Ideas in The Guardian

They ask some writers for what they’d really like to see political parties promising:

Think of the weightless laziness that envelops you when you realise it’s a bank holiday and you have nowhere you especially need to be. Now imagine that feeling of bliss repeated every working week. It could be reality if we all worked no more than 30 hours a week. And crucially that we did so without a detrimental impact on pay.

So, just to illustrate, let’s assume that we all work 40 hours a week now. We move to 30. OK.

Labour input drops by 25%. Great. But how do we all gain the same real incomes? Output has just dropped by 25% hasn’t it?

OK, marginal productivity declines as the work week lengthens, we know that. So, output only falls by 10%, or 15%. We are all, in aggregate, 10 to 15% poorer. How can we all be having the same incomes then?

George Monbiot asks for more cycling lanes which is at least achievable.

24 comments on “Ideas in The Guardian

  1. Are we talking the private or public sector here? For a whole slice of the public sector, (& some of the private*) net productivity, as far as the whole economy is concerned is in minus territory. So as their working week shortens net productivity grows.

    *just think of what it’d do to the Guardian’s profit figures if it didn’t have all those journalists producing a newspaper.

  2. Labour input drops by 25%. Great. But how do we all gain the same real incomes? Output has just dropped by 25% hasn’t it?

    I don’t know. I am a lot more productive in the morning than at the end of the day. Before the coffee wears off.

    The problem is what C. Northcote Parkinson pointed out about retirement. People become useless 5-10 years before they retire. So if they retire at 70 they are useless at 60. If at 60 then they are useless at 50. Likewise I expect people slow down the hour or two before knocking off no matter when it is.

  3. Its the 35 hour week concept we got in France. Based on the fixed size pie “idea”, ie number of working hours needed for the economy is the same so less hours work per person means more people needed and hey presto, unemployment reduces.

    Not quite the way it turned out but who cares.

  4. I once (vaguely) knew of a guy that cut back his working hours as he approached retirement, down to three days a week. He decided to go into the office Monday, Friday, and A N Other day.

    Eventually, as retirement approached, HR asked him why he came in on Mondays and Fridays​, surely it would have been better to take the long weekend.

    The secret, he said, is that nobody does anything Monday morning or Friday afternoons anyway, and I can arrange client meetings​ for Monday afternoon and Friday mornings. You’ve been paying me for three days work a week, but I have only really been working for one.

  5. OK, marginal productivity declines as the work week lengthens, we know that. So, output only falls by 10%, or 15%. We are all, in aggregate, 10 to 15% poorer. How can we all be having the same incomes then?

    You aren’t thinking like a Guardian reader.

    1. Will I lose income? No, I’m paid a State salary.
    2. OK, make up some crap about output staying the same, whatever.

  6. There is sort of a point there, maybe.

    If we stripped out the HR bullshit – which should hopefully also reduce the number of pointless “I need a SMART objective” projects, something of an HR-byproduct – office workers could perhaps get everything useful done in 4 days.

    Can’t speak for manufacturing, retail and the like.

  7. From the pictures in the Guardian, the intellectual powerhouse who proposed this idea could probably earn a decent living by not working at all, but living off the royalties for modelling as a golliwog on a new line of retro jam.

  8. So you say, Mr Economist. Here in France I produce, approximately, fuck all of any value. As do most people in major corporations and not just in France; I’m simply honest enough to admit it. So if you have people producing fuck all of any value in a 40 hour week, pray tell what is lost by having them work 30 hour weeks? From what I can tell from the “working from home” system in place in a lot of modern corporations, having most people out of the office (and thus unable to schedule pointless meetings) improves productivity.

  9. Yup!

    Do you honestly do bugger-all, TimN, or is it more that the important work that needs your particular expertise gets done very quickly, and the rest is just time-filler?

    One of my pet hates is when useless staff are defended because of how busy – but not how productive – they are. Those folks tend to be the ones that create unproductive work for others.

  10. “I keep hearing the same refrain: “I would love to cycle, but it’s too dangerous.”

    Well, that’s what they say. Funnily enough, when you live in places like Swindon that have pretty good cycle path provision, people don’t use them that much. It means arriving at work sweaty, taking a long time and getting your bike nicked. And I think they’re generally a good idea, as they allow kids more freedom.

    And “reducing roads” sounds good, but some bits of London are already narrow, already choked.

  11. Prices Law;

    The square root of the number of employees produces 50% of the value.

    If you have 100, it’s 10 who do half the ‘work’.
    If you have 10,000, it’s 100 who do half the work.

    In larger organisations, very large numbers of people could reduce their hours to no noticeable effect. It’s only those key people who really matter.

  12. When I hit the 10th anniversary of joining my private sector company I asked my UK colleagues if I got anything in recognition. Well you can guess the answer. My colleague in France however in the same situation got a bigger holiday allowance which with the way the 35 hour week works to provide days off in lieu took her to 70 days holiday a year. And no, she is not a teacher.

  13. This links with another thread today. I read Lola’s artice and, well, it’s alright for her to paraphrase Hot Chocolate, but it would cultural appropriation if I did it wouldn’t it.

  14. Sure, David Moore. But if the productive people reduce their hours then less gets done.

    I can’t see a system where you work 30 hours — unless you are good at your job, in which case you work longer for the same pay — being very attractive.

  15. Do you honestly do bugger-all, TimN, or is it more that the important work that needs your particular expertise gets done very quickly, and the rest is just time-filler?

    Any important work that comes across my desk gets done extremely quickly leaving me ample time to loaf. Important work – as I judge it – crosses my desk about once per year.

  16. Chortle. No wonder you like living in France!

    The other problem with HR/H&S filler is it is seen as more important than actual work, so gets priority.

    Such as attending courses on diversity and equality, mandatory 1-2-1 meetings (plus paperwork) with the boss to talk about feelz, mandatory courses on how not to injure yourself by sitting in a chair… patching machines before Wannacry outbreaks notsomuch.

  17. “It could be reality if we all worked no more than 30 hours a week. And crucially that we did so without a detrimental impact on pay.”

    Imagine this was the preamble to an article on robots and AI taking over all our jobs…

  18. I think by and large what I did was useful to the company. I don’t think it had a direct positive effect on the bottom line, but hopefully it reduced the probability of a large negative effect.

    As for HR, one of the things we had to do to meet their objectives was to do CBT training on stuff like the Data Protection Act. I don’t remember a diversity one – this was a good while ago. Anyway my boss got nagged because none of our team did them, so a quick analysis of how the CBT stuff worked and all the team had ‘passed’ all the tests in about 10 minutes flat. I met my objective from the boss there…

  19. I recall when “dress-down Friday” came in. Friday became a de facto half day. A friend who now works 4 day weeks seems to be just as productive as ever.

    If we encouraged people to work 3 day weeks I imagine that productivity will surge just as when Carrington introduced it in 1972

  20. If people can get the same work done in 4 days that they do in 5 then it stands to reason they can get 4 days work work done in 3.2 days, which means they can get 3.2 days work done in two and a half days………

    So we can just go into work for an hour a week and get 5 days worth of work done then? Or is there something magic about getting 5 days worth of work done in 4 days but after that no improvement?

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