When Tim Ferriss wrote his personal development book “The 4 Hour Workweek” (1) in 2008, it attracted a lot of attention, remained on the bestseller list for a long time, and was translated into Turkish by İnkilap. Of course, Ferriss wasn’t talking about a “4-hour week” in the context of today’s demands for working shorter hours. He was mostly talking about how we can make ourselves rich and have a different lifestyle by leaving the mundane jobs we do and focusing on the ones we are good at. (Meanwhile, Ferriss currently makes a living by selling a nutritional supplement under the brand name BrainQuicken which he claims that strengthens the brain). Subsequently, in 2011, Kathi Weeks, in her book, The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries (2), brought the legitimacy of working in a job up for discussion for the first time. Later in 2018, Dennis Normak and Anders Fogh Jensen’s book (3) named “Pseudo-work” was published in Denmark. In this book, they argued that in Denmark and other global labor markets, people pretend to work by inventing jobs themselves, but they don’t actually work, so the weekly working hour can be easily reduced to 15. This time, Pernille Garde Abildgaard’s book “The Secret of Four Day Week” (4) from Norway followed. In this book, Abildgaard stated that the weekly working time can be shortened, based on the Parkinson’s Law, which says that “the job expands itself according to the time it needs to be completed” meaning that “the job takes as long as the time you have to complete it
, and for this, time management techniques such as Pomodoro, Slack, and information sharing technologies such as Yammer, virtual assistants, and project management programs such as asana can be used. He gives examples from companies that lead the work four days a week, with examples from Sweden, Denmark, England, New Zealand, Australia, Netherlands, America, England, for example, He examines in detail the preparations for how Branson’s Virgin Group and its advertising agency Mix switched to working 4 days a week in England.
Finally, Kyle Lewis and Will Stronge’s book ‘Overtime: Why We Need A Shorter Working Week’was published by Verso publishing house, the representative of the “new left” movement (5). This book has been also translated into Turkish. I would like to dwell on this book for a while, as it clearly summarizes the extent of the issue and the mindset of the point reached. In 1856, stone workers marched in Australia, thinking that it was time to apply the eight-hour-a-day working system to the construction industry, and this victory was celebrated for 95 years and eventually became concurrent with Labor Day celebrations. The book begins with this story and says that the example of the stone workers teaches us at least 2 things:
• Freedom from the hardships of work is only given to us when this liberation is demanded and fought for.
• It shows that reducing the amount of time we work, is an aspiration of working people, no matter what form of employment or era of capitalism.
The book, which is written from this point of view, draws attention to the fact that all these and similar things, such as being heard, spending time with our loved ones, engaging in independent activities, being free from attachment to a boss and a job, are essential for
, and ultimately equates time with life.
Stating that this struggle to reduce the time spent at work is once again on the political agenda, the book touches on the political initiatives that took place long before the Covid epidemic which caused mass unemployment, and that the world, in general, has now started to adopt shorter working weeks without reducing wages, and it points to the fact that this is now not a marginal
. campaign, on the contrary, it is at the center of a renewal that has taken place in socialist politics over the past decade. I wonder if the promise of socialism after the collapse of communism was stuck in this detail, I don’t think so. In addition, who would pay for the increased labor costs and the expensive prices?
Stating that work is the main factor in our lives, as a factor that affects our entire lives, the authors emphasize that the momentum of the campaigns for the workweek has emerged in the context of a discredited labor market and that the term “earning a living” has passed. They also cited research demonstrating that a higher capital share accompanied by a lower labor share is linked to higher inequality in the distribution of personal income.
In the book, the similarities between the report written by Professor Philip Alston on behalf of the UN in 2018 and Friedrich Engels’ work dated 1845, which deals with the situation of the working class in England, were included and it was stated that the introduction of universal lending and aid payments constitutes a concrete example of nowadays. According to the authors, without significant collective organization and political regulation, the labor market fails to provide a strong mechanism for economic security and freedom for all. Yes, they are correct – the aim of a person is not to earn a living but to be a good person. But again, what man earned by his own effort is sacred for man
. Presumably, it is not meant that people receiving unconditional money from the state under the name of salary, under the guise of assurance as is the case in some city-states in the gulf countries. The “assurance” must be for a certain period of time when needed. Otherwise, it is open to the exploitation of the unemployed and refugees as in the west.
The authors propose that a shorter workweek by itself is not only an intervention to work but also a green policy, providing a basis for the rapid de-carbonization of our economies by working less and having an impact in other areas as well. They also say that paid or unpaid domestic often womanized labor
, is a feminist issue. I could not resolve this relationship.
Emphasizing how shortening the working week will have a multi-faceted beneficial effect on societies throughout the book, the authors give an example from history while conveying their thoughts in detail. They mention that the Manifesto, one of the culminations of the struggle of the British labor movement in 1912, in which views on the future development of the mining industry as a combination of Marxism and Syndicalism are included,
was, in fact, demands a future where we would never be forced to work for wages instead of simply calling for better jobs..
Noting that the struggle for leisure time has accompanied capitalism since its birth nearly four centuries ago, the authors repeat the idea that “time is freedom” as in other books. Because according to them, the daily work we have to do to survive; For example, obligations such as eating and resting are the use of free time, and ultimately this is the time which is important to us. In contrast, in capitalism, time is expressed as money and is a production expense for profit-oriented businesses. For this reason, the authors point out that Marx saw this dimension of time as a reflection of different sets of interests belonging to related parties
, and the main issue is that we need free time to enjoy the life we work for , but it competes with the time necessary for work as the bosses say. Yes, we all have to struggle with how to spend our time, which is a numbered day. Use of our time should be of significant benefit to society.
Stating that Marx’s critique of work ultimately stems from a concern for human freedom and the forms of oppression that modern society imposes on the individual and that he speaks of the concept of ” free laborer ” to reflect the dual character of being an employee, the authors state that employment is fundamentally against individual freedom; they underline that it means leasing ourselves to someone else or a company for a certain amount of time. Because the vast majority need a job to survive, and when we don’t have a job, we are only free to starve! This is an undesirable situation, capitalism cannot be excused for it.
Noting that many social theorists pay attention to the workplace, which Marx defines as “hidden abode”, the book continues and includes the views of the political philosopher Elizabeth Anderson on the parallelism of public administration practiced by states and business life practiced by company executives. They noted Anderson’s questioning of “why should we take it for granted when it comes to our employer when the private aspects of our lives are not allowed to be controlled in an undemocratic and detailed manner by the state”. Then, they came to the following conclusion: as in the 19th century, time is money in capitalism today, our freedom is precious, and the conflict between our leisure time and that of the employer is not over. The sharing of individual life data is now regulated in all societies. In any case, the desired results could not be obtained from personalized marketing because it is both expensive and ineffective. No one can deny that the workplace is a “hidden abode”. Workplaces and co-workers are now just like school or military friendships. As we’ve experienced while working from home with the Covid epidemic, the rapid and widespread communication, the increase in social life activities and the fact that they are accessible have shown that the place of workplaces and co-workers in our lives is undeniable. Otherwise, I would not have preferred to slumber in coffee corners like the unemployed. Many activities that bring spiritual satisfaction to people can now originate from the workplace.
Later, the authors continue to convey their thoughts by explaining what they wanted to emphasize with one of John Maynard Keynes’ most memorable and frequently quoted texts, ‘The Economic Possibilities of Our Descendants’. According to them, from the point of view of Keynes, who was heavily influenced by ancient Greek ethics, re-examining the issue of what the purpose of economic activity is as well as lifestyle or business forms suitable for art, architecture, sports, education and other pursuits that people would like to pursue in their own good life imaginings are required. Because Keynes predicted that, thanks to ongoing development, fewer and fewer working hours would be required to produce the products we need as an explanation of human need and a there will be a reduction in weekly working hours. However, the main question of the authors is why the reduction predicted by Keynes never materialized. The authors who think that Keynes’s mistake is to underestimate Economic Rationality, conveyed their thoughts on how potential salvation should be in detail through the reinterpretation of Freud’s theory of civilization with a summary by political philosopher Andre Gorz in his book “Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology”
, and Herbert Marcuse’s suppression of desire and reduction of working hours. Did Keynes neglect that there is no limit to human ambition? So what do we do in increased free time? How much will fun and laziness satisfy us? How will we be satisfied in this new life order according to our intellectual and social level? First of all, education will have to be shaped accordingly.
Stating that the vast majority of jobs and human skills under capitalism are only developed to the extent that they are beneficial to the business, the authors state that even the widely accepted and constantly misinterpreted father of economics, Adam Smith, is aware of what the division of labor and standardization do to us humans, and Bertrand Russell’s work is done in a way that is among the people who see the great potential of culture where forced labor is minimized. They also emphasized that Georges Bataille said that what is actually devoid of real meaning is the modern idea of routine work.
The authors say that our priorities are rebalanced; they believe in a shift from a work-centered society to a society where work competes with communal pleasure, the free expenditure of our bodily energies, and the discovery of hitherto unknown human faculties.
Stating that “the pressures of workplace domination and the results of the standardization of the labor process should make us think about what alternatives we would prefer instead of capitalism”, the authors comprehensively discussed Kathi Weeks’s work titled The Problem of Work, which is thought to be a breakthrough on this subject, based on socialist modernization and socialist humanism. “Working time reduction has to be part of the next economic system, and this is clear from the work that has been done in recent years, both in the UK and elsewhere, including the Covid pandemic,” the authors continue:
“Although we all live in a labor-obsessed world under capitalist economic conditions, we do not experience it equally. None of us are equal, but as women, some are more unequal than others, and many women have less free time in modern working life. Because there is a sexist division of labor in capitalism. Domestic roles all involve work, and the real problem is that this work is not taken into account, so it has no economic value.” The authors ignore the characteristics of the work and the cause-effect relationship while listing the facts one after the other. Just as some jobs cannot be handled from afar, some people have the ambition to work hard and earn a lot. “übung macht meister! (Practice makes perfect)”. For example, if we talk about housework, washing dishes, dusting, WC cleaning, ironing, laundry, garbage removal, and pet care, these are endless cycles. How do we get rid of them? Or do we spend our free time on these jobs and be happier? In fact, one hidden problem that we need to address is workaholism! Without a cure for this, it wouldn’t possible to make me and the team work less…
In the last years of the twentieth century, women, in large numbers have been involved in business life in various fields. However, despite women’s transition from unpaid workplaces to capitalist workplaces, gender norms are still difficult to change. Women’s equality movements are successful, but women still remain predominantly caretakers and cleaners. These occupations have less job security. Rapidly aging societies will continue to be more care-oriented. On the other hand, the wages and conditions of the care workforce, which is mostly women, are still extremely inadequate
”. The reason why this is not a problem in our country is perhaps the low participation of women in the workforce.
As you can see, there are ongoing discussions, thoughts, and research on both the effective management of human resources and the political economy of employing people, to reduce the weekly working hours. They say “water flows and finds its way”. If these discussions turn into a “movement”, they will find their way. I think we will find out soon: will working for a shorter time a week remain a dream, or will it evolve into being, or whether it has already come in the guise of working from home with the Covid revolution; but for now we do not know. I am not afraid of the future, I am in favor of trying everything. Frankly, I was against working from home before the epidemic, now I think hybrid working is very productive. If working 4 days a week proves to be productive, why not try it?
But I can’t help but mention this. I was a student trying to get a passing grade at school. I knew that the main thing was to learn the lessons that I would need in my life in the future; I would even get a certificate of appreciation when I worked for it. However, the situation in life is not like that, there is an obligation to be the first, both for your personal career and for the success of your business. This is because anyone can pass in a class at school, however, the positions you can rise to in your career are usually limited to one or two people. If you are not first or second in your job, the survival of that job may be a problem. If we are to succeed now, our goal is not when and how much we will work, but what and how we will achieve it.
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(1) Ferriss, T. (2008). 4-Hour Week: Work Less, Earn More and Live Well! Revolution Bookstore.
(2) Weeks, K. (2014). The Problem of Work: Feminism, Marxism, Anti-Work Policy and Post-Work Imaginations, Detail.
(3) Normak D. and Jensen AF (2018). Pseudo-Work: How We Ended Up Being Busy Doing Nothing, Gyldendal.
(4) Abildgaard PG(2020), The Secret of The Four Day Week, Frylund. (5) Lewis K. and Stronge W. (2021) Overtime, Why We Need a Shorter Work Week, Minotaur Book.