With any discussion that centres around changing a way of working, there will always be pushback. With any discussion about change, there will always be pushback. People essentially do not like change. And that’s mostly due to a fear of the unknown. What we know now is safer than what we are yet to find out later.
There are three points of pushback that I’ve come across when reading about changing a working week from 5 days to 4 days.
The three points are: economics, profession type and logistics
The pushback argument is: When the economy is doing well then we can afford fewer working days, and when it is in decline then people will want and need to work more days.
It is a solid argument, and it works with the current working construct. Unfortunately, if an economy is in decline and there is negative growth then there are other factors that come into play. And the result may very well be that despite working more, you’re not getting much more money, or the buying power remains the same despite the increased income. The counter-argument is of course that if you allow for more free time, then the individual may spend more which means more money being injected into the economy and growth eventually (re-)starts.
This we’ve covered a bit already, with the differences that occur between the blue-collar and white-collar professions. The statement alone of saying that a profession wouldn’t allow for a reduction in working time, regardless of whether it’s the 4-day workweek argument or a flexible working arrangement, is essentially shortsighted and archaic. What that statement says to me is that those in power and control are unwilling to change or innovate and that the profession as it is, is fundamentally unattractive. For example, a supermarket clerk might work 6-7 days a week for minimum wage (nation dependent), and their employer needs them to do those hours. A discussion of reducing the workweek is unattractive to that employer because that means they need to find more people to do the unattractive job, to cover all the weekdays. If they keep the status quo, then they don’t need to worry about spending more to find more people for what is viewed as an unattractive job.
This is the fundamental issue of the workload not magically reducing despite fewer days being worked. There are enough discussion points about a 4-day workweek but many seem to keep a 40-hour workweek. Or whatever amount of hours per week the organisation deems need to be put in, be that 40, 50 or 60.
What this means is that if we keep to the current construct, we for example go from working 8 hours a day to 10 hours a day. On top of that, the discussion continues with what happens with holidays and paid time off? Will HR need to work more to sort all of this out? Does it increase the running costs of companies? And if people work fewer days, shouldn’t they be earning less?
And if the company has only 4-days of a working week and the competitor works a different 4 days, or what if they cheat and do 5 days anyway? Well, then they will have the advantage. Such doom & gloom statements do beg the question of what these companies do now when they deal with international businesses in the Middle East and Asia, who sometimes work Sunday to Thursday or only have Sundays off?
All of these points simply stem from remaining in that 9-5, 5-day work week construct that a fair amount of the world has adopted. And yet it doesn’t solve the underlying issue, which is engagement, efficiency and productivity. It simply deflects.