Think about next week. Imagine you could do it. What would you do with an extra day of freedom? Do you want to sleep? Do you want to catch up on doctor appointments? Call your friend. Spend the evening with your family watching movies.
If it feels strange to imagine slowing down, then you’re not alone. We are living in a crisis of exhaustion, which in turn feeds a common tendency, or compulsion, to live life at maximum speed and efficiency — this was true before COVID-19 and is increasingly alarming now. We use phrases like “spend your time” because U.S. culture taught us that time is money; if we don’t use it, we “waste” time.
There are many reasons why we bring economic language into every day life. But one reason is simple: We work too damn hard. A common response to the banality of excess work is that it’s necessary to get everything done — and that’s true. We have very little time to waste when it comes to transforming our communities. These days, I believe we have little to lose by continuing the same labor patterns that brought us here.
This is why I’ve been an advocate and member of 4 Day Week: a campaign to reduce working hours, without reducing pay or benefits, starting with an ongoing petition campaignto recruit organizations to participate in the 2022 trial. Here are three reasons why I’m on board, and why you should be too.
We Deserve and Should Require Time to Rest and Recuperate
Perusing the Google search results of “future of work” will yield many results about automation and training digital skills, but very few on the well-being and material realities of workers left outside of the picture. The four-day workweek is a tool we can use to provide us with the tangible benefit of more work time to rest and recover, despite the current wave of dissatisfaction and exhaustion among workers.
We can see the benefits of a 4-day workweek for us as individuals and for our work culture. better physical and mental health? fewer burnt-out employees? more equitable workplace outcomesSo on. But to me, a reduction of working hours for the same pay isn’t about those benefits — it’s fundamentally about justice. It should be workers and communities who reap the gains of technological innovation and “efficiency,” not just the executives and shareholders of corporations that increasingly perfect their tactics of excessive accumulation.
When we think about the future of work, we must realize we’re long overdue for innovations in the basic assumptions about how and why we work. The 40-hour, five-day workweek was designed to provide a work-life balance that made sense for workers and businesses in 1908. Is it not time to question the reason we continue to use this over 100-year-old, arbitrary system. Why can’t we change it and move toward something better? The COVID-19 pandemic and its ever-unfolding influence have shown us that transformation in work is both necessary and possible, and as fewer people return to work or want to return to offices, it’s the perfect time to consider a four-day week.
It is important that you note the inspiring and foundational work of Tricia Shesey, founder of The Nap Ministry?An organization and practice that explores the liberatory potential for rest. She says it’s time to claim our right to rest and our right to refuse the grind culture of modern capitalism. Hersey has been the leader of this platform, movement and practice for five years. She proclaims our need for rest as an inherent right and a spiritual necessity. In a recent post, she simply states: “Stop saying rest is a luxury or a privilege. It is not — it’s a human right.”
A Four-Day Week Would Center Humanity, Life and Sustainability — Not Output
Let’s go back to those classic U.S. ideas of “time is money,” “wasting time” or even “living to work.” There has been a steady march toward the “workification” or “economization” of every aspect of modern life, especially in the 21st century. Amelia Horgan’s recent book explains this: Lost in Work: Escape Capitalism:
[Work]The trend is in many directions. We work harder at the office. We work longer hours. Our employers expect us to use our emotions, personalities, and our emotions at work. Outside of our official working hours, we are called upon to excavate more of our social lives, turning hobbies into side gigs so that we can survive on our current jobs’ meagre salaries and scrape enough social and cultural capital or resources to get another job in the future.
This is not the fault of a few overzealous managers. We’re trapped in a work culture that promotes the ideas of dedication to the workplace “team” or “mission” at all costs. What if time were a way of life? What if people weren’t valued for their economic potential, but for their humanity? What if we created a system that valued sustainability over production of commodities?
The four-day workweek alone can’t guarantee these futures, but it does allow us to talk about life beyond livelihood and “economic worth.”
For so many of us — advocates, social workers, activists, organizers, lawyers, policy makers, and more — work often consumes all our time, energy and mental health. This is the root cause of burnout. This is also exploitation. Why not address the root cause of the problem? Social justice movements are urgent and necessary. However, in order to change society, we must fight against toxic overwork, urgency, and toxic overwork that is so common in our organizations as well as in ourselves.
I don’t want to rise and grind anymore. I want to be more present for my family, my friends, and the causes that I care about. I simply can’t do that if I’m exhausted every single day. It doesn’t have to be hard to fight for the world we want. In fact, we can’t allow that; we can’t expect to show up every single day without enough rest to solve today’s challenges. A four-day workweek is a step towards a culture that balances our lives, our relationships with our work, and our impact on one another.
More time off the clock means that you can spend more time strengthening broader social justice efforts
Let’s take a look at an indirect benefit of a four-day workweek: Less time away from one another means more time with one another, building space and capacity for mutual aid, neighbors and communities.
Our time shouldn’t be replaced with another coercive requirement. The day must be for us, the people we love, and our chosen communities. This extra time will not only make us healthier and more capable of living outside of work but it will also increase our capacity to organize and promote social change. Research suggests that this is what research shows. rest improves our attention and performance; why wouldn’t this be true for our movement?
If we don’t transform our movements and organizations every day, we cannot expect the world to change. adrienne maree brown wrote about this similar conundrum It was over a decade ago that she led the Ruckus Society in changing its concrete principles, actions, and structures to reflect its vision for broader change. We must do the same for centering life and not just output.
Sometimes I think organizing efforts fizzle or eventually disband because it’s someone’s third or fourth side project, and grind culture keeps us going until we literally break down — unless funding and a staff come along. The nonprofit-industrial complex grinds us all to death, even though we still lose so much. The four-day workweek may shift our work culture towards a more balanced place. We have time to think about our priorities, where we want to invest our energy, and how we can accomplish it given our limitations. This might create an opening, an opportunity to a new future that allows us to gain some momentum in fighting injustice.
We Are at the Beginning of Something Big — But We Must Fight For Comprehensive Change
It is important to remember that the four-day workweek can only be used as a tool. This should only be the beginning of a long, transformative process.
For some, however, the idea of a four-day week in today’s labor market may seem trivial or distracting. The stakes seem less urgent than other ongoing battles such as the fight for $15, unionization efforts by teachers, Amazon warehouse workers, strikes at Frito-Lay factories and Nabisco factory strikes; and the struggle to dignity for workers in gig economy, domestic, and care work.
It is also clear that the four-day workweek conversation has been dominated by white-collar office work. This criticism is valid. The push for a 4-day workweek must do more to center the working class, low-wage, and gig workers in particular. But other critiques that simply think it’s not possible are from writers and thinkers who don’t have the imagination, or belief, that how we spend our time is actually up to us.
The fact is that employers will continue to grant a four-day workweek as a perk and not as a systemic shift. This criticism is certain. These workers would not be all managers or owners, but it is clear that they are not the most exploited in our current system.
I encourage those of you who think the current system is broken to consider the potential for a four-day standard work week. As a foundational policy and movement, the four-day workweek might return material benefits to workers whether they’re a server or a health care worker.
If you agree, I urge you to sign and share my organization, 4 Day Week’s call to action and pass on the message that the future of work must be a future of transformation and justice for all — finally.