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The Four-Day Workweek

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The four-day workweek makes so much sense that of course we will never adopt it.

The world is watching New Zealand.

Decisive early action, along with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s empathetic style of leadership, quashed the country’s coronavirus outbreak in fewer than 50 days, earning it a place on the short list of nations the rest of the world is looking to for guidance — not just on how to fight the initial wave of the pandemic, but on what could come next.

So, when Ardern uploaded a video to Facebook last week floating the idea of a four-day workweek, an audience outside New Zealand took notice, judging by the headlines. Amid the flexibility companies have had to show in response to the novel coronavirus crisis, what once in many quarters would have come across as a fringe notion no longer seemed so unthinkable.

Ardern said she was looking for creative ways to stimulate domestic tourism, to help the industry recover as the country begins to reopen with strict border measures still in place. But she couched the idea in the context of broader changes to the workplace wrought by the pandemic.

If only we had the leadership of New Zealand…

Regardless of the difference between being governed by a hyper-competent liberal and a demented racist carnival barker with dementia, the 4-day week makes a lot of sense. Given the hours we spend at work anyway, it often wouldn’t make much difference to work the extra two hours. It would have a huge impact on traffic and carbon emissions. It would mean more family time and less commuting. The three-day weekend as a standard thing would be great for our mental health. It means more time for short vacations, sports (kids and our own), cooking, and all the other things that make life enjoyable.

Obviously, it would not work for everyone. First, the standard 8-hour day/40-hour week is almost an anachronism now anyway, with so many workers either salaried mid-management types who labor far longer than that or low-wage workers having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet (and probably are working only one of those now). Second, this obviously couldn’t apply to teachers. I don’t think the 4-day week would be good for kids. For people like myself, whose work and play blend together anyway and who never has to be in a given place for a lot of hours at once, it would have no impact.

But the 4-day workweek as the standard would still help out millions of people and it’s something we should fight for.

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