Towards the end of 2018, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) proposed that with the advancement of technology a four-day workweek could be a realistic possibility in the near future.
This seems to come in spite of Britain’s uncertain future, where a shorter workweek sounds like a shot in the foot before the race to the global market, and of the concerns surrounding the rapid encroachment of AI into the workplace. Automating human labour means unemployment, right? Well, not necessarily.
If implemented properly, the four-day workweek could actually help to combat unemployment and underemployment by spreading out available work, and in trials in New Zealand and Sweden, benefits to employees included reduced stress, higher engagement, a better work-life balance, and fewer cars on the road – a benefit to the world in general. Not so bad after all.
The problem is that for this large-scale change to take place employers would need the benefits to far outweigh the disadvantages, and there are disadvantages. Depending on the company, clients may expect Monday-to-Friday accessibility on all members of staff, and depending on the type of job, some employees may suffer greater stress trying to fit the same workload into four days instead of five. Maintaining current productivity, rather than growing it, might not be an incentive for companies to make the switch, so what is?
Again, the answer could lie in technology.
Social media and the internet are already shaping the professional sphere in myriad ways that we still don’t fully understand. From a business perspective, the importance of branding and online presence has transformed the public image and marketing strategies of hundreds of companies worldwide.
The aim is still the same (Get more customers) but the method has evolved with the rise of social technology. Now, businesses take on a human voice and image, often tailor-made for the millennial market. On Twitter, you can find fast food chains bantering with reality stars or museums sharing memes, all in the service of business. It’s giving corporate bodies a friendly face, and it works, which is why it could be enough to push businesses into implementing a four-day week.
After all, in the era of Pixar Studios’ scooter-friendly offices and Google’s college-campus-esque headquarters what better way to improve reputation and employee retention and recruitment than by boasting a hip and progressive four-day week. It’s the manager-as-best-friend dream come true: they’ll let their employers have a free day off! Just because they care!
For some office workers, they can’t even take a sick day without it turning into a day working from home.”
For a lot of people, the calculated reasons behind these personable facades don’t matter. You’ll still enjoy the benefits of a four-day workweek if you work there, and like me, you might enjoy the wit of a good social media manager. But will the implementation of technology really mean less work?
In January, a Buzzfeed article was published concerning generational burnout, where the author argued that many millennials suffer from constant burnout because they’re always working. This article was widely shared and seemed to strike a nerve with a lot of people. Social media has paved the way for individuals to build their own personal brands, businesses and “side hustles”, but it’s also contributed to an environment of constant work.
The accessibility that makes agile working possible also put employees in the position where they are always available, even when they’re not technically at work. For some office workers, they can’t even take a sick day without it turning into a day working from home.
If a four-day workweek is introduced, there’s every possibility that this could all be foreshadowing work’s steady invasion on the home. It’s easy to say “Well, just leave the work at the office then!” but can we? Each and every one of us believes that by going the extra mile, by working when we’re not expected to, and by building our own platforms and brands, we’ll stand out. But when everyone does it, what makes you so special? And can we really trust our employers not to capitalize on that?
The influence of technology on work can’t be covered in one article. Neither can it be reduced to a black and white/good and evil kind of debate where “technology” as an umbrella term can be revered or reviled fairly. A shorter working week has both advantages and disadvantages, as does the accessibility and networking power of social media platforms.
As time goes on, the influence of this technology on our lives both inside and outside of work is only going to become stronger, and an already blurred line between them could be erased altogether.