shorter weeks in France and Germany have resulted in higher productivity per hour than in Britain which has a longer working week.
But of course low income groups, or those who live in less developed regions or expensive areas simply have no other choice than work 40 hours a week or even more. In addition, those who have a job which is part of their passion, would argue against that working less will improve their lives. Nevertheless, if one has a choice, it can’t hurt to review the routine to evaluate if you’re really happy with your working life and spare time. After all, time is something that can’t be bought…