Work is what we create, not what we do.
Microsoft just ran a trail of a 4 day week in Japan, a country known for a culture of over work. So much so, they even have a word, Karoshi, meaning literally ‘Overwork Death’. When Microsoft introduced a four day week, productivity increased by 40%. According to Business Insider… “Some environmentalists have suggested that working less could be useful to curbing climate change, as workers consume fewer resources during their commutes. In Microsoft’s case, electricity use went down nearly 25%.” A four day week for the employees does not need to translate as a four day week for the companies. A five day a week company, employing people on four day week roles, would create a 20% on average reduction in commuter traffic. Scaled up, this policy could take a huge amount of pressure off our roads and rail, as well as ourselves and families.
Could this work here? The average hours per week worked in the UK is supposedly 42.5, according to Eurostat, the European statistics agency, and I’m sure that’s a very exciting place to work. The stats are used to inform policy, and are clearly made up numbers. Greece claims to have an average working week in excess of 44 hours. Or perhaps that’s the total hours worked, for the entire population.
This is one of the foolish things about statistics. People believe them. So how many hours do we really work? Well it rather depends, doesn’t it, on what job you do, and how often you do it. Is it one of those jobs where you ‘clock in’ and are either working, or not, or one of those jobs where you spend a couple of hours in the evening responding to emails, and a few hours on Sunday getting ready for Monday meetings, and even when you’re on holiday, you’re probably dealing with something and getting something done. If you work in retail, or manufacturing, or frontline services, you’re probably at work, or not. And if you work more than the allotted time, you’ll be paid overtime. Overtime, that’s a concept that basically doesn’t exist in tech, media, and creative industries. You work, and you get things done, and that’s how it is. Generally, you’re being paid for your outcomes rather than your time. Whereas in other kinds of jobs, one is paid for time worked, regardless of outcomes. A salary rather than a wage, I suppose. Other jobs have zero hours contracts. Others are part time, deliberately so.
My point. Should we have a four day week? Ideally not as an obligatory ‘workers rights’ legislation, but as a cultural norm, a collective choice? I think it would have an interesting effect on lives and culture, and I would be all for it. What would people do in the time off? Spend it with families, be creative, do voluntary work? Having more leisure time creates an increase in leisure activities, which in turn expands that area of the economy, including increasing employment in those areas. And would that have a positive impact on people’s physical health and mental wellbeing, certainly yes, and would that in turn reduce pressure on the NHS, yes, and would it benefit us as human beings? Clearly, yes.
The practical effect would be a 7 day a week economy, as we have now, but an increase in role sharing within organisations whereby people tended to work four days out of seven.
Personally I like to have Wednesday as a ‘mini sabbath’. Work two days. Have a day off. Work another two days. Have two days off. I declare Wednesday my additional day of rest and play. Does this mean I ‘work less’? It depends on how you measure work. By the hours put in, or by the output? If the work is the output, not the hours, then work is what we create, not what we do. That’s a different way of looking at life entirely.