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article imageU.K. think tank: Move to 21-hour working week

By Chris Dade     Feb 14, 2010 in Lifestyle
An independent U.K.-based "think-and-do tank" has suggested that moving to a 21-hour working week could address a number of problems facing society today.
The study by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) identifies overwork, unemployment, high carbon emissions and continuing inequalities as some of the problems that a shorter working week could help to solve.
All Headline News cites parents being able to spend more time with their children and greater involvement among the population in "neighborhood or civic activities" as examples of what less time spent at work would allow people to do.
And the Financial Times, noting that the average working week for full-time employees in the U.K. is 37 hours, believes that the NEF's proposal might lead to a "fulfillment" of the vision articulated by interventionist economist John Maynard Keynes in 1930.
Speaking of people being able to enjoy "freedom from pressing economic cares”, Keynes - whose theory that deficit spending can be used to stimulate the economy has seemingly been the basis for many of the measures introduced by governments around the world during the recent recession - thought that by the beginning of the current century the typical working week would be down to 15 hours.
However the Financial Times indicates that since 1981 households with two adults have actually seen their combined workload increase by six hours per week.
Downsides to the reduced working week the NEF has acknowledged are possible are lower pay for those already poorly paid and employers unhappy at increased costs and less skilled workers available.
Proposed solutions to those potential problems were a gradual rather than instant reduction in the working week, a higher minimum wage and incentivizing employers to take on more staff rather than offer overtime.
The Guardian confirms that a spokesman for the Institute of Directors, an organization for business leaders with 55,000 members in the U.K. and contacts and/or a presence in many other parts of the world, explained that shorter working hours would affect the "continuity" upon which businesses rely.
Nevertheless he added:Work/life balance for employees is something our members take seriously because they see benefits to people's lives
In 2008 the U.S. state of Utah put all public sector workers on a four-day week, the result apparently being greater productivity from a happier workforce and less carbon emissions.
Andrew Simms and Anna Coote were two of the study's three authors - Jane Franklin was the third - and Mr Simms observed that already "Job sharing is common practice … It's going to be increasing. Maybe we'll have less income and more time".
Meanwhile Ms Coote is quoted by the Financial Times as saying that with a decrease in the number of hours spent at work we may well become:less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive
She continued:It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future
Just this month the global employment website Monster found in a survey, which appears to have been conducted in the U.K., that nearly a quarter of the people it questioned felt they were required to give work priority over their personal lives. 37 percent of respondents said their work was detrimental to their relationships.
More about Think tank, Working week, New economics foundation
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