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Four-Day Workweek? World Economic Forum Weighs The Merits Of The ‘Upper Class’ Working Less

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Attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, discussed growing calls for a four-day workweek and various challenges the arrangement could present to companies.

Proposals for a four-day week of eight-hour days have increased in recent years, culminating in an international study finding that revenues rose for participating companies even as metrics related to employee well-being improved. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, led a panel event at the conference during which officials considered the global rollout of the arrangement.

Dutch Employment Minister Karien van Gennip acknowledged that the four-day workweek conversation remains “very much a discussion for the upper class.” More than one year after virtual commutes became commonplace for white-collar employees after the lockdown-induced recession, some 67% were able to work from home exclusively compared to 48% of educators and 35% of healthcare professionals, according to a poll from Gallup.

“If you look at many of the jobs that are service jobs, they are still in-person service jobs,” van Gennip said. “It’s much more difficult to go toward those flexibility hours and also, if you would go to a four-day work week, if you consider the discussions we also have on minimum wage and on living wage, then you have to be quite serious about what it means for the pay per hour.”

Randstad CEO Sander van’t Noordende nevertheless asserted that implementing flexible work arrangements is a “business imperative” for many companies.

“Talent is scarce, and you almost start to treat your talent as your customer,” the Dutch human resources consultancy executive remarked. “Work-life balance is a critical thing that people are looking for as well.”

Some 45% of workers cite lackluster flexibility when discussing why they left their previous jobs, while roughly 48% mention childcare issues, according to another survey from Pew Research Center. UNI Global Union General Secretary Christy Hoffman confirmed on the panel that “scheduling is really important for low-wage, predominantly women workers” in sectors where virtual or flexible work is less feasible.

Hoffman added that the United States and Japan are “by far the worst” in comparison to the rest of the developed world with respect to work hours. “It’s sort of considered barbaric in other countries that you get two weeks off per year,” she continued, noting that four weeks of paid vacation is a customary practice in western Europe.

Grant contrasted the possibility of a four-day workweek with criticism of flexible work arrangements from Elon Musk, who has mandated that employees at his companies complete their tasks from the office. The billionaire informed workers at electric automaker Tesla that work-from-home is “no longer” acceptable and commented on social media that those who disagree with the new policy “should pretend to work somewhere else.” He likewise told Twitter employees that working “on location physically” is far superior to other arrangements.

Other findings indeed show that the costs of virtual work arrangements are palpable for employers: 85% of business leaders say the shift to hybrid work “has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive,” according to a study from Microsoft.

Van’t Noordende noted that “time will tell” whether the cultural sea change at Twitter will be successful.

“If people want to work seven days per week in a very intense environment to build a great company, be my guest. They should absolutely do that,” he said. “But I am wondering, because now he bought Twitter, which is a more established company with a certain culture, can he change that culture to the startup culture that he sort of built the other businesses with? It’s an interesting experiment.”

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