Working 4 days to work better
After the health crisis – and even while it still looms over us – the 4-day work week will undeniably be a viable path to take to rebuild economies. However, our Western societies don’t have – or rather no longer have – the means to put it in place. Since the great financial crisis of 2007-2008, employees and workers are in reality working more in order to make up for dwindling incomes, while this pursuit (brought into the fray by the impoverishment of our Western nations) might actually have led us, today in 2020, to have one week of work less on average over the year. It is in fact the opposite scenario and its perverse effects that are unfolding, because decades of gradually declining working hours have been abruptly interrupted from roughly 2010 onwards.
Furthermore, automation, digitalisation and artificial intelligence that were meant to make life easier for humans benefit only a tiny minority. Sometimes they even produce consequences that are diametrically opposed to this, with hundreds of thousands of what I will call “net workers” finding themselves in a totally precarious state because some platforms, that I will not deign to cite, exploit them to excess in exchange for derisory salaries. The economic fundamentals therefore do not in any way support reducing working hours for the same pay, and our world seems condemned to perpetuate the 5-day working week put in place by Henry Ford in 1926, nearly a century ago.
Our businesses would, however, increase their competitiveness if the 4-day working week was introduced, as has been shown in the UK and New Zealand, with live experiments conducted in SMEs and also in public service. In fact, the reduction of stress, better health, improved family life along with motivated employees who want to keep enjoying this benefit has led to improved productivity rates, from 20 to 30%. Since the 4-day working week was voted in by the generation born between 1980 and 1995, companies that decide to adopt it could make even more considerable gains in productivity because they would then attract the most talented candidates and also those most determined to hang on to such precious flexibility. This is because this age group is pleading for the reduction of working hours not merely to improve their quality of life, but also to make the most of this time by refining their skills and training. The health crisis has demonstrated unequivocally our great ability to adapt to working from home, which has allowed many people to work on days of their choosing and even hours of their choosing, without having to conform to a traditional office routine of Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. Why would those who are lucky enough to have an office job, a computer and an internet connection not be able to fulfil their duties in small bursts over the course of a day?
With help from the health crisis and the recession that will follow, the 4-day week is set to be propelled to the forefront of the economic scene. More generally, work flexibility is about to become the dominant theme and burning question for a whole generation of workers who have the opportunity to exchange a bit of income for a better quality of life, for less time lost to the commute, for better training, for a healthier planet and of course for improved production in terms of tasks accomplished. Companies – like governments – that decide to ignore this growing tendency will do so at their own peril, because the overwhelming majority of the workforce is ready for this new era.