Fixing unemployment and everything else

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I have a feeling this post is going to be one of the crazier ideas I’m putting forward. I’ve actually had it in draft for a couple of years now, but I think the time is right to post it. At the end of this you’ll either think I’m a genius, or a raving lunatic.

It’s been 6 weeks now that my wife has had no clients walking into the salon to get a haircut. 6 weeks with no income. 6 long weeks. You might be lucky and still have some or all of your salary, but plenty of people don’t. I’m sure a lot of you either have the same problem, or know people who do.

Now she’s a very smart lady (exhibit A, she married me), so she quickly came up with new ideas on selling pre-mixed hair colour solutions to her existing clients and selling mothers day packs to be delivered, but the money from this will go into the salon account, so she can pay her staff for as long as possible.

She can do this for a while, but eventually the money runs out and the doors will close. That means the 11 people she employs will need to try to find other jobs. The situation is the same everywhere you look. Take a look at the animated chart below, it’s the total number of people making jobless claims in America.

Right, so we’re in trouble, all of us. Big trouble. But I think I have a solution. How about we solve the unemployment problem, eradicate most crime, gain an extra 20% in productivity, and give everyone 4 day weekends every weekend in a single swoop!

Yes it can be done.

You see up until now jobs have always been an all or nothing, at least in the formal sector. You’re either employed and get a full salary every month, or you’re unemployed and you get nothing. But what if this virus made us look at work differently. What if jobs could be shared so that there would be work for everyone.

Here’s the basic idea:
Instead of each of us working hard four days a week, and being distracted by Facebook and Twitter on Fridays, how about we split all jobs into 2 three days a week jobs which can be done by two different people.

It should have the following positive results:

  • Firstly and key to this arguments, there would be twice the number of jobs available in the job market, if you didn’t have a job it would be likely that you didn’t want one, or weren’t willing to take one, rather than one being unavailable to you.
  • We’d have far more energy during those three days to actually get the job done well.
  • Companies would get 6 days of productivity rather than the usual 5 (well actually 4 and a bit. Honestly we work hard on Mondays, sometimes on Wednesdays and Thursdays too). Imagine if we could repair 20% more potholes, or fix 20% more traffic lights. Imagine if we spent 20% more time putting band-aids on the power stations or 20% more time prosecuting corruption. Actually scrap that last one, 20% of zero prosecutions is still zero…
  • We’d all have more time available. We could use this to spend time with family, go on adventures, or learn new skills to get into better jobs.
  • Health would improve drastically thanks to less stress, more rest, and more time to be active.

There are of course some downsides:

  • We’d earn less money, but not as much less as you’re probably thinking.
  • Umm, yeah I think that’s about it, unless of course you don’t like your family, though if that was the case all you’d have to do is choose the opposite 3 days to your wife!

Now while all I see is rainbows and siestas, apparently I’m alone here. You see, a while back we had an office retreat. Quite surprisingly this one was actually a lot of fun. While we weren’t given free rein to do as we liked on the retreat, sadly there would be no lazing by the pool or competing in SingStar challenges until we earned our time off with some serious stuff.

Luckily this didn’t include catching each other in trust falls, or trying to help the heavies over an obstacle course without killing them. Instead we were all split into groups to solve all our office problems in one afternoon. Easy 🙂

As we could choose which issue we wanted to tackle, I naturally headed to the work-life balance group, along with another bunch of hippies, slackers and people with too many children.

The tasks for our group to solve were identified in one of the previous sessions at the retreat. We’d all spent a few hours in a windowless conference room writing all our problems down onto post-its and stuck them all over the wall. I’d managed to avoid writing the name of the annoying man in HR, and instead stuck to my big issue: I have too many things I’d like to do to fit them into a two day weekend.

My note simply said: “How about a job-sharing scheme where two people work 6 days a week on the same job?”

Now considering that my group was almost entirely made up of loafers, I thought I’d get a rapturous response, along with chants of “Patrick is cooler than free beer, greater than Chuck Norris and more useful than oxygen!”. Instead, my idea was laughed at as being financial suicide, clearly the object of someones sense of humour, and crumpled into a little ball while I pretended had no idea who came up with that.

But was it as preposterous as they imagined? Would it really be the worst thing in the world and financial suicide?

To figure that out we need to invite Mike Middleclass back to come spill all the numbers of his life for us. Here’s the brief about Mike:

Mike is a rather well off person, earning R30k per month. He lives 25km from work, and drives a car which costs R5/km to get there. He has two children in daycare and also has a housekeeper and a gardener even though he loves working in the garden but has no time for that thanks to needing to bring in cash. As he’s always tired in the evenings and morning, he has no time to make lunch for work, so he buys some junk food to get through the days.

Now, let’s adjust Mike’s life to the three-day working week plan.
Former salary: R30 000 per month
New salary: R18 000 per month

Oh dear, this isn’t looking good, as expected, that’s only 60% of what he was earning… But wait.
Former salary after tax: R24 660
New salary after tax: R15 940

Okay so it’s only marginally better at 65% of his original earnings. Mike is still down around R8 700 a month. But of course, other things come into play here. Remember Mike used to buy lunch at work every day instead of packing up the leftovers from dinner or making something in the morning, and he also used to drive his expensive car 50km every day just to get to work and back. His work clothes will now last 40% longer, and he’ll have time to look after his own garden as he loves doing. In theory he could also go without a housekeeper, but that might be a step too far for this slacker.

So, how do the new numbers stack up?

  • Well, those extra 8 days of not driving, at R250 a day adds another R2 250 a month to the kitty
  • He now only spends R200 a month less on clothing
  • R1000 less on the gardener (who’s since been employed as a landscaper at a garden shop)
  • Has given up his takeaways as he takes food to work every day now saving R600 in an average month.
  • With all the extra time on his hands he’s exercising a lot more. The effects of that and eating healthy means he’s so much healthier that he doesn’t get sick anymore, and has even downgraded his medical aid to a cheaper plan while the families doctors visits have been cut in half, saving another R2000 a month
  • He now only needs to send the kids to daycare 3 times a week, instead of 5, so those costs have also dropped by R1 400 a month

That’s a total monthly saving of R7 250 extra that he has available to him bringing the net drop in his available cash to just R1 470 a month. That means, for working 40% less time, he’s only down 6% in available cash. It’s barely noticeable, and well worth the trade if you ask Mike, and considering how much better he and Mrs Middleclass are getting on, he won’t end up divorced like the 1 in 2 marriages that do saving a huge amount of future money on lawyers fees, twice as many houses, lots of driving kids between parents and more lawyers fees. He’s also almost certainly eliminated any future lifestyle diseases, which would have cost a small fortune.

I’m willing to bet that if you take into account all the benefits of healthy living and low-stress work he will almost certainly have more money for fun stuff than he did on the typical 5 day work week.

Apparently I’m not the first one to have come up with an idea like this. Funny how that’s practically always the case. I even came up with the idea for Twitter once but was a little too busy to build it. True story. The three-day workweek idea was first written about by someone called Carlos Slim.

Never heard of him? Neither had I, or at least I couldn’t remember the name. Turns out, he’s often held the title of the world’s richest man. In 2019 he was ranked 5th in the world, and his wealth is self-made. He started buying shares at 12, and kept up his interests in all things finance by buying companies, later in his life, often in times when markets were crashing all around him, giving him spectacular value for money.

So while he doesn’t quite have the same name recognition as Buffet, when he says something, we should probably take notice. His idea was a little different in that while he wanted us to work 3 days a week, he thought those days should be 11 hours long, but for the same pay as the usual 40 hour week.

Richard Branson agrees with him, as you would expect from someone who has made it company policy that time in the office shouldn’t be tracked, giving his employees unlimited paid time off. All that he does track is what the employees produce for the business. It makes sense.

Now if you are like all of my colleagues, you probably still think I’m completely out of my mind loony tunes, that the world will fall apart unless everyone puts in their 8 hours a day 5 days a week without fail. But guess what, until the 1920s a working week was actually 6 days long, and a 5 day work week would be laughed at. Henry Ford was the first to make that policy, and thank goodness it stuck!

Now I don’t know about you, but I’d be happy willing to work less for slightly less money if it means nearly everyone who wants a job can have one. I think it would be a far better world to live in too. What do you think?

Late addition:

Turns out readers here don’t hate the idea, but some aren’t fans of the 3 day on 3 day off system. But not to worry, there are a lot of other ways to share a job with someone. The oil industry already does a month on month off system for oil rigs, and that works well.

My personal choice would be to work 6 months of the year and take 6 months off. Now you might think that then the company gets no benefit it it’s just getting a standard 5 day week out of both people, but I (and I imagine many others) would be willing to give up my annual leave for the 6 month on period, giving all those days back to the company.

Would you be willing to work less time for less money?

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