SINGAPORE (June 29): At a recent talk held at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, University of Southern California economist Joanne Yoong said that the unthinkable nature of the Covid-19 pandemic could destabilise old mental maps of how the world works, prompting a reconsidering of how society is to be organised. Not even the sacred cow of the “five-day work week” has been spared. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, riding on a growing trailblazing reputation, has even suggested that employers implement a four-day week to boost flagging consumption to widespread expert support. 

Admittedly, such an idea is not new as arguments for a shorter working week have existed since the 1930s. The British economist John Meynard Keynes once said his grandchildren’s generation would enjoy a 15-hour working week due to labour-saving technologies. That prediction has come true: In a 2015 interview with National Public Radio, Nicholas Humphrey — grandson of Keynes’ sister — said that he was working 15 hours a day. The discussion continues and earlier this year, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin proposed a four-day work week comprising six-hour days to promote work-life balance and strengthen family ties. But with Covid-19 already disrupting our world beyond recognition, the world is finally sitting up and taking notice. While big name brands such as Shake Shack and Uniqlo have experimented with a four-day work week, Microsoft Japan has been a recent poster child for such a practice. The tech giant saw a 39.9% jump in productivity and reduced demands for days off. When surveyed, 92% of its workers say that they preferred a four-day work week to a standard five-day arrangement.

Even politicians in conservative Singapore have begun debating similar proposals. "I propose moving away from the traditional five-day work week to a four-day work week with the option of working from home on the fifth day, and even having a flexi-hours work model," said Nominated Member of Parliament Mohamed Irshad recently, though he stopped short at calling for a real four-day arrangement. Singapore’s last modification to its working week was in 2005, when it abolished half-day work on Saturdays. Still, there remains scepticism about the economic effects of such a policy. "Any reduction to the standard 38-hour work week in Australia without a commensurate increase in productivity or a matching reduction in weekly pay would be very damaging for jobs, investment and productivity," Australian Industry (AI) Group chief Innes Willox told the Sydney Morning Herald recently. Such concerns call into question if Singapore is ready to shave off a day from its working week.  

To continue reading,

Sign in to access this Premium article.

Subscription entitlements:

Less than $9 per month
3 Simultaneous logins across all devices
Unlimited access to latest and premium articles
Bonus unlimited access to online articles and virtual newspaper on The Edge Malaysia (single login)

Stay updated with Singapore corporate news stories for FREE

Follow our Telegram | Facebook