10 September 2018
Reading the news today that some unions are calling for a four-day week thanks to efficiency boosts brought by technologies like AI and automation, I have to wonder if this is really the best measure.
At its annual conference, the TUC called on the government to help people earn the same but work less.
Introducing a compulsory four-day week earning the same salary, whilst potentially great for workers, would it have the best outcome in the long term? Consider this, the business would need to be at least 20% more efficient. How many businesses are making 25% profit? How many businesses or organisations could truly sustain themselves with a four-day week? Look at the NHS or schools – could we truly cover the shortfall in people in classrooms or on wards?
It’s great to read of businesses already making this work. I have no doubt that more firms will be able to introduce shorter working hours, but could it really work across the board?
Work-life balance vs the working week
In reality, I would think that introducing four-day weeks as a compulsory measure would only put more pressure on businesses to produce the same outcomes in less time. This then puts pressure on workers to work even harder.
Whilst, yes, the technology is designed to pick up the shortfall, the reality is that the technology simply isn’t there at the moment. The only businesses actually testing out AI and true automation are huge organisations. Theses are often international businesses who are not playing by the same tax rules as the rest of us.
Instead, it would be incredibly valuable to encourage more realistic ways to nurture a better work-life balance. I would bet that once a few big businesses are able to cut the working week, more will naturally follow, cutting hours to a point that is manageable and unique to each business. I can’t see how a compulsory hours cut would give the best long-term outcome.
The issue is not so much about reducing time at work, but more about tackling underlying disengagement; about finding out what works for you and your business and going from there.