Thanks to reader Antonia for drawing our attention to this BBC article. It’s a bit of a fence-sitter as articles go, suggesting that a shorter work week could be a “double-edged sword,” in terms of its social effects; but it’s fair to acknowledge, I suppose, that some people feel a bit lost without work and the article at least offers some real-world examples of how people who can’t sit still might use the extra time.
The scattered shorter-week trials that have been conducted suggest that workers with longer weekends – but whose pay stayed the same – used their extra time for a mix of activities. For a New Zealand financial services firm that last year gave employees the option of a four-day working week, this included more employee time spent golfing, watching Netflix, studying and spending time with family. For a UK PR firm that also instituted a four-day week, one young employee started spending her extra time volunteering with elderly people.
I must say that I find all this “what would I do with my time?” talk slightly bewildering. If we’re including relatively default activities such as “watching Netflix” and “spending time with family” as suggestions, I’m not sure we have much to worry about. One doesn’t need a particularly fertile imagination or very much social privilege to come up with the idea of filling an extra day with such activities. Washing? Should that be included as a recommendation? Eating lunch? Having a poo-poo? A wee-wee? Does all of this need to be explained to people as something to do when you’re not being cajoled into a workplace?
This article isn’t even talking about the total escape from the drudgery of work, remember, but about a reduced (i.e. four-day) working week. The idea that people will go off the rails (it is often suggested that people could fall into crime and drug abuse without good old Work to provide a structure for the day) has never sounded genuine.
As much as anything, we already have evenings and weekends. I’m aware that a minority of workers go a little crazy in terms of Saturday night revelry, but they don’t go insane as soon as the whistle blows and start hot-wiring cars and slinging burning bins through shop windows, do they?
You can just imagine Puritanical ministers and industrialists invested in a docile workforce having this kind of reservation when the idea of a weekend was first proposed. “Two days per week of not working? Whatever will they do to fill the time? Whatever it is, it’s sure to be immoral! Work, Work, Work! That’s the only way to keep society together. Work and the Holy Bible!”
See also: pensioners. The proven, everyday, humdrum fact of the matter is that few people willingly work or fall into criminal behaviour once they’re given a modest stipend to live on. They just tend to potter about and play with grandchildren, don’t they? Society doesn’t fall into chaos when people stop working: I might be wrong but there seem to be remarkably few gangster grannies to suggest otherwise.