Yesterday was an important day for Gambians, and also possibly for my life as a volunteer, because with effect from 1st February, President Yahya Jammeh has ordered a four day working week for the public sector saying the shorter week will give The Gambia’s mainly Muslim population more time to pray, socialise and tend to fields. As a result, as an employee of the Ministry of Agriculture I expect I will find myself working a four day week Monday to Thursday instead of 8am to 5pm on five days. The private sector will still work on Fridays but will not be able to do any business with the government on that day, and state schools will be closed, but will be allowed to open on Saturdays instead.
I suppose the Gambians will soon get used to not being able to contact a government office on a Friday, and I must say the idea appeals to me as although I’ll still be putting in 40 hours work each week, I’ll have a three day weekend which will allow me more time to explore the country, although of course it will also probably mean I’ll be going home from work in the dark each night. This idea has been tried in some other countries – it’s popular in the Netherlands for example, and in some states of America, with varying degrees of success, but I’ve never come across it here in the UK (except during the miner’s strike in 1974 when the whole country was forced onto a three day week by power cuts). This shorter working week has in the past been promoted by some as a way of cutting energy costs for heating and electricity but this will hardly apply in the Gambia; or as a means of reducing carbon footprint by cutting down on motor vehicle use. If working hours were reduced too we could slow down our busy lives and it could open up employment opportunities for more people.
John Maynard Keynes thought it could be taken further still when in 1930 he asked:-
“What can we reasonably expect the level of our economic life to be a hundred years hence? What are the economic possibilities for our grandchildren?…..we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy. It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person….. to occupy himself, especially if he no longer has roots in the soil……..For many ages to come the old Adam will be so strong in us that everybody will need to do some work if he is to be contented. We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich to-day, only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines. But beyond this, we shall endeavour to spread the bread thin on the butter-to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while. For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!”
Source: Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren
I wonder how such a reduction in working hours would affect us here in the UK where we seem to view long hours as a virtue, or a sign of success. What would happen if we all worked a four day week – it would certainly make life easier (and cheaper) for some who would only have to put up with the daily commute to work on four days, but there are bound to be some disadvantages too – would I be able to get a plumber if the pipes burst on a Friday; and if so would I be charged double time for weekend working? Would the minimum wage need to be reviewed, and would this entail a change to the support systems for those on low income. It would certainly in my view lead to a healthier work/life balance, and might even promote a stronger work incentive in some of those who have never held a full time job.
I leave you with another work related thought, from the Dalai Lama:- “[Man] sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”