What is needed in order for us to have great relationships and life experiences?
If we had more time, we could use it to play with our children, visit with friends or volunteer in our community. We could go back to school, exercise or take up a hobby. All these things increase our sense of wellbeing, particularly our financial wellbeing according new Gallup research detailed in Wellbeing by Tom Rath and Jim Harter.
Time is the ultimate finite resource — we all have the same amount, we can’t store it and we can’t transfer it. If we were to aim the economy at creating financial wellbeing and know that time is an important part of it, how could we create more time?
Productivity has been one way that businesses have sought to get more out of workers and other resources in the same amount of time. The promise of productivity from a worker’s perspective is that if we are able to produce more in less time we could receive our dividends in time off or leisure.
While many Americans say they would exchange less money for more time, try finding a 30-hour a work week job. It’s not easy to do, because our jobs are structured according to a forty-hour standard. Benefits such as health care, workers compensation and retirement benefits are also tied to this definition of full-time work which provides employers with strong incentives to squeeze as much work out of as few workers as possible.
While our national productivity has been consistently high, few people get the time to enjoy it. Juliet Schor’s classic book The Overworked American demonstrated that Americans were working longer hours since the 1960’s and had not reaped the productivity gains one would have expected. Had all those gains been translated into time instead of pay, we would be down to 20-hour work weeks according to Schor (in “The (Even More) Overworked American” in Take Back Your Time by John de Graaf).
While some of us are overworked, increasingly more of us have no work at all. National unemployment is currently at 9.2% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2011). This fact isn’t good for wellbeing either. Widespread and persistent unemployment is going to have some drastic impacts on how we feel about our lives, because according to Tom Rath and Jim Harter:
A landmark study published in The Economic Journal revealed that unemployment might be the only major life event from which people do not fully recover within five years…Our wellbeing actually recovers more rapidly from the death of a spouse than it does from a sustained period of unemployment. (emphasis in the original)
So from the perspective of wellbeing, we have a distribution problem with time where some have too much work hours and others too few. According to recent CPS data, the average full-time worker in the U.S. works more than the standard 40-hour work week (42+). If some people need time and other people need work, isn’t there something we can figure out here so that needs are met with the resources we already have?
Redistributing work hours through practices such as job sharing to reduce unemployment is one possibility that has been successfully tried recently by Germany and the Netherlands to help them weather the global economic storms in 2007. Rather than making time scarce for some and paid work scarce for others, we can implement policies that create both time and jobs for those who need them and in the right amounts. Giving people more time and reducing the strain of financial worry increase our sense of financial wellbeing especially during a tough economy — which is what we are really after, isn’t it?
[This post was the second in a series on wellbeing. The first can be found here.]