Tag Archives: Professor John Ashton. Guradian. 4 Day working week

Who worked less hours the medieval peasant or the 21st century worker?

9 Mar

14th Century worker

Is the 40 hr working week a thing of the past? You would hope so.

Did you know that in the 14th century the average casual labourer worked 1440 hrs a year. OECD figures for 2013 show us that the average UK worker worked 1,669 hours last year with Greece putting in a whopping 2,037 and the Netherlands enjoying a 1380 hr working year. The USA worked 1,788 which possibly could be higher due to the large number of part-time work and multiple jobs held by Statesiders.

Working conditions may have been a lot different in the 14th century  and have been dictated by seasons and weather. Workers at that time also found many reasons to celebrate a high number of seasonal festivals and stop working when they had made enough money. There was no material goods on hand in shops that required excessive need for money.Working hours were shorter and life was celebrated.

Although by the time of the industrial revolution working hours had got out of hand when seasons, lighting and weather did not dictate the amount of work a man could do. By 1840 the average UK worker worked between 3105-3588 hours a year… Gulp!! But luckily for those aged 9-13 yrs old the 1833 Factory Act had limited their working day to a meagre 8 hrs and those aged 14-18 only had to work 12 hours of their day. The 19th century became the period when workers realised that there was more to life than toiling. The first murmurings that changes were on the way came at around the 1840’s. Samuel Duncan Parnell a carpenter by trade in New Zealand “There are twenty-four hours per day,eight of these should be of work,eight for sleep and the remaining eight for recreation and in which men to do what little things they want for themselves

It was really midway through the 20th century that the 8 hr working day became a realisation and law for many countries.With countries like France in 1936 through the Matignon agreements and the US in 1938 through the Fair labour standards Act, the 8 hour day became a changed way of working. Electricity, lighting with mechanical modernisation allowed greater efficiencies and less manual input.

John Maynard Keynes even spoke about the 15 hour working week becoming a possibility by 2030. With giant technological and computerised advancements and a world of automation you would have thought that the 15hr week would have become reality for many as we move through the 21st century. Allowing man to spend time educating himself, developing a greater personal wellbeing and creating communities that benefit everyone. But the rise of consumerism was something that Keynes never foresaw.  Governments unease at having a large number of their population with time to think and possibly… revolt is probably a factor too. To be honest we have not developed societies that know how to cater for mass free time or know how to fund it. With the eventual introduction of Universal basic income we might see a change to this.

In the Netherlands were the average working week is 29 hours and a World Happiness ranking of 4th place it looks like there are benefits to working shorter hours. With 15 years to go until we hit 2030 it looks unlikely that we will hit the 15 hour working week, unless you count the arrival of zero hours contracts which have no benefit to the employee.

My belief that shorter more efficient working weeks benefit everyone. I have written about it on numerous occasions. We should grasp technology and automation and start to develop communities and societies that integrate wellbeing with work. With more emphasise on wellbeing than work.The idea that man is incomplete unless he has employment is a fallacy. We just haven’t thought hard enough about the possibilities we could replace work with. The Medieval worker would have gladly grasped the development of Steam power and machine tools that drove the Industrial revolution but would have baulked at the idea of handing over all their free time and a 150 day working year. A working year that in 2015 many of us would still envy.

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Can we handle a four day working week?

2 Jul

4 day working weekThe idea of a four-day working week is something that many people have thought of as a  concept that simply couldn’t work because it promotes the idea that somehow leisure time is more beneficial than a hard days work. The notion that every working day has to be hard or it simply doesn’t count is something that we find hard to shake off.

I have read an interesting interview with Prof John Ashton regional director of Public health in North West England in the Guardian. It quite simply states the benefits of a 4 day working week. They as Professor Ashton says are

  • People get to spend more times with their families
  • There is more opportunity for exercise a real contributor to reduced blood pressure and stress.
  • An opportunity to increase employment levels for those struggling with Finding work. Thus adding purpose to an increased number of people’s existence.

“The problem is you have got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that don’t have jobs”

“We need a four-day week so that people can enjoy their lives,have much more time with their families and maybe reduce high blood pressure because people might start exercising”

A  YouGov survey discovered that 57% of workers support the idea and 71% think it would make Britain a happier place.

About 10 years ago I worked for another organisation that proposed a 3 day working week. The 3 days would consist of 12 hour working shifts totalling 36 hours Monday to Wednesday. Providing us with Thursday to Sunday as our weekend. The company would save on heating, lighting and other overheads associated with keeping the premises running. The idea never came to fruition many people had childcare issues and others simply had a fear of change. A test run for 6 months may have seen that people are very adaptive and we may have discovered that the wellbeing, health and the home life relationships may have improved dramatically but we were never to find out.

This constant state of stress has us eating our lunch at our desk while observing other people’s lives or crafting our own lives on social media. Answering emails or taking work calls after hours leave us in a state of being constantly on and ultimately trains us to fear being disconnected. Just look at people waiting at bus stops and see how many are texting,talking or surfing rather than happy in their own presence and thoughts. All the former actions ultimately fluctuate our emotions and can trigger stress. It triggers not only addictive highs from adrenaline and endorphin responses from stressed states. It also makes us feel unable to wait alone with our thoughts and observations for the 10 minutes it takes for the bus to arrive.

This begs the question with all our knowledge on the benefits to our health and wellbeing of having an extra day off to ourselves and our family. Who of us will be strong enough not to reply to that company email or phone call from the boss. Will we ever truly be able to fully switch off.

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