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Quit Whining About Work-Life Balance Because The Future Is A 15-Hour Week

Far from being wishful thinking, one man who has been studying the importance of 'leisure' for decades, says there's a way to make a 15-hour work week a reality.

Adjunct Professor Anthony Veal says although Australians are working more and have far less time for leisure, it doesn't have to be this way.

Veal says this with confidence and authority, after all, he has been studying workplaces and the role of leisure for 50 years.

"There's certainly a time squeeze, and stress and the sense that we don't get to be leisurely and enjoy life as much as we'd like to," he said.

The hours worked in November 2018 compared to the same time last year increased by 1.7 percent. But Veal says that's just the tip of the iceberg.

READ MORE: Turns Out We Still Suck At Getting The Work-Life Balance Right

"The data is problematic because if you look at average hours worked over the year it is going down slightly but that is because of the influx of part-time workers, it's not the reality," he told 10 daily.

According to the ABS, big city residents put in long hours -- more than a half of Sydneysiders and 45 percent of Melbournians report working more than 40 hours a week.

However, Veal says, it's not unrealistic to cut working hours by more than half by 2050.

How A 15-Hour Work Week Would Work

It's not as crazy as it sounds, according to Veal. And it starts by cutting the work week back by 45 minutes each year.

"In 1900, if  you said 'look you don't have to work 70-hours a week, kids can stay in school until they are 18 and (are) not put to work as soon as they become teenagers and you'll get four weeks annual leave, people would have said this is absurd', but it happened," he said.

The idea that one of the wealthiest countries in the world can scale back its working week was projected by economist John Maynard Keynes in an essay called Economic Prospects for our Grandchildren.

In 1930 Keynes said within 100 years the wealthiest countries should all eventually be working just 15-hours a week, due to better technology and productivity gains.

READ MORE: A Four-Day Working Week Actually Better For Employers

"I'd argue he did not anticipate the Great Depression or World War Two, so I've added 20 years to that timeline," Veal said.

In his book, Whatever Happened to the Leisure Society? Veal says the push for a better work-life balance peaked in the 1960s and 1970s in a bid to continue the century's pattern of falling work hours.

He says it's time to put it back on the union's agenda so that governments take notice.

"Things back then were negotiated bit by bit over several years. People were frustrated and wanted change and then turned to unions to make this  happen, the unions didn't put it on the agenda. People did" he said.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions often boasts that it "helped deliver the eight-hour working day, weekends, four weeks of paid annual leave, sick leave, family/carers’ leave and paid parental leave."

Veal says despite this, no progress on working hours has been achieved for 35 years.

But the ACTU says its key priorities for 2019 are detailed in its Change the Rules Campaign, which is a call for working people to get a pay rise and tacking the rise of insecure work.

Snippets Of Success At Trials Overseas

The effects of work time encroaching on family and personal time is well documented with links to depression and the loss of employee productivity. 

And some companies abroad are trying a new approach.

Perpetual Guardian is the New Zealand-based trust and wills firm that experimented with removing an entire day from the working week.

For six weeks in May, the company asked its 240 office workers to work four eight-hour days instead of five, although the workers were paid for five days.

The result: 24 percent said their work-life balance had improved, and 7 percent saw reduced stress. Meanwhile, company leadership reported no drop in productivity.

In Japan, where “death by overworking,” has entered the local vernacular, the government has introduced a measure called “Shining Mondays." Here employees are allowed to come into work late one Monday a month.

But it's not all sustainable.

In Sweden, a retirement home ran a two-year trial of six-hour working days. The trial made employees happier, more productive and less likely to call in sick.

Yet, the approach was deemed too expensive due to the amount of new staff they needed to employ to cover the hours.

A US online education company in Portland, Oregon, ended up reverting back to a “normal” 40-hour week after testing out a four-day scheme.

But the company was soon faced with cutbacks and redundancies – and it's CEO said it was not a good look to have to lay off some workers while the rest continued to work four-day weeks.

However, Veal remains optimistic and says it's about starting a conversation and implementing small changes.

"In 2050, if we are still working a 40-hour week and complaining about lack of time, then we haven't pushed hard enough," he said.

Featured Image: Getty

Contact the author: alattouf@networkten.com.au