December 2, 2023
December 2, 2023

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Thank an Auto Worker for Your Soon-to-Come Four-Day Week

When our jobs migrate to a four-day work week–permanently, not on an experimental, trial or interim basis–we might look back and thank the United Auto Workers (UAW) for making that happen.

On strike since September 14, the UAW’s most notable demand is a 40% raise over a four-year contract. But of equal significance–more of a structural and functional change to the way we work and the role that work plays in our lives rather than just a salary level–is their demand for a four-day week.

The key question being examined is whether a workforce can reduce weekly hours from 40 to 32 and days from five to four to determine if productivity (output) be maintained or even improved. And if it can, says the UAW, we want it.

A worldwide body of literature on the subject of the viability of a four-day week is mounting at organizations like the World Economic Forum, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and various organs of the United Nations. Likewise, individual corporations, government agencies like Commerce and Labor, Health and Human Services, and universities and other independent research facilities are studying the issue independently. Major pilots have been run in countries around the world.

All of this activity seems to point at one conclusion: a 32-hour, four-day work week, where applicable, would be the best thing to happen to us since Henry Ford instituted the 40-hour, five-day week 101 years ago, which Congress institutionalized 18 years later. And for much the same reasons.

Lest you think this is a new idea, it is far from that. In Iceland, where a five-year government study (2015 to 2019) showed that when a 32-hour, four-day week was instituted, productivity was the same or improved in nearly all workplaces, morale was higher everywhere and unions renegotiated work patterns. Workers reported they were less stressed, less at risk of burnout, in better health, experienced improved work-life balance, had more time for family and child rearing, as well as time for hobbies, recreation and household chores. Today, 86% of their workforce have either moved to the new schema or have the right to do so. (Sources: Autonomy, a UK research organization, and Association for Sustainable Democracy in Iceland. Reported by the BBC.)

In Spain, regional pilots began in 2017, followed by a nationwide experiment that is scheduled to conclude soon. The results and participant’s feedback echoed that of Iceland. (Source: ABC.) And in New Zealand and Japan, Unilever and Microsoft began more limited, yet significant, studies of productivity ratings and positions on the Global Happiness Index–perhaps not for the current framework, but certainly for the way things will be (although we don’t typically complain about it). Nonetheless, the US is only #16 on the GHI, a measurement that is gaining increasing emphasis. What, after all, is the movement towards a four-day week all about?

An interesting perspective comes into play when you compare the hours worked in a country with the position each country has on the Global Happiness Index (GHI). While it’s too much data for an article of limited length to deal with, suffice to say that there’s almost a perfect inverse relationship between hours worked and happiness. All 15 countries above the US on the GHI index have significantly shorter work hours. Worldwide, this is a point of focus.

The advantages of working less while actually maintaining or even improving productivity are innumerable, including societal, social, cultural, health, leisure, family, lifestyle and educational benefits. But is this just a pipe dream?

That’s where the UAW comes in. When the UAW is front and center on this issue and the number of small and mid-size companies trying out the four-day week is growing on a consistent basis, the four-day week, I would think, merits our consideration and support. Although many of the voices that extol the benefits of the four-day week are notable ones, as an independent career coach and job market observer for more than a quarter of a century, I also think the UAW deserves our thanks for taking the strongest step yet in that direction.

If you like your three-day weekends, think of what you’d do with 52 of them each year.

Thank you, United Auto Workers.

Career Coach Eli Amdur provides top-notch one-on-one coaching in job search, résumés, interviewing, career planning and executive development. Reach him at [email protected] or 201-357-5844.

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