A 21 Hour Work Week?


There is nothing natural about what’s considered ‘normal’ today. Overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live a meaningful and caring life. The challenge is to break the power of the old industrial clock and to free up time to live sustainable lives. Shorter hours of paid work offers a way out of the multiple crises we face today.

A much shorter working week would change the tempo of our lives, reshape habits and conventions, and profoundly alter the dominant cultures of western society. A shorter work week would help break the habit of living to work, working to earn, and earning to consume. It would distribute paid work more evenly across the population, reduce ill-being associated with unemployment, long working hours and too little control over time. It would make it possible for paid and unpaid work to be distributed more equally between women and men. Parents could spend more time with their children. A shorter work week would help to adapt the economy to the needs of society and the environment, rather than subjugating society and environment to the needs of the economy. It would also have positive impacts on gender relations and family life include flexible employment conditions that encourage more equal distribution of unpaid work between women and men.

Of course, moving from the present to this future scenario will not be simple. Problems likely to arise in the course of transition include the risk of increasing poverty by reducing the earning power of those on low rates of pay; too few new jobs because people already in work take on more overtime; resistance from employers because of rising costs and skills shortages; resistance from employees and trade unions because of the impact on earnings in all income brackets; and more general political resistance that might arise from the 1% of course. But if we can make a system as messed up as this we can accomplish anything if we put our minds to it.


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