Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If Every Weekend was a Long Weekend

In North America, quite a great deal of fun is made of France, and Europe in general, especially in regards to how they structure their business hours. Four day work weeks, flex time, and more. It's as if, the joke goes, the Europeans work harder than anyone else, at finding ways not to work.

In Dubai, it is more than common for businessmen, even those with jobs labeled as "executive" positions, to work twelve to fourteen hours, six days a week, and sometimes seven. Mind you, I used quotations with the word executive, because as happens in this country, mislabeling is a common phenomenon, where little hole-in-the-wall corner stores are called "supermarkets" without anyone batting an eye. For too many expatriates, especially those from South Asia, while the job may have "executive" in the title, the pay is anything but. Yet regardless of the less than spectacular compensation, these sorts of jobs are clung to with a ferocious tenacity, and rarely will you hear these "executives" complain about sixty-plus hour work weeks without end.

Why? In a word, money. Those "executives," often have goals, and a plan to achieve those goals, and working hard is just part of the deal. They don't plan on staying in the position forever, ten, maybe twenty years at most, after which they return home to a life of relative redolence and luxury. I've known more than a few NRIs (non-resident Indians) who have massive houses in India, rental properties they derive income from, and even a bevy of servants. These NRIs can afford this because their low salaries (to my estimation) translate to serious coin back home.

So for NRI's, and by extension most expatriate workers in the Gulf region, the crazy work hours are temporary, with a light at the end of the tunnel.

When I lived in Japan, I also found the same sort of crazy work hours. However, there it was more a matter of culture than money, which is completely understandable in the land that literally coined the term for death by overwork - karoshi.

North America has long appeared to have this sort of mentality, and in the early 2000's, this mentality seemed to be increasing. Unlike the Netherlands, where citizens are given six weeks of paid vacation, and on top of that are even given a cheque from the government every year that literally pays for travel to wherever the whim strikes, workers in North America got their two weeks a year, and that's it. But there seems to be some hope, at long last.

Back when I was single, I lived to work. I worked as many jobs as I could, as long as I could, and I often bristled at regulations limiting the hours I could work. I especially hated how the government seemed to tax overtime so exorbitantly.

Now, as a family man, I work to put bread on the table, but that's about it. If I didn't have to work, I wouldn't. I would rather spend my days at home, with my children, and with my wife, doing whatever. I'd love to have the time to walk to the public library twice a week, spend hours in parks playing pick up ball or just tossing a frisbee, go swimming every day if the mood hit. That, in a word, would be my dream.

But dreams are not reality, and in this world, unless you live in Europe, work is king. Until now.

Like I said, there seems to be hope that, in North America at least, the non-stop work mentality might be revisited sooner rather than later. An article just published by Scientific American looks at how Utah has changed from a four day, eight hours a day work week, to a four day, ten hours a day work week.

The crux of the argument is that working hours remain the same, but overall costs for energy are greatly reduced. The electricity is off one more day a week, and cars are off the roads for an extra day. And the ancillary benefits are legion.

Working ten hours is not a big deal, especially for office work. What's more, that extra day really changes things. In the traditional 9 - 5 week, with a two day weekend, you have one day to do errands (shop, mow the lawn, etc) and one day to rest. Sadly, that rest day is usually eaten up by more errands, travel, or family commitments. With a three day weekend, you really do have more time to relax, and enjoy life. You can spread your errands around a bit more, and take things easier. With every weekend being a three day weekend, you don't have to wait for a a long weekend before heading out to the cottage, or going camping, because every weekend is now a long weekend.

Unless you hate being with your family, there's nothing but good to be had from a four day work week.

Here's hoping that this idea finds wings, and when I return to North America, one day, I won't have to dread the five day grind any more.

No comments:

Post a Comment