Who’s in favour of a three-day week?

Opinion: In a 24/7 world, the notion of a nine to five business seems increasingly out-dated

‘Last week, the Mexican telecoms tycoon, Carlos Slim, called for the introduction of a global three-day working week. The days would be 11 or 12 hours long, against the average of seven to eight and people would carry on working into their 70s.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘Last week, the Mexican telecoms tycoon, Carlos Slim, called for the introduction of a global three-day working week. The days would be 11 or 12 hours long, against the average of seven to eight and people would carry on working into their 70s.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 12:01

It’s the season for pale, northern Europeans to languish on Mediterranean terraces, in idylls wrecked only by the odd shivery flashback to Irish winter days blending into squelchy scrums for the bus, the gallop to the icy childminder and icier house and terrible people bellowing on Eastenders. And all with the niggling thought that somewhere in the world, the working days of people just like them are morphing smoothly into a second phase in the balmy, healthy, fragrant outdoors.

And so, the next week is spent gazing wistfully into estate agents’ windows, at pictures featuring clusters of oddly-shaped concrete “villas” on the side of a dusty road.

That personal niggle was almost cured some years ago following an assignment in southern Europe, after a series of encounters with some pleasant British ex-pats revealed them to be melancholic fish out of water (though not wine), yearning for a shot of mundane family life.

So is there a half-way house for those boarding the planes back to reality ? Suppose, for example, the five-day work cycle wasn’t quite so relentless?

Telecoms tycoon

Last week, the Mexican telecoms tycoon, Carlos Slim, called for the introduction of a global three-day working week. The days would be 11 or 12 hours long, against the average of seven to eight and people would carry on working into their 70s.

“With three work days a week, we would have more time to relax; for quality of life”, he told a conference, according to Paraguay.com.

“Having four days [off] would be very important to generate new entertainment activities and other ways of being occupied”. So: twice as much leisure time in exchange for working longer days and much later retirement? Remember, many scoffed at Henry Ford when he proposed the five-day week.

The power behind Slim’s proposal lies not in its novelty (it’s hardly original) but that it came from the second richest man in the world, to an audience comprising business and political leaders from across Latin America.

Obvious benefits would be lower transport costs and time demands on people who are priced out of the city or choose a rural life – and it would take the heat out of rush-hour traffic. Parents with a partner or someone to pick up the slack, would incur only three days’ childminding costs as opposed to five.

At a practical level, it’s already happening. Twelve-hour shifts are routine for some nurses and non-consultant hospital doctors. Others in goal-oriented jobs (the kind who bring weekend bags into work) as opposed to predictable shift-work, might regard three 11-12 hour days as a bonus, if four, guaranteed, email-free days off lay on the other side.

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