Shortening Our Work Week, or Reddest Apples of Eden

Edvard Munch: Beneath the Red Apples (1926-1930) // Public domain

The idea of a 4-day working week has already captured minds in many places around Europe. Like UBI, it is a devilishly sweet temptation that is almost impossible to resist.

But the promise of happiness can turn into a formula for disaster. It creates an expectation that is unlikely to be fulfilled, and expectations that surpass reality, as we all know, lead to disappointment. What a paradox! And there are more of them in this garden.

Many of us would like to work a shorter week, but when we think that it would also apply to our doctor, our children’s teacher, our plumber and bus driver, our enthusiasm wanes. After all, many of these professions are already in short supply. It is a paradox that the expectation of a short week is born when we desperately need to increase the productivity of our economy. When the public sector has to respond quickly and efficiently to internal needs and external threats.

In Lithuania, two out of three young people already support the new idea. Until now, young people have entered the labor market hoping to find their dream job and employer. The idea that a hobby can become a job and then “you will never have to work” has been in vogue for several years. It inspires everyone to find their calling, to contribute to a healthy microclimate at work, since the workplace is not just a place where we earn our bread. It is where we socialize, grow our talents and share the fruits.

The expectation of working 4 days a week changes the trajectory of these professional goals. It turns our dreams in one direction – to find a job where we have to work less, or to claim that right from the merciful politicians.

It is claimed that a shorter week allows us to create in four days what we used to create in five. We do need to increase the productivity of the economy, which means creating more value. It does not mean creating the same value in less time. And the private sector is constantly looking for ways to increase productivity: using cutting-edge techniques, investing, saving, shortening process chains. If the 4-day week opens up an additional layer of motivation for employees, private companies will definitely try it. Because they bear all the risk and burden of their decisions. Forcing everyone to shorten the working week would be a blow to our economy in the fierce competition for global markets.

It’s different with public institutions. One of the Lithuanian public institutions –- Vilnius Heating Networks, with its 4-day week project, proves that there are huge reserves for process optimization in the public sector. Some functions do not need to be performed, others can be shortened by eliminating pointless bureaucracy and the routines of the last century. For years we at LFMI have stressed that this is the path to the strong and efficient state we so desperately need. In the face of security threats, we need a responsive and effective state even more.

But so far, such reforms have been hampered by a lack of motivation. Will it now turn out that with the promise of four-day week we have found such motivation? After all, if there is such a reserve in the state domains, it belongs to the citizens, to the people, not to the bureaucrats. Moreover, it is the bureaucracy that is holding back the productivity of all of us. That is where the real assets reside.

In the meantime, we are like little children plucking the reddest apples from a picture of paradise and sending each other the best wishes for happiness.

Continue exploring:

Four-Day Working Week Without Rose-Tinted Glasses

Why World Needs More Markets in Healthcare

Elena Leontjeva