There is a lot of information out there about things we can do in our lives to be more environmentally sustainable, but there is not so much about what people can do to make their lives more socially sustainable. This is probably because social sustainability is something that most people never consider. We just accept the stress of life as something that comes along with growing up and having responsibility. We accept the stress of the five day work week, and we believe it is natural.
I recently read The Seven-Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler, the CEO of Semco, which made me think differently. In his book, Semler explains the progressive way in which his company operates. He has given up control of the company and trusts his employees to make good decisions for the company and to be productive.
At Semco, employees set their own hours, choose which products they want to work on, set their own pay, and all meetings are optional. If no one shows up to a meeting, the topic is deemed unimportant and is not discussed. This system allows employees to pick their kids up from school and to work on projects they feel have meaning. When employees are feeling stressed or unproductive, they can take the afternoon off instead of being forced to sit in a cubicle (Semco, of course, has no cubicles). My favorite example of the freedom employees at Semco have is the upper-level manager who has a standing movie date with his wife every Tuesday at 2:00PM. Imagine how nice, relaxing, and rejuvenating it would be to take every Tuesday afternoon off!
You may think that this system is not financially sustainable because employees would never work given the choice. But this is not true. Employees at Semco understand that they need to produce in order for the company, and therefore their jobs, to survive. Because they have so much freedom, they feel some sense of ownership over their product and the success of the company.
Semco employees enjoy a much more socially sustainable life than the average employee because of the work-life balance they are able to choose for themselves. They are able to spend time with their families and friends during the day on weekdays (what a concept!). They can run errands when necessary. They are more productive at work because when they are there, they actually want to be there. They are free to live their lives and set their own schedules because they are treated like adults. Revolutionary thought, eh?