One of the main demands of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which is in the fourth day of its historic strike against the so-called “big three” American automakers, is a reduced work week to achieve what its leader described. as well as a better work-life balance.
About 13,000 workers from Ford, General Motors and Stellantis walked out, marking the first time in history that they have struck simultaneously against all three companies. Their demands include wage increases, cost-of-living adjustments to match inflation and profit-sharing plans. They also call for “a better balance between work, private life and family through an increase in paid leave and additional leave”.
As part of the work-life balance request, the union is trying to negotiate a 32-hour work week for 40 hours of pay, which union president Shawn Fain says dates back to the 1940s.
“Back then, our leaders were talking about a 35- to 32-hour work week,” he said.
The debate over the four-day workweek has gained momentum in recent years around the world, with workers demanding more flexibility in their jobs.
In the United States, about 20 percent of companies surveyed by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans are considering, testing, have formally implemented, or have instituted the four-day workweek.
The foundation found in findings released this month that some of the push for more flexible working arrangements and demand for a better work-life balance can be explained in part by the shift in nature of work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While the traditional work week has seen a major upheaval with the pandemic, a few employers are implementing a four-day work week for recruiting and retention reasons,” said Julie Stich, vice president of content at the foundation. “However, most employers, even if they are interested, struggle to figure out how to make this a reality while still trying to meet their operational goals.”
Although there is evidence that shorter work weeks can reduce stress without affecting productivity, companies struggle to implement them.
A study in New Zealand showed that employees appreciated having an extra day and some said it contributed to their well-being. But the extra day off was seen by management as a gift and added even more pressure during the four working days.
“There was a sense of ‘a little more urgency’ and ‘speeding up your processes,’” according to the study. “Some enjoyed what they considered a calmer, more relaxed climate, while others enjoyed the “exhilarating” and “intense” pace. One senior manager perceived that the “quality of some of the work has deteriorated” because of staff. trying to jam 100 percent 80 percent of the time.
Fain wants to see a more balanced approach to how employees live their professional and personal lives.
“We are one of the most overworked populations in the world,” he said. “We must start fighting again for a vision of society in which everyone earns enough to support their families and where everyone has enough free time to enjoy their lives and watch their children grow up and their parents grow old. “
Researchers say it’s difficult to create this balance.
“But we need to start with an honest assessment of the impact of trade-offs between productivity and time on workers’ well-being,” wrote occupational psychologist Emma Russell for harvard business review.