It seems logical that at some point we will reach the limits of our productive capacity as living and breathing humans, who need sleep, rest, time to prepare healthy meals, participate in our communities and take care of our children and the elderly.
The success of the four-day workweek trials in Iceland, in particular, suggests that we may already be there. Not only were workers happier, but companies reported increased productivity among workers.
How can this be so? Well, it makes sense that workers who are more rested may be able to apply more productively in a shorter work week. It has also been suggested that fewer meetings and emails help increase productivity.
Above all, the idea is not to try to reduce a full 38-hour workweek into four days. Rather, workers continue to work the hours of a standard workday on just four days of the week. Without a corresponding reduction in pay, this represents an increase in their hourly rates of pay of 20 percent.
But is it possible for the entire workforce in an economy to switch to a four-day week? While that sounds good, it would require a compensatory change in consumer attitudes about when we expect things to be open.
We all want hospitals to be open every day and schools every day of the week. We also really like being able to pop into the stores when it suits us. Employers, in general, prefer that workers’ leisure time be increased in the form of increased annual leave, so that leave periods can be allocated flexibly to keep the doors open.
But for non-client jobs, the idea of a four-day week remains intriguing, indeed.
In reality, nothing is set in our current five-day or 40-hour workweek. Before this century, much longer working hours and weekend work were the norm. Our current work week is the product of evolution and worker campaigns. I see no reason for this to stop now. Far from there.
The economy suggests that the richer we get, the more we tend to prefer more leisure to more money. Once we have reached a certain level of material comfort, our main problems are not a lack of money, but a lack of time to spend it.
Given this period, the advent of regular three-day weekends would likely lead to increased spending on tourism and retail. During the week, families with two working parents would also find it easier to share work and care responsibilities more equitably – the stigma of shorter work weeks removed for both men and women.
It may all sound like a pipe dream. But not so long ago, so was the prospect of widespread working from home. If the emerging evidence is to be believed, a four-day work week could result in more relaxed and productive workers.
Something to consider before we all go back to “business as usual”.
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