Monday, December 2, 2019

A Four-Day Work Week? Be Careful What You Wish For

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All of a sudden we're learning that Microsoft is "testing" a 4 day work week. Indeed, the company had already commenced with an experiment earlier this year in Japan.   We also learn from a recent Denver Post Business article ('In Test Run, Four -Day Work Week Boosts Output', Nov, 10, p. 5K):

"Even in a country known for its extreme overwork, the shorter week had a big boost in prdoctivity".


"The test run, which took place in august and gave employees five consecutive Fridays off, boosted sales per employee by 40 % compared to the same month a year earlier....The test was billed as being part of a 'work life choice;  strategy helping employees work more flexibly."

A great boon to workers, especially with families?  Hold strain!  The shorter work week comes with a cost: less free time each day because you will now be working TEN hour days, not 8-hour.  And because corporate employers will still want to squeeze out that extra face time - just as 8 hour days becoming 9 or 10, look for 10 hour days becoming 11 or 12.  Don't think that's possible? Then you are fooling yourself. As one UK website points out:

"In reality, most employees on a four day week will most likely be expected to work the same 40-hour weeks, but in four days instead of five. In this case, shifts might be extended to 10 hours. Longer days could have a significant effect on your employees' stress levels and therefore their overall wellbeing and productivity. "

  As the Post piece also warns:

"Some smaller companies that have tried the idea cheer its benefits ...but they have also said it can lead to workers pushing the limits on long weekend scheduling and result in more pressure- filled days when people are on the job,"


"Some have warned the push could cut workers' pay, hurt competitiveness, and that a move toward reducing hours rather than legislating  cap is more desirable"

Indeed, futurist writers like Alvin Toffler, e.g.  in his two books,  'Future Shock' and 'The Third Wave', had predicted vastly increased leisure time for future U.S. citizens. For example, in the latter book, he wrote (p. 276):

"Thus we are moving toward a future economy to which very large numbers never hold full time paid jobs, or in which 'full time' is redefined .. .to mean a shorter or shorter work week or work year."

He then cited the case of Sweden in which a "full time" work year continued to mean "1840 hours" or in more practical terms, 1600 hours.   Using that example, then under the currently offered "4 day work week" one ought to expect 4 days with eight hours a day put in, no more.  This would be the work week redefined downward as Toffler indicated.

 We know that never came to pass given that more computers, added gizmos etc. simply compounded the volume of work and thereby increased the demand for more productivity.  All this tied to the GDP or GNP (gross national product)

Let's also please note that comparing the workaholic Japanese  and their productivity gains to those of American workers is  like comparing chalk and cheese.  This is perhaps why, according to the Post article:

"None of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates had embraced the idea (of the four day week) even though they have backed other ambitious ideas, such as universal basic income or a federal jobs guarantee."

But there really is no mystery in their avoidance here, as opposed to their embrace of the two other proposals. The reason is that they would know - as the UK website pointed out - there's vast room for corporate exploitation of this 4 day week, especially without legal caps on work hours.  So as the site noted, repeating it again:

"Longer days could have a significant effect on your employees' stress levels and therefore their overall wellbeing and productivity. 

SO why would any Dem candidate worth a grain of salt back such a daft proposal?  UBI or universal basic income on the other hand is a :"plus one" for workers in that they receive that money (most estimates are $1,000 a month) in addition to their wages.  Hence, can more easily pay off debts and keep up with medical bills etc.  As for the federal jobs guarantee, that is an unconditional plus for any unemployed but qualified person, again not open to exploitation like a four day work week would be.

What the Dem candidates WOULD back, but which we are unlikely to see from the Neoliberal corporatists,  is a TRUE 4 day week, meaning four,  eight -hour work days but with the pay scaled to a 5 day, 40 hour week.  In other words, less total hours worked but still receiving the same pay as for the longer, original  5-day  work week.

But as I wrote in previous blog posts, don't look for this alternative to happen anytime soon.  That better option isn't what's on offer  because economists keep to a rigid definition of GDP and what constitutes paid work.  As Toffler explained at the time (pp. 282-83):

"Should not a man or woman who stays home and rears a child, thereby contributing to the productivity of Sector B (the formal exchange sector market)  through his or her efforts in Sector A (the informal self-directed, unpaid labor market) receive some income even if he or she does not hold down a job in Sector B?"

This echoes what I wrote in a Feb. 5, 2018 post on the need to redefine the GDP:

"GDP is supposed to measure the total production and consumption of goods and services in the United States. But the numbers that make up the Gross Domestic Product by and large only capture the monetary transactions we can put a dollar value on  ....Almost everything else is left out.  ....In addition, there are hundreds of other contributions not registered that arguably have  major economic impacts. For example, a 2015 Forbes article highlighted how 40 million family caregivers in the U.S. are putting their own careers on hold to provide unpaid care — sometimes for decades.   The estimated  total value of the care has been put at nearly $1 trillion. This isn't reckoned into the GDP but IF it were,  the labor productivity would surely be much higher in the years since 2007."

As Toffler further observed (p. 280):

"There is no recognition as yet that actual production also takes place in Sector A  - that the goods and services produced for oneself are quite real, and that they may displace or substitute for goods and services turned out in Sector B.  Conventional production figures, especially GNP figures, will make less and less sense until we expand them to include what happens in Sector A."

To simplify all this further, if American workers are already doing much "Sector A" work, say care giving for a child or spouse, it should be a no brainer that a 32 hour (4 day) work week makes eminent sense. It allows the worker to commit 32 hours to "Sector B" paid work but also allows him or her time to take care of family needs on the 8 other hours (for which he will now be paid, but are not worked in the formal job).  The issue here is that a 4 day, 10 hour a day job does not make that cut and I am sure Toffler would agree with me - if he was still alive.

The problem we face is that the wealthy owners and capitalists (especially hedge fund owners of hospitals, banks etc) who largely  fund economists' research,  still are committed to reducing pay as much as possible while squeezing every last additional hour of toil from hapless, already overworked (Sector B working) citizens. No one, therefore, ought to be fooled that this 4-day work week now on offer is any kind of boon.

Unless one is a confirmed workaholic, of course.  Or has no family that requires outside of (paid) work attention.

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