A report has come out this morning suggesting that a shorter working week and space for growing plants and food could "provide the answer to every headline problem at the moment."
At a time when every political statement seems to be about Hard Working Tax Payers – and discounts every activity that isn’t work – this seems like Utopian nonsense. But the figures don’t bear that out.
Japan has suffered 20 years of economic decline but has kept unemployment low by having a 4-day week. They’re more interested in social cohesion than getting votes. The 4-day week in normal in Norway. Across the US, both public and private employers continue to experiment with the 4 day week finding that there are savings to be made on agency staff and utilities, that absenteeism plummets, productivity increases, morale improves. Families save money on childcare and spend more time with the kids. Parents are less exhausted and, not having to fit all the housework, social life, and shopping (never mind relaxing) into a few hours, actually enjoy that time with their children. So their kids are happier and more relaxed.
For everyone to move over to a four day week would take a huge cultural shift, but it’s been done before: football matches traditionally begin at 3pm because a five and a half day week was normal in the UK. A two-day weekend only became normal in the 1960's. The summer school holidays are so long because children had to help with the harvest. And of course, a seven-day week, for men, women and children was once brutally normal.
While the economists struggle with the figures, we can think about the ways we work and why.
If it’s about status, if you think you’re better than a person who’s unemployed or works part time, beware. Redundancy, illness and failed businesses happen all the time and the more you look down on people who are not like you the more savage your experience when you join them. If it’s about money then decide what your priorities are: if you or your children really need all that stuff could it be that the stuff is making up for less-than-good relationships? If it’s about identity then make sure you don’t get old or ill. You are so much more than your job title.
Rounded, productive, content people spend time enriching their lives, are interested in a whole range of things from breadmaking and calligraphy to philosophy and singing. Vitally, they work on developing good friendships. You need time to build relationships and while your manager may value you while you keep producing good friends will support you when your manager hands you your P45.
I’ll talk about the psychological benefits of gardening in the next blog: getting your hands dirty really can keep your head clear!
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