15-hour work â€˘ week
1. Exactly what it sounds likeâ€”less work for the same money
I work nearly three times that much now. Is this normal?
Sadly, yes. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development shows that American workers put in anÂ average of 1,786 hoursÂ annually, 200 more hours than their British and French peers. Yet study after study reveals that working more hoursÂ doesnâ€™t increase productivityâ€”just stress, health issues and carbon emissions.
How much less should I be working?
An often-cited 2016 study found that workers performed best when they were clocking in just three days a week, five hours a day. Advocates of a 15-hour workweek, such as Dutch author Rutger Bregman, argue that much of the work we do now is pointless at best and harmful at worst, so we should do much less of it. Major trade unions inÂ Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and the U.K. have all backed a four-day workweek, and the British Labour Partyâ€™s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has promised to reduce the average workweek to 32 hours within the next decade, proclaiming, â€śWe should work to live, not live to work.â€ť Microsoft JapanÂ experimentedÂ with a shorter workweek and trumpeted that it actually boosted productivity and cut down on time-wasting.
What about in the United States?
Thanks perhaps to a national case of workaholism, until recently it was self-proclaimed do-gooder CEOs talking about why we should work less (to increase their profits, naturally). But there are signs the American labor movement could once again take up the fight for fewer hours. Notably, Bernie Sanders said he wouldÂ consider a 32-hour workweekÂ (for the same pay) at the United Food and Commercial Workers 2019 fall forum in Iowa.
Sounds great to me. Is there a catch?
Some progressive economists worry that enforcing a shorter workweek could lead to an economic contraction and pay cuts. One proposal for a â€śleisure agendaâ€ť from theÂ Peopleâ€™s Policy ProjectÂ recommends a mix of measures instead, including more federal holidays, more guaranteed vacation time, and more paid parental and sick leave. However we get there, the end goal is clear: We need to get a life.
This is part of â€śThe Big Idea,â€ť a monthly series offering brief introductions toÂ progressive theories, policies, tools and strategies that can help us envision a world beyond capitalism. For recentÂ In These TimesÂ coverage of reducing hours and raising pay in action, see,Â â€ťHow Working Less Can Help Prevent Climate Catastrophe and Promote Women’s Equality,â€ť â€śCalifornia Workers Win Equal Overtime: ‘This Bill Corrects 78 Years of Discrimination’â€ť and â€śLong Hours, No Rest: Overworked Americans Still Dream of Vacation.â€ť
This article was originally published at In These Times on January 22, 2020 by the editors of In These Times. Reprinted with permission.