How Less Work for Everybody Could Solve a Lot of Our Economic Turbulence and Make Life More Pleasant
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On the other hand, Kreider's proposed solution (spend more time idling, daydreaming and hanging out) while indeed electable-seeming, is out of reach for most Americans. As Slate's J. Brian Lowder notes,
the pleasantly open schedule that he advocates is almost never possible without a healthy stack of family money or generous institutional grant. …Most of us need a stable income (hello, student loans), and moreover, the ongoing nature of assignments in many jobs means that as much as we might like to dedicate only morning hours to “the work,” we do, in fact, need to be connected for much of the day.
The fact that leisure is often only accessible to the privileged is exactly why policy changes are needed. Because if society's powerful continue to perpetuate the idea of being occupied with work as somehow being valuable, then they will do nothing to help shift the situation for the rest of the workforce, for those who have no choice but to be busy. Just this week David Brooks self-parodically declared that taking conference calls at Junior's piano lesson was working longer hours than are worked by those down the income scale who do real backbreaking work. Brooks is perpetuating the busyness-as-virtue myth and erroneously applying his bourgeois experience universally. If he thinks taking calls during Junior's piano lessons is worthy of bragging rights, why should he care that his kids' nanny or the nurse at the nearby hospital is working two jobs and has no time off in the summer?
That's why it's ultimately a positive that some among the privileged (like Kreider and Anne-Marie Slaughter, unlike Brooks) are responding to the call for more balance.
And certainly, there are other ways to improve work-life balance that go beyond everyone having a cabin in the woods. One is ending the policy of fixed or earned vacation days and going to an "honor system" with unlimited time off, a policy favored by a few startups. The idea is the system fosters loyalty, spreads vacation throughout the year, schedules "strategically" based on the ebb and flow of work, and hopefully staves off burnout, guilt and resentment that plagues American workers--who now more and more plan to skip vacations or call into the office while gone.
Is it any wonder then, that plenty of businesses like Accessibility Partners, IBM, and Netflix have sent their vacation policies packing? The concept unlimited time off hasn't reduced workplaces to chaotic anarchies. Instead, it's created more efficiency, at least according to Dharmesh Shah, cofounder and CTO of Hubspot.
...Rather than hoard days for times when they really need it, then scramble to take days at the end of the year (or fight for extra pay for time not taken), Shah says Hubspot's open, unlimited vacation policy makes all of these problems go away. “Employees take the vacation when they need it and we don't have a spike of vacations at specific points of time,” he explains.
This kind of attitude could be applied more broadly. At the Guardian, Dean Baker argues that in addition to spending on public works, the government can also encourage companies to divide work instead of laying off employees. He notes that austerity aside, these kinds of policies have truly helped Germany:
There is nothing natural about the length of the average work week or work year and there are, in fact, large variations across countries. The average worker in Germany and the Netherlands puts in 20% fewer hours in a year than the average worker in the United States. This means that if the US adopted Germany's work patterns tomorrow, it would immediately eliminate unemployment.