Economic Possibilities
June 6, 2019 7:21 PM   Subscribe

A Four Day Workweek Could Be Coming to the U.K. (a podcast for work! or leisure ;) - "If you live in the U.K., your workweek could soon be a day shorter if the political winds tilt more heavily toward the left. Jess Shankleman reports on how the proposal is gaining momentum and how it might affect Britain, then Bloomberg Opinion columnist Noah Smith joins host Stephanie Flanders for a deeper look at the economic questions raised by the four-day week."[1,2]

also btw…
posted by kliuless (28 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
London has about 3000 homeless, about half of San Francisco for a city with 10 times the population. You could give each of them an empty oligarch-owned investment property mansion and have some left over.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:47 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]




That second 'if' is doing some serious heavy lifting
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 8:34 PM on June 6 [17 favorites]


I see ambitions have diminished since 1974.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:46 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


I see ambitions have diminished since 1974.

literally the story of left wing politics in America since 1974

"Why are you just trying to getto left-liberal 70s polititcs?" "Because I'm trying to regain ground! Bog standard democratic party platforms in 74 are unthinkable radicalism now! We have a lot to go to get back to zero. The difference is I see that as the opening demand, not the end."
posted by The Whelk at 9:31 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


It's a complicated set of variables to juggle and simultaneously come out in any way better than a 5 day work week. The argument seems to lean most toward the 4 day week makes people more productive, + automation to somehow make it feasible = better. In some way.

These 4 day week schemes often seem backward in their top-down directive presentation. A successful business often doesn't have enough days in the week, and has to juggle between allocating overtime and hiring new workers to get done what needs to be done.

But I don't think I'm the only one who considers a 4 day week a win only if I'm simultaneously pulling down 5 day's worth in wages for those 4 days. IOW, I'd be getting a net per hour raise to compensate. 4 day week advocates get cagey on this point. And frankly, if I'm making 5 days worth of wages in 4, I'd gladly work that extra day anyhow at that new rate. But why stop here? Keep waving that magic wand around, and there's no end how much money I'll be making if all it takes is some kind of directive from above?
posted by 2N2222 at 10:23 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


There are several reports out there of companies having tried this or six hours workday and having success with it. Personally I'm pretty sure I would have about the same output as today, where I work 37.5 hours / week. We're seeing about the same output here as our American colleagues who work 50-60 hours / week on average. I suspect it's mostly down to people in the long run having only a set amount of energy to spend on work, and making them work longer hours all the time simply means that they have to pace themselves or collapse.
posted by Harald74 at 11:56 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


I see now that the FPP two posts down is about the limits of human endurance, physically. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't have similar mechanisms for less physically demanding tasks also, like decision fatigue.
posted by Harald74 at 12:03 AM on June 7 [5 favorites]


I saw this guy present about his company's experience. It was fascinating and he went into lots more detail than the article. Some interesting takeouts:

- it was voluntary, and not everyone did it. Since didn't do it at all, some only did it part of the time.

- there were unexpected knock on effects. It had a very positive impact on succession planning and promotions. People filled in for others on the off days, giving them exposure to greater responsibility and job variety.
posted by smoke at 12:12 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


I don’t see a 4-day week happening any time soon. What seems more likely is a greater move towards flexible working patterns across all sectors. The public and third sectors already often use that now to compensate for not being able to pay private-sector wages and it’s a decent trade-off.

My office is full of people working 3 days a week, 4 days a week, 4 long days with compressed hours, school term-time only, every second Friday off, all with a flexi bank so extra hours worked one month can come off again in another. Apart from being a hassle to organise meetings sometimes, it’s generally brilliant and means a much better work-life balance than places I’ve worked with stricter hours/no choice in shifts, or nominally ‘flexible’ workplaces where the attitude is more “we don’t care which 80 hours a week you work, it’s entirely up to you!”

(We also have not enough money and not enough people so everyone above a certain level of seniority is working crazy hours anyway, but I’m sure our current biggest left-wing political party has plans to fix massive public sector underfunding and its consequences with their *checks notes* ‘jobs-first Brexit’.)
posted by Catseye at 2:31 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


The real secret that no-one talks about in this stuff is that a substantial number of white collar employees in the UK already de facto do this. Most of my team "works from home" on a Friday and to be honest, very little work gets done, especially if the weather is nice or the schools are out at the time.

Fundamentally, this is about how we want to consume additional productivity:
1) More returns to owners of capital - what we're currently doing in the UK and US
2) Higher money wages right now - where what little is left from (1) goes currently
3) More deferred compensation - either higher pensions in £ or freezing pension ages while life expectancy goes up
4) More leisure time right now - shorter working days, weeks, or more days of discretionary holiday

Which trade-off individuals prefer depends on how much money they are currently making. If you're struggling to pay your rent, bills, and buy food you will want more money now. If you can easily cover your mortgage and have a lot of disposable income you're more likely to go for a four day week.

One of the effects of high marginal tax rates is to suppress (2) even more for high earners since those tax rates are per year and not per hour. If going to four days instead of five meant a 20% salary reduction, I might be reluctant to do it. However, if I was in Denmark and that 20% was all in the 60% income bracket (which it almost certainly would be) then giving up 20% pre-tax is only 8% post-tax! That's rather a more attractive deal.
posted by atrazine at 2:34 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


Thanks atrazine, that's great stuff

It should also be pointed out that other European countries approach their surplus differently. For instance, in Austria, yearly wages are paid in a 14 month increment, and sabbaticals are supported by the state. I think this is sort of something between 2 and 3 in the points above, but what it really proves is that the Anglophonic way of forcing everybody to work until they fall over of exhaustion is a super shitty idea that doesn't actually make anybody work better.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:50 AM on June 7


Internal workplace policies that allow a 4 day week or 6 hour workday sounds rad but literally impossible for those who work with demanding clients - particularly, something like a company's marketing department. They don't want to hear some shit about how no one works Fridays or everyone goes home at 4pm. This stuff only truly happens successfully when it is policy, and when everyone *has* to play.
posted by windbox at 5:05 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Internal workplace policies that allow a 4 day week or 6 hour workday sounds rad but literally impossible for those who work with demanding clients

It’s fairly standard in central government, where the ‘clients’ include government ministers who can get pretty demanding. (Fair disclosure, I am not doing this job now but have in the past.)

It is up to the organisation to make sure teams are resourced and work patterns arranged so the work gets done and there is as much cover as needed where needed. So it doesn’t look like “everyone goes home at 4” or “nobody works Fridays” in practice. It takes more work to arrange this than it does when everyone’s working patterns are identical, and it does absolutely mean an organisation has to be committed to it, but it is entirely doable and is in fact being done.
posted by Catseye at 5:45 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Internal workplace policies that allow a 4 day week or 6 hour workday sounds rad but literally impossible for those who work with demanding clients - particularly, something like a company's marketing department. They don't want to hear some shit about how no one works Fridays or everyone goes home at 4pm. This stuff only truly happens successfully when it is policy, and when everyone *has* to play.

You cannot have *everyone* working the same shortened schedule, that's true. But if you're a smart manager, you can build systems to ensure that the organisation is much more available than its components.

I lead a business unit that has investment bankers doing deals as our main clients. We support the deals more or less real-time so although we are not expected to work the same hours, we need to be able to do short turn-around and get things done over the weekend on occasion. In fact, we win business over our competition by having a much more aggressive turn around and getting things done faster than they can - and they usually have much less progressive working hours policies.

It is possible but it requires a certain scale and it requires managers to actually think about management rather than just swan around.

Here's how we combine that with working patterns across the organisation that are flexible (many of our specialists around the world are on alternative working patterns).

1) On any given deal, one person is the lead and another person is a secondary. This is not solely seniority based as I am the secondary on some projects run by my subordinates. Availability is co-ordinated so that someone is always around to take calls or respond to emails. This person is the first point of call and can either deal with a query themselves or farm it out to the right person.

2) Smart resourcing. We cultivate a mix of teams and external experts around the world for tasks we frequently need doing. We spin up teams that are larger than we strictly need so that we always have certain types of coverage - these people may only book a few hours to the project if we don't need them, just enough to keep up with the project flow, which is "wasteful" to the kind of people who are bad at managing healthy teams. If I need someone to bang out a financial model at pace, I've got people available in Europe, Asia, and the US so I can usually have things delivered for clients "overnight" without anyone actually working crazy hours.

3) Planning. Bankers are notorious for working hideous hours partially because they spend loads of time waiting for instructions to come in and then have to work overnight to carry them out. I've done enough deals that I can usually guess the kind of things we're going to be asked and we start a project doing the things I know need to get done at some point. As a result, when we get a "last minute request" on a Friday afternoon, 75% of the time we've already done it at least partially.

4) Schedule flexibility. This bit is not so fun. Those of us who have more flex in our schedules, i.e. no childcare obligations, will work evenings and weekends when we have to and take additional time off at a multiplier. Two weeks ago, I had - despite all my prep and planning - to work most of the weekend. In return, I took four days extra off the week after and went to a literary festival. This kind of flex is really hard to do with young children and being able to do it requires a team that has people young enough or old enough to do it (my boss has children who are all at university, many of my peers have children). So again, scale is important. I feel that a 1:2 trade is fair for most weekend days, with a few people like me in a team you can reduce unsociable hours for other people.

Working this way requires really good people which I why we work really hard to keep them - part of that is our flexibility around working patterns.
posted by atrazine at 7:31 AM on June 7 [11 favorites]


I negotiated a four-day work week as compensation for a salary cut when I went nonprofit. Not that bullshit 4 10+ hour days but 4 8ish hour 9-5ish work days. A 32-hour-salaried full time work week. At a perfectly reasonable well-above median salary.

It has had such a great impact on my life. My org has finally stopped asking how much money they have to raise to bring me to a 40 hour full time work week.I just won't do it. It gives me time to help my aging parents (who are caretakers for a non-independent-living adult); time to spend with my friends who work nontraditional work schedules; it makes vacations easier to arrange. It lets me keep on top of hobbies, household chores, mental health, volunteering.

The downside is: I'm trapped in my job. No-one else is going to hire me full time with full time benefits on a 32 hour/4 day work week, even for a pay cut.
posted by crush at 8:08 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


London has about 3000 homeless

The latest figures I can find are 1,283 rough sleepers (from the autumn 2018 street count) and 56,350 households in temporary accommodation (as of June 2018), according to National Statistics.
posted by cyanistes at 8:39 AM on June 7


My organization has fairly generous vacation time for the US and I have some co-workers with a lot of tenure who have so much time accrued that they've hit maximum and either take every friday afternoon off or all day every other friday.
posted by octothorpe at 8:49 AM on June 7


Personally I'm pretty sure I would have about the same output as today, where I work 37.5 hours / week. We're seeing about the same output here as our American colleagues who work 50-60 hours / week on average. I suspect it's mostly down to people in the long run having only a set amount of energy to spend on work, and making them work longer hours all the time simply means that they have to pace themselves or collapse.

From my previous white-collar work of water cooler chat, I fundamentally agree that eliminating inefficiency could result in same output, fewer hours.

But from my newer small business and non-white-collar work perspective, that idea -- that everyone just has a certain limit of hours and we should acknowledge and move on -- is pretty nuts. When people are teaching classes or kids, they have to be doing that. When I need people at my front desk, I need them there for the hours we're open, and I need them working during that time. When people are driving vehicles, they're driving vehicles.

I'm not saying staff are never going to check Facebook for a few minutes (not while driving :)) but they are expected to produce output for basically all the hours they work, minus breaks. We mostly pay hourly, but we do have a few salaried positions. (We also pay for meeting time, which, if you're watching your bottom line, is a really fast way to get a sense of which meetings are actually important.)

So in thinking about what a societal norm is, what a living wage is, etc., you can't always take the "let's tighten our meetings up and we'll be fine" mentality and apply it across the board.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:53 AM on June 7


> But from my newer small business and non-white-collar work perspective, that idea -- that everyone just has a certain limit of hours and we should acknowledge and move on -- is pretty nuts. When people are teaching classes or kids, they have to be doing that. When I need people at my front desk, I need them there for the hours we're open, and I need them working during that time. When people are driving vehicles, they're driving vehicles.

The need for leisure and personal time among people who sell their labor for a living is more important than your need to keep your front desk staffed at all hours you're open. Because your need is less important, you need to either find a way to keep your front desk staffed that accommodates the more important need for leisure time, or else change your business model, or else go out of business.

One way to make this smoother is to invert the traditional business hierarchy. Instead of having managers, directed by the owners, make decisions about how the business is run and then get the workers to carry those decisions out, you could instead adopt a model where employees elect their managers, whose job becomes executing the decisions of those employees. This ensures that the needs of the employees are taken into account.

This can be made even smoother by moving to a cooperative model, wherein the people who do the work hold ownership over the business rather than there being a separation between the owners and the workers.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:24 AM on June 7 [7 favorites]


The need for leisure and personal time among people who sell their labor for a living is more important than your need to keep your front desk staffed at all hours you're open.

Yeah, this kind of comment is not helpful. I am not demanding 50-60 hour workweeks from my staff. But changing "full time" to 32 hours a week for white collar workers is not going to change how it works for my hourly staff, and big statements about productivity is ridiculous if you're talking about jobs that actually involve service delivery.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:43 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


But from my newer small business and non-white-collar work perspective, that idea -- that everyone just has a certain limit of hours and we should acknowledge and move on -- is pretty nuts. When people are teaching classes or kids, they have to be doing that. When I need people at my front desk, I need them there for the hours we're open, and I need them working during that time. When people are driving vehicles, they're driving vehicles.

There's two angles here:
1) For certain jobs, productivity falls off fast enough with hours worked that you can reduce hours without decreasing output.
2) As a society we should be consuming more of our output as leisure.

Your argument applies to the 1st one. For many jobs paid per hour, someone needs to be constantly present. The second issue still applies though. There's two kinds of jobs there:
a) Hourly waged jobs - in those cases the equivalent is just to increase hourly wages and accept that many people will take the extra slice of the pie that they now get as cash rather than leisure time. The less money someone has, the more they will want to take the cash. As we get closer to fully automated luxury space communism or whatever and the number of truly poor people decreases, the number of people making this tradeoff will go down.

b) Salaried jobs that require constant presence - the only way that we can do reduce hours worked by person is to hire more people to cover these roles. That will split these roles into two categories:
b-i) Jobs that turn out not to require constant presence after all once costs go up
b-ii) Jobs that really do require constant coverage (teaching, nursing etc.) which will become relatively more expensive (Baumol's cost effect).

If we change ours standard as a society to "expect" a certain standard of living from 32 rather than 40 hours of work, that benefits hourly workers as well, even if they choose to work more. Many hourly workers work more than 40 hours now after all. One of the advantages to including shorter working weeks in a package of measures it that it's a helpful bit of "something for everyone" social democracy that brings middle class salaried workers into the alliance.
posted by atrazine at 9:53 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


The need for leisure and personal time among people who sell their labor for a living is more important than your need to keep your front desk staffed at all hours you're open.

Which is going to mean hiring more people for fewer hours. ¯\(°_o)/¯ Which is going to raise the cost of business, particularly shops and restaurants and services, yet I don't think that's a horror to be avoided, just a labor problem to be solved.

It's a problem that's already solved in a lot of white collar businesses. I know few people who have secretaries (and many of those are shared)--the same is even true for paralegals! Lots of small businesses contract for IT services. Co-working spaces (whether the fancy new Millennial kind or the old school Gen X shared office suite type) pool the costs of receptionists. We all have door buzzers on our cell phones. anyway.
posted by crush at 10:06 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


It's rather astonishing that some people are so locked into the notion of a 40-hour work week that they can't even imagine an alternative, as if a 5-day work week is some immutable law of physics.

Before 1938 and the Fair Labor Standards Act, people thought that 6-day work weeks were absolutely essential. They couldn't imagine a mere 5-day work week. They made exactly the same arguments people are making today. Yet it turned out that 6-day work weeks weren't essential. Companies and workers adapted.

Here we are 90 years later and we are still stuck on a 5-day work week even though we are unimaginably richer than back then.

In Europe some countries like France have 35 paid holiday and vacation days. In the U.S. most don't even get 10. Their work weeks are 35 hours. Somehow they manage what people in the U.S. say is impossible. (Cf. universal health care.)

It's just nuts that people say it can't be done, that we are stuck forever with the leisure standards of almost a century ago.
posted by JackFlash at 8:10 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]


Joel Mokyr and the curse of Adam - "Man must work. But how man works matters. Brendan Greeley sat down with Joel Mokyr, an economist and economic historian at Northwestern University, at an event on the future of work at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Policymakers tend to focus on the binary question of a job — do people have one, or not. But the quality of that work, the questions of meaning and satisfaction, are important to people, in a way that has political consequences. They wandered all the way back to Adam Smith, and eventually the curse of Adam himself, to talk about how the meaning and definition of 'work' has changed, and why that matters now."

New Zealand's 'Well-Being' Budget Is Worth Copying - "To succeed, it has to respect the role economic growth plays in making people happy... The first 'is to focus on mental health interventions', meant to help the 'segment of the population that spends a great deal of its time in an unpleasant state'. The second 'is to focus on time allocation', by helping people to shift away from activities that they especially dislike (such as commuting, which can take a significant toll)."

Nike Is Expanding Its Day Care Benefit and Employees Are Furious - "For working parents at Nike and everywhere else, affordable, high-quality child care is incredibly hard to find. Over the past 20 years, the cost of day care in the U.S. has doubled—for those lucky enough to find any at all. There's not enough child care to meet the demand, and parents can spend months waiting for an opening. This is especially true in Oregon, where roughly 60% of the state's urban and suburban families live in what's considered a 'child care desert'—defined as an area where there are three times as many kids in need of child care as spots available."

The rise of millennial socialism - "Across the world, young activists are turning to old ideas. Why? When describing the ultimate goal of socialism, he alludes to one of its most brilliant, if saturnine, definitions: 'converting hysterical misery into ordinary unhappiness'. The phrase was originally conceived by Freud, but was adapted by the political theorist Corey Robin in 2013. And while you wouldn't put it on the side of a campaign bus, it gets to the heart of what a socialist economy might look like: helping people overcome, in Robin's words, the 'immense, and incredibly shitty, hassle of everyday life'... Socialists want to give people time and space outside of the market, so that they can do other things."
posted by kliuless at 8:26 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


In Europe some countries like France have 35 paid holiday and vacation days. In the U.S. most don't even get 10. Their work weeks are 35 hours. Somehow they manage what people in the U.S. say is impossible. (Cf. universal health care.)

In the UK I get 27 days standard and I buy an additional 5. If you subtract the 10 that is a common reference figure for the US, I already work 23 fewer days than the American standard which is halfway to the 52 you'd get from a four day working week.

It is indeed intensely frustrating how parochial many of these political debates are, here in the UK as well as in the US. A popular argument style seems to be the "from first principles for dumbasses" where people abstractly speculate about the barriers to achieving things that very similar countries have been doing for years.
posted by atrazine at 3:41 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]


The need for leisure and personal time among people who sell their labor for a living is more important than your need to keep your front desk staffed at all hours you're open. Because your need is less important, you need to either find a way to keep your front desk staffed that accommodates the more important need for leisure time, or else change your business model, or else go out of business.

One way to make this smoother is to invert the traditional business hierarchy. Instead of having managers, directed by the owners, make decisions about how the business is run and then get the workers to carry those decisions out, you could instead adopt a model where employees elect their managers, whose job becomes executing the decisions of those employees. This ensures that the needs of the employees are taken into account.

This can be made even smoother by moving to a cooperative model, wherein the people who do the work hold ownership over the business rather than there being a separation between the owners and the workers.


This is such utter nonsense, I can't believe anyone could actually publicly express it... except maybe here on MF. The idea that the assumed employee need for x leisure time is more important than their need for actual money. Both in a wage, as any hourly employee will tell you, and in an employer, so they can contine earning a wage. So, yes, employee, you're gonna get your hours cut for your own good. And if your employer can't, the it should go out of business. I suppose this counts as a win in some universe. Meanwhile, a few people, business owner as well as employees, now face hardship. For the employees own good. And the idea that employee management/ownership will somehow fix it all is some wishful thinking. But most people know little outside their area of expertise, and likely have little wisdom to impart when it comes to making decisions in those areas. But let's assume that all our decision making employees are in fact excellent at making management choices. And that involves running a tight ship... kinda like before. Good, is it not? Because in the end, the employer is only as good as its ability to employ. If the employee run enterprise cannot be competitive, it fails at existing, and does no employee, owner or customer any good.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:43 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


Three 12 hour shifts a week would suit me just fine.
posted by Fupped Duck at 2:01 PM on June 8


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