Providing tools and support to families, citizens, and activists to counter our consumerist culture and to create new social norms about how to have a high quality of life and a reduced ecological footprint.
Reclaiming Our Time
While a large percentage of Americans are out of work, many other Americans work too much. Neither is healthy, and both are stressful. Today, Americans work an average of 1,880 hours a year—250 more hours than Italians and over 400 hours more than Germans. Working too much leads to a lack of time to take care of one's health, to less time with friends and family, and often to higher resource consumption and ecological impact.
There are many ways that we can push to reclaim our time, including by advocating for a shorter workweek, reducing our working hours, prioritizing family and hobbies that really engage us, and supporting calls for paid sick and parental leave and vacation time. By distributing work hours more broadly, not only can we expand employment opportunities to more people, but we can gain a more productive workforce with higher morale in the process.
A Shorter Workweek
As we move into a new era of constrained ecological resources, a shift to shorter average working hours can be a powerful way to move beyond growth as the defining goal of our economy. If the productivity gains of the past 40 years had gone into shorter working hours, Americans would work on average 20 hours a week.
A shorter work week could achieve many goals simultaneously. First, it could better distribute income and thus reduce unemployment and economic insecurity while also improving the environment, since those who work less have less discretionary income to spend on "stuff." Second, it could improve the health and quality of life of millions of people, boosting the security and access to basic services of those currently underemployed while freeing up time for friends, family, and healthy living for those who work too much.
A study by the New Economics Foundation found that if the working hours of all working-age citizens in the U.K. were averaged—including people who are unemployed and who are working extra hours—the average workweek would come to 21 hours. Why not try to better distribute job hours so that more people work closer to this average?
Choosing to Work Less
For those of us working too many hours, one way to take back our time is to substitute future raises with equivalent increases in vacation hours. Many employers are willing to make this substitution because it costs them no more, and for a budget-constrained organization, giving raises in vacation hours may be easier to handle than monetary raises. Surveys indicate that 85 percent of people who have chosen to work fewer hours are very happy with the decision.
Job sharing is another avenue to explore. The 2011 report Work Sharing: the Quick Route Back to Full Employment, describes a system of work sharing that would give employers an incentive to keep workers on their payrolls with shorter hours as an alternative to laying them off. For a comprehensive overview of the ins and outs of job sharing, including how to approach your boss, click here.
Finding Time for Family
While there is always pressure to work more to be able to afford the best for your family, nothing is more valuable than time spent with one’s parents, spouse, and children. Talk openly with your family about how much money you really need, and try to prioritize maximizing time rather than income.
If making ends meet is a challenge, there are some ways to enjoy what many consider leisure and reduce costs at the same time. For example, maintaining a home garden can reduce food costs and provide a source of exercise, time outdoors, and a fun activity to share with a spouse or child. Learn other tips for self-reliant living in our Self Reliance section. Learn how to spend and consume less to lower living costs on our Consuming Consciously pages. And find tips on how to share resources with neighbors on our Sharing Resources pages.
Also, watch this short video for a powerful parable about why we shouldn't get caught up in the Rat Race:
Advocating for More Free Time
The United States is one of only a few countries without vacation laws that guarantee a minimum one week of vacation for employees. While all Europeans enjoy at least four weeks of paid vacation by law, the U.S. still has no law providing vacation time, and half of all American workers now get only one week or less off each year. Fortunately, lawmakers have initiated efforts to pass a vacation law. Get involved!
Meanwhile, almost half of Americans lack any paid sick days. You can help change that by advocating for the Healthy Families Act.
The U.S. also lacks any law guaranteeing paid maternity or paternity leave, even as some countries in Europe grant up to six months of paid time to mothers to spend with their newborns. Know your rights when it comes to time off. And write your Congressional representatives to demand paid leave for new parents.
- No Vacation Nation Revisited, by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. A comprehensive review of the latest available data on international standards for paid vacation and paid holidays.
- “Sustainable Work Schedules for All,” by Juliet Schor in Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2010
- "Reducing Work Time as a Path to Sustainability," by John deGraff in Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2010
- Take Back Your Time Handbook
- 21 Hours by New Economics Foundation