15 Sep, 2022

OPINION: Struggling to balance life and work? Time policies might be the solution

We usually take time for granted, but the way we use our time is shaped by our individual and social circumstances and can lead to inequalities, inefficiencies, and diminished well-being of our society. Public and private initiatives that are put forward in order to address such issues are known as time policies.

Time organisation is a political matter, as it depends on a myriad of considerations — how long it takes to go from home to work, at what time school begins and ends, the different lunch hours we have across the continent, how much of our spare time we use to care for others or do housekeeping. Such issues can be addressed by public and private initiatives aimed at allowing a healthier and fairer time organisation. It is then when public policies – time policies – that aim at achieving the right to one’s time[1] emerge as a way of achieving a healthier, more equal, more efficient, and more sustainable society.

Time policies are a way of granting that everyone has enough time to balance every area of their lives, while addressing key challenges of our societies, such as sustainability or gender equality. That is not a minor issue: according to Eurofound,[2] 19% of Europeans think that their working hours do not fit with family or social commitments, and 35% of Europeans think that it is difficult for them to take an hour or two off to take care of personal or family matters during working hours. However, working hours are not the sole aspect that time policies are to address, as they also look towards improving our society’s health, sustainability, and equality, especially related to gender imbalances.

To do so, time policies are to be thought from a cross-sectoral point of view, affecting different areas. For families, this is especially important as they need to combine their paid work, their care obligations such as household tasks and childcare, their children’s educational schedules, and their leisure time.

Regarding working hours, public and private time initiatives aim at establishing healthier working hours, where flexibility is the rule and not the exception, digital disconnection is respected, and commuting times are reduced or eliminated through teleworking. To summarise, it allows us to have what the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has named as “decent working time”[3].

Caring for others is another task where Europeans, mostly women, dedicate their time outside of work: according to Eurostat,[4] EU women spend one third more of their time on care work —that is, one to two hours on a daily basis— than men. Care has to happen regardless of work obligations or holidays, and therefore initiatives aimed at allowing time for care, for both men and women, become key time policies.

But time policies do not only affect the adult population, as those who are parents also have to look after children. School time can become healthier by adapting it to our children’s circadian rhythms[5] — physical, mental, and behavioural changes that regulate our body through a 24-hour cycle. For example, their school experience is affected by early lessons and late sport activities. Therefore, changing such schedules will have a direct impact on children’s performance, as well as their daily well-being.

Finally, spare time for both adults and children is something that should also be considered. Not only intending to have more time to relax and engage in out-of-work or school activities, but also improving the quality of such a time. Looking after eating habits, managing a healthier screen time or being able to disconnect from work is something that will, surely, improve our resting time — and that of our families.

In conclusion, time policies have a huge potential for addressing challenges in our daily lives, and even those that may arise in the future. They are a key element to ensure the families welfare, And, more importantly, they can positively improve our family experience in a healthier and more egalitarian way. For these policies to be implemented, institutions from every governance level — local, regional, national, and European —, as well as other social partners — companies, labour unions, neighbour associations —, need to put time at the centre of their agendas. In doing so, they will improve our individual and collective well-being.

The association I am part of, the Barcelona Time Use Initiative for a Healthy Society has, started this movement by putting forward the Barcelona Declaration of Time Policies, a commitment signed by more than 100 international stakeholders to advance our collective right to time. As a coordinator, I am always  happy to enhance this community with the participation of other like-minded associations that want to join and demand a healthier time organisation in their areas of action.

About the author: Ariadna Güell is the co-coordinator of the Barcelona Time Use Initiative for a Healthy Society, which aims at putting time at the centre of the political agenda in order to create a public dialogue and share knowledge on improving time organisation, both in public policies and private initiatives.

[1] Mückenberger, Ulrich. (2011). Time Abstraction, Temporal Policy and the Right to One’s Own Time. KronoScope. 11. 66-97.

[2] Eurofound. (2021). European Working Conditions Survey: https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/data/european-working-conditions-survey

[3] International Labour Organisation. (2019). Guide to developing balanced working time arrangements: https://www.ilo.org/travail/info/publications/WCMS_706159/lang–en/index.htm

[4] Eurostat. 2015. Participation time per day in unpaid work (main activity), by gender: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=File:Participation_time_per_day_in_unpaid_work_(main_activity),_by_gender,_(hh_mm;_2008_to_2015).png 

[5] Pin, Gonzalo et al. (2016). Sleep habits in student’s performance (SHASTU): https://coface-eu.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/SHASTU-FINAL-REPORT-ENGLISH_ok.pdf 

**DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author, not of COFACE Families Europe**

Photo: ©Getty Images via Canva.com

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