By Ludvig Brisby Jeppsson
Final exams are soon over and the holidays will offer the opportunity to take a break from late evenings in the library and early morning classes. The common view is that the chance to rest is needed and leisure will make it possible for people to return highly motivated and full of energy.
But that hasn’t always been the case. The forty-hour workweek and two-day weekend is really a modern day invention, achieved by the labour unions during the first half of the 20th century. The working hours in the US has decreased during the 20th century and there are some reasons pointing towards a continuous decrease, according to data from Bureau of Labour Statistics.
Firstly, there is the predicted technological development suggesting digitalization and AI [artificial intelligence] will replace jobs containing repetitive elements.
Then there are left-oriented political views on limiting or decreasing work hours, e.g. seen in the Bernie Sanders campaign where he expressed that he wanted to bring back the 40-hour week. In some European countries like Finland, Sweden and France there are even cases where a six-hour workday and 35 hour workweek has been proposed and experimented with. The main argument is often that the shorter work period has no negative effect, rather a positive effect, on productivity.
On the other hand, there is globalization and increasing competitiveness, making it hard to believe any logics behind less work (where human labor is needed) and sustained economic wealth. And predicting less working hours is not something new.
Already in 1930, famous economist John Keynes predicted that today’s workforce would only work 15 hours per week and enjoy their free time instead. Today’s figures ranging from 30-40 is not near Keynes’ guess, suggesting that there is a will from people to choose increased pay over increased leisure.
What it comes down to, both on a societal and an individual level, is a situation where we want to get washed but not get wet. That is, most people would probably like to work a bit less, but we don’t want to compromise the economical situation. As a society we want technical advancement so that we could receive a high living standard with less working hours, but we don’t want high unemployment.
Maybe it is just the method of measuring work by the hour that is out of date? Perhaps more task-driven work schedules and pays should be implemented, making the job market more dynamic but also riskier? That’s something to think about while resting in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve.