The growing number of workplaces around the world is adopting technology, and a greater variety of tasks is being automated. In the eyes of an important British labor organization, that does not have to be a threat to workers, but it may offer an opportunity: less work time.
"I believe that in this century, we can earn a four-day workweek, with a living wage for all," said Frances O & # 39; Grady, director of the Trade Union Congress, an umbrella group, in a speech at the Labor federation. annual conference. That, he said, would help workers reap the benefits of technological change.
Economist John Maynard Keynes had predicted that people would eventually work only 15 hours a week. Instead, technology has led to unpredictable, more intense and longer hours at work, the Trade Union Congress said. "This is a return to the days of piecework, creating a culture in which workers are required to be constantly available to work," the group said in a report.
It is not the only organization that analyzes how technology affects productivity and work-life balance.
Who is experimenting with a shorter work week?
– A test of a six-hour work day in Gothenburg, Sweden, led to happier, healthier and more productive employees. The problem: it was too expensive.
– Perpetual Guardian, a firm that administers trusts and estates in New Zealand, instituted a four-day week and kept salaries the same. He said that productivity increased among his staff when his work hours were reduced to 32 hours from 40. The company is now considering whether to make permanent change.
– In an effort to close a large gap in its state budget in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, Utah cut the work week. Advocates said the measure had the effect of improving the supply of government services available online and was better for the environment, but the state also benefited from volunteer groups taking over when government organizations closed.
– Amazon, the giant online retailer, has tested a small pilot program for a 30-hour workweek, where staff worked at a reduced time, albeit at a reduced salary.
What else is being done to protect against invasive technology?
France has created a law that gives workers the "right to disconnect". It requires companies with more than 50 employees to negotiate a new protocol to ensure that work is not spilled during work hours, an effort to prevent cases of exhaustion. say, they are becoming more frequent.
Several measures have been taken in Germany to improve the work-life balance. The Ministry of Labor of the country ordered its supervisors in 2013 not to contact employees outside office hours. In 2011, the German automaker Volkswagen began shutting down its Blackberry servers at the end of the working day. Daimler, another German car company, eliminates emails sent to employees while on vacation.
So, will we have all three-day weekends soon?
Unfortunately not. It may be feasible for some companies, but it is unlikely to occur in whole economies in the coming years.
Any such change, even if possible, would not happen overnight, said Alex Bryson, a professor who specializes in labor studies at University College London. Companies that wanted to limit working hours would have to make investments to help their workers be more productive, which would take time and money, he said.
"It will be a gradual change," added Paul Swinney, head of policy and research at the Center for Cities, a group of experts based in London. "We'll see a bit of that with some people who decide to work four days a week, and five more, and it will gradually change along with social norms."
"In 50 or 100 years, four days may be the norm," he continued, "but we should not expect it by 2020."