Are you burned out? Is the 4-day work week inevitable?

Would you like to work fewer hours for the same pay? You may think this is obvious, but it is a serious question that employees and employers are beginning to ask.

The following excerpts from an online article predict the 4-day work week will result from COVID-related burnout. We, however, believe the number of working hours will shrink, but not only from burnout but from factors even more fundamental.

“Burnout” is a state of mind. It represents a divergence from what is considered acceptable.

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Dull, repetitive jobs, without a sense of accomplishment, plus pressure to keep up, error-free, can lead to burnout.

Years ago, more people worked 6-day weeks. They might not have enjoyed the experience, but they didn’t “burn out.” They just kept going, because it was seen as normal.

Today, many parents, especially single parents, work 6 or even 7 days a week caring for their children, caring for their homes and lives, and even have 2nd or 3rd jobs, just to survive.

They may not allow themselves to “burn out.” They just trudge ahead.

Some business owners work 7 days a week, building their businesses. If a business is successful, the owner probably will not burn out. But when the business struggles, burnout could come quickly.

That provides a clue to what burnout really is. It may not be related to hours, but more importantly to feelings of accomplishment, human relationships, or importantly, the lack thereof.

Consider your own situation. Do you work in:

*A relatively mindless, repetitive job, for which there is no “winning,” no sense of accomplishment?

*A job in which any error you make will be criticized, but if you make no errors, no one will notice?

*A job you never can finish, and you feel under pressure to keep up?

*A dreary job that has no “happy” days, only misery days?

*A lonely job where you have no friends or are unable to take time to converse with your fellow employees?

*A job where you are surrounded by disgruntled employees or disgruntled bosses.

If so, you may be ripe for burnout. Consider that as you read these excerpts:

People are burned out and quitting their jobs. Could a 4-day work week help?

By Tracey Anne Duncan
June 24, 2021

The pandemic changed the way many of us perceive our jobs. Working from home became the norm for people privileged enough to do so — and as a result, working in offices has started to seem burdensome and a bit nonsensical.

Now that some businesses are starting to require people to go back to actual physical workplaces, a large swath of people are either quitting their jobs, or seriously considering quitting.

Keep in mind that the author is talking about people who had out-of-home jobs and were satisfied. Then they began to work at home, and having recently returned to their previous workplace, find themselves burned out.

To combat the resignation pandemic, Japan is proposing a nationwide four-day work week. Could a shorter work week help remedy people’s newly exacerbated disgust with the office?

It’s pretty surprising that Japan is the country leading the way to more relaxed options for workers, because the country is known for its, um, intense work culture. There’s even a Japanese word — karoshi — that translates to “death by overwork.”

To combat burnout, Japan unveiled a plan this week to make working 32 hours a week the new normal.

It’s not just the Japanese government that thinks working fewer hours might be a solution to overwork.

Kickstarter announced Tuesday that it is instituting a 32 hour work week without reducing pay, and the Prime Ministers of both Finland and New Zealand have also entertained the idea, reported the Washington Post.

Also, Spain decided back in March that it would be experimenting with a three-year test run of the 32-hour work week.

The four-day work week is an idea that has been floated off and on since the 1970s. So, what’s making both nations and big corporations reconsider the traditional 40-hour work week now?

Well, firstly, working during a global crisis has led to widespread burnout for many, and some experts also think a more reasonable set of hours is a way to make themselves more attractive to a new generation of workers.

“Younger people are demanding more out of their work environment than just a paycheck,” professor of business law at the University of Connecticut, told The Washington Post.

“They want to work with someone who believes in their values — and the expression of a four-day workweek sends a signal that the company cares about work-life balance in a significant and meaningful way.”

Another clue.

The problem is not the workweek or the work hours. The problem is the “signal.” People want to feel appreciated.

People want to feel their efforts have meaning. People do not want to feel constant, unremitting pressure with no reward.

Most of the research about decreasing the number of hours people work doesn’t decrease their productivity. In fact, working fewer hours could make people more productive.

Microsoft introduced the four day work week to employees in Japan in August of 2019, and they found that it increased productivity by 40%, reduced the waste the company created, and reduced the amount of electricity the company used.

Plus, 94% of employees were happy with it, reported the Post.

There are issues beyond initial results. Burnout occurs over weeks, months, years, even decades and can be attributed to many factors.

One factor not mentioned is the effect of the research itself. Giving people an extra day off, or an extra hour-per-day off creates a change from the grinding sameness of many jobs.

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Increased worker productivity can lead to reduced worker hours. Is this man’s job interesting and stimulative or dull and stressful?

The very fact of change, or the participation in an experiment, can provide an exhilaration that temporarily can offset feelings of burnout.

We do not know whether years of 32 hour weeks, either via a day off per week, or time off per day, would yield the same results.

The ordinary, the commonplace, the dull, the repetitive — all may be precursors to burnout,  and mere change could prevent it.

Another factor to consider: Automation. Computers, particularly “smart” computers, can increase perceived productivity by allowing one human worker to accomplish more. Worker productivity is not so much a worker’s function as it is a tool function.

That means today’s interesting job could be tomorrow’s dull job if much of the interesting parts are handled by computers. There is a vast difference between analyzing data to make decisions vs. punching in data to read a computer’s decisions.

The former can be interesting and stimulating; the latter can be dull.

Yet another factor is global warming plus the use of the earth’s resources. The home-work-home roundtrip is inefficient. The use of fossil fuels along with transportation vehicles contributes very little to productivity while wasting our precious and limited life’s time.

I expect governments soon will begin to reward companies that encourage and implement work-at-home, while also rewarding employees who do the same.

And then, there is the spare-time factor, and what to do with it. Retired people work as little as 0 hours per week, and many of them struggle to find something interesting to occupy their hours — especially true if life spans increase.

They can experience a form of burnout from doing nothing.

And finally, the question: What is the purpose of work? For most working people, the purpose of work is to acquire money, i.e. to acquire security and pleasure.

But money is nothing more than a spreadsheet notation, which our Monetarily Sovereign federal government has the unlimited ability to produce.

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Bangladeshi sewer cleaner. Unthinkable in America today.

Without delving into the complex argument, “should the federal government give everyone money,” there is no question that the federal government can give everyone money.

Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, poverty aids have reduced for many people the desperate need to labor at the most unpleasant jobs — the jobs most likely to lead to burnout.

SUMMARY
The topic of “burnout” is amazingly complex. No one factor is responsible, and no one action can prevent it. In fact, even the word itself means different things to different people.

The commonality may be feelings of negative exhaustion, futility, hopelessness along with the strong need for change.

There was a time when people were expected to come to central work locations and to work longer hours than today’s standard 40 hour week.

Thus, for the many reasons described above, the incidence of burnout may not necessarily correlate only to hours of work, either over the short or the long term, but more importantly, the nature of the work.

That said, average hours worked probably will continue to decline, mostly because improved computers and machine learning will transfer many jobs from human-skill to computer-skill.

The challenge for businesses will be to help enrich the working, and even the non-working hours, so that burnout becomes less likely an issue.

I suggest that the traditional 40 hour week will disappear as Biggest Computer Screen - Quantum Computing

  1. People become more accustomed to, and manufacturers will provide, improved versions of distance communication (i.e. large-screen Zoom, et al)
  2. Computerization and machine learning make distance working more feasible
  3. Productivity continues to increase allowing people to accomplish more in fewer hours
  4. The economy learns how to entertain people whose personal time is more flexible.
  5. The federal, state, and local governments provide incentives to distance work, in an effort to combat global warming and to reduce resource usage.

Humans, perhaps uniquely among species, increasingly have focused on labor-saving.

That focus combined with advanced computerization can lead to a decline in drudgery and burnout — along with hours worked and working distance from home.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Monetary Sovereignty
Twitter: @rodgermitchell
Search #monetarysovereignty
Facebook: Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

……………………………………………………………………..

THE SOLE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT IS TO IMPROVE AND PROTECT THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE.

The most important problems in economics involve:

  1. Monetary Sovereignty describes money creation and destruction.
  2. Gap Psychology describes the common desire to distance oneself from those “below” in any socio-economic ranking, and to come nearer those “above.” The socio-economic distance is referred to as “The Gap.”

Wide Gaps negatively affect poverty, health and longevity, education, housing, law and crime, war, leadership, ownership, bigotry, supply and demand, taxation, GDP, international relations, scientific advancement, the environment, human motivation and well-being, and virtually every other issue in economics. Implementation of Monetary Sovereignty and The Ten Steps To Prosperity can grow the economy and narrow the Gaps:

Ten Steps To Prosperity:

  1. Eliminate FICA
  2. Federally funded Medicare — parts A, B & D, plus long-term care — for everyone
  3. Social Security for all
  4. Free education (including post-grad) for everyone
  5. Salary for attending school
  6. Eliminate federal taxes on business
  7. Increase the standard income tax deduction, annually. 
  8. Tax the very rich (the “.1%”) more, with higher progressive tax rates on all forms of income.
  9. Federal ownership of all banks
  10. Increase federal spending on the myriad initiatives that benefit America’s 99.9% 

The Ten Steps will grow the economy and narrow the income/wealth/power Gap between the rich and the rest.

MONETARY SOVEREIGNTY

 

8 thoughts on “Are you burned out? Is the 4-day work week inevitable?

  1. I support shortening the workweek. In the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes predicted that the workweek would have shrunk to 15 hours by now, simplify extrapolating from trends in technology and labor productivity. And in the 1960s, futurists had predicted by 2000 the workweek would shrink to 10-20 hours as well. They correctly predicted that productivity would increase enough by then to make that possible. And at that time, wages kept pace with productivity. But starting in the 1970s and even more so in the 1980s, the proceeds of the productivity gains went almost entirely to the top 1% and a fortiori to the top 0.1% and 0.01%, while wages for the rest of us have lagged behind such productivity gains. If that doesn’t make the reader feel RIPPED OFF, check your pulse ’cause you might be dead!

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    1. The problem is this:
      Let’s say a business wants a hole in the ground, 100 feet wide and 100 feet deep. The business can give a worker a shovel, and tell him to dig. He will accomplish the task after many hours of labor.

      Or the business can give the worker a backhoe, and he will accomplish the task in just a few minutes.

      So the question is: Has the WORKER become more productive? Or has the MACHINE become more productive? Clearly, it is the backhoe that is more productive than the shovel.

      So the next question is: Who should be rewarded for replacing the shovel with a backhoe: The worker or the business?

      Then the final question is: If the business is rewarded, how should the business distribute the reward: To the worker? To the executive leaders of the business? To the owners of the business?

      This last question is what you are referring to in your comment, and the answer always will come up with the worker last in line . . . unless . . . unless the government steps in to provide rewards to the man.

      Yes, the government can demand that the business provide rewards to the man via minimum wage rules, compulsory medical benefits, IRAs, paid vacation time, free lunchroom, etc. But these are just round-about ways of taxing businesses. And taxing businesses reduces economic growth.

      And guess who always is hurt more by reduced economic growth (i.e. recessions). The worker.

      The solution is for the government to provide benefits to workers directly, via for instance, the Ten Steps to Prosperity. If the government doesn’t do it, no one will.

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  2. You may want to read Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber.

    Also Burnout is used here colloquially but in some professions — the caring ones like health care, counselling, teaching etc. The term is more formally used to signify a loss of empathy for the students/clients/patients being served.

    Activists can also burn out. The leader of Canada’s NDP is Jagmeet Singh and he talks about radical empathy.

    The antidotes to burnout are numerous but include furthering one’s knowledge and understanding of issues. Having a mission.

    It may also be conflated with sociopathy or psychopathy but I have not seen any research or writings on that. I just thought of it now.

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    1. Herb, “burnout” is marked by the statement, “I just can’t do this anymore.”

      It’s precipitated by things like boredom, failure, hopelessness, pressure, criticism, loneliness, perceived unfairness, being ostracized and overwhelmed, and not being appreciated.

      The cures for burnout are to address the above-mentioned root causes, which vary person by person.

      So, it is highly personal, often unpredictable, and not necessarily in line with facts. The author of the referenced article focused on working hours, curing burnout is so much more than that.

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  3. Also, since most workers are paid by the hour, reducing their workhours will also mean reducing their take home pay unless there’s commensurate adjustment in their salary rates.

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  4. I should note that burnout can mean a number of things, and is also a matter of degree rather than either/or. It does not mean only being driven to spontaneously and abruptly quit, but also more subtle effects of cumulative chronic stress such as working at a suboptimal level, reduced physical and/or mental health, adrenal exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and stuff like that. And while the number of hours worked is one of several causative factors, it is nonetheless a rather significant factor. So while shortening the workweek in and of itself will not solve the problem completely, it will still be a major step in the right direction and greatly reduce it.

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  5. Long ago sci-fi writers saw utopia because of our command of technology. But what they missed were the Gap forces of status-quo control. The bigger and always-getting-better shovel/ backhoe are generally produced by bright, unsung heros/inventors backed by big money dullards smiling and rubbing their hands together. The time will come when high efficiency and unemployment will give way to lifetime scholarships. Those who don’t work with their hands will be paid well to work with their minds. The result will be an even greater advancement of automation and education as he one feeds the other endlessly.

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