got no time for livin’

We spend too much time at work.

The best years of our life are passing us by as we slog away at whatever our chosen income-generating occupation is. Meanwhile, the things that really feed our souls, make us happy, make life worth living; we have to squeeze in between household chores and errands in the evenings or on weekends. Or we have to wait for those precious few weeks every year when we’re allowed to not come to work.

This isn’t how life is supposed to be.

Long, long ago in the era of hunter-gatherers, people only worked for about 2 ½ days a week and only about 6 hours per day.

Agricultural societies put in a little more time per day during certain seasons, but much less during others. And it was all home time. They were with their families and working directly to feed their families.

Then came the industrial revolution and artificial lighting and financial incentives for manufacturers saw people working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week

Then early in the 20th century, Henry Ford, bless his little Mustang-building soul, not only introduced a fair wage policy for his employees, but also shorter work hours. He reckoned workers who were paid well and had plenty of leisure time would work better and have more time and money to spend buying the products he was producing.

It wasn’t until after WWII that this hare-brained notion caught on and the work week in most industrialized countries was reduced to 40 hours. And lo, they discovered that this did indeed jazz up the economy; and that it  improved workers’ health and their overall lifestyle; it  saved money in transportation (less carbon emissions); and saved money in child care; and seemed to make workers more productive on a per hour basis.

So, that was a great idea 60 years ago. A lot has happened since then. Primarily, more women are part of the workforce and computers and other technologies have completely changed the way we work. It’s time we started seriously moving to a 32-hour work week.

Much of Europe has already caught on to this. The work week in France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, is 35 hours per week or less. Not coincidentally, these are also the countries with the most worker vacation days.

  • Workers in Finland get 30 days of paid vacation plus 14 paid statutory holidays. (44 days total)
  • The French average 30 days of paid vacation plus 10 paid statutory holidays.  (40 days total)
  • By comparison, the UK worker gets only 20 days of paid vacation plus 8 paid statutory holidays.  (28 days total)
  • The US worker gets only 15 days of paid vacation plus 10 paid statutory holidays.  (25 days total)
  • And, the poor beleaguered Canadian worker averages a measly 10 paid vacation days plus 10 paid statutory holidays. (20 days total) [After 18 years with the federal public service I am finally entitled to  25 days vacation]
  • Only Thailand and the Philippines get less holidays than us Canadians. (19 days total each)

And, oddly North American workers also seem to clock the most overtime.

I’m certainly no economist, but I don’t get the impression that we’re beating the ass off any of these European countries in the global marketplace because we’re at work more than they are.

Some North American companies have already decided to introduce the 4-day work week. Except they’re making employees work 10-hour days to make up their 40 hours. That sort of misses the point. The idea is to work less hours, not just less days. Who can be productive 10 hours a day? And how does that impact family life?

For that matter how many of you are actually productive the entire 40 hours you’re at work? Does the world come to an end when we have a statutory holiday and a 3-day weekend? Not in my experience.

So what’s the hold-up on this 32-hour work week? How many of you don’t think you could get your work done in 32 hours a week? How many think you’re life wouldn’t be improved with an extra day of not going to work?

And while we’re at it  — an average of 10 paid vacation days per year, Canada? Please. That’s embarrassing.