The Covid-19 economic slowdown has shown the benefits of spending more time at home with our families, says Bishop Paul Donoghue.
Writing in his Church Talk column today, he says we can learn from this experiences: that businesses might sacrifice some profits in order to give their employees better quality of life.
The bishop supported a proposal from New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who said the shutdown had shown the merits of shorter working weeks.
Donoghue pushed back against the trend to have businesses open 24/7, even on sacred days like Good Friday.
At the beginning of the year he would not have challenged the five-day working week, he said, but Covid-19 had changed that.
“Now I find myself asking ‘is there value in the slower pace of life?’ Trade and money do not have to dictate. As Jesus had to remind the Jews that, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’.
“Perhaps now we want to apply this maxim to business! That businesses can give up huge profits that benefit a few in order to give quality of life to many.”
Ardern’s four-day week suggestion has excited New Zealanders and made international headlines.
Cook Islands clinical psychologist Dr Evangelene Daniela-Wong said last year’s landmark World Happiness Report showed a four-day week produced happier people and increased productivity.
But she warned, there was a trade-off. Core businesses like health and police needed big, skilled workforces available 24/7 – so a four-day week might be difficult in a small country.
“This has only really been demonstrated in developed countries that have higher overall incomes, low levels of corruption and inequality, and social safety nets – that is, benefits and subsidies.“
Andrew Barnes, the boss of New Zealand’s largest corporate trustee company Perpetual Guardian, successfully pioneered four-day working weeks for his 200 staff.
Muri Beach Club Hotel’s Liana Scott said they would need to remain a 7-day operation, as guests arrived and departed at all hours.
She was dubious that rostering staff on four-day weeks, across those seven days, would make economic sense. “Also, expat staff want the hours to make moving here worthwhile.”
The Rarotongan resort owner Tata Crocombe said he looked forward to the day when artificial intelligence did the drudgery, and humans had a zero-day work week!
“Humans then would be given the option to do whatever work they wanted and most of it would be creative work which machines can't do, such as discussing philosophy, writing poetry, developing film concepts, debating the meaning of life and, yes, working on things that are really interesting and inspiring such as medical research or operating resort hotels.”
For now, he said, humans needed to do those job necessary to a functioning modern economy, and without a lift in productivity, a four-day work week would likely to lead to a 20 per cent reduction in GDP and living standards.
“So the real question is, how do we get productivity up so that we can work less but still maintain a standard of living that we aspire to?
“Living standards have risen dramatically over the last hundred years and working hours and physical labour have reduced dramatically over the last hundred years. There is no reason to believe that this process won't continue.”
“In fact, with artificial intelligence and robotics it will accelerate dramatically. That is why some people are calling this the fourth Industrial Revolution which will be vastly more dramatic than the four Industrial Revolutions that preceded it.”
Economist Vaine Wichman said Cook Islands would need to discover its own way of responding to the slowdown.