Friday, October 30, 2009

For a four-day week

As an advocate of time-sovereignty and leisure, I naturally favour a shorter working week. Our time is valuable, and the more of it we get to spend on ourselves rather than waste working for other people having to earn a living, the better. Unfortunately, the economy is structured around a five-day working week, and bosses are highly resistant (I would say "hidebound") to efforts to change this. But two things have combined to shift work patterns to a four-day working week: climate change (and the desire to improve energy efficiency) and the recession. Together they have provided a natural experiment on its effects. And according to New Scientist, the preliminary data is good:

In August 2008, the state of Utah moved all of its employees, apart from the emergency services, to working 4/10, as it has become known. The hope was that by shutting down buildings for an extra day each week, energy bills would be slashed by up to a fifth.

The full results of this experiment won't be published until October, but an ongoing survey of 100 buildings suggests energy consumption has fallen by around 13 per cent. The survey also found that 70 per cent of employees prefer the 4/10 arrangement, and that people took fewer days off sick.

Meanwhile, surveys of firms which simply cut a day as a response to the recession show workers overwhelmingly voting with their feet for shorter hours, despite the 20% pay cut (something mirrored strongly in New Zealand). They also show that these arrangements improve morale and productivity. Less work is better for us.

The challenge now is to keep our time when the recession ends - and to some extent we have the upper hand. Where shorter hours are based on voluntary agreement, we can simply so "no" to efforts to return to the traditional regime. The recession is thus also an opportunity to regain some control over our lives. And we should take it.

[Hat-tip: The Standard]