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Have we missed the point on shorter working hours?

A recent article from Robert Raymond at Shareable recognises that a shorter work week might increase productivity in line with research like that I’ve cited elsewhere in this blog, but argues that’s not why we need one. He laments conversations around work couched in purely economic terms—in this context, productivity—and reminds us that the goal of a shorter week isn’t so much to produce more but to have more leisure time.

Of course, the productivity of modern economies is precisely what enables them produce so much stuff with such little work, and Raymond recognises that the productivity argument is important in making shorter working weeks palatable to business owners concerned with the economic performance of the business. But, from a societal point of view, what’s all this production for if not for the enjoyment of the people who create it?

Raymond is writing principally about the United States, which he says has the some of the longest working hours of all industrialised countries, so the meaning of a “shorter work week” there may differ from what it would in places like Australia and Europe where work hours are already shorter than in the United States. But his point stands: productivity isn’t an end in itself; it’s merely the means by which we enable the lifestyles we desire.

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