people working in office
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
January 26, 2021 ·  5 min read

There Is Nothing Natural About the Way We Work

“If you love your job, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” 

This is a phrase that many of us have been told since we were in primary school, where already we were being told to think of what job we want to do when we grow up. From there, we get sucked into this “live to work” mentality that tells us we need to work more and more.

What if, however, the way our societies have forced us into this never-ending cycle of work is completely unnatural to the way human beings are actually wired? What if the way we work now is what’s causing mass life dissatisfaction and inequality?

Why The Way We Work Isn’t Right

When humans were hunter-gatherers, we worked for approximately 15 hours each day. We essentially did what we needed to survive: Found food and create shelter. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, playing games, and simply just being together. (1)

When agriculture developed, however, everything changed. Suddenly, this idea of scarcity arose. If we didn’t work hard, we wouldn’t have food. The solution? Work very hard, all day.

Those ideas have been perpetuated in today’s society. Before, we used to finish a day with a tired body but a full stomach and happy spirit. Now, we finish a day feeling mentally and physically drained with very little time to actually enjoy our lives. (1)

Despite all of this effort, we are doing, many of us are still struggling to get by to top it all off. (2) We’re more stressed, depressed, and utterly burnt-out than ever before. (3) Despite this, many companies and governments can’t wrap their heads around anything different. (1)

More flexible work hours? Fewer hours? How could you possibly pay someone the same wage if they’re spending less time doing the job they were hired to do?

These are all things we’ve been told until COVID came along and poked a giant hole in all of those arguments. (1)

How COVID Changed People’s Thinking

When the COVID-19 crisis hit the globe and economies worldwide came to a screeching halt, people’s lives changed, especially their working lives. With kids home from school and lives turned upside down, companies were forced to be more flexible.

First of all, they had to adapt to having employees working remotely. Second, they had to adjust to employees who were attempting to work while also taking care of their children, who were also stuck at home.

Suddenly, something we were told wasn’t possible for the vast majority was made possible. Perhaps shorter work weeks, flexible schedules and environments, basic universal income (which millions had to now rely on), and more robust, reliable, and free public services aren’t such a far-fetched idea after all. (1)

The Case For A Shorter Work Week

If there’s one thing that this pandemic has shown us, it’s that most jobs don’t actually need you to be in an office for eight hours a day, five days a week. In fact, in an eight-hour workday, most people spend almost three full hours on other, non-work-related things, such as (4):

  • Reading news sites
  • Social media
  • Chatting with coworkers (non-work-related topics)
  • Searching for a new job

That last point shows how dissatisfied people are with their jobs. Considering that we spend such a vast amount of our lives at work, it’s no surprise why so many people are looking to make a change. (4)

Many people don’t actually want to change jobs because they strongly dislike the company or the work (though sometimes it is!), but rather they want something that feels more balanced. This can be achieved through shorter workweeks. (4)

What Does A Shorter Work Week Mean?

A shorter workweek can mean working fewer hours per day or four days a week instead of five. Sweden piloted a two-year study in long-term care nurses working six hours per day instead of the traditional eight. (6) They found that workers (6):

  • Took fewer sick days
  • Had better-perceived health
  • Were more productive
  • Had more energy and a better overall mood

The nurses enjoyed having more time to spend with their loved ones in their non-working hours, and of course, six hours on your feet working is much easier than eight. (6)

Sweden isn’t the only country to experiment with this. Finland implemented a law in 1996 that allows employees to come in up to three hours earlier and three hours later than their employer’s designated start time. Now they, too, are looking to switch to either a four-day workweek or a six-hour workday. (7)

Other studies have found the same results: Employees are happier, more energetic, more productive, and have a higher retention rate. (1, 6) This is huge for employers: Their employees get more work done in six hours than they did in eight. Employees have a higher job and life satisfaction, so they don’t leave as frequently. This means that employers can spend less time and money on recruiting and training.

What Does This Mean for The Future

A better balance between work and life makes everyone happier and healthier. However, it will take a long time for companies and governments to make changes and to implement adequate policy for the way we work.

At the very least, COVID has proven that most companies can actually be more flexible than originally thought. (8) Perhaps if we start there, eventually we can make more changes to make people’s lives better.

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  1. There Is Nothing Natural About the Way We Work.” VICE. Oscar Rickett. January 19, 2021.
  2. Rising inequality affecting more than two-thirds of the globe, but it’s not inevitable: new UN report.” UN News. January 2020.
  3. Just 1% ‘never’ experience work-related stress, finds survey.” Personnel Today. Ashleigh Webber. April 7, 2020.
  4.  “The Six-Hour Workday.” Online Masters. March 21, 2018.
  5. How a Shorter Work Week Can Benefit Companies, Workers.” Work Flexibility.
  6. What really happened when Swedes tried six-hour days?BBC. Maddy Savage. February 2017.
  7. Finland’s new prime minister wants her country on a four-day workweek.” QZ. Michelle Cheng. January 6, 2020.
  8. THE CASE FOR A FOUR-DAY WEEK.” New Economics. Anna Coote, Aidan Harper. November 27, 2020.