The implications of a four-day working day

Senator Ana Irma Rivera Lassén has proposed a four-day workday for public employees, with no reduction in salary. It is argued that the measure will increase productivity and improve the quality of life. As an initiative of a serious legislator, with an impeccable trajectory, the proposal deserves fair consideration.

The proposed arrangement condenses the current five-day workweek into four days. The change means producing in 32 hours what is done in 40. In the last century, the working day was set at five days and 40 hours of work per week. The arrangement sought to take advantage of natural light and addressed the need to aggregate in the same physical space the human capital essential for production. Today, technological advances make possible the uninterrupted continuation of work around the clock. In addition, automation makes it possible to carry out work in less time and at a distance. The old ways of working have become obsolete, so it is argued that it is possible to do in four days what used to be done in five days.

Rivera Lassén's proposal keeps salaries intact, even if public employees work one day less per week. The practical implementation of this proposal generates problems. Citizens constantly complain that agencies do not have the human resources to meet service demands. If employees are excused from one day of work, the government will have to recruit new people to continue with the regular provision of services. This will entail additional costs for which the state does not have sources of revenue. Therefore, the Fiscal Oversight Board, which has final authority over budgetary matters, will not endorse the change.

Rivera Lassén's proposal keeps salaries intact, even if public employees work one day less per week. The practical implementation of this proposal generates problems, writes Carlos Díaz Olivo (El Nuevo Día).

The initiative faces problems if extended to the private sector. If a company is not able to generate in four days its current production at similar or lower costs, the change is unfeasible. For example, in the case of hospitals and restaurants, the activity cannot be stopped, so these companies will have to hire new employees to cover the shifts that are left unattended. This will increase operational costs and consumer prices. In addition, when the work requires intellectual efforts that cannot be compressed in time, the employee will have to overload himself to produce the same in fewer days. In such a situation, the four-day workday will force him to continue working from home in order not to reduce his productivity.

If, as proposed, the reduction in working hours does not entail a reduction in employees' pay, even though there is no guarantee that their productivity will remain constant, society as a whole will lose out. By giving away a day's work, productive effort, a fundamental element in any society, is discouraged. The message conveyed is that working, being productive, and striving to do one's best is not meritorious. The adoption of such a notion enthrones passivity, conformism, and mediocrity as a social model. An active person who uses his potential without reserve is a being in conformity with himself because he has satisfied the maximum standard of excellence, which is that which one imposes on oneself. By doing so, the person keeps his mind and body active and solidifies his mental and physical health.

The experience with the COVID-19 pandemic showed the complications of leisure. The forced interaction it entailed in the family environment created tensions between partners, parents, siblings, children and neighbors. Getting out of the home and interacting in a work environment provides respite from the home routine and offers opportunities for professional growth through the development of interpersonal networks that would not otherwise be possible. It has also been proven that the most effective people in the use of time are those with the most work and responsibilities.

The foregoing does not detract from Senator Rivera Lassén's concern to rethink social arrangements in order to seek new labor development accommodations. We must simply be aware of its implications and take care not to discourage work as an instrument for individual development and the generation of social wealth. If new resources are not generated through constant productive work, there is nothing to distribute among the neediest.

This opinion article was originally published in El Nuevo Dia.

Scroll to Top