Last month I published an article in the Atlantic arguing that a 4-day week could help companies that had closed or shifted to remote operations during the pandemic reopen more smoothly, and boost their ability to deal with future crises.
As we move closer to reopening businesses, public services, and schools, I’m seeing hopeful signs that we won’t just go back to business as usual, but will use the restart to try new things– including a 4-day week.
Today, two politicians have talked about the potential for implementing 4-day weeks in companies.
First, in New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern mentioned the potential benefits of a 4-day week in jump-starting the tourism industry. As the Guardian explains,
Hard-hit tourism is New Zealand’s largest export industry, employing 15% of New Zealanders and contributing to almost 6% of GDP, and it was in the context of rescuing this industry that on Wednesday Ardern suggested – informally, in a Facebook Live video from the tourist town of Rotorua – that, should the country move to a four-day working week, more leisure time may allow the domestic tourist market to expand to meet the present shortfall.
Domestic travel accounts for the majority of tourism in the country, so getting people to take vacations and travel is important. In a Facebook Live chat (this is how politicians get their messages out in 2020), she said,
Some have been saying, “Well if they had a bit more flexibility in terms of their travel and their leave,” they might be able to do that. I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a 4-day work week. Ultimately that really sits between employers and employees, but as I’ve said, there’s lot of things we’ve learned from COVID about flexibility and people working from home and the flexibility that can be driven by that, [and I] really encourage people if they’re an employer and in a position to do that, to think about whether that is something that work work for their workplace, because it certainly work help tourism all around the country. [this is my transcript]
You can watch for yourself here:
There’s at least one important recent precedent that a shorter workweek can help boost domestic tourism: when China moved to a 5-day workweek in 1995, it saw a big jump in travel and leisure spending.
Next, to Scotland. While mandating a shift to a 4-day week is not part of the Scottish government’s official reopening strategy, in remarks introducing the plan First Minister Nicola Sturgeon flagged a shorter workweek as one of the things that could help companies get back to work, and make work better:
While we want to repair things and get things back to normal, we’ve got to also take care not to simply slip back into old and bad ways of doing things.
There are opportunities for change here and I think all of us want to grasp that.
What I’ve just announced on schools will, potentially for a considerable period of time, give parents a very difficult balancing act between the need to work and the need to care for children when children are at home rather than in school.
That is one reason, not the only reason, why we have to look at different working patterns.
Things like a four-day week now are no longer things we should just be talking about, these are things we should be encouraging employers to look at embracing.
Here’s a video of her speech; I’ve set it to start at 43:30, when she talks about the 4-day week.
Both countries already have companies that are working 4-day weeks, so they have some on-the-ground local experience. And this is important because the 4-day week has implications for labor law, vacation policy, insurance, and other things that will vary from country to country. So they have practical knowledge about how to make it work.
These remarks also highlight the degree to which people sense the possibility of using the crisis and restart to fix some of what’s wrong with how we do business, and to create something better, rather than just go back to the way things were. The Press and Journal says, “A four-day working week and pupils attending school on a part-time basis will become the ‘new normal’ as Scotland comes out of the coronavirus lockdown.” And Van Badham writes in the Guardian,
social distancing has resulted not only in record numbers of people working from home. It has staggered and rearranged shifts, reorganising the deployment of labour around continually improvised new systems of production, distribution and exchange demanded in a health and economic crisis.
That kind of realignment will happen over the long run, and the 4-day week can play an important role in making it reality. But in the short run, it’ll help us all get back to work, back to school, and give us some more time to support our essential tourism and entertainment industries.