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Chris Targett
8 October 2016

Calls for a three day week and flexible working have been explored by various individuals, including economists,business leaders and psychologists, with the benefits being widely discussed. These range from health and the wider economic well-being of countries, to potentially providing greater employment opportunities as well asbeing better for the environment. One article written in 2014 by Maria Konnikova explored the reality of whether this could all be possible. Maria identified tensions between working less than five days a week and our perceptions of what we and employers feel we ought to be doing, including the extent employers expect employees to work longer hours or always be contactable in our digital age. Additionally, she recognised the tensions between the desires of working less and/or having more flexibility and whether this may affect the chances of success, recognition and promotion for employees who choose to do so. Ultimately, many of these ideas are based on culturally loaded narratives and perceptions, which have grown and expanded in our digital era.

Maria Konnikova referenced John Maynard Keynes saying “it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.”

However the concept of “abundance” does find itself at odds with wider economic policy and whether everyone in society is able to access the fruits of contemporary living, as various commentators have explored.

For our clients in school who we are helping to prepare for their working lives, they are making their decisions against this backdrop of different messages and concepts. Some will come from families where low skilled, low wages are the norm. Others where accessing food banks and the help of organisations such as the Trussel Trust is a necessity. In contrast, other clients will have a perception of work which is one of the five day week or more structure, where parents, carers and other relatives may spend much of their time working away from home.

In terms of clients making their decisions and what they feel is possible, it is these narratives which will often speak loudest to them; the ones they find themselves living. It is these influences which affect their decisions around career. It is their community, via schooling, friends and family, which will help them to construct their identity and ideas around what they feel is possible for themselves in the future.

So what choices might be possible with regards the hours worked?

In their future, some clients will be affected by necessity, whether by choice, design or ability. Having to work longer hours at what we used to call the minimum wage rate (now known as the living wage), to bring enough into just live and make ends meet will be the choice for some. Will these individuals have a choice in whether they can afford to work a three day week as some suggest? Only if there is a social and economic decision for a minimum weekly wage to be set, regardless of hours worked.

Some will be affected by desire, to earn as much money as possible. Certainly if you are self-employed in many industries, the more hours you can work the more money you can make.

Yet for others, it will be the fulfilment of the work itself, which will push individuals to work the longer days and hours. A Scientist involved in research maybe a cliché’ example but, why not equally the Tattoo Artist or ICT Technician who just love doing what they do, so work longer hours.

A few may defer the choice of the hours they work to other priorities, perhaps because of an aspiration for the job they wish to do and the hours of work involved. For example, some teachers have very specific hours of work during the week. Even if someone wanted to work fewer hours, not all employers can offer them the flexibility to do so.

Some will opt to work part time or seek more flexible hours to raise a family, whether alone or with another. Or just for a greater family/work life balance. Others may choose to take advantage of the rise in flexible working which is on offer to spend less time working and more time involved in community or leisure pursuits.

If they have the means to do so, they may structure their lives so they can work and travel at the same time. This could become a possibility via schemes like the one offered by Remote Year or the ideas listed on travel site Wandering Earl.  Perhaps some will take on aspects of each of these ways of living in their lifetimes.

One thing that strikes me with all of this, is that there is no “normal” working week anymore or common standard or level of living. When I sit and talk to friends or network across careers platforms, I see that there isn’t a standard 9am to 5pm working pattern. Yet, when we offer Careers Guidance there is a danger that we collude with careers information websites that communicate the idea that work is standardised. How much an individual can earn “per year” hides the more complex picture behind “yearly earnings.” I am not saying these estimates aren’t helpful but, we can go further in our career conversations, raising awareness of what is possible.

When clients ask “how much will I earn a year” (when weighing up occupations), it is our job to raise awareness of the hidden time and factors involved within each sector so they can make an informed choice. For example, a teacher maybe on £27,000 a year but how many hours a week do they work for this £27,000, if we include the time in the evenings which is “unpaid” but expected to be done?

John Maynard Keynes states that, “we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy.” If the idea of career covers not just the work we do but the life we lead, shouldn’t we also be exploring with clients what is the life they want to enjoy now and in the future? How much do they wish to work? How much job security and income do they desire? How much adventure do they seek or risk do they wish to take or avoid? How much does the cost of living differ and what are the opportunities in different parts of the UK? From there we can help them explore ways to help them build the skills that will help them thrive in the lives they wish to lead.

Written by: Chris Targett

This article was first published on the CXK Blog on Monday 19th September 2016

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