Special Guest Essay
Job Sharing and a Four Day Work Week
by Mike Robinson
I am writing to encourage individuals and families to consider the benefits of an abbreviated work week. This generally means working from 30 to 36 hours a week, rather than the usual 40 hours or more most people spend at their jobs.
The greatest benefit to working four days a week is time. More time. Time for family, friends, community, recreation, work around the house and yard, volunteering, and education. From my experience, I find having an extra day where I'm not obliged to work for a wage, saves me money, stress and resentment. I can do more maintenance on house, garden, or vehicles. I can start a small part-time business if I desire. My weekends are much more relaxed, and consequently I don't try to cram too much into the two days and end up more exhausted on Monday than I was on Friday. And often on Monday, I'm actually looking forward to going back to work. It's only four days till Thursday!
The personal, familial and community benefits are enormous, but let's consider the societal benefits. Pursuing economic development is important, however we must accept that these initiatives may not be successful, or may provide jobs only for those with specialized skill sets. I believe what is needed is more available jobs in every sector, providing opportunities for everyone. If we all worked 15% less, logic tells us that 15% more people would need to be employed. I offer you the end of our unemployment problem. Imagine if we had full employment in our country. Just like the old days! What an amazing country it could be if young people didn't have to move to the cities to find jobs; if some children didn't have to grow up in poverty because their parents can't find work; if no one was forced on to welfare, and if every weekend was a long weekend! Think about it.
Why is this simple and beneficial structure is not already in place? There are many reasons, starting with the debt load that many people place themselves under. A consumer society that encourages big houses, new vehicles, and other expensive status items, also encourages debt, be it credit card, mortgage or loans. Once hooked, it is difficult to spit out the lure. A society that places such status on material wealth tends to discourage voluntary simplicity.
Another reason is habit. Since the right to work only 40 hours a week was earned, people have come to accept it as an 11th commandment. I assure you, it is not.
Possibly the most significant reason is that business does not want full employment. The essentially "legislated" unemployment we live with, benefits big and corporate businesses by providing them a labour pool of individuals willing to work for low or minimum wages. On top of this we see the employees who retain their jobs asked to work longer hours every week. It all comes down to the bottom line for a business, and fewer employees working longer hours means less employee benefits to pay, and increased profits for shareholders. The real cost to families and societies are not easily quantifiable to the accountants and economists, and largely ignored.
My purpose here is not to slam big business, or to speculate on what motivates the governments, but to ask all of you to consider the benefits that you, your family, community and society could gain from a four day work week. Many progressive societies, mainly in Europe, have legislated an abbreviated work week. The idea isn't particularly radical, simply discouraged and ignored in North America. I believe we as citizens must begin to demand policies that benefit our society as a whole, not big business, and does not use an economic gauge as the entire measure of success. The "standard of living" we use as an indicator of prosperity, measures our purchasing power, not our quality of life. There is a very big difference.
If I have my way, I will never return to working 5 days a week. The paycheck's a wee bit smaller, but I have a much richer life.
Ironically, Mike Robinson is an employment counsellor, as well as a community/social activist from Lund, British Columbia, Canada. He spends his spare time using humor and common sense to educate and motivate citizens, and to encourage morality, sustainability and responsibility in the corporate sector. Usually ignored, he perseveres, perhaps naively believing in the power of behavior modification through osmosis.
One of Robinson's favorite web sites is www.globalideasbank.org
Also see Creating Jobs through Shorter Hours
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