Monday, 23 November 2015

In Praise of Idleness: working less could actually be better for everyone.

Why do we work so many hours? Others seem to manage on considerably fewer of them:
Futures Forum: In Praise of Idleness: "If Hadza nomads get by on 14 hours’ work a week, why can’t we?"

It's an idea which is gaining currency as we look at alternative ways forward:
Futures Forum: The four-hour working week, the sharing economy and going beyond the master-servant relationship

As Bertrand Russell said:

I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.
In Praise of Idleness By Bertrand Russell
In Praise of Idleness: Bertrand Russell on the Virtues of Leisure | Refine The Mind

Economist Keynes seemed to agree:
John Maynard Keynes,Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930)* 
Economics: Whatever happened to Keynes' 15-hour working week? asks Larry Elliott | Business | The Guardian

And his ideas are seeing a bit of a come-back - from the business community:
Keynes' 15 Hour Work Week Is Here Right Now - Forbes
The rewards for working hard are too big for Keynes’s vision - FT.com
Why work so hard? - FT.com

The problem is that work is considered a status symbol - as a show of our identity:
Working all the time is a status symbol - Business Insider
Lucy Kellaway: Caring about your work has become a weird status symbol
'Being busy' is the ultimate—and most annoying—status symbol in America

Working Around-the-Clock Has Become a Status Symbol in America - NewsFlow24.com

But how much of it is just a waste of time?
Empty Labor | Human Resource Management | Cambridge University Press
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-195688 : Empty Labor : Subjectivity and Idleness at Work
BBC Radio 4 - Thinking Allowed, 'Long Hours' work culture; Empty labour
The Science of Slacking at Work - At Work - WSJ
I do literally nothing at my job. : confession
I am so bored at work I feel like a fraud | Money | The Guardian

We have to be seen to be putting in the hours:
The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies
It’s Not the Hours We Work, but the Energy We Put Into Them | The Energy Project

In other words, too many hours is just plain inefficient:
Freakonomics » The Inefficiency of Long Hours
Working hours: Proof that you should get a life | The Economist
Stop Working All Those Long Hours
Stop Working All Those Hours

Go tell the boss: 

let me work less and I’ll produce more

The five-day work week is an artificial and outmoded idea. A shorter working week can boost efficiency and an employee’s happiness

‘Pushing people past their natural limits actively damages work on the following days.’ Illustration: Thomas Pullin for the Guardian

Usually, I’m sceptical whenever some ultra-successful Silicon Valley firm gets held up as an example of how we’ll all be working in future. Sure, it’s possible that Google’s success is down to free yoga classes, napping pods and unlimited gourmet food consumed in “conversation areas designed to look like vintage subway cars”. But it’s surely equally likely that these are indulgences a rich company can afford, whether or not they help the bottom line – and they won’t be coming to call centres or council offices any time soon.
The latest trend might have more going for it, though: more tech businesses are experimenting with four-day weeks. As Ryan Carson, co-founder of the education startup Treehouse, put it: “You get all day Friday off, instead of pretending like you’re working when you’re not.”
The most important reason to work fewer days, of course, is that it’s good for families, friendship, hobbies and the human spirit. But the most interestingimplication of the current experiments, backed by some academic research, is that it appears to be good for productivity and work quality, too. Partly that’s because desk-based “knowledge work” relies on plenty of brain rest as well as exertion. Pushing people past their natural limits doesn’t just make them inefficient, it actively damages work on the following days. In other cases, employees aren’t working fewer hours at all, but simply rearranging them, from five days of eight hours to four days of 10. Yet even this provides a useful sense of constraint: knowing you’ve got to squeeze everything into fewer days seems to improve efficiency overall.
A similar philosophy of less-is-more informs Josh Davis’s recent book, Two Awesome Hours, which begins by rejecting the premise that it’s worth trying to squeeze value from every moment of every day. To get more out of machines or computers, it’s almost always best to run them for longer. But they can’t get tired; humans can. Instead, to the extent that your job allows it, Davis proposes fighting hard to ringfence one two-hour period of distraction-free work each day, at a time of peak energy – during which you’ll probably get more meaningful stuff done than in two whole days at half-power.
The big unspoken truth here is that we think about the work week in terms that might have outlived their usefulness. In the 1920s, the two-day weekend represented a major victory for workers’ rights, but that doesn’t mean five days of work is the right number. Even the seven-day week itself is a human creation: unlike the year, month, or day, it has no close connection to nature. (Revolutionary France had a 10-day week, and the Soviet Union tried a five-day “continuous work week”, with staggered days off, so production lines never needed to pause.) Besides, measuring work in hours, a legacy of the Industrial Revolution, makes little sense for knowledge work, save that it’s easy to quantify. If you can possibly get away with it, work less: you’ll find you get more work done.
Go tell the boss: let me work less and I’ll produce more | Life and style | The Guardian

We are still living in the Nineteenth Century:
The Origin of the 8 Hour Work Day and Why We Should Rethink It | Leonhard Widrich

And we are still working as we were in the Nineteenth Century, in that the office resembles the factory:
Our Cubicles, Ourselves: How the Modern Office Shapes American Life - The Atlantic

The Swedes are beginning to think differently:
Sweden is shifting to a 6-hour work day - ScienceAlert
Sweden introduces six-hour work day | Europe | News | The Independent
The truth about Sweden's short working hours - BBC News

All this can be heard when Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times on Radio 4:


Listen in pop-out player
Lucy Kellaway looks at the UK's long hours office culture and asks what happened to the 9 to 5?
In 1930 John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by 2030, we'd all be working a 15 hour week. And yet, almost half of us in the UK put in over a 40 hour week and most of those who work over 48 hours say they're unhappy.
In part one of a new series on modern work culture, Lucy Kellaway, management columnist for the Financial Times, discovers the origins of the eight hour working day.
She finds out what people are actually up to when they're in the office at all hours and argues much of the typical working day is taken up with time-wasting. For Lucy, our self image has become so intertwined with our job that we bolster it by putting the hours in - even if in doing so we're less happy and productive.
Speaking to business leaders, management researchers, and office workers, Lucy asks whether it's time to re-define our notion of 'hard work', and explores the idea that working less could actually be better for everyone.
Written and presented by Lucy Kellaway

BBC Radio 4 - The Joy of 9 to 5, 18/11/2015

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