Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The 3-day week: "Is this a charitable proposal wrapped in a business opportunity?"

The debate on shorter working hours is hotting up:
Futures Forum: "We should work less"... "But it's for part-time work, and it's all about the illusion of there being more jobs"

... with more ideas from the world's second richest man:

The Carlos Slim three-day week is a great idea

July 23, 2014 11:26 am By Michael Skapinker

A shorter week would work for many if their companies have the imagination to agree to it

Carlos Slim’s proposal that we work a three-day week sounds crazy. But many, in 1922, thought Henry Ford crazy when he announced that his staff would work a five-day week.

Our working week seems normal to us because it is what we have always known and what everyone else does. In much, but not all, of the world, Saturdays and Sundays are days off. But if you are old enough, you can remember when it was normal for people to work on Saturday mornings too.

So could Mr Slim, the Mexican telecoms boss and the world’s second-richest man, be heralding a change in working life to match Ford’s?

He certainly could be for those he was most concerned about when he made his three-day-week statement at a business conference in Paraguay: the workers who are not ready to retire.

As Mr Slim said, it no longer makes sense for people to stop working in their fifties or sixties when they may still have up to a third of their lives ahead of them. “People are going to have to work for more years, until they are 70 or 75, and just work three days a week – perhaps 11 hours a day,” he said.

Keeping older employees at work makes sense for societies, especially those with a diminishing number of young people who are expected to support long-living pensioners.

It also makes sense for older employees: a mix of work and leisure is what many want. “With three work days a week, we would have more time to relax; for quality of life. Having four days [off] would be very important to generate new entertainment activities and other ways of being occupied,” the 74-year- old Mr Slim said.

He appeared to be suggesting that these short-week workers earn the same as they did full-time. That is what happens at Telmex, his Mexican fixed-line phone company, where those eligible for retirement can opt to work four-day weeks on full pay.

Older workers elsewhere might prefer shorter weeks at reduced pay – and eight or nine-hour days rather than 11. Their companies might value retaining their experience while saving money on their salaries.

What about everyone else? There are those who are unemployed, or in tenuous jobs, or on zero-hours contracts, who would be delighted to have three secure, well-paid days of work a week.

Others in hospitals, supermarkets and petrol stations have to work at night, as well as on the weekends that Ford made rest days for his employees.

But a shorter week would work for many others if their companies have the imagination to agree to it.

I have managed about a dozen working parents (almost all women) on three or four-day weeks. They have, in almost all cases, been more productive and industrious than their five-day week colleagues. They were generally more focused and better organised.

Shorter weeks don’t work in every job, but they work in more jobs than most tradition-bound managers think. Agreeing to them requires two shifts in management thinking. The first is the realisation that much of the time spent in offices is wasted anyway. (And most of the emails sent outside working hours are unnecessary. We coped before we had the technology to send them.)

Senior managerial working hours are often the least necessary of all. Henry Mintzberg, the Canadian management writer, discovered that top executives buzzed around without focusing for too long on anything.

Sir Gerry Robinson, once head of Granada, the television group, told the Financial Times: “I’ve always worked short hours. You make very sure that you do not spend time doing things that are not important.”

Second, senior executives need to understand that the best way to measure people is by the work they produce – not by how much time they spend at their desks.

Above all, managers need to grasp that people’s lives have changed. They have children, and elderly, needy parents. There are years when their children require them more and others when they need them less. If companies are serious, particularly, about promoting women, they need to take this into account. At a lunch I attended in Hong Kong last month for Asian company in-house lawyers, the women spoke about how important flexible working was to advancing their careers.

People living longer, in better health, are changing working life too. Mr Slim’s idea is in tune with the times.

The Carlos Slim three-day week is a great idea - FT.com

And from the New Economics Foundation - who have done a lot of research on the topic:

10 reasons for a shorter working week

Photo credit:   Andrew Dallos
JULY 29, 2014 // BY: ANNA COOTE

Telecoms billionaire Carlos Slim last week became the latest, perhaps unlikely, advocate of transforming our work-life balance. Speaking at a business conference in Paraguay, Slim suggested that a new three-day working week could and should become the norm. This follows the call for a four-day week from leading UK doctor, John Aston, earlier this month.
NEF has long called for shorter and more flexible hours of paid work, firstly in our report 21 Hours and more recently in our book Time on Our Side. Any move towards a shorter working week would need to be implemented gradually, alongside efforts to strengthen wage levels across the economy. But as long as that’s understood, there are clear benefits for environment, economy and society: 
  1. A smaller carbon footprint: Countries with shorter average hours tend to have a smaller ecological footprint. As a nation, the UK is currently consuming well beyond its share of natural resource. Moving out of the fast lane would take us away from the convenience-led consumption that is damaging our environment, and leave time for living more sustainably.
  1. A stronger economy: If handled properly, a move towards a shorter working week would improve social and economic equality, easing our dependence on debt-fuelled growth – key ingredients of a robust economy. It would be competitive, too: the Netherlands and Germany have shorter work weeks than Britain and the US, yet their economies are as strong or stronger.
  1. Better employees: Those who work less tend to be more productive hour for hour than those regularly pushing themselves beyond the 40 hours per week point.  They are less prone to sickness and absenteeism and make up a more stable and committed workforce.
  1. Lower unemployment: Average working hours may have spiralled, but they are not spread equally across our economy – just as some find themselves working all hours of the day and night, others struggle to find work at all. A shorter working week would help to redistribute paid and unpaid time more evenly across the population.
  1. Improved well-being: Giving everybody more time to spend as they choose would greatly reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being, as well as mental and physical health. Working less would help us all move away from the current path of living to work, working to earn and earning to consume. It would help us all to reflect on and appreciate the things that we truly value in life.
  1. More equality between men and women: Women currently spend more time than men doing unpaid work. Moving towards a shorter working week as the ‘norm’ would help change attitudes about gender roles,  promote more equal shares of paid and unpaid work, and help revalue jobs traditionally associated with women’s work. 
  1. Higher quality, affordable childcare: The high demand for childcare stems partly from a culture of long working hours which has spiralled out of control. A shorter working week would help mothers and fathers better balance their time, reducing the costs of full-time childcare. As well as bringing down the cost of childcare, working fewer hours would give parents more time to spend with their children. This opportunity for more activities, experiences and two-way teaching and learning would have benefits for mothers and fathers, as well as their children.
  1. More time for families, friends and neighbours.  Spending less time in paid work would enable us to spend more time with and care for each other – our parents, children, friends and neighbours – and to value and strengthen all the relationships that make our lives worthwhile and help to build a stronger society.
  1. Making more of later life: A shorter and more flexible working week could make the transition from employment to retirement much smoother, spread over a longer period of time.  People could reduce their hours gradually over a decade or more.  Shifting suddenly  from long hours to no hours of paid work can be traumatic, often causing illness and early death.
  1. A stronger democracy: We’d all have more time to participate in local activities, to find out what’s going on around us, to engage in politics, locally and nationally, to ask questions and to campaign for change.

10 reasons for a shorter working week | New Economics Foundation

There's been a lot of interest in Carlos Slim's proposals:
Carlos Slim, richest man in the world, says you should only work THREE days per week | Mail Online
The working week: cutting back on hours has many advantages | Observer editorial | Comment is free | The Observer

Meanwhile, the issue of 'part-time work' rears its ugly head:
Why Being a Part-Time Worker Is Miserable - Bloomberg View

"Is this a charitable proposal wrapped in a business opportunity?"

Billionaire Carlos Slim Wants 3 Day Work Week - YouTube

See also:
Futures Forum: "A shorter working week would make us healthier, give us more fulfilling and sustainable lives and be better for the environment..."

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