Would Life Be Better if You Worked Less? | Kanebridge News
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Would Life Be Better if You Worked Less?

From part-time hours to four-day workweeks, Americans experiment with living more

Tue, Apr 4, 2023 8:37amGrey Clock 4 min

Stephen E. Griffith was working up to 80 hours a week. He was frustrated by the bureaucracy of mounting meetings and craved time with family. So in 2021, he left his thriving practice at a Kansas City, Mo., hospital, and decided to work less.

The neurosurgeon now puts in about one-half to two-thirds of the hours he used to, picking up temporary assignments through a medical-staffing agency, sometimes traveling as far as Oregon. He’s still a doctor and still heals people. But he also goes on midmorning jogs with his wife. He drives his kids to music class. He’s taken more vacations in recent months—to Hawaii, Grand Cayman, Mexico—than during entire years of his past life as a hospital-employed physician.

“Time is a currency,” the 47-year-old says. “Gone are the days where you sign on the dotted line and you can be there for just as long as they tell you to be.”

People with all sorts of jobs seem to agree. They’re reconsidering their relationship to work, how much of their time it swallows, and making changes. In February 2023, 21.9 million Americans were working part time voluntarily, up from 20.7 million the prior year. Meanwhile, some participants in a four-day workweek experiment in the U.K. say there is no amount of money that could make them go back. Lawmakers stateside have taken notice, proposing legislation that would cut the standard workweek here to 32 hours.

It’s hard not to look around and wonder: Would my life be better if I worked less?

“You have this sense of, you’ve taken control of your life,” says Kevin Richardson, who works about 25 hours from Monday through Thursday for a small creative agency. “You see the work as part of your life, rather than the centre.”

Newfound freedom

Dr. Richardson shifted to part-time freelance work last year at the behest of his wife, Lindsay King, who was already down to 15 to 20 hours a week. Freed from the cost and stress of finding paid child care, they can swap who’s in charge of their one- and four-year-old boys. They’ve even been able to relocate to international spots for months at a time.

Speaking recently from a house set amid olive and orange groves in Kalamata, Greece, Dr. King told me she can’t see herself returning to full-time work, even when her children are older.

“I would just have many other things I want to do with my life,” she says, citing travel, volunteering, gardening and long-distance running.

Not that it’s picture perfect. The couple hasn’t amassed enough savings to buy a house in Texas, their home base, and they know they work at the whims of the organisations for which they freelance. Their gigs could dry up at any time.

‘Why did we all work five days?’

For plenty of workers, the possibility of putting in fewer hours simply isn’t an option because they need the money—especially amid inflation—or because of the type of jobs they do.

Some people working fewer hours, including Dr. Richardson, told me they make the same money as before. But contractors are on their own for health insurance and miss out on company benefits like paid time off.

Other workers take big pay cuts to shift to part-time hours only to contend with pressure to pop open their laptops on their day off anyway, or find they’re cut off from key company discussions and promotions.

The answer could be entire organisations where everyone’s putting in fewer hours, says Brendan Burchell, a sociology professor at the University of Cambridge who’s studied how work hours affect psychological well-being.

Humans need work to give structure to our days, to bestow purpose and self-esteem, he says. But we don’t need that much of it. A 2019 paper from Prof. Burchell and several co-authors found that people performing one to eight hours of paid work a week got the same mental health boost—less anxiety, less depression—as those who work 44 to 48 hours a week.

In the future, “We’ll look back and think, why did we all work five days?” Prof. Burchell says.

The part-time business model

Employing mostly part-time workers has helped Sam McKenna’s sales-consulting business be nimble and save money.

“We don’t have people who we’re paying 40 hours who only need 20 hours to get their jobs done,” the Washington, D.C.-area resident says. “We don’t pay overly competitive salaries. We don’t have health benefits.”

And yet, job candidates flood the team with inquiries each month, Ms. McKenna says, even when the company doesn’t have openings. Before the pandemic, it was mostly stay-at-home moms, as well as military and expat spouses who would express interest. These days, Ms. McKenna says she hears from high-powered executives at major consulting and financial-services companies who crave meaningful work, but want a slower pace.

Ms. McKenna initially envisioned herself working part time, too. She left her job at LinkedIn to launch the business in late 2019 with a goal of making half the money she had previously, in half the time she used to spend working.

“I wanted balance,” she says. But as clients kept coming, she swiftly ramped up to 60 hours a week. Keeping up with demand took, well, more work. “You can only do so much part-time.”

Peak performance

Many have found their long hours give diminishing returns.

A full-time employee earlier in her career, environmental engineer Megan Neiderhiser remembers loitering by the water cooler, chatting with colleagues. Now, working 30 hours a week, but aiming for the same revenue targets as her full-time colleagues, she bookmarks every hour for specific goals and doesn’t waste her 40-person team’s time with excess meetings.

Fridays are for yoga classes and playing with her kids, affording her time to think and relax. The Salt Lake City resident says she has better ideas and a better attitude come Monday.

“I’m just convinced,” she says, “this is my top performance.”


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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