Front page: The four-day working week revolution – Is New Zealand being left behind?
There is a growing movement around the world to reduce the time spent at work. Photo/Getty Images
More than 3,300 workers from 70 companies in the UK are at the start of a four-day working week trial that will last six months.
The progress of the trial will be observed by researchers from the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and Boston College – and the results could serve as a model for the four-day week to be adopted more widely.
New Zealand businessman Andrew Barnes, who made global headlines in 2018 for his four-day weeklong trial at the Perpetual Guardian financial trust, told the Front Page podcast the movement is rapidly gaining land across Europe.
“The four-day week has absolutely exploded in Europe,” says Barnes, who is currently working in the UK on the trial.
“The governments of Belgium, Spain, Romania, Lithuania and most recently Portugal have announced legislation for four-day weeks. There are also government-sponsored trials in Iceland, Scotland and Spain. And separately, we’ve had these big trials where we get companies together to try it for six months.”
While the four-day week has its origins in the Perpetual Guardian lawsuit, Barnes says he has seen “no movement at all in New Zealand”.
Barnes says he finds this particularly disappointing given the government’s focus on improving the wellbeing of New Zealanders.
“Interestingly, when New Zealand presented its wellbeing budget, it did so alongside Iceland and Scotland, both of which have implemented or announced weekly trials. of four days.
“It’s the ultimate wellness strategy. It’s tackling mental health. It’s tackling family cohesion. It’s tackling the gender pay gap. And it’s tackling the twin problems of emissions and traffic.To be fair, it’s probably too radical for all political parties, which is why we haven’t seen any movement.
The four-day week has its detractors, with critics wondering how they could get all their work done in a condensed four-day week period.
Barnes admits it might be daunting to change the status quo, but he says the four-day week might, in fact, inspire workers to become more productive.
“If it’s built properly with the right incentives, it actually improves productivity in New Zealand. And if you give people more free time, it also acts as a stimulus for the economy. And that reflects the experience that Henry Ford found when he implemented the five-day week about a hundred years ago.”
Indeed, Ford was not inspired to change the work week due to altruistic motives. He simply realized that assembly line workers became less efficient after eight hours and instituted three shifts a day.
Many of the criticisms leveled at the four-day week today were also used to challenge the concept of the five-day work week when it was introduced by Ford.
“If you go back even further, there is no doubt that when we went from seven days to six days, or from 12 p.m. to 10 a.m. to eight a.m., there was a businessman with a mustache who lamented that his business wouldn’t be as productive,” Barnes said.
“But I refuse to believe that a form of labor introduced for repetitive manufacturing in the 1920s is relevant for the fourth industrial revolution and the 21st century.”
Professor Scott Galloway of New York University’s Stern School of Business points out that it took another 14 years before this way of working was codified into law. But he now warns that technology, which keeps us hooked on our jobs, is making it increasingly difficult to stick to a set working day.
“Like a bone-destroying infection, technology eats away at the 40-hour backbone of our working structure,” Galloway writes.
“No factory whistle interrupts email or Slack. Our great-grandparents fought to give us the right to come home at 5 p.m., and now we love slabs of infused glass of semiconductors bringing work home with us.”
In response to the growing problem of burnout, tech companies in the United States have been experimenting with adopting a four-day week. But in a world where customers expect to be served any time of the day throughout the week, it’s proving difficult for some to stick to a more condensed work week.
Other businesses have also expressed concern that they need to stay open as much as possible and simply cannot afford to have a three-day weekend.
Faced with this criticism, Barnes counters by saying that people tend to cling to the idea that the four-day week automatically involves Fridays off and a three-day weekend. This, Barnes explains, is a myth of the four-day week that practically cannot work in a world ruled by customer demands.
“The four-day week line is eye-catching, but that’s not what we’re talking about. What we’re really talking about is reducing working hours. It’s about reducing the working week. work at 32 hours – and in that you have a lot of flexibility.”
His argument is that it can take a variety of forms, and it certainly doesn’t imply that everyone will have a three-day weekend. In theory, the four-day week is more about removing the busy hours when workers aren’t actually productive.
Barnes fears the reluctance of New Zealand businesses and politicians to embrace the four-day week could hurt the country in the future. As more nations embrace the concept and seek to evolve the way they work, a country still shackled to the traditional nine-to-five approach might not be seen as attractive to talented workers.
“It’s an increasingly important thing to lead the world because it means that in the global competition for talent, we’re being left behind overseas. Companies are moving to four days and that’s what most young people want.
“How are we going to attract and retain this talent if we’re still stuck in a 19th or 20th century job construct?”
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.
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