Since the pandemic first shuttered US businesses in March 2020, the job market has been on everyone’s mind. Who is eligible for unemployment? Will the economy ever recover? When do we reopen?
Blissfully ignoring these questions are time millionaires. Wealthy in minutes, not necessarily money, these people have found ways to adapt to the changing times.
Because it’s true, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the American workforce forever. And time millionaires have a new idea of the American worker’s most valuable commodity.
What Is A Time Millionaire?
Nilanjana Roy first coined the term “time millionaire” in a 2016 Financial Times column. Time millionaires “measure their worth not in terms of financial capital, but according to the seconds, minutes, and hours they claw back from employment for leisure and recreation.”
The Guardian spoke with several self-proclaimed time millionaires, people like Gavin, a software engineer, who works hard at not working.
“I work to pay my bills and keep a roof over my head,” he told The Guardian. “I don’t see any value or purpose in work. Zero. None whatsoever.”
Gavin explained that he always sought ways to work less. While employed at a call center, he would mute his phone. Another position as a civil servant was largely spent eating, as he would regularly take an hour for breakfast and two hours for lunch.
Now as a software engineer working from home, Gavin begins his day bright and early at 8:30am, only to wrap up around 11am. To make it appear he’s still online and “working,” Gavin plays a 10-hour long YouTube video of a black screen.
And apparently, his boss is none the wiser. “My boss is happy with the work I’m doing,” he told The Guardian. “Or more accurately, the work he thinks I’m doing.”
Instead, Gavin is enjoying the short time he has on this earth, doing what he wants to do. This is what a time millionaire is all about. And Gavin isn’t alone.
COVID-19 Put A Lot Into Perspective
While many people might not have been as brazen or extreme as Gavin when it came to their work mentality, the pandemic put a lot in perspective. That included mistreatment at work, poor wages, insane hours, burnout, or even seeing that many previous rules (like working in-office) weren’t necessary at all.
“The pandemic was this massive controlled experiment in forcing people to embrace a different way of working. What we saw was the opposite of what executives had been telling employees for decades,” author Charlie Warzel told The Guardian.
“Productivity and profits rose. Now, people are wondering what else employers were wrong about. What other ways of working have gotten out of sync?” Warzel continued.
Swapping Money For Minutes
Nilanjan Roy wrote in FT that “wealth can bring comfort and security in its wake. But I wish we were taught to place as high a value on our time as we do on our bank accounts. Because how you spend your hours and your days is how you spend your life.”
And in today’s world of remote working, it can be far too easy to blend work and home time. Jenny Odell, the author of How to Do Nothing, says this has turned time into a commodity.
“In a situation where every waking moment has become the time in which we make our living, time becomes an economic resource that we can no longer justify spending on ‘nothing,’” Odell says.
“We even submit our leisure for numerical evaluation via likes on Facebook. [Doing nothing] provides no return on investment. It is simply too expensive,” she continues.
Time millionaires are challenging this exact idea. It might be time for the rest of the workforce to follow suit.
What The Future Workforce Might Look Like
“If society was truly progressive,” Roy argues, “it would not work people to the bone in the first place.” Nor would it assume “that leisure, time to rest, and time to be with your family is only for the wealthy.”
A society in which work isn’t prioritized might seem über-progressive for American standards. But most of us are already on board.
The American worker has lost their power in the last few decades. In a world where the dollar’s value is fleeting and gold reserves are dwindling, time might be the last real commodity we have to use to our advantage.