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I mentioned last week in the post ‘Can we Have it all’ that we are all given the same 24 hours… however how we use them makes the difference of our perception of time… (sometimes time races – other times it drags.) How would you feel if 21 hours was the new norm for the working week? This is an idea being proposed by the New Economic Forum (NEF) that – if money didn’t matter, if status didn’t matter – I’m sure plenty of people would embrace, given that RedBalloon’s own research shows us that individuals want more time to spend with their friends and family, creating memories.

In the report NEF says, A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low wellbeing, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”

The report also makes an interesting distinction between three independent economies or ‘sources of wealth’: 1) human resources 2) assets and relationships inherent in everyone’s lives and 3) markets. NEF argues that we must recognise and value all three economies and make sure they work together for sustainable social justice.

Here is an interesting debate then. What if we began to consume less time a work and did things differently. Would a 21 hour week help get people off the consumer treadmill? What is ‘enough’? We buy much more than enough stuff. What we feel we need and what satisfies our needs are inflated well beyond what is actually required to live a good and satisfying life.

A core belief at RedBalloon is people need less stuff (material goods) in their lives, however people want more time with family and friends , and sharing experiences is about creating memories, rather than consuming. So the notion behind NEF’s 21-hour week intrigues me, even while it challenges me in regards to how businesses would adjust and run profitably. How would you work a 21-hour week? If it were mandated, what would change in your business?

And after spending my holiday with the family in the US… if there is one thing that the Americans cannot believe is that every Australian has 20 days annual leave a year… and yet our economy has faired well over the past few years. Is this the real case of less is more?

Your thoughts?

Reader Interactions


  1. It depends. For some business 21h work week could be enough and for other a full working week is really essential. For online business as yours, I think that 21h week is way to less.

  2. Not a good for the economy & people. The idea has been put in practise to a lesser extent in France where work hours were reduced from 40 down to 35. The initial rationale was to reduce unemployment numbers by encouraging companies to hire another person for every 7 employees that reduced their hours by 5h/week.
    Operationally doesn’t work….would you hire an additional person if someone works 4 days a week? No.
    Result – people got paid the same for doing less work and it didn’t generate additional jobs / value. Economy slowed down, but French now have 7.5 weeks holidays per annum as a result.

    End result is less purchasing power for people to do / enjoy their experiences…a Prozac nation…a high amount of people dependant on the dole…

    It’s all about striking the right balance between life and work for each individual and allowing this flexibility in companies. You can’t fit everyone in a mold…even though there are pressures to have confromity.

  3. I like the idea. I especially like the concept that there is space created for people to step back and work on their own projects and ideas which should ultimately help sharpen the entrepreneurial (or interpreneurial) spirit and skill-set within the company.

    However, I also think that if people are doing what they love, it is hard to convince them to only work 21hrs a week on it.

    Lastly, if it means we get to have more siestas, you have my vote.

  4. Thanks for the comments – debate on such things is healthy and I think all have valid points – and I agree with you

    But is there another way? I started RedBalloon because I wanted to create something new, yet still allowed me the flexibility to work around my then young children.

    There are so many professional mothers (and fathers) out there who choose not to return to the full-time workforce purely through a lack of childcare options and ‘old school’ employers who view part-time as ‘less’ of a role, or feel if they can’t ‘see’ the person at their desk, then the work isn’t getting done. I wonder how much of a skills shortage we’d face if these issues were addressed.

    As entrepreneurs it’s up to us to challenge what is ‘hard work’, and lead the way in innovating how to work smarter, not harder. I’m proud how RedBalloon has embraced this, but we’re constantly on the look out for new ways to improve and challenge ourselves.

    Which is why I loved your responses – a 21-hour working week may not be the answer for everyone. However, it’s a start to us challenging why the industrial model of 40-hours a week should be ‘right’ for all as well.


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