By James Galwey
THE FOUR-DAY WEEK
Do we really want to go back to normal when normal was the problem in the first place?
As if there weren’t already enough reasons for a four-day week, we now have one more. Yes, the country leader most of the world would like as their chief, Jacinda Arden, the PM of New Zealand, came out last week saying businesses should seriously look into the idea. With borders closed and no international tourists, locals should be given longer weekends to go out and spend money in the tourist hotspots to stimulate the economy. Makes sense.
The coronavirus period has seen record numbers of people working from home and arranging their own hours. All around the world, work shifts have been rethought and rearranged with people being reorganized around ever-changing, improvised systems of production and trade. And for the most part, it seems as if people have managed to juggle home and work life with relative ease. So, with the virus threat now receding (for the moment), people are asking themselves if really they want a return to the way things were.
Do people really want to go back to working the rigid, stressful, demoralizing, 9 to 5, Monday to Friday system?
Bad working conditions can lead to burnouts can lead to depression, breakdowns and other physical and mental health issues; it can lead to someone losing their job – and when you’re in a fragile state of mind, a job loss can be devastating. Some people don’t get over it and spiral out of control, the first step on the slide to the street.
Is it any surprise? People are pushed to perform five days a week, rest for two and then restart the process, with maybe four weeks off during the year. And it isn’t as if those two days off are exactly restful – there’s the shopping, laundry, cleaning, looking after the kids and food to make. When’s the time for friends? When’s the time for dreaming? When’s the time to sit around and do nothing? It’s just as important as breathing.
Big business is starting to notice, of course, because it is not just the human cost, it’s their bottom line, their profit that’s at risk. Forbes magazine estimates that the annual cost of burnout to the global economy is $323 billion. Such costs have led the World Health Organization to predict a global pandemic (another one) within a decade.
Before all of this corona-madness kicked off, it was revealed that Microsoft Japan, one of the biggest companies in the world, was toying with the idea after a successful trial study. The result was a productivity boost of 40%.
It shouldn't come as a surprise: repeated studies in the UK and USA have shown that in an 8-hour day at the office on average people work for only 3 hours. After time spent browsing the Internet, chatting with colleagues and coffee breaks, there isn’t much time for work. Why? Because people feel they do not have enough time for themselves so they make it up at work.
Microsoft Japan’s study also noticed other benefits: 23% lower electricity costs and 58% fewer photocopies. And don’t forget reduced water waste as fewer workers meant less flushing and hand washing, and less people crowding metros or in their cars polluting the city in traffic jams.
So, let’s have a serious think about this question. Do we live to work, or work to live?
Credit James Galwey