Business and life coach Olivier Schneller presents What If We Were Free To Work? at TEDxBSEL event (Full Transcript)
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Olivier Schneller – Business and life coach
Hi, everyone. This is a picture of me with my little daughter. Cute, right?
Becoming a father is not only a very heartwarming experience. Becoming a father, in Germany, also offers the great fringe benefit of taking a paid sabbatical leave, thanks to the concept called ‘parents time’. And that’s exactly what I’m currently doing, enjoying a one-year parental leave from work.
A few weeks ago, my wife came to me and said to me, “Olivier, it’s strange. You’re on a sabbatical. You don’t have to work, but in the last six months, you have worked more than before.” And she’s probably right. I have worked more than before.
This, in my opinion, raises a very interesting question. What if, instead of having to work, we were free to work? What if work was not our only income channel, so that it was a free choice to work?
I believe that the obligation to work because we have to earn money to secure a living, is one of the biggest misconceptions of our time. I’m convinced that if we were free to work, this would unlock a huge, hidden potential in our society. To explain to you why I have this strong belief, I want to present three arguments.
First, as a society we have achieved an economic state that allows us to rethink work. This shows the development of real GDP per capita over the last decades in Germany. Over the last 40 years, we have doubled GDP per capita when adjusted for inflation. We have doubled the economic output per person. That’s a huge achievement.
But how were we able to transfer this huge achievement into a better well-being of our society? Has our well-being also doubled in the same time period? Obviously, a better economic situation has allowed us more financial freedom, and more consumption over time. This means that we work more and more to satisfy our luxury needs.
The paradox, however, is that we are completely ignoring our luxury needs in the one area of life we spend the most time at, and that’s work itself. It seems as if our well-being at work was not as important, even though we spend most of our lifetime working. Let me illustrate this with a few examples.
We work nearly as much today as we did 40 years ago. The number of burnouts caused by high levels of stress at work has risen dramatically. Or let’s have a look at some data on job satisfaction in Germany. It suggests that over the last 30 years, there has been no improvement. You could even talk about a slight decrease in job satisfaction, in a time when our economic capacities have doubled.
So, in summary. Through our hard work, we have achieved a state in which as a society we have freed ourselves from material needs. And the problem now is that we are so used that hard work was responsible in the past to improve our well-being, that we don’t question today how changing work itself could be beneficial to us.
My second argument. The developed economy of today doesn’t have to rely on the assumption anymore that we have to be forced to work, because we want to work. When I tell people about my idea of being free to work, the most common objection I hear is, “But then no one would work anymore.” Honestly, I’m shocked at how our system manages to maintain such a negative view of us humans. The way I see it, money is by far not the only reliable motivator to work. We are driven by our interests, by social recognition, social integration, finding self-fulfillment, or just simply by having fun at what we do. Take me as an example. There is no need for me to do any work this year, but still I feel the urge to enjoy my freedom by being active, participating in interesting projects, and realizing all my ideas for which I never had time.
You might think that I’m rather the exception than the rule, and that I’m an idealist to believe that these soft factors are strong enough to motivate us to work. I surely am an idealist, but the nice thing is, many observations in real life support my idealistic view. Take, for instance, all the unpaid work we can observe in our society. As an example, 30% of the workers in Germany are doing voluntary work next to their work. 30% of the people that work most of their lifetime decide to do unpaid work in their free time. They must be crazy. But believe me, it’s getting crazier than this.
‘Descape’ is a startup based here in Berlin that offers time outs from your day job with short trips in other work areas. The crazy part? These people pay for these trips. They pay to do another person’s job! And we shouldn’t forget the craziest ones, and at the same time, the luckiest ones: the lottery winners.
A study conducted in the USA surveyed 117 lottery winners, with an average winning of $3.6 million. The study found that 85% of these lottery winners continued to work after winning the lottery. Let me conclude these observations with an open question.
Let us assume that you believe me, that most of us would work, even if they didn’t have to, but there are other few lazy ones who wouldn’t work anymore. In such a case, does it make sense to hold on to a system that focuses on the few lazy ones by trying to make them work, instead of moving to another system that focuses on the majority that wants to work by giving them the freedom to be productive?