Perspective of HR

Could we all work less?

Autonomy are an independent UK think tank focused on issues relating to the future of work. They recently garnered a lot of media attention after publishing a report which called for a shorter working week – a concept which some firms are now beginning to experiment with. The report showed that getting staff ‘working to the bone’ does not make business sense. To find out if the future of employment might mean working less HR Grapevine spoke to Will Stronge, Co-Director, Autonomy who laid out how to work towards, well, less work.

Are we in a crisis of work?

I think we have entered a crisis of work. Firstly we can point to the growth of precarity in the economy. The number of workers engaging in precarious, sometimes called ‘flexible’, work has risen exponentially since the year 2000. There is a danger of flexible contract becoming the new norm for employers - meaning a precarious existence for workers and a low-pay, high-debt economy.

Secondly, wealth and income inequality are [also] reaching new heights. Thirdly, labour-saving technology is developing at a rapid pace and is already beginning to bite labour markets worldwide. Recent ONS statistics revealed that since 2011 there has been a 25% reduction of retail and cashier jobs due to self-service checkouts. We would expect to see other industries feel the effects of greater automation potential too.

Does this mean we have to earnestly move towards a post-work world?

If we mean by a ‘post-work world’ one in which we work less, have managed automation, have more generous out-of-work support and have better gender equality across the board, then yes absolutely.

What role can businesses play in changing this?

There is the potential for businesses to be pioneering as we head into this future. We are currently working with companies who want to experiment with a shorter working week for their staff (without a loss in pay). They are not thinking about the automated future, but rather about whether their staff will be happier, more loyal and more productive if they are given more time off for themselves.

What is the number one thing that businesses can do to improve the life of their workforce?

I would point out that it is easy to confuse ‘work’ with ‘employment’, which is really work that we do for a wage, for a boss. Your question has a correct presupposition however: a world in which we have absolutely zero employment is not on the immediate horizon. However, a shorter working week - say a full-time, four-day working week - is very much possible now. I would encourage businesses to run a six week or two-month trial of a shorter working week in their office, with their staff.


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