Personal Experiences

New work – or why I tried out working 30%

2017 I ended up organizing a weekend workshop for students on the topic “the future of work” in Sweden. The topic ended up emerging, as we really wanted to get funding for a weekend in Stockholm, and we had heard of experiments around a 30 hour work week in Sweden. So the topic seemed extremely suitable. We ended up discussing about issues and chances of automation, unconditional income and more.
However, one concept stuck with me especially and made me curious: the concept of “new work” by Frithjof Bergmann. Honestly, I do not know his concept well and you can check wikipedia and his books for more reference. For myself, I understood it, that I would only work 1/3 of my working week in a traditional gainful employment. Another 1/3 I would work for the community – especially in local food production. Lastly, I have 1/3 of a traditional work week left for doing exactly what I would like to do.
Now, in May 2019 I went ahead and tried this out for a month. I would like to share my experiences and motivation with you.

What triggered my interest in this work approach is the diversity of tasks, while at the same time connecting more with the community around and with myself and my inner drives and passions.
I had worked full time for a year with a great job and employer. Yet, I did not feel like all my needs were met and stimulated. Working on a “brainy” job 37 hours a week computer based took a lot of my energy. It resulted in two things: Once home from work, 1) I did not ever want to turn on my computer again. 2) I did not have the mental capacity to do a lot of brainy stuff.
So what? Well, it did bother me – as something like writing this blog post for example would have been completely impossible!

Due to lucky circumstances, I managed to reduce my working hours to 30% in May. I say lucky for me – other people would probably prefer to work full time. On the 1st of May workers day demonstration in 2018, I was running around with a banner “I want to work part-time”, now it became reality.
An interesting “The Guardian” opinion by Andre Spicer, Professor for organisational behavior points out:

“By working less, we produce fewer goods and services that require precious resources to make. We also consume less in the process of getting our job done. Less work means less carbon-intensive commuting, less energy-sucking office space, and less time on power-hungry computer systems. In addition, working less would help to break down the work-spend cycle. Fewer hours at work mean we have more time to do other things such as travelling, preparing food or fixing broken household items. We are also less likely to rely on environmentally costly time savers such as high-speed travel or takeaway food delivered in plastic containers by someone riding a motorbike.”

So for me, knowing that I will probably have a more sustainable lifestyle by working less and asking myself more how much money and belongings are sufficient for myself is for sure one motivation.

The bigger driver though were the prospects of having more time and energy for “things I really want to do” and finding more mindfulness, physical and mental health in my everyday life.

My weeks looked approximately like the following:

Monday and Friday:

I was helping to convert a van into a camper van and went to acrylic painting classes. These were things I really wanted to do and learn. Always having loved to craft, I had not prioritized this passion for many years. I had the strong urge to create something with my hands again after many years of academic and computer work.

Tuesday and 1/2 Wednesday:

I was working at my office job for 1,5 days. These were the only income generating hours in terms of money. It was just enough to pay my rent.

1/2 Wednesday and Thursday:

The rest of my Wednesdays I would often spend in our garden and grow vegetables. On Thursdays, I went to an urban farm with my flatmate to volunteer. It is a community supported agriculture delivering veggie boxes. I learned loads about planting, harvesting and weeding. But even better then the learning was to have a few hours a week, where I could/had to be outside and was doing physical work with little thinking where I could let my thoughts wonder around. And this in a beautiful farm environment. This felt truly healing for me! And I was so happy to being able to contribute to local food production in the city and to bring home some self-harvested food.

I noticed that this weekly schedule made me extremely happy and satisfied. I felt very emotionally and physically healthy, and above all, I still had energy left in the evenings to pursue my hobbies such as environmental activism. If I would have worked full time on the computer, I would not have had the brain energy – if I would have worked full time on the farm, I would not have had the physical strength. I finally was more busy than ever – because I could :).

Is this a model for me for the long term? I try to challenge my point of view and to get my mindset away from the traditional gainful employment, however have a hard time to succeed.

I could have continued this lifestyle: having enough money to pay my rent and having food to feed myself. But already then I would struggle to finance things for the rest of my time such as painting equipment, money for traveling etc. If I would manage to reduce my rent cost – which is very possible, especially moving into the countryside, I could indeed live a comfortable life. One concern is that I would pay very little in a pension fund and what would happen if I suddenly get sick and can not work to get the food from the farm anymore?

Also, it is very difficult to find such part-time jobs. I do not believe this would have been a long-term option in my case.

I am sure there are loads of people who are very fulfilled with their full-time jobs and maybe they do have very diverse tasks. However, there are just so many computer based office jobs!

I do believe:

  • We need to stop working desk based 37/40 hours a week, as this is just not healthy for the human body and mind
  • Building strong, sustainable communities where people feel more connected requires dedicated time. Let this be care work for children or elderly, gardening, farming together etc.
  • Making part-time work more mainstream (or just reducing the normal working hours) will lead to more gender equality.

As long as the system does not change to make less work mainstream, I encourage us to negotiate part-time work with our employers. And exploring what we would like to do with this extra time – not spending it behind a screen.

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