The Belgian research and advocacy group Femma spent 2019 working a 30-hour week, and has just released a report in English [pdf] talking about their experience.
One of the most interesting things is the way they highlight the structural and collective nature of challenges with work-life balance:
12 men and women sit down in Ghent for a focus discussion on the combination of work, care and leisure…. When asked what would help them, it is striking that they mainly propose individual solutions: grandparents nearby, getting buffer time from your employer to take time off for no reason, a shorter commute… Hardly anyone fundamentally questions the way in which we divide work, leisure and care.
Understandable. After all, we are constantly told that the combination of work, care and leisure is a personal issue that we have to solve at our own kitchen tables. ‘You need to plan better.’ Or: ‘You can’t have it all.’
However, the personal is political. The decisions taken at the kitchen table reveal major social inequalities: between men and women, between double-income families and singles, between well-off and less well-off families, between flexible working hours, teleworking opportunities and fixed working hours.
I think the experience of the pandemic and our sudden collective plunge into remote work has put some cracks in the idea that work and personal life are “naturally” to be kept separate, and that under normal (i.e., pre-February) conditions we create time- and energy-consuming routines that help us maintain the illusion that these are separate.
What if we not only put the puzzle of work, care and leisure on the kitchen table, but work on an innovative combination model as a society? A model that ensures that everyone is able to combine work, care and leisure in a quality manner. A model that values unpaid labour – such as domestic work, care work and volunteering – as the driving force of our society. A combination model aimed at a balanced distribution of paid and unpaid work between men and women.
The new full-time, the 30-hour week, is part of this innovative combination model.