Stir-up a public discussion about the assumptions underpinning the way we function in modern society via a practical application of ideas contained in the 21 Hours report from the New Economics Foundation concerning working hours, work-life balance, happiness, welfare reform, and the most effective conditions under which to incubate a knowledge-economy transition.
The 21 Hours report from the New Economics Foundation supposes that workers would be more productive at work if, broadly, society functioned on a 21 hour working week paradigm.
Workers would be more productive at work because they would have more complete lives outside of work and exist in a healthier physical environment. Workers’ personal welfare will improve because they will have more time to spend with their families, more time for caring activities, more time for community participation, more time to be in the natural world, and more time for self-betterment activities. Their overall welfare will improve because they will use their income more efficiently and consume less for convenience, rebalance gender-division of labour within families, alter travel patterns— all of which will result in less physical and economic waste, lower greenhouse gas emissions and a cleaner environment.
Whereas the 21 Hours report approaches the topic of working with a focus on achieving a low-carbon economy, the experiment will draw on conclusions from two similar reports by two other think tanks that place stress on concepts within 21 Hours: TUC’s Out of Time which discusses self-betterment and gendered division of labour and Demos’ work on rethinking the welfare system in favour of participatory social services.
Find one medium sized British company with a fairly strong brand presence, that still manufactures a physical product domestically, and is earning a significant profit.
Request four to five employees, each at different hierarchical levels within the company (and therefore different income tiers) to participate in the experiment.
Although part of the premise of the 21 Hours report is a reduction in income, the participating company would have to be wealthy enough to maintain participant salaries despite reduced working hours. External economic conditions, we feel, provide enough pressure that the income condition is sufficiently met. We also feel that the real ‘story’ of a 21 hour work week lies in the social effects, rather than the economic.
The report asserts that a reduction in working hours will lead to a net increase in worker productivity per hour. Overall, the total amount of work done may drop and in this instane, an additional worker can be put into work. Though depending on the work (manual, clerical, creative), the total amount of work lost may differ. In other words, the company would have to be making a profit cushion. The change in productivity as well as the amount of work that must be made up by an additional worker will be tracked.
These four to five participants will be subject to metrics such that the outcome is a worker welfare measurement against individual income (an individual ecological GDP, if you like).
[If you feel your company fits this profile and you would like to try this experiment please do get in touch as we are now recruiting a company!]
User/audience controlled, web-based non-linear documentary.
Income, consumption, and the welfare system tend to provoke rather visceral reactions, especially in a time of a prolonged economic crisis and public budget austerity. The audience sought is a curious general public. It isn’t a far stretch to suppose that giving a skeptical audience agency over the way in which they approach emotional subjects might make the proposed solution slightly more palatable.
The most flexible way to provide this content is via the internet.
Users will be presented with long (about 20 min) and short versions (about 5 min) of participant experiences, long and short versions of expert interviews, and user/audience solicited experiential videos uploaded to a community channel on youtube and cross-referenced for relevance to the participant experience.
Further Current Catalytic Context:
The “Big Society” agenda from the Conservative government seeks to leverage community participation and private sector solutions to make up for a lack of national government funding and infrastructure. The 21 Hours report asserts that both community and private sector solutions are underutilized and viable resources for households under stress as a transition to a 21 hour work week is made. Both the New Economics Foundation and Demos have done work (nef , Demos) on co-production of public services.
The coalition government’s emergency budget public spending cuts put downward pressure on household disposable income and cut public service provision, especially to those at the bottom of the income ladder. Again, downward income pressure is an integral part of an experiment strictly according to the 21 Hours report; as it happens organic economic conditions provide sufficient pressure making now an optimal time for the experiment.
Two business trends merge public sector shortfalls with community and private sector based solutions: social entrepreneurialism and microfinance institutions. Social enterprises are arguably a result of communities getting fed up with waiting for promised national government action. The UK ranks second (behind the US) for social entrepreneurs per capita, since the recession began, 56% of social enterprises have seen their turnover increase, and they are more confident about future growth as compared to traditional small and medium size enterprises.*
Additionally, social entrepreneurial activities have lead to a discussion about the nature of work and to what extent self-betterment activities and care activities cross the line between work and leisure. Self-betterment activities in particular are a key component of the TUC report Out of Time and are briefly but inadequately mentioned in the 21 Hours report.
*Social Enterprise Coalition, State of Social Enterprise Survey (2009).
N.B. This is experiment is independent of the New Economics Foundation.
21 Hours as a social movement for uncertain times
As we look towards a new movement for shorter working hours, it's important to realise where our current standards come from. An eight hour standard working day was not achieved until after World War I. The achievement of the standard swept across Britain and Europe as a socially galvanising force in uncertain times. A shorter working hour standard today offers us the same chance.
Gary Cross writes, “The eight hour day was also a linchpin in a broad economic and social program: it promised not only to reduce unemployment and raise wages, but also to rationalize and intensify production, and to rejuvenate family and cultural life. It was to create a new social economy of time. Moreover, these objectives bridged class lines, drawing both the support or organized labour and a network of professional reformers.” (Cross, 1989, p129-130)
George Barnes called the Great War, a "great leveler"; the newly industrialised economy unleashed new technological accomplishments on the practice of war: death and destruction and battlefield horror never experienced before bloodied, maimed, and killed not only men reguardless of their class but the spirit of British and European people. While American soldiers had a land physically untouched to return to, Britain and Europe did not. The physical remnants remained a part of daily life. The economic remnants too: by the early 1920's, unemployment was 15%, and while it dropped a little in between, by 1930 it was over 20% (Nasen, Vahey 2009). Between 1920 and 1930 Britain experienced more strikes than any other time in its history as shown by this chart from a Parliamentary research paper (99/111).
But more than that, we only need to take a look at the haunting art of the period. Otto Dix's creations are perhaps at the more disturbed end; it was during this time that EM Forster wrote his critique of British Empire, questioning its past and continued existance. Forster told the BBC at the time that "One of the reasons I stopped writing novels is that the social aspects of the world changed so very much."
Though we have not had the experience of "total war," we are in a time where everything that we have known is in question, from monetary policy to whether one had ought to be in debt, from whether university is necessary to the necessity of home ownership. But similar to the post war period, our economy has (admittedly arguably) bottomed out, unemployment in some areas in Britain today is as high as the national average after the Great War (Sandwell, broadly the West Midlands, and Yorkshire are the worst). We face an uncertain and therefore necessarily scary immediate future.
The movement for an eight hour work standard offered liberty and freedom to workers, the “three-eights”, according to Cross (1989) became symbol of Second International : work, leisure, rest “its radical demand for a reduction… challenged, as could no wage increase, the economic and cultural status quo” (129). A shorter standard for work hours united people within and across national borders. The fight for the standard fed the Novemeber Revolution in Germany and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Within Britain, local trade unions galvanised in a national force, and it was with the alliance of "key industrial sectors" : dockyards, railways, and transport-- the logistical lifeblood the economy-- that by 1922 most professions had achieved a standard eight hour day.
Today, a shorter standard working week offers the same socially uniting opportunity: as Kellogg and Goodyear used a standard six hour work day to absorb the returning unemployed from the war in the United States, so too could a 21 hour work week and more equal distribution of labour provide for unemployed in Britain. The co-production trend and community services provided by social entrepreneurs that help people get by in hard times make up the social cushion as governments slash public services-- a measure that will lead to more unemployed.
But more than that, a shorter work week will allow us literally time to re-examine how it is we came to this economic place and as a society, time to contrive solutions and our next way forward. Let a 21 hour work week do as an eight hour day "challenged the traditional wisdom that social reforms must be subordinated to economic growth.... Its promise was prosperity driven by a more efficient use of time and a rising labour standard based on international cooperation." (Cross, 1989, p150)