Working an 8, 9 or even 10 hour day, or a 40 hour work week is a concept I have never understood for 2 main reasons:

There is the ‘we are animals and no animals can run flat out for such long periods of time, it’s unnatural’ argument. I agree with this wholeheartedly, however to me there is more to it than the ‘we’re animals’ aspect. Technology. I am now able to work from anywhere, literally- planes now offer wi-fi, and at any time. Also if there is an emergency or you simply want some information there is nothing stopping you (except perhaps rare instances of respect) from calling me at any time of day or night to ask. So if you can call me ‘whenever you want’ for work related things, surely it should work both ways and I should be able to take care of personal business ‘whenever I want’ because we’ve already established that I can get my work done at any other time of day or night.

The second reason I have an issue with the stipulated 40 hour work week is this- if I finish my high priority tasks and my time could be better used elsewhere and perhaps on high priority personal tasks that are nagging at me, why do I need to stay seated behind a desk, being useless, and biding my time until 5 o’clock? If I could leave and go clear my pesky to-do list of these other tasks I would come back later or tomorrow refreshed and more focused. Empower me to make my own decisions, and use my time as I see fit. Obviously it goes without saying that this works as long as I am meeting my goals and targets. Perhaps I will only ‘work’ 30 hours of the week but I will be more focused and productive for those 30 hours than I would be, just biding my time and worrying about other tasks for 40 hours. Quality versus Quantity!

So hows this for a theory: When you’re 20, you would rather spend more time with your friends. When you’re 35, you want time with your kids. But then when you reach 70, you have far too much time on your hands. Hence we should work until we are 80, but we should only work 25 hours a week throughout our work career.  Professor James W. Vaupel at the University of Southern Denmark maintains that “In socio-economic terms it makes a lot of sense. The important thing is that we all put in a certain amount of work – not at what point in our lives we do it. In the 20th century we had a redistribution of wealth. I believe that in this century, the great redistribution will be in terms of working hours.”

I know a lot of people who, technically speaking, are near or past retirement age and they are adamant that if they were to stop working they would die of boredom, literally. Perhaps society needs to catch up to the ‘we’re living longer and healthier in our old age than ever before thinking’ and raise the retirement age? 60 is not old in todays terms. My father was just selling one business and starting another in his 60’s, he was nowhere near retiring. Even for people slightly older there is strong evidence that elderly people who work part-time are healthier than those who don’t work at all and just sit at home. This is simply because working improves people’s health,” Vaupel says. Our brains and bodies need to be used to remain sharp and strong. My 87 year old grandfather still works part-time 5 days a week, and he gyms 3 times a week.

I heard a statement the other day that said that young children are left alone for an extra 4 hours a day nowadays because of the time their parents spend commuting to and from work. I do not know how accurate it is, but all you have to do is look at the congestion on our roads and you can see an element of truth in this statement. Another argument for the 25 hour work week- ”this would give young people aged 20-30 more time to care for their children, do sports and other important activities that improve their lives,” says the professor.

There are countless arguments for changing the way we work, perhaps it doesn’t need to be by cutting back to a 25 hour work, perhaps flexi-hours and work-from-home are answers to some peoples problems, but the bottom line for me is that in todays connected world there is very little evidence left that justifies a 40-hour work week.

You can view the full article by ScienceNordic here.

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