The World Today for July 12, 2021



Time Off

A stereotype of Japanese culture would depict it as workaholic.

In reality, Japanese officials are pushing companies to offer an optional four-day workweek for employees who want to devote their free time to “further their education, take care of family members or simply to go out, spend money and even meet others,” wrote the Washington Post.

As columnist Jay Wolz of the Southeast Missourian explained, Japan is one of many countries that are experimenting with shorter workweeks in order to help citizens juggle their life-work balances in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. France instituted a 35-hour workweek years ago, he noted. Leaders from Finland to Britain have proposed shortening their country’s work weeks.

Companies around the world have already tried the idea. Crowdfunding tech company Kickstarter is planning to experiment with a four-day workweek, NBC News wrote. Unilever in New Zealand is now conducting a pilot, Reuters noted. Amazon is also piloting a 30-hour workweek among a cohort of workers.

Twenty percent less time in the office doesn’t necessarily harm productivity. The idea is not so far-fetched. British and Icelandic researchers found that reduced hours did not, in fact, decrease productivity. Workers, meanwhile, said they felt less stressed. With fewer hours to waste, they developed workarounds like shorter meetings, more virtual communications, abandoning unimportant tasks and moving shifts around, wrote Bloomberg.

An Irish firm, the ICE Group, discovered that professionals who worked fewer hours wasted less time in the office, Quartz reported.

In Spain, where a 44-day-long strike in Barcelona in 1919 led to the first eight-hour workday in Western Europe, officials are testing out a plan to pay companies that allow employees to work fewer hours but still retain their pay and benefits. As the Guardian reported, advocates armed with these studies contend that productivity won’t decline.

In fact, productivity might go up. In Japan, Microsoft discovered that cutting the workweek led to a spike in productivity from workers’ improved attitudes and increased energy from enjoying more free time and avoiding burnout, argued University of Limerick Business Professor Kevin Murphy in RTE, the Irish state broadcaster.

Writing in the Economist, University of Pennsylvania Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant called for working hours in the US to comport with school hours that end between 3 pm and 5 pm. The pandemic highlighted how the systems that parents used to deal with those difficult hours weren’t resilient amid a crisis.

Many would say they aren’t workable in normal times.

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