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Labor Day Part II

Labor Day Part II June 2, 2021

The Working Catholic: Labor Day Part II
by Bill Droel

Covid-19 brings us an opportunity to experiment with different work arrangements, including shorter hours. For example, the 100 employees at Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com), a popular crowd-funding platform, will work four days per week in 2022, a minimum of 32 hours. Their pay remains the same as when the company required 40 hours. Aziz Hasan, Kickstarter CEO, says this is not a gimmick. “It’s really about…a more potent impact… [And] it opens up so much more range for us personally.”

Autonomy (https://autonomy.work), a research firm in the United Kingdom, has completed its participation in a five-year study of over 2,500 employees in Iceland. Backed by unions and civic groups, the workweek was four days with 36-hours per worker. Productivity remained the same. Sick days decreased. Customers noted better quality of service. Now, 86% of Iceland employees are allowed a four-day week. Another Autonomy study is under way in Scotland. For more on this get Autonomy’s Overtime: Why We Need a Shorter Working Week by Kyle Lewis (Verso, 2021).
The motivation for a shorter workweek on the part of executives is the realization that attracting and retaining competent employees, particularly because of Covid-19, is an expensive challenge. Some companies adopted employment flexibility long before Covid-19. For example, since the 1990s, Metro Plastic Technologies (www.metroplastics.com) has used six-hour days with 30-hours per week at comparable pay as a recruitment tool. The company has few worker shortages, according to Wall St. Journal (7/31/21).
Here are some considerations about a shorter workweek.
There will be complaints from a supplier or customer or worker or investor. A manager has to stand secure, resisting a premature return to old ways.
Flex-time and shorter workweek experiments can fail when they are implemented top-down, neglecting a genuine buy-in from employees from the start. Experiments originating with employees likely turn out better.
Workaholics are a further challenge. Some employees think clocking 50+ hours per week is noble in itself. A workaholic culture has infected many firms.
Keep in mind that the purpose of a shorter workweek is betrayed if time off is spent on unnecessary consumption. Waiting for the Weekend by Witold Rybcznski (Penguin Press, 1991) is a fascinating examination of how people carry their working day mentality into their time off by, for example, working on their putting.
Josef Pieper (1904-1997) says this mentality exists because our culture is one of “total labor.” The true purpose of time off is to establish “the right and claims of leisure in the face of the claims of total labor,” he writes in Leisure: the Basis of Culture (Ignatius Press, 1952). The obstacle is an economy premised on total work. It needs “the illusion of a life fulfilled.” So instead of genuine time off, it puts forth false leisure with “cultural tricks and traps and jokes.”
True leisure, Pieper concludes, is festivity or celebration. It is the point at which “effortlessness, calm and relaxation” come together. And true leisure “ultimately derives its life from divine worship,” even though people may not be conscious of the association.
“Have leisure and know that I am God.” –Psalm 46:11

Droel is with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)
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