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Saturday, March 28, 2009

In defence of the three day week

In the face of declining revenues, the New York Times has imposed a 5% pay reduction on its staff. In recognition of this they have given them ten extra days off as compensation. I'm sure people will take it. There can't be many other places that Times staffers can go. They aren't the only employer who are introducing some form of reduced working hours. These moves are being presented as desperate measures for desperate times. Maybe they're a harbinger of something more permanent.

Thirty years ago people speculated that the working week would get shorter and everybody would have something called "leisure time". What actually happened was the people with high status jobs devoted more time to work - not because they needed to but because they liked it that way. I think for a lot of people "busy-ness" is a pose. We talk about our increasingly busy lives as if they're a function of the modern consumer society. They're not. Compared to a peasant farmer we're all dossing. If we're so all-fired busy how have we managed to find time to watch TV or play with Google Street View or blog? One of the great achievements of "The Office" was that it hinted that office politics fill the vacuum that used to be occupied by productive work.

The greater truth is we always find time to do the things we want to do. In the current climate a lot of people are going to find that they can do what they have to do in far less time. It won't make anyone richer but it might make us better off. The shorter, more intensive working week may be here to stay.