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Is the Greens’ suggestion of a four-day work week as great as it sounds?

It’s a glorious Friday afternoon and the sun is shining. You are sitting at your desk and still have some work to do.

However, you look out the window and your mind starts to drift. “Maybe I should just call it a day”, you think. “Get a head start on the weekend”.

It’s a common thought, the ol’ Friday arvo knock-off, and one we’ve all had at some time. But what about having a whole day off every week? It sounds like the stuff dreams are made of. But would it be a success?

Greens leader Richard Di Natale told Lateline that a four-day work week should be part of national conversation on the future of work. He said:

It’s time we recognised there are big questions we’re not asking ourselves. What sort of society do we want to be? What does the future of work in this country look like? How do we deal with the fact that wages have remained stagnant but productivity has gone through the roof?

He then went on to give an example of Sweden, which had cut working time to six hours a day in the aged-care sector, in order to make workers happier, healthier and more productive.

A four-day work week sounds great in theory. However, it has been put into practice with mixed results.

In 2008, Utah state workers were given a four-day work week, instead working Monday- Thursday from 7 am to 6 pm.

Lawmakers scrapped the experiment in 2011 because it wasn’t saving any money and residents were complaining about not having access to services on Fridays. In addition, it was found that employees were struggling to adjust to having Friday off. The poor things.

However, some cities in Utah were pleased with the results. The Daily Caller reported that in Provo, a city of 100,000 people, the “4/10” system (4 x10 hour days) was going just fine.

These results were backed up by a Brigham Young University study conducted in 2008. It found that city employees who worked four 10-hour days a week experienced lower levels of at-home conflict, high job satisfaction and increased productivity.

The idea of working reduced hours is also being considered in Silicon Valley. Last year, The Washington Post reported that Amazon would soon launch a similar program to experiment with a 30-hour work week for employees. The results of that are still pending and we don’t know if it is a success.

Come to think of it, why do we work five days anyway?

The answer is “because we have for over a hundred years”, which is pretty silly if you think about it.

According to The Atlantic, a New England mill was the first American factory to institute the five-day week back in 1908. Before that, people worked a half-day on Saturday too.

factory industrial revolution

Factory life in 1908 was the best.

It might have made sense then, because factory jobs were common and industrialisation was just kicking off. But looking around at today’s world, it looks like we have the whole mass production thing covered. And since robots are being automated, it’s inevitable that jobs in the “stuff-creation” sector will soon disappear completely.

Shortening the work week is ONE solution. A more radical concept is the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), which you may have heard kicked around recently. It proposes that we all put our feet up and let the robots do their thing. Without explicitly mentioning the UBI, Bill Gates weighed in by suggesting a robot tax. This would certainly be one way.

The conspiracy theorist in me believes that people work 40 hours a week because the powers that be prefer that we are kept busy. The idea of hordes of woke citizens with the world’s knowledge at their fingertips and lots of free time on their hands is probably a little scary to most governments.

In the meantime, knocking off early on Friday has been gaining some traction. In 2014, The Guardian reported that companies in the UK were experimenting with giving people Friday off in the summer. And “Friday drinks” are not uncommon here in Straya if you are lucky enough to have one of those cool bosses.

In honour of this whole movement, I’ll be taking the rest of the day off.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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