The 4-Day Workweek and Catholic Leisure Time
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Experiments into the 4-day workweek show promising results for both workers and employers. The data is so persuasive, many employers are experimenting with shorter workweeks in various forms. But how does a shorter workweek align with Catholic teaching?
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - "Idle hands are the devil's workshop," is a well known proverb, referring to the importance of work for the sake of virtue. But in today's world, idleness has become rare, even for people who do not labor at traditional jobs. With two parents working, kids in school doing activities, elder parents needing care, and the demands of the parish community, social groups, and more, most people report they feel stressed and overworked. Indeed they are. In 2016, a landmark study revealed that the average American literally works more hours than medieval peasants did.
There are a number of problems that explain why Americans work as much as they do. The light bulb is just one of them, turning traditional sleeping hours into productive time. Smart devices with their glowing screens eat further still into hours allocated for rest.
The heart of the problem however is American culture, because it worships work. Americans are unique in that they boast how hard they labor. Committing more than 40 hours per week to labor is a badge of honor. Working more than one job is laudable. And for many people, it is necessary because low wages and high rents force both spouses to work as much as they can to survive, not to mention get ahead.
The 40-hour workweek is also a culprit. It was designed at a time when one spouse remained home to raise children and keep house. Now, with both spouses working, there is much less time for keeping house and raising children properly. This leads to sacrifices, and among those sacrifices, church life is one. Want to know why church attendance is down? There are many reasons, but the lack of leisure time is one of them.
It's easy to blame working families for this predicament. But the wealthy owners and shareholders who profess to know better haven't exactly discouraged this behavior either. Nor has the Church said much on the matter.
But the data doesn't lie. Workers carve out time to do what is important to them, and that means they slack off at work to handle personal business on their phones, or to enjoy social interaction, or to eat and do all kinds of things besides work. This leads to employers paying employees for a lot of unproductive time. Some employers have resorted to spying and monitoring employees, practices which contribute to burnout and turnover, but don't do much to boost productivity.
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Again, workers can be blamed for their own dishonest behavior, but its the employers who bear the cost. However, the 4-day workweek appears to be just the thing to fight back against slackers and burnout.
Studies from both the public and private sector reveal that employees work harder when they have less time to get their work done. They waste much less time under a 4-day workweek. The elimination of meetings and the use of email, Zoom, and other practices that make workplaces more efficient help. In-person meetings can be replaced by online ones, or emails. Employers who do this find their employees have a lot more time to get things done.
The cost to the employer, and the catch is, they cannot cut pay, since that leads to turnover. So pay rates need to be adjusted so employees do not see the change as a pay cut. But this isn't a cost if they are getting better work in less time, especially since the cost is already paid at present for less work in more time.
The benefits aren't just limited to increased productivity. They also include happier employees who have more time to handle their personal business off the clock. Banking, going to the doctor, parent-teacher conferences, and running a time-sensitive errand becomes doable since the worker has a weekday off to schedule them. Employees report less stress, more happiness, and they feel more rested and take fewer sick days.
But is this the right way to go about it? Shouldn't people work hard and act right, regardless?
The short answer is yes, they should work hard and act right, but we live in a fallen and corrupted world where that simply isn't going to happen as often as it should. Such workers are rare. Instead, people will take advantage to the extent they feel they can. They'll do worse if they resent their employer. It's immoral and sinful, yet, common. So, the solution is to engineer the system so workers don't want to take advantage. One way to do that is to offer perks nice enough, the workers won't dare jeopardize a good thing. It's also important to hire right from the start, workers who agree with the company's ethics and morals and won't cheat the system, and to eliminate those who do. Although employers should be generous and fair, they have the right to demand committed, quality work for just wages. Slackers and cheaters must go, regardless.
From a Catholic perspective, it makes sense. Even God rested. And while it is incumbent upon the individual to set aside time for rest and to attend Mass, the reality of our world is that rest is minimized and church attendance is sacrificed. In modern America, there's just too much pressure on people to do too many things. By giving workers one extra day to handle their business, they can focus that much more on their work.
Some employers give their workers choices, allowing workers to choose one day each week to take off. Others aren't allowing days off, but are offering one or more days of remote work instead of requiring attendance at the office. Some are only taking one three-day weekend per month. And in other cases, employees are working four ten-hour days. But in all cases, the move seems to be a win for both employers and employees.
And for the parish community, it should also translate into more people having more time to spend at church. That's a win for everyone, since faithful, prayerful, rested, and invested employees should be the best and most reliable of all.
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