21 Hour Work Week?

Fast Company had an article last week “The Case for the 21 Hour Work Week” which at my first glance I thought “oh, here we go again – more work life balance crap!”  Then I read it.

The article is more about sustainability than balance – meaning – how do we (members of the world) expect to continue at our productivity pace and survive as a human race long term? Fascinating stuff, from the article:

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) says there is nothing natural or inevitable about what’s considered a “normal” 40-hour work week today. In it’s wake, many people are caught in a vicious cycle of work and consumption. They live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume things. Missing from that equation is an important fact that researchers have discovered about most material consumption in wealthy societies: so much of the pleasure and satisfaction we gain from buying is temporary, ephemeral, and mostly just relative to those around us (who strive to consume still more, in a self perpetuating spiral).

The NEF argues we need to achieve truly happy lives, we need to challenge social norms and reset the industrial clock ticking in our heads. It sees the 21-hour work as integral to this for two reasons: it will redistribute paid work, offering the hope of a more equal society (right now too many are overworked, or underemployed). At the same time, it would give us all time for the things we value but rarely have time to do well such as care for our family, travel, read or continue learning (as opposed to feeding consumerism)…

Creating EU-level living standards for the entire world by 2050 would require a six-fold increase in the size of the global economy, with potentially devastating consequences. Instead of growing the economy, maybe we need to recalibrate society to make everyone happier and successful with less. “The proposed shift towards 21 hours must be seen in terms of a broad, incremental transition to social, economic and environmental sustainability”…

The shift won’t happen overnight.  Can you imagine going from the 40, 50, 60+ hours per week now to 21!?  First, most wouldn’t be able to sustain their quality of life, and most aren’t willing to do with less, if given the choice.  But the logical nature of the idea has merit.  Theoretically, we can’t continue on our current pace forever.  Major shifts in how we work and the choices we make will begin to change over time – globally – they just have to.  I see HR being on the forefront of much of this change.  I don’t consider this having anything to do with work-life balance, sure that will be an outcome of these cultural shifts, but work-life balance won’t cause this shift.  Our lack of ability to sustain mankind globally will cause this shift.

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