A few months ago I asked this question on my Twitter and LinkedIn and I was surprised with the answer:

If you could choose between a salary increase or keep your current salary and work fewer hours a week, what would you choose?

In both networks, more than half of the people who responded prefer to keep their current salary and work fewer hours instead of receiving a salary increase and maintaining the current workload.

What does that mean?

Why are there people who prefer more time than money?

Why are there people who prefer more money than more time?

Over the last 12 months I have been thinking about this. I’ve read a lot of books, taken courses, talked to people, made reflections. And I’ve come up with some thoughts that I want to put out and share with you.

Why do we seek more money?

My hypothesis was that most people prefer more money than more time. Curiously, my little “research” revealed the opposite.

Of course this research is not representative of the population, the sample has a bias to be directed by people from my social networks. But even so, I imagined that the majority would be following the “adult life pattern” path: searching for more money. I was positively surprised to be proved wrong, at least in this microcosm of mine.

Still, a good part said that if they had the choice, they would choose more money than more time. Why does someone look for more money? In short, I would say you have two answers:

  1. Because you need more money
  2. Why do you think you need more money

My concern, in this article, is with who is in category 2.

The point here is not whether money brings happiness or not. My concern is about the person being able to think and decide more according to their own criteria, and less about what was deposited in their head in an almost unconscious way (like an inception, for those who saw the movie).

Let’s see two reasons why people seek more money, without being aware of it.

We seek more money because of status

One of the reasons we seek more money unconsciously is status. This idea became clear to me after reading the book “Status Anxiety” by philosopher Alain De Botton.

According to the author:

Status is one’s position in society”. In a narrow sense, the word refers to one’s legal or professional standing within a group (married, a lieutenant, etc.). But in the broader — and here more relevant — sense, to one’s value and importance in the eyes of the world”

Status is not something natural, it is a social and human convention. It is also not immutable, it has varied throughout human history: to be a hunter, to be a warrior, to be of a certain family, to be part of the clergy of the church, etc. But over the last centuries, more and more having status has to do with having money and financial achievements.

And why do we seek status?

Well, having more status can bring you some benefits. Who has more status receives more attention from other people, they see you differently, as if you had more value. And many of us are insecure about our own value as human beings, so we derive our sense of self-esteem through what others think of us.

If we have more money, we have more status. If we have more status, others give us more value. If others value us more, then we value ourselves more.

It happens that building your self-esteem based on what others think about you is very fragile. I would even say dangerous.

For those who are watching “The Boys” show on Amazon Prime, you can think about Homelander’s self-esteem, it’s totally based on what people in social networks think about him.

We seek more money because we become prisoners of our lifestyle

There are also those who think they need more money to support a certain lifestyle. By supporting your lifestyle, I mean where you spend your money.

The problem I want to point out here is not where you spend your money. But how much of your money you spend and why.

Let’s say you got a job in your early 20s. With every increase in income since then, what has happened to your spending? Have they gone up? Probably. So far so good.

The potential problem is if most of the time your income has gone up, your expenses have gone up proportionally together. I say potential problem because maybe they went up out of necessity, maybe you had a child. The real problem can happen when your expenses have risen more due to desire than need. And here I want to bring a concept that I learned from Epicurus’ philosophy.

Epicurus said that we confuse our desires and needs. Need is for example food, shelter, friends. Desire can be power, fame, a big apartment, the iPhone of the year, the car your friend has.

If every time you manage to increase your income, you increase your expenses, you become a hostage of your own salary. A hostage of his own salary feels that he has no option but to have a way to maintain his income at any cost, because if the income is lower, he believes that his life would be bad.

The risk here is the person losing his freedom. She no longer has the freedom to make less money, she is “forced” by her wishes to maintain that level of income or more. A trap she has created for herself, often without realizing it. Whatever the reason.

It could be, for example, because she has not stopped to discern between need or desire. It may be because she tried to replace some void in her life with some possession or experience that money can buy.

She became a hostage to her own salary.

Why should I want more time?

Going back to the poll results on my social networks, most people responded that they would rather work less than receive a salary increase. Why would that be?

I can think of some possibilities.

Time to develop as a professional

Perhaps this is the easiest reason to rationalize. The person would like more time to develop a competence.

For many, learning is a source of pleasure. For me it certainly is. A potential problem is that investing time in developing a competence for the job competes with the time of other activities outside of work.

We can divide our time into:

  • leisure activities (cycling, watch Netflix)
  • productive activities (work, study)
  • maintenance activities (bathing, eating)

For many of us, work is at the center of our lives and we fit the rest into the time that remains. Ok, that’s life, right? But does it have to be like this?

So you want to develop a professional competence, either because you like it or because you need it. But for this to happen, you’ll have to take even more time from leisure activities or maintenance. Less time for a hobby. Or what many of us do, less time to sleep.

What if you could work less? Then you could use the extra time to develop yourself professionally, compromising less the time of other aspects of your life. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Someone reading this text might say: “phew, but that’s paradoxical… I’ll work less, and with the time left over I’ll invest in things that will make me better at work?!” Yes, each one does what they want according to their values and their life repertoire. Many people see things that way, and it’s all right, it’s the way the person sees.

I used to think the same way: “work is where I get a great part of my sense of accomplishment and purpose in life”. It happened that with a little extra time, I could reflect and expand my consciousness.

This takes me to another place where you could use more free time: to develop as a person, not only as a professional.

Time to develop as a person

One of the times I realized that I was clearly developing as a person was by attending lectures on feminism, diversity and inclusion at Plataformatec (my former company). The ideas and new beliefs I had from those pinches of education clearly made me a better person, inside and outside of work.

Then, already during my sabbatical, I read a book called “The Course of Love“, also by the philosopher Alain de Botton. The book talks about love between a couple, and suggests a disruptive and inspiring idea to me: “love is more skill than enthusiasm.

He explains by A + B the risks of that vision of romantic love, of the idea of finding the perfect person for you. The truth is that neither person in a marriage is perfect for each other.

I learned from this book that “love is the admiration for the qualities of the loved one that promise to correct our weaknesses and our imbalances”. It is part of love to be someone imperfect, but also to be inspired by the other person to become a better individual. In this sense the love relationship between a couple is about being the partner of the other on a journey of mutual personal development. Look how beautiful that is!

After reading this book, I believe I developed as a husband. I have developed as a person.

In my case, the increase of space in my mind to have interest and attitude to read this kind of book only happened when I had more time out of work. Less stress and demand for work allowed me to think more about the other important things in my life.

When we think about people development, we soon get the idea of HR, career, professional development. But if personal development can go much further than just becoming a professional of excellence. How about becoming a “person of excellence”?

This idea is inspired in Aristotle’s philosophy. He said that a good way for life is to become a virtuous person, a person of virtues. And virtue goes far beyond work skills. How about being a virtuous person instead of a financially rich person? Virtue is certainly closer to everyone’s reach than financial wealth.

We think that being a friend, being a father, being a mother, being a son, being a brother, being a citizen, being a husband, being a wife, etc. is simply being. That we are already born with an innate ability to play such important roles in our lives. We don’t pay as much attention to developing ourselves within these areas as we do to develop ourselves as professionals.

Imagine how much opportunity we would have to develop as a better human being if we had a little more time outside of work.

Time to learn what I don’t know that I don’t know

Finally, having more free time allows you to learn more about what you don’t know that you don’t know, the unknown unknowns (about yourself, about others and about the world).

In my case, I discovered that I didn’t know “how to do nothing”. I even read a book about it earlier this year called “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy” by the artist and Stanford teacher Jenny Odell.

Sometimes my wife would tell me “you work too hard”.. But I didn’t understand what she meant, it didn’t make sense to me. Although I was an entrepreneur, I never bought the idea of that stereotype that an entrepreneur has to work an absurd amount of hours. I always tried to work something around 40 hours a week, the standard workload. But what she wanted to say to me was in the field of my unknown unknowns, was beyond my comprehension.

Only after reading the books “How to do nothing” and “Burnout Society“, reflecting, meditating, and after many therapy sessions, I was able to understand what she meant.

I realized that although I worked “only” a 40 hours a week, my mind was still connected and driven by work, even while I was “not working”. At home, the books I read were always to help me solve problems I found at work. At dinner, I sometimes found myself thinking about work instead of being present with the person I love.

My problem was that I unconsciously saw time as an economic resource that I should exploit to the full to produce. I lived to produce, inside and outside of work, but I was not aware of it.

With more free time, I could discover that there are other things you can do with your time besides producing. For example, you can do contemplative activities, like meditation.

You begin to stop thinking “I’m wasting my time”. You stop thinking that “time is money”, that you have to optimize your time. That you have to know all the productivity hacks and get the most out of your time.

Do you know where this idea of optimizing something and getting the most out of it applies? On a machine, in a factory. You’re not a machine inside a factory that needs to be optimized. Neither inside nor outside work.

I confess I’m still learning to live under these new ideas, it’s not easy for me. And I believe it’s not easy for us as a capitalist society, where we were led to believe that we should produce to the maximum during all our time awake.

The current number of working hours is not natural, it is a convention

Some people reading about this idea of working less may find it impossible. Utopian. That it will never happen etc.

For those people, I invite you to take a look at the past and also the present. And based on this observation, reflect: “Do we work 40 hours a week because it is like this or because it is like this today?

There’s a difference between something that is naturally like it is and something that is the way it’s because someone made it this way. It’s easier to change something that was made up than something that is naturally like it is.

First, let’s look briefly at the past. It’s been a little over 100 years since we started regulating the number of working hours in Brazil. Before that some people worked more than 14 hours a day in industries! Nowadays, the common workload is 40 hours a week. It has changed. The current number of working hours is not natural, it’s a convention.

Looking now to the present, there are already companies experimenting with different forms of working hours. Let’s go to some examples.

Wildbit has a working policy of 4 working days per week, 32 hours per week. They are a small American software products company, with 20 years old.

Microsoft Japan tested a 4 days working week in 2019.

Another very inspiring case for me came from Brazil: Ricardo Semler from SEMCO. In this TED Talk, he spoke:

When we look at the way we distribute our life, we realize that in periods where we have more money, we have less time. And when we finally have time, we have neither the  money or health.

This whole retirement thing… instead of you going to climb a mountain when you are 82 years old, why don’t you go next week?

So they created a program in which the employee could “retire” throughout his whole life, not only at the end of his life. Who wanted to join the program, could not work on Wednesdays, in exchange for 10% less salary.

They thought that the people who would join the program would be older people. But the average age of the first people who joined was 29. Interesting, right?

These people and companies are already challenging the current number of working hours. They understand that the working day as it is today is not something natural. It is a convention that can be modified.

And how can all this be used for your company?

To conclude, I would like to make an invitation to you: to think about why a company would have a shorter working day program.

From a more business perspective, it can be an excellent way of differentiation for the employer brand. More and more people talk about the shortage of skilled labor, and this only tends to increase.

Companies (especially in my world of technology) try to differentiate themselves in every way to attract and retain people. High wages, remote work, ping-pong tables, video games, informal work environment, etc.

But don’t you get the impression that all this is already becoming a “commonplace”?

Despite the good intention, the company could offer its employees something much more valuable. Perhaps one of life’s most valuable things: time. That would be a totally different benefit.

And I would say that offering this benefit doesn’t only require financial capacity of the company. It also requires courage and an expansion of perspectives of the company’s mission.

A standard and modern company will say that it is client centered. That the client is everything. That helping the client is their mission. That’s what you’ll find in most of a company’s public communication. It’s something you can see from the outside.

From the inside, many of the decisions are driven by another stakeholder: the shareholders. After all, this is what is taught (and what I learned) in business schools and MBA courses: the purpose of a company is to give financial return to its shareholders.

Then, only after clients and shareholders, there are the employees. The curious thing to me is that the employees are the people who spend more time of their lives interacting with the company. At least one third of their day, five days a week.

This is where the courage and expansion of perspectives of the company’s mission comes in.

What if the company wanted to revolutionize the way it impacts its employees as much as it wants to revolutionize the life of its customers?

Does a shorter workday seem disruptive to you? To me it seems a lot! We’re used to hearing the company saying it wants to revolutionize its market, which I call revolutionizing their outside world.

What if it wanted to revolutionize its inside world?

What if the company’s mission was beyond maximizing profits for its shareholders and the success of its customer, was it also maximizing the well-being of its employees?

That’s the kind of courage and expansion of perspectives I’m talking about. It would be the kind of intrinsic motivation that could lead a company to reduce the workday. Not only to be more attractive to talents, but because its mission is also to maximize the well-being of its people, its employees.

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