A workless future?
Though countries across the world are contemplating four-day work weeks to relieve employee stress, this policy change is a luxury India can barely afford
A four-day working week or a four-day weekend; both could be a reality in the not too distant a future. The western world is debating this interesting dilemma as their working populations are looking to enhance their leisure time for a better life. So believe a number of companies around the world, who have cut the working hours to just four days. They found that the stress levels of their employees went down significantly and, happily for the management, the productivity levels went up. Evidently, a Berlin-based project management group tested the four-day week and was pleased with the results. Similarly, some companies in New Zealand who are working just 32 hours a week are thrilled with the overall improvement in employee engagement and, hence, are making the four-day working week the norm. Indeed, the British Trades Union Congress is pushing for the whole country to move to this standard by the end of the century.
The growing backlash against overwork is a noticeable trend in the workforce around the world. Juggling family life and demands of work schedules has always been a tight contest and a direct cause of stress and hypertension. Many studies have been undertaken in academia and medical institutes to show that inability to manage work-related stress has sometimes led to fatal consequences and is often telling of the health of the workers and adding to gender disadvantages. The rolling effect of a stressed worker hampers cordiality and shared warmth with children and spouses. So, the clarion call is for the four-day working week. The Trade Unions Congress of Britain, in September this year, has declared this to be a realistic goal. Frances O'Grady, its General Secretary, says, "It's time to share the wealth from the new technology", particularly where robots and electronic platforms are taking over manual functions.
We are also discovering that this new technology and robotics, while making rapid advances in convenience and ease of task accomplishments, is rendering millions of working people out of work. Far from the promise of sharing wealth, the unskilled and the unsuitably skilled are constantly in fear of finding gainful employment. In our own country, creating employment is the biggest challenge for our economy and we are just not finding any good answers to address this problem. Sure, our difficulties are multiple, educational systems not being adaptive to the needs of current employers, decision-makers not at all alive to moderating modern content where science pedagogy is liberally spotted with the unnecessary fiction of putting corrections of the past into the present, a prime necessity. The net result of the collective efforts has been to mess up the present to increase the future pain of poverty and end up increasing the inadequacy of capabilities needed for an individual's gain and prosperity. Simply put, we are right in the middle of, what our economists call, jobless growth with the growth part being intensely debated on given statistics. The volume of people seeking work ever increasing, our story needs to be about incremental growth of jobs and hence the focus has to be on multiplying skill acquisition opportunities across the country.
So, where does this four-day working week trend leave us in our part of the world? Our stress is about finding and keeping gainful employment. We have firmly believed that 'work is worship' and 'an idle mind is a devil's workshop', 'we have the right to work hard and not the rewards'. Such a philosophical heritage means that stress can be dealt with the right attitude. In any case, it is for later. As unemployment is at an all-time high and there is a growing mismatch between available and needed skills, the four-day working week is not our saviour discourse for the present. Millions of our youth need work and can be productive to their full potential, with leisure and rest reserved for the weekend or even a Sunday. Our industrial force needs every paying hour so that they can extract the maximum wage. At our stage of economy, the very idea is beyond contemplation. Even though a four-day week would reduce energy consumption, save commutation costs and carbon outputs and make the economy environment-friendly, it is not a workable idea. Extended leisure time will cause another set of problems. Sociologically, what will men and women do with their time, with so few having any kind of personal passions, either in sports or outdoor activities, art or craft or theatre or even community service. Even for hobbyists, robots like the Axidraw writing robot can draw anything and take the fun out of human effort. Women being better at managing their time and egos will need to redefine their work and family schedules with the added responsibility of men with extended free and unoccupied time.
The future is coming faster with newer conveniences involving lesser human effort. In this age of apps and robotics, physical effort is being transformed for all kinds of creative outputs. No wonder, industry cannot give jobs, indeed all employers are cutting manpower. Enterprise and profitable business are now all about competitive creativity, ability to innovate for a better life, better health and a cleaner environment. This means that our schools, colleges and universities need a complete overhaul in the way they function. Our syllabus is out of date and we can keep churning graduates, even Master graduates, but they will not be moving into the kind of dream jobs they aspire for. Students coming in have changed, the way they think and the way they engage with global trends. It's really time that our academia changed too, to be able to capture the relevance of global trends in our lives in the future. Even our cities will need to change. Their design, access and safe public spaces, twenty-four-hour availability of goods and services, all these need a fresh perspective. A workless future can be attractive only if it increases our worth as human beings. To that end, the fertility of our minds must be engendered through an array of flexitime education facilities, public sports arenas, day and night libraries and an attitude of study what you want and when you want. Work less or work more, but there must be work. We have to beat the workless future.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)