A case for not working full-time

In his book, How to be free, author Tom Hodgkinson writes a chapter called Cast of your watch. In this he explores our relationship with time and how it has evolved since the industrial revolution, a period that enabled households to own their own clock and factories led the way in encouraging standardised working hours. His premise is that we need to revalue and rethink the way we consider time and the values attached to it. Working less, riding away our obsessions with efficiency and productivity will ultimately make us healthier, happier, as well as encouraging a more sustainable future. The book is provocative, visionary, humourous and I loved it.

Several years after the publication of How to be free, the New Economics Foundation released a report called 21 hours. It was a vision of a radically different future in which people work much shorter working weeks, enabling communities to become stronger, healthier and shift towards non-materialist values, reducing carbon emissions and safeguarding natural resources. It was an attractive vision.

At the time I was working at BioRegional and I became obsessed with this idea and its potential for supporting the transition we need towards One Planet Living. This is thinking beyond just an ecological footprint within planetary thresholds, but a life full of meaning, less guided by money. I tried to work some of the concepts into my consultancy with local councils, and spent time modelling and exploring its implications on employment. Unfortunately, I was not in a position to work up the concept much further than some spreadsheets on my desk. It did however, inspire me to ask my employer to allow me to work a four-day week. My reasoning being that I would still get similar quantities of work done and it would enable me to develop my knowledge and career further on my extra day off. I took the pay-cut and found I was much happier, essentially having three day weekends with more space to look after myself. With my workaholic tendencies, I think it was also good for my health. It caused some envy and I appreciated that this option was not possible in many of my friend’s jobs. I recognise the privilege.

With my current job I am officially meant to work a 4.5 day week. I hardly ever stick to this and counting the hours, I usually far exceed a 5 day week. Because I love my job, I find less distinction between pleasure and work so I’m happy to put in those extra hours. However I could still consider increasing my pay to reflect a 5 day week but I won’t. Why is that?

It’s not because I’m being stubborn about giving in to the 5 day work week. The main reason is that I like the potential that some weeks, I can take an afternoon off and run away. That’s something a 5-day per week employee can’t do. Well, they could book holiday, but that’s not the point…

The important task I have is to keep reminding myself and people around me that I work a 4.5 day week – and to make sure I factor it into my timetable each week. Otherwise I will never take that time off.

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