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Darrell Berkheimer: Worker shortage to force 4-day week

Darrell Berkheimer | Columnist

Are you ready for a four-day workweek – with full pay for five days?

Is that like asking: Do zebras have stripes?

Well, I believe it’s quite possible that some companies will be offering a 4-day workweek during the next few years. And I’m thinking a four-day workweek could be the norm by the end of this decade.

There are several factors that prompt me to speculate on that, including a report on a pilot program involving 73 companies in the United Kingdom – part of a global study by a nonprofit group and researchers at three universities. Companies in the U.S. and several other nations also are involved.

At the mid-point of the six-month UK trial, 39 of 41 companies responding to a survey reported their four-day workweek productivity was either the same, or had even improved. And six of the 39 said productivity had “significantly improved” over their normal five-day workweek, according to a New York Times report.

The Times story also noted that 35 of the responding companies said they were “likely” or “extremely likely” to consider continuing the four-day workweek beyond the late November end of the trial period.

The nonprofit group — named 4 Day Week Global – is conducting the study with the think tank Autonomy and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University.

A researcher at Autonomy reported more than 3,300 workers in banks, marketing, health care, financial services, retail, hospitality and other British industries have been taking part in the program.

The Times story added that similar experiments are occurring in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. In Sweden, at a Gothenburg trial, officials “found employees completed the same amount of work or even more” in four days.

One manager at a small company in Northampton, England, noted the employees “have found a way to work more efficiently.”

And a company executive at Brighton, England, said the employees “had become more productive, while making fewer errors,” and that they “were collaborating better.”

“We’ve kind of gotten away from ‘That’s your job, not mine,’ because we’re all trying to get out of here at five o’clock on a Thursday,” he told a Times reporter.

In addition, the Times noted “some leaders of companies in the trial said the four-day week had given employees more time to exercise, cook, spend time with their families and take up hobbies, boosting their well-being and making them more energized and productive when they were on the clock.”

Another survey of employees involved in the six months trial revealed many of the workers were using the fifth day “to catch up on sleep.”

Economist Juliet Schor told Bloomberg News that “employees who transitioned to a four-day week clocked seven hours and 58 minutes of sleep per night – an hour more than they slept while working five days a week.”

She surveyed 304 workers at 16 companies in three countries – including the U.S., UK and Australia. And she noted the percentage of those who had been getting less than seven hours of sleep per night dropped from 42.6% to 14.5%.

Among the other factors that I suspect will promote the four-day workweek is the aging of our global population. With few exceptions, most countries on our planet are experiencing their inhabitants living longer while birthrates have been declining worldwide.

That means the numbers of people in the workforce is shrinking at both ends.

So companies are beginning to realize that they will be competing with others to hire workers with the skills that they need. But if employees are happier and more productive working four-day weeks, companies will be able to stretch their productivity with fewer skilled workers.

Taking all of these factors into consideration has prompted a UK Labour Party Member of Parliament to introduce a bill establishing a 32-hour, four-day workweek. The bill includes a clause setting overtime pay at 1.5 times the ordinary rate for work above the 32 hours weekly.

A BBC News report noted the bill is scheduled to be discussed in the House of Commons on Oct. 18 and “must proceed through several stages before it can become law.”

Even as early as 2019, prior to the UK General Election, the Labour Party said it wanted a 32-hour work week, “with no loss of pay, within 10 years,” according to BBC News.

The big question is: How soon will U.S. companies be forced by skilled worker shortages to switch to a 32-hour workweek?

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has nine books available through Amazon. His two Essays books include nearly 120 columns published by The Union, plus a variety of travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.


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