The 4-day week: Is it work­able?

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BUSINESS - By Amie Tsang NEW YORK TIMES

LON­DON — More work­places around the world are em­brac­ing tech­nol­ogy, and a greater ar­ray of tasks is be­ing au­to­mated. In the eyes of one ma­jor Bri­tish la­bor or­ga­ni­za­tion, that need not be a threat to work­ers, but might in­stead of­fer an op­por­tu­nity: less time work­ing.

“I be­lieve that in this cen­tury, we can win a four-day work­ing week, with de­cent pay for ev­ery­one,” Frances O’Grady, the head of the Trades Union Congress, an um­brella group, said in a speech at the la­bor fed­er­a­tion’s an­nual con­fer­ence. That, she said, would help work­ers reap the ben­e­fits of tech­no­log­i­cal change.

Econ­o­mist John May­nard Keynes had pre­dicted that peo­ple would even­tu­ally work for just 15 hours a week. In­stead, tech­nol­ogy has led to un­pre­dictable, more in­ten­sive, and longer hours at work, the Trades Union Congress said.

“This is a re­turn to the days of piece­work, cre­at­ing a cul­ture where work­ers are re­quired to be con­stantly avail­able to work,” the group said in a report.

It is not the only or­ga­ni­za­tion scru­ti­niz­ing how tech­nol­ogy af­fects pro­duc­tiv­ity and work-life bal­ance. Who is ex­per­i­ment­ing with a shorter work­week?

• A trial of a six-hour work­day in Gothen­burg, Swe­den, led to hap­pier, health­ier and more pro­duc­tive em­ploy­ees. The prob­lem: It was too ex­pen­sive.

• Per­pet­ual Guardian, a firm that man­ages trusts and es­tates in New Zealand, in­sti­tuted a four-day week and kept wages the same. It said pro­duc­tiv­ity in­creased among its staff when their work­ing hours were re­duced to 32 hours from 40. The com­pany is con­sid­er­ing whether to make the change per­ma­nent.

• In an ef­fort to close a hefty gap in its state bud­get in the years af­ter the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, Utah trimmed the work­week. Pro­po­nents said the move had the ef­fect of im­prov­ing the of­fer­ing of gov­ern­ment ser­vices avail­able on­line and was bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment, but the state also ben­e­fited from vol­un­teer groups pick­ing up the slack when gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions were closed.

• Ama­zon tested a small pi­lot pro­gram for a 30-hour work­week, in which staff worked re­duced hours, though for re­duced pay.

What else is be­ing done to guard against en­croach­ing tech­nol­ogy?

• France has cre­ated a law giv­ing work­ers the “right to dis­con­nect.” It re­quires com­pa­nies with more than 50 em­ploy­ees to ne­go­ti­ate a new pro­to­col to en­sure work does not spill into af­ter-work hours, an ef­fort to pre­vent cases of burnout.

• Ger­many’s La­bor Min­istry or­dered su­per­vi­sors in 2013 not to con­tact em­ploy­ees out­side of­fice hours.

Tom Jamieson / New York Times

A union of­fi­cial called for a four-day week for Bri­tish work­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.