Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Should we all be working a four day week?

Momentum is gathering behind the idea that Monday to Friday jobs may not be so hot for the company or for society as a whole. This isn’t a new idea. Philosophers from Confucius to Karl Marx and Bertrand Russell have contended that we work too much. Other radical philosophers have argued that we shouldn’t even bother working at all.

But what is emerging now is a more pragmatic school of thought which doesn’t denounce work outright, it just thinks our work lives could be better if they were structured a little differently. Recent experiments in tinkering with working hours have yielded fruitful results. The most popular of which is the idea of the four day working week. This can be applied in different ways. For those who simply wish to work less, or institutions that want to cut the wage bill, workers would simply work four days instead of five – 32 hours instead of 40.

Such an approach obviously has its drawbacks. A lot of employees would struggle to cope with a 20% pay cut. This is not only bad for those individuals, it could suck demand out of the economy since people won’t have as much money to spend. But economist and author Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation says we should be content to consume less. Not just for our own spiritual wellbeing, but for the future of the planet. He isn't the first, and he won't be the last to say that, and for good reason. It's a very convincing argument, if difficult to convert those in power toward.

A more pragmatic approach was taken by former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. In a bid to cut state spending, he implemented a four day work week for state employees. They were still expected to do the same amount of work – 40 hours in a four day week – but all the state’s buildings closed on the fifth day, making huge savings on resources such as electricity and fuel for the state’s vehicles. The four day week not only saved money, it was popular with the workforce. 8 out of 10 liked it better than working five days, while over 60% said it made them more productive. And of course, pretty much everybody loved the three-day weekends.