There is growing support from the public and private sector that the solution to the crisis could lie not in working more, but in working less, but more productively.
This is an idea I have written about before, and is one that now sounds more and more like a possibility: after all, the five-working-day week is an artificial convention that can be modified. Experiments carried out around the world seem to show that reducing the time we spend working has its merits: Swedes were more productive and motivated, as were Microsoft employees in Japan, along with people working at Target Publishing, Unilever and UK supermarket Morrisons. A British think tank, Autonomy has launched a nationwide campaign arguing that as we approach the end of the pandemic, a shorter working week would produce a healthier society with lower levels of unemployment.
Not too many decades ago, we worked 10 hours a day, six days a week. The current convention of an eight-hour, five-day week began in 1908 for religious reasons: Jewish workers in a factory were free on Saturday and worked on Sunday, something that offended some Christian workers and that the management decided to solve by proposing to free both days. But there is no reason that this convention, the result of a decision made more than a century, cannot be overruled.
A number of companies recently evaluated the idea of a four-day week in exchange for lower wages. However, after seeing the productivity increases that resulted from subjecting their workers to lower stress levels, they decided to return to the previous salary scheme along with the four-day week. One of the proponents of the system, Aidan Harper, has long promoted the idea among European politicians and regulators with his book “The Case For a Four-Day Week”, arguing forcefully that this is an idea whose time has come.
At the beginning of last year, Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, proposed a flexible scheme that would allow a choice between four-day weeks or six-hour days, with the idea that progress and technology have generated higher levels of productivity over time, and that this should result in a better balance between work and free time. Technological development and robotization are, in fact, one of the most common reasons to justify change.
Most of us have known nothing other than an eight-hour, five-day week. But after a pandemic that has disrupted many of our habits, that has taught us to work flexibly from home and to rethink many aspects of our lives… perhaps as a society we are now open to other innovations. Does it make sense, during crisis, to move to working fewer hours for the same money?
This post was previously published on Medium.
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