Thinking Out Loud

Slowness In The Workplace: Does It Have A Place?

By Theagarajan_CML

Now this is an interesting topic.

I was recently introduced to an article by Carl Honore entitled “In Praise of Slowness: Changing the Culture of Speed” in which Honore discusses the idea of slowness in the workplace and how beneficial it is to practice. Within the article I picked up some key historical background information on the topic.

There have been several prominent individuals within the last 100 years who’ve predicted that the typical American work week would significantly decrease by the start of the 2000s. Benjamin Franklin was apparently the first (or at least to publically vocalize) to envision a world in which a typical American work week consisted of working as little as four hours per week. Inspired by the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s, Benjamin was fervent on a world concentrated on rest and relaxation. In the 1900s George Bernard Shaw insisted that the age of “leisure” would come into play seeing Americans working as little as two hours per week (pretty farfetched I think).

This may all seem very naïve and I’d be hard pressed not to agree. If you look back there have always been promises of new technologies that are designed to reduce our workload significantly but I’ve come to the conclusion that because of these new technologies, we are now expected to deliver more work at a faster pace—how can this help us? We have more tools and resources at our disposal that even our parents’ generation could scarcely have imagined yet now we have the added pressure of doing more in the same amount of time. Fair? I think not.

In 1956 Richard Nixon told US citizens to expect a four-day work week in the near future. Let’s all be honest– nowadays we’re all more likely to put in a 14-hour work day than a 14-hour work week.

Here’s an interesting tid-bit I read and also witnessed a bit overseas: while Americans work as much as they did in the ‘80s, Europeans seem to be logging less hours. In fact according to Honore, Americans logged an average of 350 more hours on the job than our European counterparts each year. Yet it did not seem that way when most of the Brits I knew logged an average of 50-60 hours per week on the job (all be it a couple of them were in the financial district). Continental Europe however has moved the furthest in cutting work hours, allowing more time for leisure which is very apparent amongst continental Europeans.

So how do we try and balance this increase in technology, job demands and living a well-adjusted life?

In France the government specified that no one should work more than 1,600 hours per year (no more than 35 hours per week). Many French citizens are now working shorter days and others are working longer days, yet are given more days off per week. Imagine a work week that was Monday-Thursday and you always had a three-day consecutive weekend.

I really came to appreciate this slower paced work day while in Spain and France. In Barcelona they take siesta every day. In France, I constantly noticed people taking their lunch breaks together. They’d spend a solid hour or two, pull up a few tables, open a bottle of wine and everyone literally broke bread together. I’m not about to make some instrumental suggestion on how to “fix” this for America but I do think it’s something worth reading about, talking about and thinking about.

One thing is for certain, we’re very stressed as a nation and could use some serious time off.

Reference: Carl Honore’s “In Praise of Slowness: Changing the Culture of Speed”


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