When I worked as a manager with a large insurance company it was not uncommon to work 45 to 50 hour weeks even though I was only paid for a 37.5 hour week. This was just the norm in this industry and an expectation. If I was not willing to work these hours, then someone else would and could take my place.
Presently, over seven million Australians work more than 45 hours per week. At the same time we have a decrease in the amount of full-time work available and an increase in part-time or casual positions. On the one hand we have workers who are stressed out and working too much, and on the other hand, workers crying out for more work.
If you are one of the casual workers who is seeking full-time work then this post may help you realise that you may actually be onto a good thing, and if you feel overworked and exhausted working full-time, you may be surprised at how simple the solution to the problem may be.
It’s not just full-time employees who are suffering; if we look at the small business environment, the average small business owner in Australia works around 50 to 55 hours per week.
Interestingly, just after the industrial revolution kicked off, people used work a lot more hours. It was Henry Ford who reduced work hours and first proposed the eight-hour day and five-day as he believed it improved productivity and made for a happier employee. He also understood that there would be no one to buy his cars if no one had the leisure time to drive them.
Numerous studies have confirmed that working too much is bad for our health. In the long term, working more will actually give us less time on earth. It really doesn’t make any logical sense to work yourself to death. Many of us are under the grand illusion that working more will allow us to have the lifestyle we deserve.
One of the reasons why the hours expected from a full-time position are increasing is because companies are expecting more productivity from fewer staff, and individuals are requiring more income due to an increase in debt levels and the basic costs of living. This puts pressure on companies and individuals to work more.
At the same time, companies and small businesses want flexibility with their expenses and don’t want to be paying staff wages when they’re not productive, or to do all the extra work and pay the on-costs associated with having full-time staff (annual leave, bereavement leave etc), so are resorting to employing sub-contractors, casual and part-time workers.
As for those stuck on the full-time treadmill, this ever-increasing workload for less money is not sustainable, so I am proposing that we all start imagining a better future; a future where the normal work week is only 28 hours for everyone.
I have just picked 28 hours as a nice figure as it fits nicely into either a three and a half day week, or a ‘three long days’ week. I believe that anything less than 32 hours per week would improve the overall happiness and peace of mind of an individual who is stuck working long hours.
You might be thinking that would be impossible. I am going to give you seven logical reasons why I believe it is possible and makes a lot of sense.
(1) Work tasks expands to fill the time available
This saying was created by the scholar C Parkinson, and is also known as Parkinson’s Law. Most of us have heard this statement and most of us, if not all of us, understand that this concept is true.
If you give someone a month to finish a project, they will take a month; but if you give them a week they will finish it within the week. Obviously there are limits to this theory (we are not going to be able to build a Mars space rocket in a day) however in many fields and in everyday life this law rings true. I tested this theory when I was a manager with a large insurance company. I had a team of around 50 employees at the time and they had to process around 50 claims per week per person (I can’t remember the exact number but let’s assume it is 50) to exceed their expectations. They were all rostered on 5 days per week for a 37.5 hour week.
I advised them that if the quality of their work remained at the same level, they could finish their work week when they had completed the normal amount of work and could have the rest of the week off. Well it was no surprise that 80 percent of my team finished all of their work by Thursday afternoon (which meant they could have Fridays off) and we become the highest performing team on the floor.
It all came to an abrupt end after a few months when a new senior manager noticed that my area was very quiet on Fridays. He immediately put a stop to it, as all staff had to work their allocated 37.5 hours per week. Not surprisingly, the productivity dropped when my staff had to return to a five day week. While I proved that the experiment worked, the corporate management mindset could not adjust their thinking.
(2) Full time jobs are diminishing and part time jobs are on the rise
The reality is full-time jobs are decreasing, and casual or permanent part-time jobs are on the increase. The reason is that businesses want more flexibility to adapt to the fluctuating economy and their changing revenue, and full-time employees can be expensive. Companies also outsource work to cheaper overseas workers and even automate jobs. What about instead of having a huge gap where some employees are full-time and working too much, and some are begging for more work, we meet halfway and offer the majority of workers a 28 hour work week?
(3) Depression and anxiety on the rise
Incidences of depression and anxiety have been on the rise for some time in most advanced countries. There are many reasons for this, but two of them are exhaustion and a lack of control over our time.
Undertaking more work is not helping our peace of mind. We all intuitively know that the more we work, the more stressed we feel, so why do we accept it as normal? Surely reducing our work time and allowing more time for rest and leisure must be an antidote to the increase in depression and anxiety?
(4) The simplify movement is growing
A large proportion of our society is starting to finally understand that owning more stuff does not equate to feeling more happiness. The ‘simplify your life’ movement is gaining momentum and this fits in very nicely with working only 28 hours per week. The biggest argument I hear against a 28-hour work week is, ‘my income will drop so how will I afford my mortgage?’
At first this appears to be a logical argument, however, what if we increased everyone’s income to match the average 40 hour a week income? Logic would suggest that this idea of a well-paid 28 hour week would not work, as productivity would drop and hence business revenue would also drop. But would productivity really drop? I personally do not believe productivity would drop, as – with the exception of some service type roles – most of us waste a lot of our time on work which does nothing for the bottom line.
I worked in a large corporation for over ten years and believe me 90 percent of the work could have been done in half the time. Even if incomes could not be raised, we can all simplify our life so our expenses are reduced to a point that a 28 hour work week makes viable. There is plenty of information online about how to downsize and reduce the complexity of our lives so that we can reduce our expenses and can work less.
(5) Pareto’s Principle
You may not have heard of the Pareto Principle but I’m sure you may have heard of the 80/20 principle which is the same thing. The theory is that 80 percent of the effect comes from just 20 percent of the cause. This basically means that in business, in work or life in general, usually only 20 percent of your work effort creates 80 percent of your value. Or to put it another way 80 percent of what you do is inefficient and wasteful and does not contribute much in the way of results.
If we could focus on the productive 20 percent of our work that will bring 80 percent of the results, we could cut out a huge amount of work that is unproductive. This theory has been proved over and over again and is a very common theory used in modern businesses. It is evident that if we adopted the 80/20 principle ruthlessly and followed the 80/20 efficiencies, we should be able to reduce the 40-hour a work week down to around 8 hours and still be as productive! Of course humans are not machines, so this is an unreasonable demand, however it is not a huge stretch to think we could use this principle to reduce our current 37.5 hour weeks down to 28 hours.
I’m not so far removed from reality to expect the government to change the current laws and implement a new workplace agreement where working 28 hours a week is the new full-time norm. That is about as likely as the government reducing taxes by half or offering interest-free loans for housing. This ‘working less’ idea or movement really needs to be adopted by one individual at a time.
(6) No quality time for yourself (or anyone else)
When you work a full-time 40 hour week job, the limited time we have outside of work is usually spent on domestic activities and time with friends and/or families. If we include commuting into the mix, it is evident that there is little quality time left over for fostering meaningful relationships or to work on our hobbies or projects that matter. If we don’t have the time to develop relationships or interests that we find meaningful then we will be stuck with no opportunity for self development outside of work. As a father of four children I am acutely aware of how precious time spent with your children, is. Working less allows one to spend more time with your children and those you love.
(7) More time to change the world
I am convinced that most of the urgent issues we have facing our planet and humanity as a whole could be overcome quicker if everyone had the time to devote themselves to one cause that mattered to them. When we work a full-time job, most of us have very little time to volunteer or work on projects that could eventually improve the world or the lives of others. Imagine if you only had to work 28 hours a week that would leave another 12 to 15 hours to volunteer or work on a project that actually made a difference to the world.
I know what you might be thinking: yes but I can’t work only 28 hours, I have a mortgage and kids and I like going on my yearly overseas holiday and also one day I want to buy a Tesla car. These are simply reasons why you will not reduce your hours. They are a not absolute reasons that make it impossible to change.
They are a choice.
If you truly love your vocation and love working 40 to 50 hours a week and having all the trappings that come with your income, then good luck to you: stay where you are. However, if you find yourself at the end of your work week tired, anxious and exhausted, and in the same financial position you were in the week before, then maybe you should start questioning if your current work life/balance make sense?
Create a model for others to copy
The inventor, futurist and philosopher, Buckminster Fuller, stated that the best way to change a system was to create a new system that worked better than the existing system and others would copy it. I believe this is the best way forward and this is exactly how the ‘simplifying your life’ movement works. One individual at a time, making a choice to change their reality. The tiny house (downsizing) movement and living simply, is a classic example of a model that works and others have copied.
What does my work week look like?
When I started my first business I worked between 50 to 70 hours per week for the first two years. I soon realised that this was not sustainable in the long term. Especially not with four children. At the time I owned three flying schools and an online business and I was slowly burning out.
I eventually saw the light and closed two of the flight schools down and focused all my energy on improving the busiest flight school. This simplification of my business worked. I now only have to work around 38 hours per week and enjoy a similar income that I was receiving when I had the three flight schools.
I am slowly improving my business model and my 18 month plan (or experiment) is to have a sustainable business where all the employees, including myself, only have to work 28 hours per week (3.5 days) to still be provided with a full-time income.
Time is wealth
We seem to think that earning more money will alleviate all of our problems and anxiety, however I have found that it is having time which reduces stress, not having things. Yes, we do need a certain amount of income to alleviate stress, however after a certain amount extra income does not always equate to extra happiness or peace of mind. When we have more time to walk, think and dream we are also more receptive to having creative ideas about what we should be working on which will bring meaning to our lives.
I am going to leave you now to do exactly what i am preaching – to spend more time with my kids and partner – but before I go I would like to leave you with some questions to ponder:
- What would my life look like if I only had to work 28 hours each week?
- What am I willing to give up in my life in order to get some quality time in return?
- How can I reduce my debt and material possessions so that I have don’t have to work so much to service them?
- How can I work less hours and actually make more money?
- What work do I want to do which I will find meaningful and exciting?