Whoever said hard work was the road to success never tried being lazy
Keynes famously predicted that his grandchildren would be working 15 hour weeks. For most of us this is a pipe dream. It's not like your salary is about to increase to compensate and the mortgage has to be paid. Perhaps a two day week is unrealistic but increasingly alternatives to the nine to five times five are an option. Work from home? Check. Work from the Bahamas? Check check. Four days a week? Sure, why not. Let's look closer at the four day week.
There is a personal trade-off between extra leisure and income
The question is, what would you be willing to give up to work less? For 20% of your paycheck an employer may be willing to negotiate a four day rather than a five day week. In addition, you may find you miss out on promotion and learning opportunities. Some work cultures can make it challenging to miss a day of work, particularly if your colleagues expect you to be there. How do you guarantee that you won't be bombarded by phone calls on your day off? Some business models can also make it challenging. If a consultancy business runs on time billed to clients, adding an extra day to the weekend could affect the bottom-line.
Extra leisure time can make the sacrifice worth it. If you don't need the extra $$$ why not "spend" it on leisure? As far as I am aware of you can't bring your $$$ with you to the afterlife anyway. The opportunity to spend more time with your family or pursue hobbies is game-changing.
Organisations should experiment with different work arrangements
Four-day working weeks are an ongoing experiment. Different organisations have tried it out with mixed results. From an employee perspective, the extra day off is beneficial and productivity per hour improves. However, some people can find the extra pressure to get five days of work done in four challenging. Employers enjoy reduced operating costs by closing the office for the day. Finland's Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, has recently floated the idea of a four-day workweek. New Zealand trust company Perpetual Guardian ran an experimental four-day workweek in 2018 with positive results for employee well-being and climate change.
These experiments are fantastic initiatives in understanding the interaction between people, work and the economy. If governments and organisations can cut work hours, maintain productivity and increase leisure time that would be an elusive win-win-win.
Is productivity more important than hours worked?
Productivity is an interesting factor to investigate. Raise your hand if you put in 100% effort eight hours a day. No one? Didn't think so. With a four-day workweek, we theoretically operate more efficiently as we are more relaxed. Furthermore, we are forced to be efficient with fewer hours on the clock. It's not like everything we do at work truly makes a difference to customers and revenue. If we work fewer hours but this is made up for with increased productivity per hour, that is a good thing. It also justifies similar pay while working those fewer hours. Theoretically, reducing work hours can improve people's well-being with limited economic ramifications if productivity can increase sufficiently.
The most exciting thing here is choice and flexibility. Empowering people to work the way they want is beneficial for well-being. Moving beyond the cookie-cutter 9 to 5 x 5 allows people and organisations to design work agreements that suit everyone's needs. Working from home policies and flexible hours gives people the power to design their day the way they see fit. Alternative work arrangements will work for some but not for others. That is to be expected and respected. Organisations should be open to accommodate a range of work arrangements that fit people's preferences (within reason). Flexibility around work schedules and locations is the way of the future and should be embraced.
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