One company is trying it out, and it seems to be working. But research shows that our free time is increasingly limited, and we’re a long way off economist John Meynard Keynes’ 1930s prediction that by now we’d all be working 15-hour weeks.
Tune in to the Welcome to the New Normal audio podcast now and follow along with the script below.
Would you work every day of the week?
No, I’ll correct that, would you work any day of the week?
Well, the economy is full of people who do just that. Doctors, nurses, train drivers, police officers, restaurant workers. There’s a long list of things to be done on Saturdays and Sundays, and someone’s got to do them
But if you’re in an office job, your weekends are your two days off, right?
This may not be the case forever.
Design and engineering firm Arrup are experimenting with a new flexible working arrangement, in which you spread your work hours over seven days.
This way, they have the flexibility to take a day off in the week if they have to, for example, if you have a partner who works shifts in a hospital, you can get to spend more time with each other.
This new world practice is called “Work Unbound”. It was launched globally after three months of pilots in Australia and Liverpool, in the UK.
According to a report in the Financial Times, this “Work Unbound” program is a direct result of the experience of the pandemic.
Workers across the world went home and had to discover new ways of being flexible: looking after children and elderly parents, homeschooling, making more meals during work breaks, all while having to do their jobs.
That’s why Arrup decided to change the game, and stop expecting everything to be done between 9 am and 6 pm on weekdays.
In this way, they relieve the pressure, allow for hybrid work to continue, and give people the breathing space to get their work done well, maintain productivity, and keep people working.
As we’ve heard, the Great Resignation is a spreading phenomenon, and Arrup is not alone in wanting to give employees all the flexibility they need.
But wait, doesn’t this mean working sometimes late at night? On Sundays?
Well, as we all know flexibility and hybrid working are fraught with risk, especially from the dreaded “always-on” culture, where you work dreadfully long hours, barely taking a break.
But apparently, Arrup has succeeded, even if it makes organizing workdays around their teams, and around their clients a bit like playing Tetris’.
But it seems to be working
So we have one senior executive who starts in the morning, stops at 3 to look after her children for a few hours, then picks up work at 8 or 9 pm. Which, frankly, sounds like a terrifying way to organize your day.
Each to their own!
One of their Salespeople said he starts at 7 am every day, and finishes by 4 in the afternoon. Which sounds a bit better.
Another does something similar and uses the free time to pursue a second job, a small business she started up.
And apparently, this shift has stopped people feeling like their managers are breathing down their necks, because changing working hours to suit oneself means you’re having to share your movements, rather than your presence.
And what about working on the weekend?
Well, it seems the challenge, for those who want it (and it’s by no means everyone, no surprise there) … the challenge is to not impose that on people who don’t.
And according to Arrup’s employees, they’re just happy to have the flexibility to be able to and to do things that might otherwise have raised eyebrows, like popping out from work to play with the children at 4 pm, the middle of the traditional working afternoon.
Complete flexibility sounds nice. If you can get it right.
But there is a big problem with the amount of time we have for ourselves, for the things that really matter.
It may sound counterintuitive, but since the 19th century and into the 20th, where hard campaigns were fought to limit working hours so that people could spend more time with their families, doing something other than the daily grind, the amount of precious time we have for ourselves is actually declining.
Data from the OECD shows that the average time people spend on leisure has decreased since the 1980s.
In the 2010s, the average time spent on leisure shrank in eight out of 13 countries surveyed. It dropped by 14 percent in Korea, 11 percent in Spain, 6 percent in the Netherlands, 5 percent in Hungary, and 1 percent in the US.
Why is that? What’s going on?
A study by the Resolution Foundation think-tank compared time-use surveys completed by people in the UK in the 1970s and 2010s.
In the 1970s, working-age men and women each had about 6 hours of leisure per day, while today men have 5 hours and 23 minutes, and women 4 hours and 47 minutes.
Women are doing more paid work than in the 1970s and men are doing more housework. But Women spend more than twice as much time on childcare than in the 1970s, even though they are also spending much more time in paid work.
Maybe because times have changed…. I’m a child of the 70s, and I remember roaming with my friends and brothers in a way that you just don’t see anymore. Times have changed I guess.
Also, maybe in the 1970s, childcare just wasn’t seen as something considered as a “primary activity”.
Technology also plays a part. As we saw brutally during the lockdowns, tech, if not used judiciously, blurs the line between work and play.
Working from home took out the hour or two commuting, and sometimes more, giving back some of that precious time – for those who were able to switch off and do something else!
But this trend of having less time to do things for yourself is, sadly, going in the wrong direction.
And that’s why there are growing calls for reduced working hours, four day weeks.
Four-day week anyone? Do four hours work a day?
We’ve covered this before. People like to talk about shorter weeks and shorter days… One day maybe…
This week’s number is 15. And that’s 15 hours work per week.
That’s what the Great economist John Maynard Keynes predicted back in 1930.
He wrote back then that people could look forward to an age of “leisure and abundance” in which they would only have to work a few hours a day.
But he tempered this, saying that getting there would be a bumpy ride, filled with dread “for we have been trained too long to strive and not enjoy”.
It’s a rather lovely language, this 1930s economic essay he wrote, as people were surveying the wreckage of the wall street crash, and Keynes was wondering if a new Garden of Eden could arise.
He likes that biblical imagery: three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!
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