Time Sovereignty – re-imagining work in the 21st Century

What is the one thing we all want more of?  Money? Sex? I would suggest the answer is time.
Time is our most precious resource.  We cannot save it up, cannot slow it down or rewind it.  How we expend our most precious resource should ideally be within our individual control.  For many of us, it feels like we have lost control of our time and therefore of our lives.  I am not sure terms like “work:life balance” capture this concept adequately.  Trying to balance life at work and life outside work by opposing both spheres cannot work. These domains are so completely intertwined that finding a balance is not just a question of time spent in either one.  I prefer the concept of “time sovereignty” or how much control you have over how you spend your time.  What we want is not a “work-life balance” but a healthy, happy life which must necessarily include a healthy relationship with whatever it is you do to make a living.

Time pressure stems from a lack of perceived control when every minute of every hour feels accounted for somehow with no wriggle room or freedom of choice.  It breeds a sense of resentment and loss.  Loss of control and loss of identity.  Who am I in this frantic whirl of activity?  Is this how I want to spend my time?  Grounding your time investment in what is truly important to you is easier said than done.  Work less, earn less.  Get up early to exercise, sleep less.  Invest in gaining more qualifications, less time with the family.  None of us can escape these difficult trade-offs.

As a society, we need to try to universalise time sovereignty, which does not have to be the preserve of privileged white-collar jobs like journalism or consultancy. Possible solutions to reducing time pressure and stress distil down to enabling men and women equally to have time for work, care and life pursuits.  Having work-life options written into workplace policies is not enough.  How can we re-imagine the world of work in the face of digital disruption, globalisation and increased connectivity?

  • Managers and bosses need to model time balance, so that employees can follow their lead.
  • Managers need to show a willingness to measure employees on their outputs rather than their inputs.
  • Men need to be genuinely encouraged and not penalised for accessing flexible workplace practices which would enable greater equality in division of domestic labour such as child-care.
  • Allow staff time off in school holidays, create time banks, encourage home working, allowing sabbaticals and unpaid leave and compressing hours.
  • Be mindful of work intensification if flexible working hours are taken.  Work intensification is working harder in the same hours.  Relentless demand with no dips in pace can cause acute stress.
  • Improving labour market participation of women, older people, people with disabilities and migrants will be critical to repositioning Australia in the future economy.
  • Investment in re-training to address employment polarisation as traditional less skilled occupations disappear and traditional employment arrangements reduce.


We have an opportunity to negotiate a social compromise that honours our need for genuine private lives whilst also meeting organisational imperatives.   The future world of work in a global context will require better educated, more skills employees.  Attracting and retaining such employees will become the core executive challenge to organisational success.  Barriers to time sovereignty start in the minds of managers who keep looking at people as resources to do tasks, rather than looking at aspiring individuals committed to achieve meaningful outcomes.

We want to live individual lives.  Lives that allow us to care about and look after those we love.  Lives that enable us to also pursue interesting, pleasurable and active pursuits not just related to paid work.  How can the humanisation of work be achieved in the 21st century?  Having work-life options written into workplace policies is not enough.  Instead of penalising employees for working part-time, compressed work weeks, or taking up other flexibility arrangements, recognition should be given to employees who have reduced their time stress while maintaining or increasing their productivity at work.  We are all responsible for changing the work paradigm and have the amazing opportunity to re-imagine work for the good of all society.  What will you do differently tomorrow?


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