Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A four-day workweek to save the world

Leye - Every other Wednesday
By Bert Seghers

So, apparently it happened in the seventies in the UK: a three-day week to save electricity because there was a coal shortage due to miners’ wanting to be paid a living wage. Only three days of work. Four days of rest. Even more than I’m proposing.

Those annoying miners. The Tory party made sure it would never happen again.
The actions of the party led to the virtual destruction of the N.U.M., National Union of Mine workers, thus curtailing the type of industrial action that led to the need to save electricity by having a three-day week.

In Nigeria, in addition to the standard bank holidays we have, the births and memorable life occasions of foreign messiahs, our successive governments randomly declare dozens of additional public holidays (that’s what we call them) each year: the return of the ailing President from six month’s treatment abroad, the national football team narrowly defeating Ghana in a friendly match, the President’s toothache abating.

And then there are the National days for mourning, declared following national disasters: flooding - because the government failed to clear the canals after the last flood, a fatal plane crash - because the pilot did not remember where the potholes on the runaway were, Ghana defeating Nigeria in a football tournament.

We are talking dozens of unplanned days off. Days not spent in dreadful gridlock traffic trying to get to a job that pays less than the cost of commuting to and from the job. Days when the government offices are officially closed, unlike when they are open but nothing gets done anyway. Days when business owners wish they hadn’t paid the month’s salary on time this month. Weekdays that feel like weekends, have the carbon footprint and environmental impact of weekends.

Surely, the economy loses out on these public holidays. Businesses don’t make money. Government agencies don’t do Government stuff. It’s waste, right? Well, I do not have any economic studies to cite but I’m sure if the economic effect of these public holidays were so devastating, it would take more than a Presidential tweet to enforce them. (OK, in Nigeria we do not declare war or public holidays through Twitter, but you get the gist.)

This then is my point; the economy can afford a few days off. Surely it won’t lead to the end of life as we know it. Maybe the end of business as we know it. But life, and even commerce, will continue.

Which leads me to my wild suggestion: a four-day workweek to reduce pollution, depletion of natural resources, worker stress, and general loss of life to work.

The five-day week is the norm in most economies. In this arrangement, businesses lose millions to sick days and other unplanned worker absences. There are figures for this that I am not bothered to look up. Reducing the workweek to four days will have a direct impact on these losses. There will be, after all, one less day for workers to be absent from work due to sickness and hangover. We are getting into the intriguing world of dodgy economics here, (and I have a degree in economics that gives me the legitimacy to deep dive into such murkiness), but sometimes crazy makes sense. Sometimes crazy is not crazy, and crazy is the right answer.

My crazy theory is this: Lose one day from the five-day workweek and the fall in unplanned worker absences will more than offset the economic impact of reduced production. An argument can be made that production will not reduce – businesses will just demand more output in fewer days. Well, let them demand.
There is a ceiling and they will hit it.

Now, let us look at the possible outcomes of a four-day workweek:

1.     Reduced pollution – this is the big gain here. Imagine swapping just one day of the current five-day workweek, and the pollution caused by moving people to and from work, for the reduced transportation and pollution experienced during weekends.
2.     Lowered stress levels for workers, supervisors, managers, etc., etc., etc.
3.     Less noise pollution. Kids get to see more of their parents.
4.     Leye gets an additional day to do his writing.
5.     One less day for a stressed-out worker to lose it and come to work with a firearm bought over the counter at Wal-Mart. (In the US, can you really buy a gun from a grocery store? Thank God I don’t live in America.)

Wait. Oh no. This cannot work. This is not crazy good; this is crazy bad. This like getting to the end of a first draft for a new novel and discovering a huge plot hole that makes the entire story worthless. There is a plot hole here. A huge, huge one. Oh no. I thought I’d saved the world.

Have you not seen it? The hole in my theory? No? I’ll tell you. There will be no reduction in pollution unless we have a four-day school week as well.

Ok. Bin it. Bin it all. Bin everything. Till I come up with a new way to save the world, it’s on with the five-day workweek for me.


  1. Oh Leye, You were right to begin with. I was in organizational development during that strike and privy to the data on productivity during the shortened work week. With days worked cut by 2/5ths, productivity was 90% of that during the five-day week. With enormous savings in consumption of electricity. More proof of the old adage: work expands to fill the time allotted. Many New York corporations cut the work week to four days during the summer months, resulting in far fewer traffic jams and joy among the workers.

  2. We just need a good PR campaign to win over the masses and the owners of the means of production.

  3. Sounds good to me. And, indeed, a four day school week would be fine. Three days is probably enough if the learners are actually well taught and expected to do some serious work at home!

  4. Personally, I think we'd be better off if we implemented four days a year work schedules for our Congresses and Parliaments...that would likely increase their productivity.