_ Felix Menzel, chairman, Recherche Dresden. Freilich, 2 August 2023.*
In Germany, calls for a four-day week are getting louder and louder. But who benefits from this concept, and what priorities should the patriotic opposition set at this point?
The world of work in Western industrialised nations faces a dilemma: hospitals, schools and companies are kept running by over-zealous people who engage in a “toxic productivity” and hustle culture. However, the hamster wheel offers no fulfilment. The result is “success emptiness” (Michael Andrick) and chronic exhaustion. Those who are exhausted, in turn, can no longer enter the mode of deep concentration. They are only capable of routine activities. The “burnout generation” is destroying itself “so that the economy grows”, as the doctor Michael Nehls recently stated in a book about the “exhausted brain” and the loss of mental energy.
“Quiet Quitting vs. Workation
The other extreme of our working world is referred to in the media as “Great Resignation”, “Quiet Quitting” and “Workation”. In the USA, a surprising wave of voluntary resignations began with Corona. In the meantime, it has also arrived in Germany, as Gerd Held describes in Tichys Einblick. But it is not only older people who are fed up. Around half of young workers up to 34 see themselves as “quiet quitters”, who at best do their job by the book and at worst have already resigned. Videos are circulating in social networks in which workers publicly display their laziness at work. Their goal: they want to test out having to do as little as possible in order to just barely avert dismissal. So this is maximizing benefits the other way round.
“Workation” – the combination of work and holiday – almost seems like a smart middle ground. Creatives insist on unusual places to work, such as the beach or a remote mountain hut. They claim to be able to generate better ideas this way than in the dull office. Meanwhile, the lament of the “shortage of skilled workers” plays in the background on all channels. The supposedly only solution is also subtly provided: mass immigration.
Advantages for middle management
Who would benefit from a four-day week in this situation? Who, on the other hand, would it harm? The fact is: we have a bloated administration with countless “bullshit jobs” (David Graeber) in public authorities and (large) companies. Middle managers in particular are often almost exclusively occupied with pointless meetings, annoying emails and superfluous task coordination. For this group, the four-day week would be the chance to declutter on a grand scale and limit themselves to meaningful activities.
Likewise, it is probably undisputed that the creative class, which could already enjoy the “home office” in contrast to the cashier in Corona times, benefits from more flexible working time and place models. Meaningful work can indeed not be measured in hours. What counts here are the end results alone. This is also the case with art. No one has ever been interested in the time it takes to create good poems, novels and paintings. But it should be an open secret that many a person needs a sip of wine, evening rest, a walk in the woods or an extended exercise session for their creative productivity. There is nothing wrong with that.
There is only the very, very great danger of generalization in the discussion about the four-day week. The creative class has the sovereignty of interpretation in public. And all too often it abuses this interpretive authority to extend its own standard to become the standard for all. The four-day week is out of the question for teachers, nurses, care workers, bus drivers and all those, like the cashier, whose routine activities are systemically relevant to everyday life. There is already a huge shortage of workers who do what is necessary and do not want to be paid for their dreaming.
Four-day week as wrong signal for creative class
So how should our society succeed in demanding this concentration on what is necessary, is the crucial question. And how can it reward extra diligence? There should be a lot of overlap between the “Quiet Quitters” and the digital bohemians. It is not overworked fathers and mothers who are handing in silent resignations because they are being squeezed like defenceless lemons by the state. Rather, they are young people who lack any sense, who believe in the catastrophe narratives of the present and are thus victims of the socialist death drive described by Igor Shafarevich. Sigmund Freud saw this death drive as an “expression of inertia”.
This death drive must be countered by the life drive and a positive, collective narrative. The four-day week would therefore probably also be the wrong signal at the wrong time for the creative class, even if from a purely economic point of view it should bring neither harm nor benefit, as studies from Great Britain, Ireland and the USA suggest. As an advocate for the little people, the patriotic opposition should consequently set other priorities. How about, for example, having taxes and duties only for the first four days of the week? Those who are particularly hard-working and work longer hours should be allowed to keep their entire wages from the fifth day or from the 35th hour of work per week. This is how politics works for the top performers in our country!
Translated into English from the original publication with the Austrian journal “Freilich”.