How does working part time relate to sustainability transformation?

Two years ago, before my current job, I had a job offer at a NGO in Indonesia. We negotiated the salary, which was around 1.200 USD. An acquaintance mentioned not to start with a low salary like that considering my education and work experience. Before he said that, I felt confident with 1.200 USD and after he said that I wondered whether my decision was right. I went back to management to talk about it and management asked me „What do you need more money for? With that money you can rent a small but nice apartment, eat enough food, have health insurance and after that there should still be enough for trips and fun. Locals also have fun with that amount.“

Now it’s been two years on a part time-Job(30/h) in Germany and I really enjoy it. Before 9 am and after 3pm I get to do what I want. I could have a side job, I can write, volunteer, I can practice playing music, I can play with my cat, I can google, watch YouTube, I can help a friend with after day care for their children, I can do nothing, I can play video games (for instance, Pokemon on my outdated Game Boy Colour 😉 ), I can spend time being.

This made me curious and I kept on having discussions on that topic more often with people. „How happy are you with your life and your work hours?“. Often we end up in arguments like „I want a large apartment, then I want a better car and it’s just nice to have more money. My job is so stressfull honestly, so it also compensates for that, like a nice vacation etc.“”Would you be okay with earning less money?” “Yes sure, I mean I could probably get a cheaper car” someone said then feeling insecure, whether not working full-time would fullfill their lives. What to fill time with?

And I get that, a lot and I wonder what would be needed for part-time to become a new norm. A norm in which we don’t run after an idealized version of happinnes (thinking that more hours worked, a better car and a house like symbolized in the American Dream are worth persuing), but a life-style of being instead. So that, when we talk about sustainability transition, the human focused center is thought of more often. Whether people can be more happy with less and viewing less as more? Whether people can spend more quality time, be that just laying on a couch, cooking, playing video games, anything they desire as human, and in retrospect can be more fulfilled at work and in their lives? Moving away from buying or other forms of overconsumption to compensate a lack of happiness or stress to being more, at the same time being the same or more productive at work.

What does that mean for sustainability? What questions should be asked?

  • What would be needed to make part time jobs the new norm? Do people want that? Why not? (How would they fill a potential lack experienced? How could that lack be filled so that it feels rewarding to ones subjective form of well-being)
  • How much money is needed to have enough to sustain and to engage in other interests? (Thinking about salary variances and people with different fundamental needs).
  • Can business models support a lifestyle with less money (renting of music instruments, cars, interior, etc) as oppose to people having them owned? (Enabling access to entertainment or well-being also for people with lower incomes, making sustainability more inclusive instead of exclusive)
  • How could such societal and economical transformation look like? (What does it mean for cities, companies and design-thinking, but also policy?)
  • How could the perception on working part time being shifted? (Part time not being for mothers or for people with specific reasons, but because people simply want to work part time, because people are diverse and because people have different interests)
  • What gains and losses would one have to agree to? (Not owning a car but agreeing to shared transportation or more rides on the bycicle and companies installing shower stations at work).
  • If less money buys less materialistic goods, how can time be used to provide the same or a similar type of quality meaning to oneself detached less from the notion of need for money (relationships, etc. what do people want today? what fullfills them?)

References

McGowan, T. (2012). The end of dissatisfaction?: Jacques Lacan and the emerging society of enjoyment. suny Press.

Oswald, L. (1996). The place and space of consumption in a material world.

Ruti, M. (2013). The call of character: Living a life worth living. Columbia University Press.

Warren, T. (2004). Working part‐time: achieving a successful ‘work‐life’balance? 1. The British journal of sociology55(1), 99-122.

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