Friday, October 3, 2014

Downshifting: it ain't that hard

So, what is downshifting? Well firstly it has nothing to do with changing gears in a car. Downshifting is when someone voluntarily decides to either work less or work in a lower stress job. Amy and I have been attempting to downshift for years now and I think we've got a good balance now. Amy has gone from full time to 0.6 and then 0.5 and I've gone from full time to 0.9 and just this week started to work 0.7. This means I work 3 days one week and then 4 days the next. Sure, we get paid less but we'd rather be time rich and ok money wise than time poor and rich. It makes a lot of sense for us since we have secure jobs and we live in the richest city in one of the richest countries in the world. At work people have been saying how lucky I am and how I'm living the dream and it made me think why don't more people do it?

I think one of the reasons is that bosses are too inflexible and employees are afraid to ask or are afraid they'll slip down the career ladder or won't earn enough to afford the nice things in life. There's a great book called Affluenza: When too much is never enough, by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss. They define Affluenza as "1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the Australian dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth". Sound familiar? It's a great book and I recommend you read it. The thrust of the book is that people are working longer hours, with more stress and that is impacting on their health, relationships and general quality of life.

A 2009 survey of 450,000 Americans found that the optimum income for happiness was $75,000 a year. "As people earn more money, their day-to-day happiness rises. Until you hit $75,000. After that, it is just more stuff, with no gain in happiness" (see this blog post for more info). Earning more could even make you less happy. To get that promotion do you need to work longer hours or miss out on some leave? Do you need to deal with more stress and take work home with you? Is it really worth it if it doesn't increase your well being?

Where did the 40 hour work week even come from? I read an article by David Cain recently which said it originates in the mid 1900's as a way to stop exploitation of workers doing 14-16 hour days. So why hasn't it changed in the last 150 years? Cain's theory is that it's because it's good for the capitalist economy. People who are tired, time poor, cash rich and unfulfilled need to have a release and the way they do that is by buying stuff they don't really need but that fills a whole in their lives. It may be a jet ski, a new 4WD or a quick trip to Bali and it keeps the wheels of industry turning. But we're not hamsters so you can jump off the wheel if you want!

So here's my to call out to employers and bosses. The next time someone asks you if they can work part time please say yes instead of the default no. Yes Jill, why don't we give it a try and see how it goes? Jill will be over the moon and work harder for you. You might even find that she does the same amount of work in less time (the average office worker does 3 hours productive work in 8 hours). Jill will be happier because she has more time for reading, yoga, etc. Husband Jack will be happier because the kids are happier (more attention), the dog's happier (more walkies) and because his wife's happier. Jack's thinking "She's less stressed, more relaxed, she's lost weight. In fact she looks pretty fit at the moment!" Now that can't be bad for a relationship can it? It's a win win situation, Jill's happier and her boss is saving the business money. She might even stay with the business longer and save them heaps more by avoiding recruitment and training of new people.

There's a chance that things slip at work and the boss says you need to go back to full time, but it was worth a try. How about this radical solution though, the boss says to Jill how about we hire a new part timer? Bob is an environmental scientist who's been unemployed for a year and gets the job. He's been depressed and stressed working 40 hours a week applying for non existent jobs for heaven's sake.He's over the moon to get a new job and realises he never liked full time work that much.  His partner Jim's happy too, but enough of that...

Now isn't that cool, making many people happy for the price of one!

Here's my call to employees. Ask your boss if you can go part time if you want to. If he says no, just nag him until he says yes. Tell him to read this post, tell him about Jack and Jill for Pete's sake, he'll get it. Don't be afraid about money, you'll probably be ok and you won't regret it.

But wait a minute say the naysayers. There's a catch, it's bad for the economy.  The economy is the most important thing in the world ever as our politicians like to preach. Well I'm not an economist but it seems we're always going on about productivity. How is it good for productivity for someone to get paid for 8 hours work and do 3? Isn't it more efficient to work less but better? Sure, there may be a drop off in jet ski sales, but big deal. Maybe we'll get the next GFC a bit sooner this way but I kinda think we need it for the planet's sake. Most consumerism drives climate change, creates waste and pollution and we or following generations will be hit with the bill sooner or later. Why not give Mother Earth a break and bring it on. So I say nay to the naysayers!

I plan to do more of the stuff I enjoy, like gardening, walking the dog, blogging (I wrote this post on my first day off!) and spending time with my son and heir (his inheritance may be smaller but he'll be happier). Have you ever had a weekend and on Monday thought, gee i need a weekend to get over the weekend? Well I don't get that feeling anymore. 

Haven't we lost sight of what's important in life? Isn't it more important to be there for a child's first steps rather than earning another dollar? Happiness is not measured by the amount of superannuation you have. Don't defer happiness until it's too late, live it now.Time is more precious than money I say. Go on, whether you're a boss or a worker give it a go. Work less, live more. Enrich your life not your bank account.

Happiness is contagious, go make some ripples...


  1. I love the idea of downshifting, I would love to do more of it myself. However we live a very different life out here in the bush. We live on a mere $40,000 a year (combined wages) and we struggle to pay the bills sometimes. There isn't enough work here for everyone who wants to work but we love the bush life and want to continue living here. For us the problem is not enough jobs rather than making a choice to work less. A lot of people job share here, teachers, nurses, farm workers, etc. The system works well for us all, but we still need more jobs available.

    1. As I mentioned Amy and I are lucky to be in the place we are and it's not possible for everyone. Despite the fact you're struggling, at least you live in the bush where life is less stressful than the city on the whole. Rural living is a form of downshifting in that way I guess.

    2. We do love living here. It's not less stressful at the moment though, maybe the stressors are different. We mostly feel lucky to live here and I don't mean to whinge (but sometimes it helps). I lived in the city for a few years and couldn't cope with the constant stream of people; you are never very far from another human in the city, even when you can't see them. It started to feel claustrophobic. I guess we all have our place to be, and mine is in the bush, no matter how little work there is.

  2. Bhutan have shifted from Gross Domestic Profit to Gross National Happiness as a measure of their success. It's a very interesting concept!

    1. I like it, it's a much more valuable goal for governments to be aiming for in my opinion. Maybe a bit harder to measure though.

  3. Amy and Adam - your blog is a tonic! You are an inspiration xxxx