The term downshifting (also downsizing or downgrading) is used in the work environment in the sense of „downshifting“. It refers to the reduction of working hours in order to lead a more fulfilling life with more family and leisure time. In the German-speaking world, it is also referred to as „deceleration“.
What is Downshifting? Meaning, definition, explanation
With the goal of downshifting, employees:inside forgo a salary increase or the next step on the career ladder, which is often associated with more prestige. However, they receive something in return, which is not necessarily material, but can be measured ideally. The desire to work less comes from the employees themselves and is not expressed by their superiors.
Downshifting is the voluntary decision to take a career step backward, which has negative social connotations but is not perceived as a step backward. While reducing working hours means less money for most downshifters, its positive consequences have complex effects. Not only does the worker:in, the whole family benefits.
Where does the term downshifting come from? Word history, origin
Economic philosopher Charles Handy coined the term in the 1990s. He is one of the most renowned thinkers on management of our time and has written over 20 books. He is considered the quintessential „guru“ among colleagues. Handy impresses with his ability to think decades ahead in economic, technological and social terms. Many of his ideas, often considered radical, have come to fruition. During his active years, he was intensively involved with the changes brought about by digitization and the search for meaning after profit-making.
Social changes make rethinking necessary
Our society is undergoing major changes. Even the traditional image of the career stages that one climbs in order to be successful is increasingly being shaken. Today, a higher position is no longer necessarily equated with better social status, and others who have not made it superficially are devalued. Employees no longer find themselves in this simple black-and-white pattern of thought.
The desire for flexible working hours, a sabattical or job sharing is being expressed more and more frequently. This is partly due to changes in the role models of men and women, but also to a greater appreciation of a simpler, more natural life. People are seeking their personal happiness less and less in their jobs, because they have also recognized the downsides of typical professional careers. Every profession and every job has its advantages and disadvantages. It is important to weigh both sides individually and then make the best possible decision for oneself.
Why do downshifters change jobs?
The motivation for downshifting is as individual as people are. What they all have in common, however, is a very high level of motivation. In the meantime, one in three employees would like to take a shorter career. Most of them want to achieve a better work-life balance. In many cases, however, health reasons are also behind the decision.
According to an Austrian study (BMA) from 2021, 48% of all employees are at risk of burnout in a career-focused life. Generations Y and Z want more flexibility and autonomy. Unlike Generation X, they are no longer focused on climbing the career ladder and top salaries.
What are the opportunities for downshifting?
One would like to move from being a supervisor back to being a team member at the same hierarchical level, managers back to being specialists, or full-time employees back to being part-time. Many aspire to swap their full-time office job for a home office job reduced by a few hours. Whether you switch back to your old employer:in or turn your hobby into a career, there are very many opportunities for downshifting.
Consciously taking a career step back doesn’t necessarily have to mean a lower workload; often, it’s just a change in focus. This in itself brings about positive changes. When employees perform tasks that are more meaningful to them, they become happier, healthier and perform better.
We live in a society focused on success and performance. Even though the view of this is slowly changing, it is still considered a loss of face to reduce your hours or move to a lower position. Because they do not want to expose themselves to hostility, downshifters rarely stay with their old company, but instead change companies. Companies thus miss out on great potential, because qualified employees not only possess experience and know-how, they are also a source of new ideas. In times of rampant shortages of skilled workers, it therefore makes more sense to respond more to the wishes of employees and to fully exploit their potential.
Positive consequences of downshifting
Those who opt for downshifting gain more personal freedom, reduce psychological and physical stress and improve their quality of life. Downshifters gain additional free time, which they can now fill in a meaningful way. Many who have put their careers on the back burner report that they are much more aware of the new activity and are more productive. All of this has a positive effect on short- and long-term health. Financial losses do not necessarily have to be negative, because in many cases downshifters reduce their consumption so that the minus balances out again.
Many studies have already proven that reduced hours increase productivity at the workplace. This is because exhausted and stressed colleagues perform less and have more absenteeism than relaxed employees. Many experts consider a 6-hour workday to be the optimal solution. This model is already successfully practiced in many Swedish companies. Colleagues are demonstrably more motivated, more focused and therefore more productive. Australian researchers found that working more than 39 hours a week and the resulting lack of time is harmful. People who work too much can’t take good enough care of themselves (self-care). Those in the study were more nervous and smokers were more likely to reach for a cigarette.
Negative consequences of downshifting
The financial losses can lead to a reduction in living standards. Loss of status can also affect people more than they previously admitted. It is possible that downshifters destroy career options for themselves through their behavior. In the new lifestyle of downsizing, there is also pressure of expectations (often one’s own expectations) that cannot always be met. Furthermore, those who take a step back on the career ladder must expect little understanding for their actions. This increases social pressure and can generate stress once again.