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.


33 responses to “got no time for livin’

  1. Clicked over from NaBloPoMo and can’t believe that Canadian’s typical vacation benefits are so similar to those in the States. Because of the generous leave packages for maternity and illness, I assumed that there was similar generosity in vacation time as well. (Although I understand that many of those leave benefits are disappearing from some employers.)

    Don’t the productivity studies show that anything over a 32-hour work week actually produces less productivity over the full amount of the week?

  2. Koreans are lucky to get 10 days of vacation a year, but realistically can only take 3 of them. Not sure how many statutory holdiays there are, but if they land on the weekend you lose unlike in Canada where the holiday moves to Monday.

    Also many if not most Koreans work 5 12 hour days and then quite often put in another 5-6 on Saturday.

  3. I’m surprised that Americans have the same number of stats as we do. Somehow I thought they had fewer.

    Anyway, I’m not sure how a 32 hour/4 day work week would work in the teaching profession. As it stands now in BC, we are required to be there 15 minutes before the first morning bell until 15 minutes after the afternoon dismissal bell. (We also have a specified number of minutes that must be spent teaching per week, along with contractual obligations around non-teaching and non-supervisory times.) It works out to 6 and a quarter hours per day at work for me. After that, my time is my own, but with meetings, lesson and material preparation, report card writing, attending workshops, contacting parents, etc, some days I work 9 or 10 hours.

    Still, if the kinks could be smoothed out, I would happily volunteer to try it!

  4. My wife works as a dentist. Cutting a day off her work week would basically cut her production/salary by 20%. I’m sure she is in the minority as far as productivity as most people don’t have their days run on such a specific schedule as she does.

    I guess the big questions are, if you dropped to a 4 day work week, would people be willing to change their lifestyles to accomidate the drop in income? And would thier be a significant increase in production during those days to make it worth while to employers.

    It’s also something that would probably have to be legislated. I think if random companies decided they were taking fridays off, they would loose a bunch of business from people that were looking for their services on fridays.

  5. I am all for a four day work week even if it is 10 hour days. I have been having this conversation forever with people on how much money it would save a company and how the people would be out spending money an extra day.

    Of course to take this off topic, how many hours do people really spending working when they are at work anyway? I see the younger people where I work on the computer most of the day when they are not having a smoke walking over to Starbucks or taking their two hour lunches. The U.S. is going to become less and less competitive as the spoiled entitled younger generation start to take over the work force.

    Yeah I am talking like my father…don’t judge me.

  6. It’s true, the days off in France are great. You can have really wonderful vacations because you aren’t limited to one week. One of my complaints about the shorter work weeks is finding someone to do something. Employers aren’t hiring extra help to do the job-which the government thought they would do and thus help unemployment-so it takes longer to get things done. There is also a big shortage of nurses because of the short week. I don’t think I’m a fan of a shorter work week having lived with it for a while.

  7. I once interviewed at a place and the guy told me he was about to convert to a 4 day, 10 hours a day schedule and I thought about that and just said, “Yeah, I don’t think that would work for me.” Because including your lunch hour you are actually at work 11 hours and that doesn’t even count commute time. So with say 12 hours left, and you have to sleep 7 or 8 of those, when are you supposed to get any living done? I think a 35 hour work week is the best answer. 5 days of 7 hours. But hey, I don’t even work, so what do I know?

  8. And why do we bust our butts and deprive ourselves of vacation?

    Because we’ll get in shit from the boss if we don’t.

    And who’ll give them shit?

    Their bosses.

    And their bosses will give them shit, and so on.

    All the way up to the CEO….who answer to the shareholders.

    That’s the root cause of all this problem. Those wonderful shareholders.

    Who sit back with their millions, but aren’t happy enough with their return on their investment. They want MORE money, they want that extra percent.

    Which is why we slave for the company we work for. And why they shut down profitable factories and outsource everything to India and China.

    So those fat-cat shareholders can squeeze every last cent from the workers, so they can buy that slightly larger mansion or private jet.

    (Grrrr…Dont’ get me started).

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the factory, to make the shareholders happy.

  9. Holly – The generous maternity and illness benefits are dependant on the employer. The average salary worker gets no paid sick leave. The maternity benefits are also not as cut and dried as they initially appear. Some employers wll top up the federal benefits, but many salaried employees will just have the federal benefits and often not have a job to go back to. In response to your last question, in my experience, Fridays are pretty slack anyhow — long lunches, leaving early, everyone’s exhausted and talking about the weekend. I haven’t seen the studies, but I’m pretty sure productivity wouldn’t decrease with a shorter work week.

    Sean – Yes, I read that Korea had really long work days. Where do people find the energy to keep working like that? Is it a cultural mindset. Is there no family life/work life balance consideration?

    Pinklea – Well, the best and most sensible solution would be if school was only 4 days per week, too. Or, as they do in some European countries, school is only in the mornings, but for 6 mornings per week. I think we’d just have to get creative with work hours, school hours. We’re stuck in this 9-5, 5 days per week mentality, but it doesn’t have to be like that. People could job share, weekends could be staggard so some people get Fri, Sat, Sun; some get Sat, Sun, Mon; others might like Tues, Thurs, Fri — who knows – stuff could keep running 7 days a week, more people could be employed, but each person works less hours. There are infinite possibilities.

    MG – For many companies, productivity would remain the same even if you cut a day off the work week and salaries should remain the same. As I said to Pinklea though, it doesn’t just have to be a matter of everybody getting Friday off. There are many ways to manipulate the week to work only 32 hours, but still retain the same level of productivity. In your wife’s case, I can see that would be a challenge if she can only squeeze so many patients into a week. And yes, it definitely should be legislated.

    Cedar – Really? 10 hour days? By 2:00 pm, I’m pretty much done for the day in terms of work energy. Between 7:30 and noon I can go full out. Then lunch, then an hour of fiddling around with stuff and then I’m toast. I can’t imagine staying at work until 6 or 7 at night. We have the option now of compressed work weeks, where we work extra time every day and then get every other Friday (or Monday) off. I’ve thought about it, but I figure there’d be no point since I wouldn’t be doing anything useful for that extra hour and whatever at the end of the day anyhow. And you’re right about how much time we actually spend working during the day. Between breaks and lunch and chatting about personal stuff and reading blogs…

    Linda – I’m not sure if the difficulty in getting things done is down to the short work week or the French culture in general. There are many places in the world where it’s really hard to get things done and where there are shortages of nurses (like pretty much everywhere) and they have regular 5-day work weeks.

    Geewits – I think lunch is included in that 10 hours, just like lunch is included in the 8-hour day, right? But you’re right, a 10-hour day pretty much leaves you time only to sleep. I couldn’t do that either, but an extra day off every week would make a huge difference. You need one day to do all your errands and household chores; one day to socialize and/or have fun and one day to just relax.

    Friar – So in the federal government, it’s the taxpayers we have to answer to. And the taxpayers are forever whining if federal employees get some extra benefits or vacation time, when they really should be looking at us as the forgers of new labour territory. It’s easier for us to get more vacation days than the private sector, but they usually follow suit or even try to top the public sector in order to get and retain employees.

  10. We really do need more holidays. Like “Family Day” in February. EVERYONE needs that day off-It’s the middle of winter and we’re worn out!

    What is one more day when you consider how many days off countries like Finland and France get?

  11. Seems in North America, we’re working harder, not smarter.

    Especially when you consider a lot of these western European countries, with all their time off, still manage to have a standard of living that’s equivalent to ours.

    What are they doing right, that we’re not?

  12. I’m spending 32 hours a week contact time with the students, so the remaining time is needed to get ready for upcoming classes.

    Of course, I only work 6 months out of 18.


    I completely agree with everything that has been said. Life is for living and it sure does pass by quickly, how many people want to die after a life of working instead of a live spent living!

    One point that wasn’t mentioned is alternative ways to work. I know some companies do this but it’s not the norm, such things as job sharing, part time employment (not just retail), work from home, flex hours etc.

  14. I have it all figured out.

    (1) Quit my job.

    (2) Find a six-figure income earner to support me.

    (3) Stay at home and blog, when I feel like it.

    (4) Contribute my three-figure income to the household

    Steps (1) and (3) are easy. (4) is possible, with a bit of work.

    It’s Step (2) that’s the tricky part….

  15. I think a lot of you high fallutin white collar, latte drinking, types, are overlooking the obvious.
    When a manufacturer lays out big bucks for a high tech production machine he then wants to keep it running 24/7. If he staffs the machine to run that long he has to have managers in that long. Then of course he has to have support staff in that long etc.
    Trying to find ways to carve up the working hours for people but still run the machines constantly is quite an exercise.
    Of course this doesn’t apply to effete paper pushers who actually don’t produce anything.

  16. I work 37.5 a week, or 7.5 hours a day. However, hours are 8:30 to 5:00 – lunch hour isn’t paid.

    However, they are quite generous when it comes to vacation time, compared to the average 10 days…

    I remember when I was a kid, watching TV and seeing a show about the future. By the year 2000 we were supposed to be living in a leisure society, working 20 hours a week tops. Instead we’re working more hours for seemingly less reward all the time…

  17. @Jazz

    I remember that show.

    Weren’t we supposed to have robots do our housework for us, while we rode our helicopters to work? 🙂

  18. Hannah – I’d rather have every Monday off…or Friday. But then I get more than the average 2 weeks’ vacation.

    Friar – And somehow we manage to make “harder” and “smarter” rhyme. But you’re absolutely right. We’re no further ahead economically than they are; in fact, we’re probably behind many of them. (I don’t think you have to do anything as drastic as getting married!! Gadzooks! I guess it’s a question of how much you need to live; how much of a risk-taker you are — a few people who comment here regularly deliberately live on very little. They have a roof over their head and eat regularly and seem to have a hell of a lot of fun and work only when they want to. It takes guts, though …not as many as becoming a kept man, but close)

    Ellie – Now THAT’s an excellent work schedule. And you work somewhere really fun, too!! I’d have to get paid about $500 per hour if I was only working 16 hours though.

    Mike – Ya, a lot of teachers end up spending 10 hours a day working, but only over 8 months, so it probably evens out in the long run.

    Betsy – Yes! When people hear 32 hour work week, they automatically think everyone takes Friday off, but it doesn’t have to be like that. We could take staggerd 3 day weekends, work just mornings or just afternoons; share jobs — lots of options if we just used a little imagination.

    Bandobras – There’s no reason why 24-hour operations can’t keep running even though employees only work 32 hours a week each. First we need legislation that says people can only work 32 hours per week. Then some innovative HR types to come up with interesting ways to make that happen in the various sectors.

    Jazz – That’s my work schedule, too. And like I said, I finally made it to 5 weeks vacation which happens at 18 years of service. I remember them pushing us into the liesure industry in high school, too because they said the work week would be a lot shorter and people would have a lot more liesure time… because COMPUTERS would do a lot of our work for us. Ha ha ha — funny how it never occurred to them that computers would generate more work for us and how we’d be expected to do so much more in less time, isn’t it?

  19. Lunch is NOT included in the U.S. The typical workday is 8:00 to 5:00 which is NINE hours but you work 8 and take an hour for lunch, so I assume a 10 hour workday would actually be 11 hours. If lunch is included in an 8 hour day it is not an 8 hour day, it is a 7 hour day (unless lunch is 30 minutes and then you work a 7.5 hour day.

  20. @XUP

    Good point, I would like to know more about Ellie’s story about living off 16 hours a week.


    Do you earn $500 an hour? Or do you make $10 an hour and live in a tent and eat Ramen Noodles?

    Is there another source of income in the household to subsidize your 16 hour workweek?

    Or have you saved up a big nest egg/pension from all those years at your corporate job?

    I’m not being facetious. I’d honestly like to know how it’s possible.

    Because I’d LOVE to be able to work those kind of hours!

  21. I recently quit one of my jobs, which effectively cut my income by 1/3. It is a little daunting, but I am one of those who can live on very little. And I have saved lots. Unfortunately, as I realize, most of that saving comes from not drinking or smoking or travelling or seeing movies or going to the theatre… Now, I’ve decided to use my time off to do those activities.

    Many people, I’m sure, if they lost a day each week of work, would like try to find a part-time job. Which would cancel out your reasonable expection for enjoying life.

  22. Geewits – I think for a full time employee they’re allowed 30 minutes for lunch and two 15 minute breaks in an 8 hour day – paid. So you’re really only working 7 hours, but you’re AT work 8 hours. Those 30 minutes for lunch are not paid, but the breaks are.

    Friar – I’d like to work 16 hours, too. Ellie has a partner who has a real job, I think. I’ll let her fill you in or you can browse her blog. They spent a few years just living in a VW van travelling around the country, so they’re just back living in a regular house and having regular(ish) jobs.

    Violetsky – Well, we’re not going to force people to only work those 32 hours. Some people will always want more jobs, more work.

  23. I only work part-time now – 21 hours a week. This time last year I was a litigation lawyer, a partner in a small firm. I worked considerably more than 40 hours per week. From my current perspective, I reckon I am much more productive now. I may only be in the office for between 4 and 5 hours a day, but I work pretty consistently and methodically while I am there. I am rarely distracted and don’t feel the need to stop or go off for a wander in search of someone to chat to. I am also pretty certain I could not maintain this level of effort over a 10 or 12 hour day.

    And as an interesting side note: the UK and France are both part of the EU, which passed the Working Time Directive to standardise stuff like working hours and annual leave. So how come the UK is still behind (or in front of, depending on how you look at it) the French? I want 40 days holiday a year!!!!!!!!!

  24. I would kill for a 32-hour work week (or even a 40-hour work week) right now!

    I have been really struggling with this lately. My pay check on Friday (I get paid every other Friday) clocked 80 regular hours, 30 hours of over time and 8 hours of double time. One day, I worked 17 hours. (And, no, I didn’t get out for lunch. They “generously” order lunch in so we don’t have to leave.) It’s pretty intense without a lot of time to chitchat or read blogs!

    Granted, those hours are a little unusual because I have a big project on my plate, but they’re not entirely out of left field. It’s the time of the year that things are extremely busy for us, but it’s no longer acceptable to me anymore. It’s too much. I’m tired, burned out and frankly, more than a little bitter. I have no life outside of the office, and when I am home, I’m still at work—I can’t quite separate from the office when I’m not there.

    Companies are trying too hard to do more with less and it’s taking a toll. Not just on employees but on the quality of our work. Employees are expected to do this, because employers know it’s hard out there and finding a new job isn’t easy. They hold it over our heads the same way our clients hold it over theirs. So for now, I’m sucking it up and keeping my options open. But, honestly, I’m almost willing to brave unemployement over this….

  25. Loth – I don’t think the UK has fully committed to being part of the EU. They don’t like the Euro and they don’t like the continental way of working, vacationing, dressing, eating or drinking. I don’t even understand how ya’ll were invited to join that club. Maybe you’re just members emeritus or something? You should check it out. And ya, I could totally do my work in 21 hours a week. It would be a focussed 21 hours, but it would get done.

    Mo – It’s beyond insane, woman. If I remember you had a similar issue last year, didn’t you? What’s it all for? 17-hour days? 80-hour weeks? I hope at least you’re close to being a millionaire by now and that you can retire at 45.

  26. Nope. Only breaks are free every place I’ve ever worked. The lunch hour or half hour does not count. My husband has to be at work (not counting lunch) from 8:30 to 5:30. That’s 8 hours of work, not counting breaks. And when I had to punch a clock, you clock out for lunch and then clock back in and the clocked time has to be 8 hours. Maybe there are places in the US that pay for 30 minutes of lunch but we have never worked there, nor has anyone I’ve ever known.

  27. I work 30h/week, which earns me enough to live and is as much time I have for my employer, because I put high importance on my personal time and community involvement.

    I’m pretty annoyed that most jobs are advertised as full-time, even if they’re 30hr/wk jobs that have extra work added on because the employer thinks applicants want a full-time job.

    – RG>

  28. i haven’t worked a 5 day week since the girls were born. in job interviews i simply state that i am more effective when i work a 4 day work week because i know if have to get more done in less days. i make it very clear that i lose interest on the 5th day 🙂

  29. Geewits – Ya, that’s what I said. I’m at work from 7:30 to 3:30 and I get paid for 7.5 hours. Same thing, right or is my math messed up again? We all take an hour for lunch though, but no breaks…well some people take breaks. We’re not really punching a clock so it’s pretty flexible.

    Grouchy – If I didn’t have an expensive teenager to support, I’d do that too, but man those kids suck the life and the income right out of you.

    oij – How awful! I like being home and with my little family –much nicer than work.

    Meanie – So you’re considered a part-time worker? I could probably do that if I didn’t need that extra day’s pay.

  30. All I know is that I work too much. And it stops now. As hard as it is, because I am a perfectionist, I need to cut down my work time and focus on the parts of me that aren’t tied to this dumb job. Because really what’s in it for me.

    Honestly the fact that we have so little time off speaks volumes…

  31. Nat – I know eh? I’m going to speak to one of those financial advisor types and see if I can manage a 4-day work week like Meanie. That would be nice.