Three-day weekend for the greater good

Posted: August 17, 2012 in Opinion piece
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Speak to anyone these days and a common theme usually begins to develop. Well, other than complaints about the weather. They hate their job. They are drained from their job. They wish they had another job. They wish their job wasn’t so demanding. Folks, I have the solution, if you’ll give me a few moments of your time, and it’s not as ludicrous as it sounds. I give you: the four day week.

Now to outline right away, Bob Black’s ‘Abolition of Work’ and The Venus Project are particular favourites of mine, but Rome was not built in a day, and evolution rather than revolution is more easily widely accepted.

Now I’ll try to articulate the arguments in favour in some kind of coherent order. First of all, the most obvious: a four-day week would leave the whole populace more refreshed and rested, and therefore less stressed. This would not only be beneficial to them, but to their employers, who would no doubt see a rise in efficiency and punctuality, as well as a long-term reduction in sickness through exhaustion, stress or depression. So if we see past the immediate, and apparently self-serving benefit of more time off for the employee, it actually benefits everyone.

And when I say everyone, I don’t just simply mean the simple dichotomy of employer and employee. I’m referring to the families of said employee, their friends, and yes, even the State. It is a sad acknowledgement across class divides that parents do not spend enough time around their children. There isn’t an obvious direct correlation, but of course this may affect the next generation of adults in their own thinking, breeding resentment and regrets, as well as a potential lack of boundaries carried through into their adult lives. Families who have a lot of contact tend to be more closely binded and loyal, bringing up well-adjusted offspring, though of course this is not black and white. These circumstances would merely increase the chances of this scenario. Friends would have more time to see each other, employers would see a happier, more productive workforce, and the State would almost certainly see a drop in the number of people claiming sickness through ailments like depression, chronic fatigue and suchlike.

These are simply the direct benefits of the idea. Now for the indirect benefits. It is often said that work consumes too much of our waking lives. After all, when we are not working, we are travelling to and from work, dressing and readying ourselves for work, worrying about work, or recuperating from work. It may even deprive us of sleep. With three permanent days of leisure to look forward to, there is plenty of time to recharge. This also means more family time where parents are not burned out. This also means more shopping and attractions, meaning more money circulating in the economy. More money circulating in the economy means more demand. More demand means more jobs. More jobs means more opportunities means less unemployed claimants: another coup for the Government. This could mean direct or indirect taxation could be reduced, meaning a more popular Government.

We would have more time to visit relatives and friends we wouldn’t immediately make time for, potentially alleviating loneliness and distress, again reducing the burden on social care and the NHS. This extra downtime would also allow the individual to pursue other interests, train themselves to become more skilled and fulfilled, improving the workforce and the citizen at the same time. Creativity would shoot up, leading to more art, crafts and expressions for fulfilment and enjoyment. Energy consumption would potentially go down, as people wouldn’t attempt to cram quite so much into their days off, and maybe enjoy nature or outdoor pursuits.

One of the most important aspects to come out of this would be the increase in voluntary work, for charities or community interests. People would be far happier to devote their time to things that don’t depend on money, and the whole of society would benefit: particularly the mental wellbeing of the person volunteering. Crime would go down, as people would be more attentive, less stressed and desperate, and less likely to fly off the handle. As for crime reduction, did I mention what would need to happen to cover the shortfall, should a company want to retain its operating hours?

The immediate demand that would arise from this reduction in hours would be for more employees. Think of how much the unemployment figures would fall! Full employment would not be just a pipedream. We could go from having 85% of the population employed, to 98% overnight. You then factor in the positive consequences of this: greater mental health and a stake in society for those now employed, as well as greater tax receipts. Crime driven by financial desperation would be reduced massively. If we, say, legalised all drugs at the same time and brought them under State control, with rehabilitation programmes and clean substances only, most forms of crime would plummet.

Now for the cons. How do we answer the questions asked of this radical labour overhaul? Wouldn’t more idle time lead to more youth crime or booze-soaked three-day weekends in city centres? Well, I would suggest not if they were in employment, as most youth gangs usually operate outside societal conventions as it is. The drug programme would deal with this in a way that other forms of action could not. Going out on a limb, I would suggest alcoholism would go down, as not only would work pressures ease, but opportunities would increase, thus painting a far more positive picture for the depressed or disenfranchised, though of course these social problems have no magic cure. Using alcohol as a tool to forget would definitely decrease with the extra time available to devote to improving oneself, as well as less stress from a job you may not be comfortable with.

What about wages though? Who could survive on four days’ wages? Well, now this is realistically the only hurdle to our aim. Businesses would have to increase their rates in order to make the four-day week as financially worthy as the five-day week. Of course, this would be unpopular. But, with a little long-sighted thinking, it makes sense. I would argue most would be as productive over four days, and would see no issue with staying late to get the same level of work completed. Add this to less sick days, happier staff and the effect of more demand from the greater economy, and it’s clear that this is in every business’s long-term interest. If the question of money is raised, we only need to point to the pay ratios of larger firms to illustrate that there is clearly the financial clout to carry this project through in the short-term, and in the long-term it leaves all of us richer, including those at the top of the pyramid.

Small firms should of course have a longer timescale to cope with these changes, but even now not every single business or service operates a five-day working week. Many people already work six days a week, but the standard for the majority is five days, and this would be the watchword with the new scheme. Four days would not be the only structure, but it would be the dominant structure. There would, as always, be opportunity for overtime and such, in order not to limit earning potential, but the majority could earn a good standard of living in the four-day week.

Let me make my position crystal clear: it is both callous and nonsensical that we have a system meaning some people live only for work, never switching off for a full day, whilst others cannot find work at all. We have all the automation and personnel in place for this change tomorrow. Literally the only significant hurdle is the cries of big business against the perceived increase in wages for apparently less work (though as I have pointed out I don’t think this would be the case anyway). Does this sound like a better world to you? All it would take would be collective will. What do we have to lose?

Despite most relating to the US, these are enlightening links:

  1. Sure, good idea. Places that need to be open seven days would also hire three-day workers. More people would have jobs. Lots of benefits to society. Problem is most businesses don’t care about society, so it’s not likely to ever become the norm unless it’s legislated, and you know how people go berserk when that word is used.

    • Very true. This is the crux of the problem. Business is meant to take care of business, while state is meant to take care of citizens. The purpose of business is to turn a profit. Beyond that is pretty much optional. The whole purpose of the state is to protect the people who may be affected negatively by actions of said businesses, thus we have legislation they must follow. Despite complaints, they will usually find they still turn a good profit, sometimes more so.
      Having a Government which claims to support businesses over individuals is perverse in itself, and as you correctly say, this mindset has successfully persuaded the ignorant public, through the media, that any ‘legislation’ imposed on business is bad. I don’t know exactly how we overcome this, other than building a consensus of informed supporters.

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