Downshifting: slow down, green up and get happy

Are we working ourselves into early graves chasing honey-covered-money because the CEO at the top of the food chain said we should? Contemplate countless late nights, hours of unpaid overtime, diminishing minutes with precious young ones, bellies full of takeaway food and appointments required with spouses for intimate moments.

How have we come to be behaved this way? Is it because historically, the work ethic of ‘more’ has demanded it in order to sustain our high-priced consumerist lifestyles?

But with changing priorities and more of a focus on work/life balance, we are starting to see a global ‘downshifting’ revolution. The collective workforce has been challenging their perception of what a fair price is for their labour and not just in the Western World. The emerging economies of China and India are learning from the evident mistakes the West has made. They’ve observed us chasing the greenback and many of them are rejecting high salaries in favour of holding onto a better work/life balance. They don’t want stomach ulcers, infidelity or to crash and burn out. They favour life.

In the quest for a utopian increase in sustainable productivity that the world and its workers can actually live up to, Corporate Social Responsibility has helped to nurture downshifting; one of the nicest elements the workforce has seen, since wage slips began.

CSR – that 1990s acronym buzzword – is extensively explored in ‘Capitalism As If The World Matters’ by Jonathon Porritt. He describes Human Capital as one of five key pillars required in his framework for sustainable economies. He states that crucial consideration should be paid to the health, knowledge, skills, motivation, and spiritual and emotional needs of employees. Enter Social Capital, another of the five pillars, and you find families and voluntary elements introduced to Porritt’s critical mix of ingredients for happy, productive workers.

Contented employees with work/life balanced blood running through their veins, will find it pumping right through the heart of a sustainable economy.

It isn’t just Porritt who believes the world’s workers need more than a salary to fill their soul. The Economy for the Common Good, a rapidly growing social movement, says a good corporation should not be determined by its bottom line, but by the degree to which it contributes to the common good and by how happy its employees are.

Downshifting has probably been occurring for as long as the world has had employment contracts and it’s not limited to the UK. It goes by many other names across the globe including ‘voluntary simplicity’ and for decades it has been extremely popular through Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

In simple terms, the more money you spend, the more time you need to be out there earning it and the less time you get to spend with the ones you love. A downshifted vocational change to a local company, or a reduction in hours with a CSR embracing employer, may well allow you to drop the kids off at school, but there is likely to be a sharp edge felt in your wallet as your salary reflects the move.

This is no bad thing providing you’ve prepared adequately to embrace living with less. If you are excited about the copious fringe benefits that a downshifted lifestyle holds, you run the risk of being bowled over by them. A slower pace means you can dedicate time to exploring and enjoying your passions. A happier disposition will give you more than a skip in your step. A more relaxed attitude will improve communications with the ones you love and a greater contentment in your workplace makes for a more optimistic long term view, as we all face later retirements and a far longer life.

Emotional philanthropy from employers who embrace human investment pays dividends. They can begin by implementing car-share schemes that allow staff to start later and leave earlier to avoid rush hours. They could also introduce work-from-home policies, enabling staff to assist with the occasional school run. Companies who favour the well being of their employees may find themselves rewarded with more loyal and productive staff and consequentially a more profitable balance sheet.

Perhaps that’s why an increasing number of potential new recruits are asking what a firm’s CSR policy is at interview, before signing on the dotted line.

What is your corporate and moral stance on it all?