I’m seeking solutions to personal struggles that are shared broadly across the population and have national, and even international, repercussions, both now and well into the future.
Nearly half of all Americans reported being stressed in a 2014 poll, with most highly stressed (employed) people citing work as a source of stress. As a result, these individuals slept and exercised less, presumably resulting in poorer health and (I am guessing) contributing to the ballooning 36% obesity rate in this country (and associated rising total healthcare costs). Anecdotally, friends and family report that they constantly feel rushed and that they would prefer to spend more time with their spouses, children, parents, and other relatives. In China, there have even been legislative efforts to encourage children to visit their aging parents regularly. Clearly, free time for recovery, relaxation, and visiting loved ones is of supreme importance. Given that the OECD reports that full-time employees work over 40 hours per week on average, perhaps reclaiming some of that time is in order.
Rather than trying to avoid negative experiences and outcomes, what if we focus on nurturing positive ones? One could argue that we’re now living in an “innovation economy” where great ideas and insights are more important than clever mechanical inventions. Although certainly not a necessary precondition, “free” time, even at work (often with associated clarity and serendipity), has yielded many new ideas and products, even at established corporations. Could this be a model for the future?
On a national level, as a result of the Great Recession, unemployment and underemployment have come into sharp focus. A modest proposal to reduce the standard workweek (which is admittedly often exceeded) down to 35 hours a week could theoretically eliminate unemployment when the next recession hits. I also strongly suspect that employee turnover would diminish greatly with a little more leisure and a little less toil.
As automation’s “jobs death toll” rises, rapidly increasing productivity means that, barring massive expansions in “administrative” roles (however useful or useless) or creative pursuits (welcome, but difficult to grow), there may end up being fewer total hours of work required nationally. Take for example farm workers, where 61% fewer workers were required in 2012 as compared to 1954 even though total output increased nearly 2.5 times. Given that income inequality has been proposed as the “defining challenge of our time,” a broader distribution of working hours and wages is in order.
If income inequality is a defining challenge of our time, it is becoming increasingly certain (to most of us) that the defining challenge beyond our time will be combatting climate change. Green energy is a promising step in the right direction, but why not go to the heart of the matter and both reduce transportation needs by commuting less, as well as reducing the substantial ecological costs of manufacturing by just not buying so much stuff we don’t even have time to enjoy?
Obviously, I’m not alone in noticing that trading work for much needed leisure could help improve health, tighten social connections, boost creativity, reduce unemployment, spread wages more fairly, and combat climate change.
Part-time work is the solution I’ve been looking for.