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  • Tue, 3, Sep, 2019 - 5:00:AM

The 40+ hour working week has got to go

I’ve only been working full time for four months, so I give everyone who’s been working their whole life full permission to roll their eyes and laugh at me for every melodramatic thing I’m about to say.

But, in those four months, I’ve come to question the entire work system our society is currently – devotedly – married to.

I like my job, as much as I’ve ever really liked any job. I don’t dread going in, so that’s something. I’m definitely privileged - I work in an environment where I feel safe and comfortable and I earn enough money to eat, pay rent and ply myself with wine on the weekends. I know that as an individual, I’m not hard done by.

But working 40 hours a week in artificial lighting, staring at a computer and typing numbers into spreadsheets has already started to erode at my soul.

When you think about the very concept - the fact that so many of us spend 5 (or more) days out of our week performing labour for someone else just so that we can have 2 days to do what we like at the end of the week - it’s upsetting.

We’re giving away 70% of our time just so that we can enjoy 30% of it.

At 23, I can see this stretching out in front of me, for the rest of my life  - an endless string of jobs with uncomfortable office chairs and arctic air conditioning temperatures. Maybe you’ll see it as a character flaw, but I don’t want to look back at my life on my deathbed and realise that I spent most of it waiting for the weekend.

40+ hours is such a huge chunk of our week, and 8+ hours is such a huge chunk of our day, that it can begin to feel like we have no time to ourselves. When I come home, I want to read and write, I want to fill out a journal and maybe watch a movie. I want to take a walk around the neighbourhood or have dinner with my friends. But, when you get home at 6pm, basically asleep on your feet, it feels like the only option is to cook, eat, sleep, rinse, and repeat.

I feel this disheartened and exhausted and I’m pretty lucky when it comes to personal time. I’m not one of the many full time workers with significant others, kids and other reliant family members to think of and devote my time and energy to.

This lack of time, of life, that belongs to you, can really wear down on your mental health. Anxiety and depression thrive when it feels like you have no time to do the things that you enjoy or see the people you love. Anxiety and depression thrive when you feel a complete lack of control over your circumstances, because this system is relatively inescapable. Anxiety and depression thrive in 8am meetings and excel spreadsheets.

In saying all this, there’s also an element of guilt that comes with this resentment of the systems and structures currently in place. Yes, I hate the fact that I have to work 40 hours a week in order to pay rent, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty when I have a long lunch or use some annual leave. It’s been drilled into us, for generations, that “hard work” is an unparalleled virtue. No matter who you are or what you do, you should work hard at it. But when you think about this idea, is it not just a capitalistic tool to create the best labourers, make money for the people in charge and stop the rest of us from questioning the status quo?

I know a lot of people would say that the answer to this particular existential crisis of mine is not to criticise the system, but to find a job that I love, so that I can feel like I’m living my life during the working week, as well as during the weekend. And I’m sure that would help, but it’s not really that easy to do that if you desperately need money. Or if you’re young and inexperienced. Or if you have people to take care of and need to just take what you can get.

What needs to change isn’t just the system, but the ideals that we’re buying into. Because I don’t think that I’m the only one terrified by the prospect of a lifetime of 40 hour working weeks. And I don’t think I’m the only one depressed by the idea that we have to spend 70% of our life working hard, just to spend 30% of it enjoying ourselves.

I know “capitalism sucks” isn’t exactly a revolutionary stance to take. But, god, capitalism sucks.


  • Work /
  • Capitalism /
  • Mental Health /
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