Last week the Gambian president declared a four day week for all public sector workers. “This new arrangement will allow Gambians to devote more time to prayers, social activities and agriculture – going back to the land and grow what we eat and eat what we grow, for a healthy and wealthy nation” says the announcement.
The president goes by the official title of ‘His Excellency the President Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya Jammeh’, which tells you how seriously he should be taken, but the decision has prompted a new round of debate about the working week.
The normal working week is five 8-hour days. You could work four 10-hour days and have a three day weekend. That would be a proper break, long enough to do some volunteering, pursue a hobby or see more of your kids. It would be good for the ‘big society’.
Then again, you could just work four 8-hour days, and that would be even better. The cries of protest would go up from the captains of industry of course, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the actual amount of work wouldn’t drop very far. When Britain adopted the three day week in 1974, industrial output only fell by 6%. France’s famously reduced work week that began in 2000 didn’t reduce GDP per capita. Apparently if people work fewer days, they work harder on them.
Working longer hours doesn’t necessarily make you richer, as a quick comparison of working hours and GDP per capita will tell you. Greeks worked an average 2,032 hours a year in 2011, while Germans only worked 1,413.
Conrad Schmidt adds a further dimension. As we know, the efficiency of the economy has been steadily improving for decades. As technology improves, it takes fewer hours to do the same amount of work and earn the same amount of money. In theory, we could have used that efficiency to work less. Previous generations have assumed that we would, eventually creating a leisure society where people would barely need to work. Instead, we worked the same hours and chose more money instead. And then more money and then some more, even though we have no time to enjoy the things we have because we’re too busy working.
In short, there are good reasons to work less, and not just to make sure that civil servants get to Friday prayers.