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WHAT’S THE OPTIMAL work week? The Chinese have been complaining about the 996; 9 a.m.-9 p.m., six days a week. The traditional American 40-hour work schedule has been 8-5, with a noontime lunch hour, five days a week. And, come to think of it, R&T had a 35-hour week, though we thought nothing of occasional late nighters or weekends. All of these are a far cry from economist John Maynard Keynes’ 1930 prediction of an eventual 15-hour work week.
As we seek whatever defines a new normal, the work paradigm is being questioned. The Editorial Board of The New York Times suggests “Working Less Is a Matter of Life and Death,” May 29, 2021. And Bryce Covert writes that “8 Hours a Day, 5 Days a Week Is Not Working For Us,” The New York Times, July 20, 2021.
The following tidbits are gleaned from these two NYT articles, together with my usual Internet sleuthing.
996. The recent item “Just Lying Flat” here at SimanaitisSays offers a Chinese alternative to its 996’s 72-hour work week: Namely, chilling out and working no more than necessary for meeting basics.
However, other Chinese, particularly in the country’s IT (Information Technology) segment, feel that 996 is de rigueur. Indeed, the NYT’s Covert observes that the Chinese aren’t alone in long hours: around eight million Americans toil for 60 hours or more each week.
The American “9-5.” According to worklogichr.com, October 23, 2019, “Arguably the most influential business owner to institute the five-day workweek was none other than Henry Ford.”
See “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” here at SimanaitisSays, which discusses how Ford’s 1914 $5 per eight-hour day brought the automobile within reach of his workers.
Since 1914.… Covert writes, “We have long needed better work-life balance, but despite constantly trying to hack our lives by waking up before dawn or exercising during lunch, that can be achieved only by actually working less.”
She notes that Americans log 7 to 19 percent more time on the job than our European peers. What’s more, the NYT Editorial Board cites “the European Union requiring at least 20 working days of vacation per year and many countries mandating a lot more (30 days for the French).” Yet, the Editorial Board notes, “… the United States remains proudly alone as the ‘no-vacation nation.’ ”
John Maynard Keynes’ 15 Hours/Week Future. Covert writes, ‘In 1930, in the midst of the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030, we would need to work only 15 hours a week. Technological advances and increasing productivity and prosperity would mean we could have everything we needed by doing less.”
A Possible 933 option. Suppose we start at 9 a.m., take an hour break for lunch, wrap up at 3 p.m., and do this three days a week. This would give us a Keynes 15-hour work week.
Good? Bad? And suppose we’d do it remotely from home.
So What Went Wrong? As noted by David Kestenbaum in NPR’s Planet Money series, Keynes “imagined by now, we would basically work Monday and Tuesday, and then have a five-day weekend.”
To test this, Kestenbaum interviewed the nearest Keynesian offspring, two grandkids of the economist’s sister. One was a retired professor who said he recalled working 15 hours a day, not a week. The other was a self-employed psychologist who worked 50 hours a week—and admitted she had difficulty in taking time off.
A Harvard economist told Kestenbaum that one of the things Keynes underestimated was the human desire to compete.
And, another, I suspect, is loving the work one does. Recalling my occasional R&T late nighter, I understand completely. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021