I was recently at a conference focused on implementing a four-day workweek for employees. As you probably know, I am a proponent of the four-day workweek.
Study after study has shown that four-day workweeks enable higher retention of employed workers, increase recruitment of new workers, and lead to greater production from employees who are more focused and happier.
We work to be able to live our lives with abundance and joy. Our humanity requires less work and more living.
As I was sitting at the conference thinking about work and life, a participant asked the question of whether reducing the workweek to four days leads employees to feel more “cared for” by their employers.
The question led me to ask whether an employer has an obligation to care for its workers. And that led me to ask whether employees are simply “human capital” or something more. And if they are simply “human capital,” do they simply require the care that a farmer gives to his ox?
I think the issues surrounding implementation of a four-day workweek center much on how employers view their employees.
There is a great scene from the television drama Mad Men that illustrates the point. In the scene, Peggy, who works for the drama’s main character, Don Draper, is lamenting that Don has not given her enough credit and validation for the work that she does for him. She had given him some ideas for creating a commercial for a piece of luggage, and he turned that idea into an award-winning advertisement for which he received full credit.
Peggy complained to Don, “You got the award.” Don replied, “It’s your job! I give you money, you give me ideas.” Peggy retorted, “And you never say thank you.” An exasperated Don ended the conversation with: “That’s what the money’s for.”
Two people committed to their work but with different views of what their responsibilities are to each other.
I often think that when I negotiate to improve working conditions for employees in the unions I represent, management often dismisses the argument because they believe that work conditions are irrelevant so long as there is sufficient money being paid for the job.
But in our post-pandemic world, money is no longer the dominating factor used by workers to assess their satisfaction or happiness in their lives or their jobs. Time is more important for many workers. Flexibility matters a great deal ever since employees were exposed to the knowledge that they could get their work done in different ways from what everyone was used to in the pre-pandemic world.
If workers are going to be successful in convincing employers – and the public in general – that a four-day workweek is good for workers and good for society, it is going to be necessary for them to show that there are benefits to employers that are at least as valuable as the benefits to employees. If there is an imbalance in value, the change is unlikely to occur.
Employers generally will not buy the argument that they have a responsibility to care for their employees beyond the care required of human capital. If the change is going to be made, there will need to be something in it for employers.
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