A 4 Day Week
February 9, 2019 5:38 PM   Subscribe

The case for a 4-day workweek - "The campaign for the 4-day work week has been a talking point for many British progressive politicians in the Labour Party... Last September, Frances O'Grady, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), made headlines for positioning the 4-day work week as a priority issue for the Labour Party. She emphasized its urgency at the organization's 150th annual gathering, arguing that evolving technology should be cutting the number of hours spent at work."
“In the 19th century, unions campaigned for an eight-hour day. In the 20th century, we won the right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays,” she said. “So, for the 21st century, let’s lift our ambition again. I believe that in this century we can win a four-day working week, with decent pay for everyone. It’s time to share the wealth from new technology, not allow those at the top to grab it for themselves.”

[...]

Compared to our European counterparts, America is far behind when it comes to protecting its citizens from being overworked by capitalist overlords and providing basic social benefits. In the U.S., there is no statutory annual leave as paid time off is usually left for employees and employers to negotiate as part of the compensation package. The European Union legislation mandates that all members grant employees a minimum of 4 weeks of paid vacation, but many countries offer more. When it comes to maternity leave in the E.U., the minimum period is 14 weeks. In the U.S., the only federal law guaranteeing maternity leave in the U.S. is unpaid. This is all just the tip of the iceberg — but the movement in the UK is not merely about preventing citizens from being overworked. Its supporters believe that the four-day workweek movement will benefit the economy, environment and democracy, by improving mental health, allowing citizens more time to engage with politics, and reducing carbon footprints.
posted by kliuless (42 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by motty at 5:45 PM on February 9


The amount of time it takes to complete work is equal to the amount of time allotted to complete said work.
posted by not_on_display at 5:54 PM on February 9 [11 favorites]


The European Union legislation mandates that all members grant employees a minimum of 4 weeks of paid vacation, but many countries offer more. When it comes to maternity leave in the E.U., the minimum period is 14 weeks.

How does a country go about joining the European Union?

asking for a friend who is a country
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:04 PM on February 9 [42 favorites]


I’m a career freelancer, in documentary film. The people who hire me are not remotely “capitalist overlords.” Not everyone is working on an assembly line or in an Amazon warehouse.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:17 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]


The amount of time it takes to complete work is equal to the amount of time allotted to complete said work.

planet money did an episode on 'the laws of the office', including parkinson's law: "So the first thing she told me was that Parkinson's law started out as a joke." :P
posted by kliuless at 6:24 PM on February 9 [8 favorites]


Even without a reduction in weekly hours, I find a four-day workweek much more humane than a five-day one. Think about commuting, for instance—if you have a 45-minute commute, that's a savings of 1.5 hours per week, right there. It also means three opportunities to catch up on sleep, rather than only two. It means three days to schedule non-work activities, meaning that even if you have two days' worth of chores and errands to do each week, there is a third day still available for leisure. It allows a day when one can take care of personal business during regular business hours, without having to ask for permission to take off from work, and maybe lose some pay in doing so. And with a little flexibility, you can move some days around to make occasional four-fay weekends.

In my opinion, that's well worth working ten-hour instead of eight-hour days for, no question. I cherish my four-day week. I realize that the proposal in the FPP goes well beyond a mere compressed 40-hour week, but damn is it ever a better way to organize one's life.

I appreciate very much the idea that we should be striving to work fewer hours, though. There is nothing inherently virtuous about work. We work to support ourselves, we work to keep civilization going, but it's a means to an end. The end is leisure, is enjoyment, is living. A life full of creativity, self-expression, pleasure, and companionship is what we all want, and we should be shameless in our pursuit of it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:00 PM on February 9 [27 favorites]


Not everyone is working on an assembly line or in an Amazon warehouse.

‪Congratulations! You’re a small minority! Also it wouldn’t apply to you! I wish we could get off this 101 zone and have like, actual discussion about the role/need of production in the first place‬ or the role of a social welfare state in creating an in group of protected workers versus democratizing and universlaizing production in the first place or the threat of precarity used as a tool of social control.

Ramping down production is part of environmental work and something we could’ve done in like, the 30s.
posted by The Whelk at 7:05 PM on February 9 [28 favorites]


I've been working a 4 day, 32 hour work week for about 2 years. I love it. I have a 3 day weekend ever week. I'm lucky that I work for a somewhat generous company that is owned by a German parent company. Of course I make 20% less, but I got to keep full benefits (health insurance, 401k with 6% matching, 4 weeks vacation). I live very modestly, have a spouse that works full time and don't have any kids at home. If you can swing it, I highly recommend it.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 7:10 PM on February 9 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I look forward to a time when I can say, "Eh, I don't need the hours," and knock off early or even drop a day. I feel like I should be able to get there by the time I'm 40 or so, if things go well. Why grind? Far better to make a modest living and live a modest life, if you have the option.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:19 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]


We do produce an awful lot of stuff that is literally trash or even actually malicious. We could drop those hours right away, for a start.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:33 PM on February 9 [10 favorites]


Like, it would have been fine if when I unpacked the set of silverware my Aunt gave me, each piece wasn't encased in its own individual plastic sleeve. That probably wasn't totally necessary production there.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:36 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]


I feel like I'm pretty lucky to work for a non-profit that doesn't expect me to work more than 40 hours a week. My wife works for a start-up and is lucky to leave work at 8 PM some days and is basically on call 24/7.
posted by octothorpe at 7:54 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]


We do produce an awful lot of stuff that is literally trash or even actually malicious. We could drop those hours right away, for a start.

Actually producing a physical product is still on the better end of the massive number of bullshit jobs.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:43 PM on February 9 [6 favorites]


i work a 9/80 schedule where an hour extra most days mean i get a 3 day weekend every other week. it is far far more humane than the typical schedule and the hours are the same. highly recommended.

that said, the final point in the article was that the benefits to the overall economy accrue if the hours cut for some can be picked up by others. this conflates a bunch of stuff. reducing the hours of hourly paid workers obviously wont help them; we're really talking about salaried people here. but given that most salaried "workaholic" well-paying jobs require membership in a modern guild with high barriers to entry (mba's, law, medicine), offsetting their hours wont help anyone else, because most others cant or arent legally allowed to do their jobs.

the best solution to this nightmare economy is an equitable wealth transfer from capital to workers, not a redistribution of work-hours or even education.
posted by wibari at 10:20 PM on February 9 [4 favorites]


My company - where we are scattered all over, just switched from a very generous telecommute policy with offices based around the idea of temp desks and half the staff off campus - to 4 days in the office, 1 day remote.

It's messing with my team - very few of us are in the same office and a number of folks have built their lives around the older policy (One staffer driving over 200 miles a day currently in SoCal to deal until we get him sorted)

Even being able to telecommute (if your job allows it) for a few days per week is a relief in comparison to the "always on" criteria of the modern white collar job (seriously, I just ran through a bunch of trouble tickets to check what's happening).

I'd gladly advocate for a 4 day week, but first I want to get my folks squared and then figure out the coverage plan. (damnit, that really drives home that I'm a manager now, grr.)
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:53 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]


most salaried "workaholic" well-paying jobs require membership in a modern guild with high barriers to entry (mba's, law, medicine)

Computer/IT staff and sales are often salaried and exempt, and a lot of their tasks can be re-allocated.

reducing the hours of hourly paid workers obviously wont help them

If they keep their current annual wages and just reduce the hours, it will help - and that can be done by reducing CEO pay and shareholder money. (That'd take extensive legislation to make happen) It doesn't even take the full amount of reductions, because reducing worker hours reduces overhead costs as well. Even without a pay increase to the same take-home, if they're being paid a decent wage, the 32-hr workweek can help workers, because it reduces their overhead and gives more leisure time.

Start pushing the notion that a "working year" shouldn't be 2080 hours, but 1600: 50 32-hour weeks, plus 2 weeks (8 days) unpaid vacation, as a baseline.
Current federal minimum wage: $7.25; x 2080 = $15,080/year expected for a full-time min-wage job.
Adjust that to a 4-day workweek with 2 weeks' vacation: $9.43/hour minimum wage.

$30,000/year: $18.75/hour
$40,000/year: $25.00/hour
$50,000/year: $31.25/hour
$150,000/year: $93.75/hour
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:11 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]


Also, wanted to stop and recognize, that I'm totally privileged to have a job that allows me to do any of this - woo modern IT. But I do feel strongly that this recent blanket change, which is supposed to encourage improved dev cooperation, is awful for those of us way outside of our office zones. (My daily commute is 30ish miles across LA's downtown core - which means I'm going usually 60 down and 90-120 back) - so that's fun!
posted by drewbage1847 at 11:12 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]


until we're talking a three day work week, the boss is still winning
posted by philip-random at 11:51 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]


The working class still can't afford the surplus it creates.

That's it. That's the whole deal.
posted by The Whelk at 12:12 AM on February 10 [19 favorites]


I’m a career freelancer, in documentary film. ... Not everyone is working on an assembly line or in an Amazon warehouse.

So, because you don't work on a W-2 basis, there's no point to addressing the welfare of those who do? Is that really what you're saying?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:47 AM on February 10 [12 favorites]


If our economy were managed for the public good rather than being a free-for-all in which might (in the form of accumulated wealth) makes right, it would seem obvious to me that one of the goals would be to reduce the number of hours that people need to spend producing, while maintaining their ability to support themselves.

Assuming we still had a wage system at all, we would want to be reducing people's hours while simultaneously increasing their hourly wages to compensate. We would use the fruits of increased productivity to enable workers to work less, rather than to produce more.

The Whelk alludes above to the need to reduce overall production as well, which is also pretty critical. We currently have a system where pretty much everyone must work full time, and must produce as much as we can during our working hours, or else we lose the ability to support ourselves. Nowhere in there is there an allowance for how much goods/services/content the world actually needs, with the end result being that we produce a staggering quantity of utter bullshit. We are capable of producing far more than necessary, and we do.

That excess production is essentially pollution—we produce a lot of stuff that goes straight from the factory to the landfill, both metaphorically and literally. Food waste, packaging waste, defective products, spam, clickbait, advertisements, whatever—there are just so many things we create that are unnecessary, that pollute both our environment and our culture. We do it because we need to do something or else we won't be paid, not because anyone wants or needs the things we are producing.

If we had an economy that was managed for the public good, we would produce less, work less, and make the same or more amount of money. There is tremendous inefficiency and waste under the current system, and it serves absolutely no-one except for the plutocrats at the top of the pile.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:06 AM on February 10 [23 favorites]


I mean there are people out there who are actually ashamed of their work and yet they do it anyway. I was carousing with some folks at an AMC hut up in the mountains last weekend, and when someone asked one of the women what she did for a living, her response was, "Corporate law for a major chemical company." You could see her cringe when she said it, her voice dropping slightly and her shoulders hunching a little, and there was a tiny, almost imperceptible pause in the conversation before it picked up and the subject changed.

Now, maybe this particular person was somewhat to blame for her own situation. Perhaps she could have chosen a different career that was less lucrative but still lucrative enough to survive on. But there are a huge number of those types of jobs out there, jobs that I'd argue people probably should feel shame about doing, because they are actively and unambiguously making the world a worse place. If everybody who had a job like that suddenly quit, would they all be able to find more positive work at a living wage? I can't imagine they would. Our economy currently just doesn't work that way.

We have a system that requires large numbers of people to spend their days actively harming others in order to survive. Otherwise, the whole machine would stop working. We are strapped into this thing, even as it hurtles toward a cliff. Nobody made it, nobody really understands it, it just kind of accumulated, and it is quite clearly killing us all and yet to stop it would be our ruin.

We need to take collective control and remake this machine to serve the public good, or else we are doomed. There's no certainty that we can succeed, but failure is certain to be disastrous.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:28 AM on February 10 [12 favorites]


FOUR DAYS?

How will I have enough time to accumulate further capital for some arsehole I've never met?
posted by pompomtom at 6:14 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


If productivity improvements are passed on to workers in the form of pay increases, then that will just push up the prices of anything that's scarce (such as housing/well-located living space, for example), with real wages remaining more or less constant. (Some things will come down, like consumer electronics for example, but if everybody's living in shoebox apartments that cost 70% of their income, being able to buy a new TV or game console every year just means consigning last year's perfectly working one to the landfill.)

If you keep wages constant but cut working hours, however, the inflation problem doesn't arise.
posted by acb at 6:19 AM on February 10


If productivity improvements are passed on to workers in the form of pay increases, then that will just push up the prices of anything that's scarce (such as housing/well-located living space, for example), with real wages remaining more or less constant. (Some things will come down, like consumer electronics for example, but if everybody's living in shoebox apartments that cost 70% of their income, being able to buy a new TV or game console every year just means consigning last year's perfectly working one to the landfill.)

We've been just letting the bourgeois keep the productivity improvements and this is literally what has happened over the past 30 years.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:32 AM on February 10 [8 favorites]


"If you keep wages constant but cut working hours, however, the inflation problem doesn't arise."

Then it means working class people would have to use the extra time to find a 2nd job to support the cost of living.
posted by Selena777 at 7:21 AM on February 10


most salaried "workaholic" well-paying jobs require membership in a modern guild with high barriers to entry (mba's, law, medicine)

There are physician assistants, paralegals, and other people working jobs with lower barriers to entry that could pick up some of that work. And much of the nation is in the midst of an immense shortage of MD/DOs right now, and systems are looking for ways to expand the capacity for non-MD/DOs to do some of that work.
posted by lazuli at 7:30 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Not sure I follow you there, Selena777. I am pretty sure acb was talking weekly wages, not hourly. Keep people's incomes the same but drop their hours, rather than keeping hours the same but raising income. If you raise incomes, prices inflate and people are no better off in the end. If you reduce hours, people are still no better off monetarily but they do have more free time.

Unless you're saying that people would just get part-time jobs to fill those newly-free hours? I'm sure some would, especially people whose current incomes aren't enough to support them. But not all would, and I don't think that cost of living is being driven by what people on the bottom can currently afford. People on the bottom aren't driving cost of living down so that they can support themselves on less, they're just struggling and suffering.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:30 AM on February 10


I thought he meant hourly wages - my bad.
posted by Selena777 at 7:36 AM on February 10


Oh yeah if it was hourly wages then obviously it wouldn't work, few people could shrug off a 20% pay cut.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:58 AM on February 10


People already don't make enough money. Not raising wages is a non-starter.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:57 AM on February 10


. Of course I make 20% less,

I'll pass.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 10:23 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


that will just push up the prices of anything that's scarce (such as housing/well-located living space, for example)

Part of why housing is limited ties to the 5-day workweek - a 4-day week allows more distant travel, since it's for fewer days. Another part of housing, however, is local laws designed to force people into individual housing; it's often not legal to share housing costs with more than 1-2 other people who aren't relatives.

Forced separate housing is one of the big urban expenses--not only is renting more expensive that way, everyone has to buy separate appliances, manage security on their own, and so on. Throw out the legality of housing discrimination based on family status, and while there won't instantly be enough housing, there'd be a lot more options.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:40 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


If we paid workers the same money, but cut their hours in half, the total amount produced would fall by half and we'd be living in that nightmare of scarcity of goods that was *checks chart 4* The MID 2000's

Oh the horror. Productivity gains have been decoupled from pay. Becauase prices are based on power, not principles, and your boss has the same amount of power when you became more efficient as they did when you were less efficient. Hence the economy could afford to pay you as,much 10 or 20 yrs ago as now, even though you are producing so much more.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 4:20 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


I'd like to be able to pare it down to 6 days a week.
posted by bz at 4:55 PM on February 10


There's a context to "The 4-day Work-Week" in the UK that these articles miss. During an energy crisis in the 70s caused by a coal miners' strike, the Tory government instituted a 3-day work week as an energy-saving measure. This has come to be associated in many British minds with a collapse of economic systems and a failure of a first-world western government. It's often held up as one of the "Sick Man Of Europe" symptoms used to discredit Socialism in the UK.

"Whats that? Socialist?? So you want to go back to strikes everywhere on everything, power cuts in the middle of London, three-day work week and all that? Nonsense!"

It's especially frustrating that Labour are floating the four-day week just as we find ourselves running out of toeholds to keep us from falling off the no-deal Brexit precipice. It's contributing to the local perception of this policy as a coping mechanism for a failed state.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:36 AM on February 11


in response to erislordfreedom-
yes, you can you can mandate shorter max weekly hours for hourly workers. but to keep their salaries the same as they make now, you'd have to institute some sort of gradated minimum wage such that nobody who made X dollars a month prior to this new law cutting their hours could be paid less than that for the same job after the new law goes into effect. that would be nearly impossible to legislate. such a thing wouldnt pass even in the most progressive state or city imaginable because there is no standardized list of all "jobs" or job descriptions to attach wages to. nor would a general rule (pay the same for whatever you call the job if it stays the same) be workable, since companies could just change your job description at any time. very very few people have employment contracts that outline their duties, and those few that do are not hourly workers.
posted by wibari at 1:39 PM on February 11


Absolutely everyone should read Bertrand Russell's essay In Praise of Idleness. One of the points he makes there is that World War I already demonstrated that a country could produce enough despite a large percentage of its population going off to war.

What I've often wondered is where the 'work ethic' comes from. Russell thinks it's a capitalist conspiracy. Unlike a lot of virtues, it doesn't have an obvious source in religious texts. In particular, I don't buy Weber's claim that Calvinist-Protestants wanted to signal that they are already predestined for salvation. That's crazy. However, the work ethic does seem to coincide historically somewhat with Protestantism. I'd guess it's linked to the Enlightenment, and the idea that one's place in life is not pre-ordained, and that humans are on a more equal footing (including with regards to getting into heaven). As such, there's a greater need to compete and a greater reward for doing so.
posted by leibniz at 7:20 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


The political case for more free time - "Some people are burnt out while others are simply exploited. We can organize around the shared interest of making our free time actually free."
posted by kliuless at 9:48 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


What I've often wondered is where the 'work ethic' comes from.

As always I blame the weirdo Protestants that ended up founding America
posted by The Whelk at 10:29 PM on February 12






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