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COVID-19

Will the workweek shrink in a post-pandemic world?

Meghan McCarty Carino May 26, 2020
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A man works on his laptop while waiting for a train in Tokyo in April. Tuning out work often can help us do our best thinking, one expert says. Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Will the workweek shrink in a post-pandemic world?

Meghan McCarty Carino May 26, 2020
Heard on:
A man works on his laptop while waiting for a train in Tokyo in April. Tuning out work often can help us do our best thinking, one expert says. Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images
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The idea of a four-day workweek received a boost from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last week, when she encouraged companies to try it out as a way of stimulating domestic tourism over longer weekends. A shortened workweek in a post-COVID-19 world raises some interesting points.

Like pretty much all companies, the social media app Buffer has been struggling with higher than usual stress and anxiety among its employees over the last several months. 

“And instead of saying, ‘No, fight against that, be as productive as you always are’ — that didn’t make sense for us,” the company moved to a four-day workweek at the beginning of May for a monthlong experiment, said Courtney Seiter, human resources head at Buffer.

“Can we meet existing deadlines that have already been set?” she said. “Can we make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves and still meeting this new bar of productivity?”

So far she said they’re meeting those goals and getting good feedback from the team.

Having down time is more important than ever these days, said David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, which consults with companies from Microsoft to Netflix on how to apply neuroscience to work. He said fears about personal health and the economy are overwhelming workers.

“And so we need some recovery time to have time to like organize the rest of our lives and have loving time with family and friends, even if it’s just online,” he said.

Paradoxically, tuning out of work often enables us to do our best thinking, he said, and a shorter workweek could help workers better unplug.

That’s what Amy Balliett found at her Seattle creative agency Killer Visual Strategies when it switched to a shorter week a few years ago. She said the extra bounce of energy her team got after a long weekend more than made up for a lazy Friday.

“So we suddenly get so much more productivity out of less days worked in the week,” she said.

Not that the shift didn’t come with some hitches. She said it took about a year to work out scheduling challenges with clients, staggering off days to make sure someone was available five days a week.

And the current situation, with so many companies forced to become more flexible and results driven, is perfect for experimenting, said Alex Pang, author of the book “Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less.”

“All kinds of things that we take for granted about what normal work looks like are actually up for negotiation,” he said.

And shortened workweeks could help those who aren’t able to work remotely. Pang has studied restaurants, nursing homes, car shops and call centers that have all found ways to thrive by working fewer days.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?

It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.

How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?

Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.

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