Polling continually finds time stress to be a complaint among Americans. Until the recession, Americans had some of the longest working hours in the industrialized world.
In his recent article, Less Work, More life, John de Graff points out that Gallup’s daily survey consistently finds that, unsurprisingly, people’s happiness increases 20% on weekends. In terms of pleasure rankings, working actually comes second to last on the list. The least pleasurable activity of all is found to be that morning commute to work. The second most pleasurable thing is found to be socializing after work. We love to socialize.
By contrast, the Netherlands has the world’s shortest working hours, yet the economy is very productive. The Dutch put in 400 fewer working hours per year than Americans, yet the Netherlands has a positive trade balance and strong personal savings. What’s more, the Dutch rank third in the world for life satisfaction, behind only Denmark and Finland – far ahead of America.
John de Graff argues that reducing work hours and sharing available work is essential for families, health, economic security, and the environment, and that it’s time to get on with making the cultural and political changes necessary to make that happen.
A German policy, kurzarbeit, or “short work”, encourages companies to reduce working hours rather than lay off workers when economic times are tight. German companies might reduce workers’ hours by a day a week, rather than let 20 percent of the workforce go. Unemployment benefits apply for the reduced work time, so people get about 90 percent of their previous income for 80 percent of the work.
Half a century of economic growth seems not to have increased overall happiness. Could it be correct that more free time (but not unemployment) might help increase happiness, as well and improving health? Should America, and other countries in a similar position, now be aiming for reduced working hours instead of demanding unsustainable economic growth?