A four-day week and other ways we can capitalise on what we’ve learnt from isolation

Elka Wood 22 May 2020 14
Deserted Tathra beach.

Has COVID-19 isolation provided a window to a future life of less stress and appreciation of a slower pace? Photo: David Rogers.

Life is starting to swing back towards normal following our COVID-19 isolation.

Some of these changes I’m thrilled to meet again, such as watching my daughter happily slurp on her first hot chocolate in a cafe for a while, cosy fireside dinners with friends, and seeing how productive I am at work when both kids are out of the house.

As a friend with a toddler put it: “Having a reason to be out of the house at dinnertime or bedtime again is bliss.”

I’m looking forward – so much! – to the far-away future when we can travel, dance, flirt, see music and give our friends and family a big squeeze and kiss when we see them.

I feel I’ll never take human closeness for granted again.

But there are a few things I’m concerned about with the return to normal. Namely that for many of us, normal wasn’t good or healthy.

And it seems the Australian public is at least somewhat in agreement. This week there have been murmurings in the mainstream media about using COVID-19 as a chance to change the dominant culture and introduce a four-day workweek and other measures to improve our work-life balance.

New Zealand’s adored leader Jacinda Ardern has already announced plans to reduce the number of hours Kiwis will spend at work, in part to give the flailing domestic tourism market a boost by increasing the number of leisure hours New Zealanders have.

She also commented: “There’s just so much we’ve learned about … [the flexibility] of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that.”

My mate Joe, a teacher in Moruya, was surprised by how much he enjoyed isolation, even as he and his wife, also a teacher, juggled caring for two little kids and teaching remotely.

“We eat dinner earlier now and it’s much calmer,” he says. “Apart from a few more visits with family and friends, I don’t want it to go back to normal. But I have no idea how to stop things going back to how they were.”

There have been lots of jokes about drinking more alcohol during isolation, but what I’ve noticed is people drinking less. I had dinner with a friend the other day and for the first time in years, she wasn’t into her second bottle of wine when I left.

We still drank wine but it was joyful drinking, not the exhausted drinking that you try to bury yourself in.

Those of us who are doing it all blame ourselves for not being able to cope with the demands of modern life. But isolation has shown us how much better we can be when we’re not stretched to the limit.

So as we return to some kind of normality, how can we be thoughtful about what we pick up again to retain some of the value we found during isolation?

Where will we show restraint, and in doing so, reshape our lives to make more room for what really matters?

I was chatting to my butcher the other day and he said he hadn’t reverted to normal business hours yet – and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. His face showed how he struggled with the problem.

“I don’t know,” he said, “not many people come in the afternoons anyway. Most of our customers still come, they just come in the mornings.”

What if he decided to keep his opening hours as 9 pm – 2 pm post COVID-19? He’d have a better life where he could pick up his kids from school and cook his wife some shanks after work, and customers would still get their meat and eggs.

Choosing to work and commute less has a lovely flow-on effect, as we’ve observed in the past few months.

Less pollution, which is slowing global warming, and less wear and tear on roads and public transport systems are just a few of the long-term wins of slowing down.

However, there’s still shame about not working enough in our society, even as we all quietly slip into overwhelm. I’ve met many people who look confused when I ask if they’d rather do their job part-time, or job share, than continue full-time.

“Of course I would but that’s not a possibility,” they answer.

There’s the mortgage to pay, of course, but mostly it’s the social expectation to continue striving well past the point where we have all we need.

If our ancestors from the industrial revolution could see us, they’d laugh in our faces as we toil away to breaking point.

Would you like to work less? If so, what’s stopping you?

Original Article published by Elka Wood on About Regional.

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14 Responses to A four-day week and other ways we can capitalise on what we’ve learnt from isolation
Sue Mckellar Sue Mckellar 9:11 pm 28 May 20

It would be great to work less but financially how can we afford it?

Louise Flood Louise Flood 12:25 pm 26 May 20

A nice idea but how will our esssential workers do this? Nurses, fireys etc.

    Jan Sandra Cornish Jan Sandra Cornish 2:45 pm 26 May 20

    We could raise their wages and put more money into training them. Rostering changes could work too. Police have different working weeks. I am sure it could work and essential workers might not suffer from burn out so often

Paula Simcocks Paula Simcocks 10:03 am 26 May 20

For older women who frequent public toilets when out, or those in restaurants etc , I want to see these areas much better maintained. The public toilets at Pheasants Nest on way to sydney are particularly dirty and poorly maintained for the number of people who pass through. Hand sanitizer should be produced at a cheaper rate to be made available to all those entering and leaving public toilets.

If there were more toilets (especially for women) in tourists hot spots such as beaches on coast , it would also help people fleeing bushfires.

Sashika Mendis Sashika Mendis 9:24 am 26 May 20

Amen to that thought! Working from home offers flexibility and staff are more productive being relaxed in their own homes. At least 1-2 days a week working from home. 2 days at work. And a 3 day weekend! Perfect!

Carolyn Mueller Carolyn Mueller 7:45 am 26 May 20

I do so agree with this sentiment. Let’s take the unique opportunity to rethink our lives, our aspirations and what makes a progressive society. We don’t have to be constantly stretching and expanding to enjoy a better quality of life. Let’s put quality before quantity (of stuff, of money, of titles, of responsibilities) and appreciate that most precious, irreplaceable gift of time spent in pure joy with those we love. And let’s keep the courtesy, kindness and community spirit that we’ve expressed in these past months.

Sharron Gozzy Sharron Gozzy 7:34 am 26 May 20

Working in retail things changed but they only got busier, customers got grumpier and more demanding. I wish life would slow down so I could appreciate it more.

Belinda Spouncer Belinda Spouncer 12:22 am 26 May 20

Staff should be allowed to work from home at least one day of week its a win win for both the employee and employer. If nothing the COVID 19 situation should prove it is possible and you should trust your staff to do the right thing were not 5 year olds the work will be done !

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:07 pm 25 May 20

This might be an option for jobs which are padded-out with managerialist claptrap, and other time-fillers, but for jobs which involve selling goods and services (particularly) which the customers pay for directly with their own money (i.e. not publicly funded), reduced hours will mean reduced income – not an option for those who were already struggling before the virus hit.

Anne Atherton Anne Atherton 6:14 pm 25 May 20

For me it's not about working less but about working differently.

I enjoy working from home and the flexibility it gives me.

grim123 grim123 3:21 pm 25 May 20

I had to stop reading once I saw the thing about Ardern being “adored”. That’s certainly not the case in her own country, so I knew the rest would be fantasy.

Don’t hold your breath for 4 day work weeks people. At least not unless you want to take a 20% pay cut.

    paulmuster paulmuster 4:19 pm 25 May 20

    You would need to be either up to your neck in debt or hate leisure time to think reducing our working life from 71% to 57% of our daylight hours is not possible.

    grim123 grim123 9:53 am 26 May 20

    I didn’t say it wasn’t possible. I said it would result in a 20% pay cut. A lot of people can’t afford that. Some people want to maximise their earnings so they can retire early.

    Suggesting a 4 day work week could just be the new thing, and failing to bother mentioning the result of that would be a pay cut is either lazy or ignorant.

    dukethunder dukethunder 4:36 pm 26 May 20

    Fantasy indeed. Ardern doesn’t have ‘plans’ for a four day week as the author suggests. Merely a suggestion(thought bubble) that it would be good for tourism if an employee/employer can negotiate such an arrangement.


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