The All Or Nothing of the 40 Hours Week

1 minute read


The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.
— David Cain (2010) Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed

I don’t have much to add. Beautiful article, well written, and to the point.

Let me just highlight a couple of passages:

Can you imagine what would happen if all of America stopped buying so much unnecessary fluff that doesn’t add a lot of lasting value to our lives?
The economy would collapse and never recover.

This is interesting because in a way the system is currently victim of itself. In the sense that while a ‘healthier’ way is surely visible and possible, the switch to it would actually land us for a while, probably years if not decades, into a worse situation overall.

This seems like a problem with a simple answer: work less so I’d have more free time. Unfortunately, this is close to impossible in my industry, and most others. You work 40-plus hours or you work zero.
My clients and contractors are all firmly entrenched in the standard-workday culture, so it isn’t practical to ask them not to ask anything of me after 1pm, even if I could convince my employer not to.

And that’s the issue. There are no middle grounds: you either get all, or nothing. While there are other options, are options that exist outside of the system. In a sense, they require you to find and think of alternative models that aren’t part of the current culture, even if they exist.

The system here is slowly changing, allowing “part time” options, but even these choices suffer peer pressure, even more in cultures that have the idea of “work harder to be successful”.

There’s clearly hope. And this is in another concept that is quoted in the article as well:

Parkinson’s Law:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
SourcesThe Economist, Wikipedia.

In other words: I feel the solution lies in finding ways to get around the Parkinson’s Law.

Via Dave Gray. Photo by Bruno Cordioli.