Five good reasons to work less

October 06, 2021


The pressure on our resources in our current era is enormous, both human and non-human

1. Emancipation of women

Women of my generation take a larger part in work life as those of my parents’ generation. The work at home they used to do remains outstanding. I am, like most people of my culture, in favor of sharing tasks, exactly the way both parts in a relationship, i.e. parents of a family - of whichever gender - agree on. That is the big win of female emancipation. The roles aren’t predefined based on gender. Unfortunately, male emancipation failed to happen, i.e. the possibility to really work less and be able to take their share in the housekeeping. In most cases, women’s paid work has just been added to the total amount per family. Although in typical female professions it is much more accepted to work part-time, many fields also require women to be full-time available. “It’s you who wants to work and make a career, isn’t it?”, one hears the boomer CEO thinking.

Yes, the amount of devices that help us do the housekeeping has been growing over the years, but, wait a minute… weren’t technical inventions there to save us work instead of enabling us to work more? The answer of today’s narrative would most likely be something like: “indeed, they enable us to focus more on our passions, on the work we love to do”. More on this narrative at the end.

2. The relative value of money

If you earn more, you can spend more. If everyone earns more, prices will rise, especially those of sparse goods, like building land and houses. The major part of the win of the extra work disappears into the pockets of the capital: a little for the small owner, much for the big one. This principal also works the other way around: if you are the only one who works less, you can pay for less. If everyone starts to work less, prices will drop.

In my childhood, the only family in our neighborhood, whose parents both worked full-time, was an exception. It was the first generation in which mothers, after the children had grown old enough, started to work part-time again. Nevertheless, all families could afford a simple townhouse in this average working-class district. Nowadays, one and a half up to two incomes are required to afford the same house. There has been enormous inflation. The win on the side of the small owners, most likely has been spent already.

3. Health and balance

A full-time job takes a huge amount of time from your life. The pressure on finding a job that fits your desires really well is accordingly high. Other things suffer from lack of time, like for example family, friends, sports, sleep, and your other interests and passions. Even when you really like your job, you lack time for other things. That causes a lot of stress and time pressure in our current society, besides your job. For some their job even is an escape from their private lives, where time pressure is higher. That, of course, is a consequence of working too much. One can say that working less leads people into bars and raises alcohol consumption. Personally, I tend to believe that continuous stress leads to more after-work beers than a healthy balance between all your activities. What is a good balance is better defined by you than by your employer. The feeling of constantly dragging behind causes mental problems in the long term, like burn-out or concentration disorders.

4. Overproduction and sustainability

Labor shortage causes a more sustainable production. A huge workforce on the other hand, leads to the luxury of having everything done immediately, without considering what is really needed in the long term. I experienced this myself in software development. Fast delivery times cause bad quality as well as a continuous pressure on the employees, who are forced to create more garbage from within a pile of garbage. Sustainability suffers, waste of production capacity, i.e. our labor, is huge. We can only pretend to enjoy working. If society decreases its production capacity, one needs to consider better what is needed, and therefore what will be produced. Moreover, it is more likely that products will be produced that last longer, of a higher quality. That again is better for the earth. Working less is a very good contribution to the earth, our climate and our resources.

5. Balance in the distribution of wealth

The more production, the higher are the profits on the side of the capital. Capitalism stimulates overproduction and obstructs sustainable production. Capitalism raises pressure on us, people, workers, to always produce the maximum of what is possible. When the economy grows, money loses its value in about the same amount: inflation. Workers earn more, but can’t afford more. As already mentioned under “2.”, capital especially has an advantage of growth. For that reason, big companies resist opening the gate to a reduction of working hours. Reduction of work and therefore production would thus lead to a better balance in the distribution of wealth. How much less are we allowed to work already, after many decades of inventions and developments that made production more efficient? Where are the profits going when not to us? And who decides how much we work?

The narrative

The current narrative in the west is that we still work a lot indeed, but in contrast to before, we do work that satisfies us and brings us joy. We were able to choose our studies and therefore get the perfect job that fully overlaps with our passion, in which we can be creative and work on the progress of mankind, together with our likewise motivated colleagues in self-managed teams. If your experiences are different, you probably haven’t found the right job yet, so you need to look further. Otherwise, you owe it to yourself. So far the narrative.

In my observation, this applies to some of us indeed, but only a small minority. The job market needs employees, who preferably only have one passion, that in addition, is perfectly suited for creating profit. For many other passions there is simply no place, for a diversity of interests within one job neither. At this point, the word “hobby” is introduced. If you still have some time and energy left, you can keep yourself busy with them after the regular 40 hours, the overtime, commuting, shopping, the housekeeping, your tax declaration, your family, et cetera. The fact that the work that is responsible for your income, is not always exactly what you would prefer to do, nor that, with which you believe to contribute to the world the most, is a taboo. For this reason, employees try to sell their jobs to themselves as their passion, in some cases with success. If that does not work out well, surely their colleagues and employer should think it really is their passion. Their true feelings one usually hears when they leave their employer, or when you leave, they might feel safe to tell you secretly that they are actually unhappy too. Usually however, at a departure, they state that they had the wish to challenge themselves again, after many years of great work.


I would plead for being honest again, to ourselves and our professional environment, for the acknowledgement that our job in essence is there to offer us a necessary income, that work exists that just has to be done, that it would be great if we would have fun doing it, that we are allowed to enjoy doing it, but that a job that comprises exactly what we intrinsically would like to do weekly for so many hours, for most of us, is just a utopia. I am truly convinced that if we would all just do what we really like to do, the world and our society would be completely different. That means, I believe little of this narrative. For that reason, let us please limit the time we spend on our professional work and, compared to now, significantly reduce our working hours. If you really don’t want to, then please don’t turn against the ones that need it for themselves.

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Written by Alfons Seelen who lives in Europe and writes about society, regionalism, work, mental health, and economics | Follow him on LinkedIn