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The Four Day Week Is Already Here By Any Reasonable Standard

A useful and interesting violation of Betteridge’s Law (that any newspaper headline with a question mark can be answered “No”) is this about that four day week experiment in New Zealand:

Could a four-day working week become the new norm for British employees?


The only detail is when?

For this is just one of the things we humans do as we become richer, we take some part of that new wealth as more leisure. Given that all the predictions we use about climate change insist that the global economy will grow between 2.5 and 5x this century we’d expect us humans to be having more leisure.

Pretty obvious really.

The New Zealand experiment, well, it showed that when people work 4 days to gain 5 days pay they’re happier. To say that this is a surprise would be overdoing matters. As to increased productivity, well, not so much. Some practices did change, but my own opinion is that it was change which led to rethinking of ruts. An insistence upon a 6 day week for the same pay would, I posit, have led to much the same thinking about how to get it all done better.

But far the more important point is that as we have become richer we have been taking more of life as leisure. Lifetime working hours are down massively – as a portion of life that is – as we all do more education, enjoy decades long retirements. Only 50 years ago we started life’s labours several years earlier and died a decade and more younger.

The other massive change in working hours has been the near evaporation of unpaid domestic labour. Entirely reasonable estimates say that in the 1920s and 30s it took 60 hours a week to run a household. Most of that female labour of course but some male. Today’s machine ridden domestic scene takes perhaps 15 to keep on the road.

Even if we look purely at the world of paid market work on a weekly basis, hours generally worked have fallen this past century.

By the standards of a century ago we work about half to two thirds the hours our forbears did on that weekly basis and we do so for a very much smaller portion of life. It would be entirely reasonable to insist that the four day week is already here – if not the three day one of infamous memory.

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5 years ago

Four day week? Luxury! I’ve had four days work in the last four months.

5 years ago

Workers such as supermarket cashiers have irregular schedules, worked out a week in advance, do not have to be at the same station 9-to-5 every workday, and can negotiate any desired workload, except one so low that it no longer justifies the overhead, nor one so high it involves legally mandated overtime wages. Even people with static desk jobs are allowed to take vacations and the organization provides someone to cover for them. Our increases in productivity mean 40 hours per week is not always necessary for survival plus saving enough to ensure an income stream in retirement. Workers may… Read more »

Chester Draws
Chester Draws
5 years ago

I don’t think using a NZ company is the best start. Kiwis work some of the longest hours per week of Western economies.

If some people I know went to four days a week, they’d get down to 40 hours. Many jobs, the extra day “off” would just be one not spent in the office. The work would still be done.

If you do it with cleaners it doesn’t work. Unless you want the place not to be cleaned every day.

Likewise factory workers, farmers, rubbish collectors etc. You don’t raise productivity in those jobs to compensate for time off.

5 years ago
Reply to  Chester Draws

Again, a reduction in hours worked by certain individuals does not mean less work done. You schedule the alternates.

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