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Yaneek Page How a 4-day work week might mitigate Jamaica’s climate crisis

The four-day work week is back in the news with the successful conclusion of a large-scale pilot programme in Britain, which resulted in over 90 per cent of the 61 organisations that participated deciding to fully adopt the shortened work week ideology.

Lead researchers Dr David Frayne and Prof Brendan Burchell, and their team, may have finally ignited the engine of change that failed to mobilise in the 1970s when the earliest trials of the four-day work week fizzled, despite promising results, including a 13 per cent reduction in energy consumption and a 20 per cent reduction in absenteeism among employees.

It is worth noting, however,, that the impetus for shorter work hours then was not productivity or climate change, but earnest mitigation of the 1970s energy crisis and skyrocketing oil prices. History has also taught us that since the early 1800s the world has experienced a major shift in work hours roughly every 100 years, moving from a standard 80-hour, six-day work week, to the current widely accepted standard 40-hour, five-day work week.

In fact, in 1930, famed economist Jon Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030, his grandchildren would struggle to find three hours of work to do per day. Understandably, there is a view among some social scientists, futurists, and economists that the world is now due for another shift to shorter work hours, particularly supported by the launch of advanced AI and other technological advancements which can revolutionise the way we work but necessitated by looming climate catastrophe.

Fast -forward to 2023, and over 30 trials completed across several countries later, the highly publicised British trial appears to offer fresh evidence in support of arguments that there is no positive correlation between the number of hours worked and productivity and that the benefits to condensed work hours are too compelling to ignore.

Of note for Jamaica is the prospect of increased productivity, improved work-life balance, improved mental health and overall wellness of citizens, reduced traffic congestion, reduction in fuel consumption and other strong, positive environmental impacts.

Given our unenviable position as one of the earliest countries to experience climate departure, and highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, increased frequency and severity of storms, and droughts, Jamaica must spring into action now, with government as the largest employer, leading the way.

Climate departure marks the point at which Earth’s climate begins to enter into a new state, where heat and records are routinely shattered, and what was once considered extreme will become the norm. The hottest temperatures that we have experienced in the past will not only be a new normal, but become the coolest temperatures we may anticipate in the future.

As I have written previously, there are significant implications for the ways that we work, earn, feed ourselves, enjoy leisure time, play sports, the environment in which our children learn, and how we will be able to rest and recover in the new dispensation.

It is, therefore. a critical time for collaboration with private and public sector to revolutionise the future of work, production, commuting, and work/life balance, particularly to cultivate a culture of minimising negative environmental impact and mitigating climate change.

Fortunately Jamaica, with an economy that is almost 70 per cent service based, is ripe for a large scale trial of the four-day work week, which has been shown to be most impactful in service based industries. There is also considerable opportunity to fast-track digital transformation, workforce transformation, and education to improve the skills required to thrive in this new digital age, focusing on even higher value services, and increase the earning potential of Jamaicans.

With the marriage of digital transformation and the four-day work week, we can anticipate less migration to urban areas, and considerable positive impact on sustainable rural development, access to affordable housing for young professionals among many other benefits.

Shortening the number of workdays per week could reduce pollution and lower carbon emissions associated with commuting and energy consumption in the workplace. A study by the New Economics Foundation found that a shift to a four-day work week in the United Kingdom could reduce carbon emissions by up to 127 million tonnes per year by 2025, primarily through reductions in commuting.

While there are concerns that a shorter work week may lead to reduced productivity, reduced revenue, lower profits, and increased leisure activities, which could, in turn, increase energy consumption and emissions associated with travel and leisure activities, the research does not support these concerns.

Ultimately, any business that values employee well-being, productivity, and work-life balance can benefit from a four-day work week. Every enterprise will need to carefully consider the potential impact on business operations and make a well-informed decision.

As a society, however, we must consider and test the probability that a four-day work week can be a powerful tool for addressing climate change, and promoting progression, productivity, and employee satisfaction in the workplace.

It is also our duty to address the low-hanging fruit to drastically lower transportation-related emissions, energy consumption, and promote a sustainable work culture, pushing companies to become more socially responsible and make a more meaningful positive impact on the environment.

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Yaneek Page is the programme lead for Market Entry USA, a certified trainer in entrepreneurship.

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