film lifestyle

About time – let’s talk about working hours

A couple of years ago the New Economics Foundation published a report on time, 21 Hours. It makes a case for a shorter work week, and shows how everybody wins when work is distributed better through the economy – the unemployed get work and the overworked get leisure time. And did you know that there’s a correlation between longer work hours and higher carbon footprints? When people work longer hours, they tend to compensate by engaging in more energy-intensive forms of recreation.

I can understand that. I know people who work very hard, don’t take their full holiday allowance, and then jet to the Bahamas for a week of intensive relaxation. Binge leisure, in a sense. Whereas I, being a part-timer, spend half my week pottering about, writing a blog, growing vegetables and playing shape-sorter with my boy. A Bahamas holiday would be wasted on me, but then there are different ways to measure wealth. If you choose to measure yours in homemade soup and novels, you may find yourself to be considerably richer than those that measure it in exotic holiday locations and designer furniture.

Anyway, 21 Hours seems to have hit a nerve in our time-poor society, and nef have summarized their thoughts into this four minute video. Well worth your time on a friday.


  1. Jeremy,
    I am a relative newcomer to your blog, but have followed your articles with much interest. I am planning to be at the Treasure in the Field conference tomorrow, where I understand you will be speaking. I lecture at Redcliffe College in Gloucester on justice-related issues and hope to meet you then. Regards, Andy

  2. I haven’t read the report, I confess, but I’m puzzled by it. It seems to make a sharp distinction between paid and unpaid work, which reflects an obsession with money. Maybe I would go to someone’s house and do some work in their garden and they would give me dinner as a way of saying thank-you. Both I and they have been working. And we could have paid each other – I could have been given £10 for doing the gardening, and I could have handed the £10 back to pay for my dinner (each of us having given some of the money up as income tax, of course). So I suggest that the paid/unpaid distinction is not actually very useful.

    What is more useful is to think about how many hours per week we spend doing things that are worth doing and that benefit others. We have words to describe people who spend only 21 hours each week doing useful things, and the rest of the time playing computer games: lazy and selfish. So maybe the argument is really about variety and having time in each week to make a worthwhile difference in a variety of different contexts? If we spend 60 hours a week doing one very specific kind of useful thing (whether paid or unpaid), then that is not a good thing. Someone who spends 60 hours per week doing housework is in just as bad a position as someone who spends 60 hours per week in an office (leaving financial considerations to one side). Better to spend 30 hours on one thing, 5 hours on something else, 2 hours on something else, etc. But, again, I don’t see that it matters whether those activities are paid or unpaid. I don’t see any reason why a couple would have greater well-being if both of them did 21 hours of paid work and 21 hours of unpaid work per week, compared with one of them doing 42 hours of paid work (perhaps two different part-time jobs) and the other doing 42 hours of unpaid work.

    Sorry, thinking aloud…

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