Posted by: ginalazenby | November 11, 2018

Is it time to re-think work?

Re-thinking how and why we work – Conscious Cafe met at the newly opened Avalon Wellbeing centre at Broughton Hall, Skipton. Here we are with Avalon co-founder (centre, 4th from right) Paris Ackrill.

Is it time to re-think work?

This was an interesting though for our October Conscious Cafe which took on the subject of the future of work for our discussion. There had been quite a bit of coverage in the press about the Green Party’s policy recommendation for the country to switch to a shorter working week … as the norm. They were proposing a permanent four day week as the standard expected by the Government. I recall many years ago the New Economics Foundation (NEF) putting forward the idea of a 21 hour work week. I’ve always wondered how that would work. It seemed so radical.  The NEF want us to work to live, not live to work. How can we take on such a radical idea?  Well the NEF don’t have all the specific plans in place but they want people to engage with the idea and talk about it. So that is what we did for our evening in October at the Avalon Centre for Wellbeing. And coincidentally, wellbeing is at the very heart of this conversation.

A four-day week or 21 hours is not simply a reduction of hours or workload, it involves a fundamental strip down of the psyche, a massive shakeup for how we see ourselves and what work means to us. It is not just about working less and having less pay, it is about reevaluating life and how we spend every precious day.

How would we be affected by a shorter working week?

There’s more to think about than financial needs when we are trying to figure out how 21 hours a week could work. That’s a complicated and tangled issue that is too complex to resolve in a short conversation, in fact it looks unresolvable. As soon as we delve into that then we are asking ourselves more questions, ones with highly complex answers. And in this whole working downshift, who will be left behind? Those who are disempowered and not financially strong enough to make the choice. But is it a choice? What happens when we ask ourselves: “Can I afford to work less …..Will my needs being met?”

What the NEF is arguing is that we need to shift away from being consumers and creating a life where we have to work longer and longer in order to afford more modern living expenses. We are falling in to the trap of earning so we can buy more things and experiences that are not necessary to our fundamental well-being. With a deeper connection to our own inner world, more time reflecting on who we are, we might lessen within us the need to strive and compete, and push ourselves to spend. Duane Elgin’s book ‘Voluntary Simplicity’  (published in 1982) is an anti-consumerist handbook and persuasively sets out a way of living that is not just outwardly simple, but inwardly rich. Lynne Twist, author of  ‘The Soul of Money’  speaks powerfully of the role of money in our lives and says we have lost track for what is sufficient… we need to stop and ask ourselves … what is enough? Both authors point to what the NEF is flagging up, that our consumer needs are outstripping the planet’s ability to provide, hence the Green Party want to take this premise on as a core part of their manifesto.

Life Unbalanced

A full working week may provide us with just enough money but for many, the downside of working longer and harder is an unbalanced life. A whole industry has been built on the angst of working people who seek treatment for their anxiety. It’s forecast that work stress will be one of the biggest killers in the next decade.  In our society today, we have a massive tendency to overwork in terms of quantity of hours or intensity of effort. This leads to various kinds of personal health crises and burnout. When people grind to a halt, as so many invariably do, they then have to organise their own recovery and begin to make new choices about how they will construct their life and work with greater emphasis on quality of life, and maybe different work that engages them in new ways… perhaps taking on more enjoyable and fulfilling careers. If society valued the unpaid work that many people have to engage in and prized non-work activities then that might reduce burn out.

Here are some of the insights and nuggets from our Conscious Cafe discussion:

  • employers should not treat people like machines: we are not robots. We have rhythms and cycles. Sometimes we need downtime for our mental or physical wellbeing. With such an emphasis on speed we are encouraged or expected to power through times when we do not feel well or we feel compromised.  If we feel the need to pull back, it would be great if we could feel supported in taking care of ourselves without being penalised. 
  • With the right knowledge we could work smarter rather than harder. If we were taught more about our own bodies and understood our own needs then we could manage ourselves better to the benefit of all.  So much research has been done now about our brains and how they function. Rest and pleasure are powerful ingredients for being creative. Certain environments and atmospheres help with learning, recovery and productivity.
  • Recovery time is important. The gap between intense work and being around computers and electromagnetic fields can be too short to recover for the next bout of work. And so many people are not using the right modalities for recovery .. alcohol and watching TV do not regenerate, they simply anaesthetise us. We need longer gaps between work and access to activities that restore our wellbeing.
  • Compassion is key. This needs to be married with the drive for success and achievement that pervades many workplaces. Yes let’s achieve but at what cost are we arriving at personal and company goals? What cost to the self .. the whole .. to the long term … to the community … the planet? If we build compassion into the fabric of life as a norm it would be a game changer.
  • It starts with compassion for self: if compassion is not seen as an important value but one that needs to emerge in business, then it has to start with us. How can we care about others if we don’t care for ourselves?
  • Spreading the love: in our quest to serve and help others, do we give too much away? Are we giving more to strangers that to our own family and loved ones? Who deserves more of our love, attention, energy, focus and care?
  • If I work longer do I produce more? there are so many examples where people achieve the same or more in less time through focus because they have to accomplish in a shorter period … so they do.  Presenteeism ….just being in the officer at work, does not make you more effective. 
  • What are we teaching girls about work?  there were examples of being taught at a girls’ school to value accomplishment and achievement over home-making and family life. Education that used to prepare girls for less demanding careers and more focus on being married to a breadwinner were deeply criticised. Has the pendulum swung too far? Women who were not taught the value of being a home-maker are having to re-program themselves. Can we teach a more balanced approach to paid and unpaid work. Does the education of boys include teaching about equality in relationships and home life?
  • Care work is not valued. This is one of society’s biggest needs, particularly with an ageing population. Care work is ether very low paid or for many, it is unpaid work done on a volunteer basis by family or community. Those engaged in the care industry are not seen as doing important work and yet their contribution enables the rest of society to function. 
  • Unpaid and domestic work needs to be valued: where domestic work is done in a home by one of the partners, male or female, that supports the household and family life, this work needs to have increased status and be valued. Where this work, often invisible and always unpaid, is not valued, it creates an imbalance in the relationship and can be a source of unhealthy discord. The law values the unpaid contribution in women in the home when it comes to divorce .. society needs to take this recognition out of the court room and into the marketplace.
  • Inequality: we can’t let the progress that allows people to make choices about working less hours or days a week to exclude those already living on the edge financially. Some people work many more than the standard 40 hour work from deep need just to stay afloat. How do we make sure that everyone is included in the quest for a more balanced life?
  • Work is seen as suffering. How have we constructed work as a deficit, as a burden to be endured? That work is effort that takes something from you and has to be endured until you are fortunate enough to retire and do nothing? 
  • Can we love work? What if it were seen as a source of joy and that was the mutual expectation of employees and employers?
  • We only have one life…. this is not a rehearsal. That being the case, how can we arrange our lives so we enjoy every moment?   The realisation that there is more to life than the ‘daily grind’ can come to us when we face mortality in ourselves or others … or we look breakdown in the face. Why wait til we get to that point before we take on the brave choices of creating a different life for ourself? There comes a point for many when quality of life becomes the most urgent priority. Why wait until we are ill before we seek a work life that has more meaning?

New technology,  with the advance of robots and artificial intelligence, will potentially make workloads more efficient and even remove some jobs altogether.  The School of Life have produced an information pack, presented as a card game, with 52 careers listed and an indication of the risk of each one being replaced by a robot. 

One card particularly caught my attention among the careers of Dermatologist, Coroner, Zoologist and Uber Driver, and that was “HomeMaker”. On each card is a rating (1-100) for ease of entry, pay and among other things, the risk of being replaced by a robot. You can read the full list here. I was intrigued to see that even the Homemaker actually had the possibility of replacement by robot which is surprising but I did love what was written about the homemaker role and I feel it sums up where society is with care work. 

Homemaker The Ultimate Multitasker 

What the job involves: probably the most important job in the world but that carries no salary – and, furthermore, requires constant kindness, patience and generosity. If you do the job well, no one thanks you for (possibly) 30 years. If you get it wrong, you will be blamed in therapy almost continuously. The job has deep intrinsic satisfactions, but extremely low status. People who do it often say they do ‘nothing’ when asked for their profession by busy bankers at dinner. 

Who it would suit: someone who wants to change the world and knows that it changes through the wise, disciplined and kind upbringing of children. Someone who will not get medals, while deserving them. The upholders of civilisation. 


Difficultly difficulty of entry 2

Job stability 99 

Meaning/purpose 95 

Salary 0

People skills required 100 

Stress levels 82

Degree of nonsense 1

Risk of being replaced by robot 19





We ended the evening with much food for thought with personal realisations about the rightness of the brave choices yes that we have made, how fortunate we are to have access to resources to make choices, how consuming work can be and the power of taking time off to rebalance ourselves.

Join us for our next Conscious Cafe on November 15th.

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