As France prepares for its 2022 presidential election next April, politicians and think tanks are considering many new ideas on how the country could be run after Covid-19.
This includes pension reform and education, both of which are bookends in someone’s working life. How much do you have to pay to qualify for a pension? Should everyone have the same? And what if people work less? Or should everyone be forced to work less, to distribute the work?
The question is rarely about productivity. France has one of the shortest legally compulsory work weeks and is still in one of the most productive countries in the world (although some might argue that people are working more than the legally required amount). What is not in doubt, however, is that the French typically have 24.8 years of retirement ahead of them when they retire – at the relatively young average of 63.3 years – while the average American has only 18.1.
But more and more people are thinking about the way we work, especially post-pandemic, as everyone rethinks corporate life. What if we all work less and switch to a four-day work week? Some French political thinkers argue in this direction and one of the largest unions in the country (CGT) supports the idea.
On September 1, Scotland announced that it would follow trials in Iceland and New Zealand, to introduce a four-day work week, with no loss of pay. The £ 10million pilot will be rolled out mostly in offices, with companies deciding whether to participate.
A Scottish government spokesperson said “the pandemic has served to heighten interest and support for more flexible working practices, which could include a shift to a four-day work week. Reductions in the work week could help maintain more and better jobs and improve well-being. Unsurprisingly, 80% of people polled in Scotland by the ippr said they would support a shorter work week for the same pay.
The idea as reported by the BBC is that because workers have a three-day weekend, they are happier during the work week, and therefore more productive, doing the same amount of work as they would in a five-day work week.
Importantly, for many countries, the idea is also tied to the economy in terms of what people do with that extra day off. The University of Auckland is monitoring a trial in New Zealand, which began before Covid-19, and has seen a 20% increase in productivity, with trial members reporting a much better life balance professional and private life. For New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, this can only mean good things for the tourism economy. As stated in The Guardian, Ardern said many more New Zealanders said they would travel more internally if they had more flexibility in their working lives.
There are a number of models used around the world to give employees four-day work weeks. Some, like the BBC, put journalists on four, ten hours a day, so they cover the same ground but in longer days. Others do a 32-hour week, as reported The conversation, with either a central rest day for the whole company, such as Wednesday, or rotating team rest days for certain companies. Clearly this poses challenges, but the pandemic has shown that working life can be rewritten. In addition, the tourism industry could clearly benefit from everyone having more fun one more day a week.