In life, there are many things which need a bit of tweaking or thinking out of the box. By doing so, the situation sometimes improves by some percentage and sometimes drastically. Businesses or offices want their efficiency and profits to go up. Humans wish to have a better work-life balance. Many times, these things do not happen because organisations don’t want to experiment. Status Quo is always good!
Recently I came across a couple of articles. One of them is about a proven system, and the other one has been tried only for one month.
Around 1995, in the state of Quebec in Canada, the state government started implementing a scheme. In Quebec, French is the first language. Like all other states in Canada, there are a lot of migrants in Quebec too.
But because of French being the primary language, many ladies remained unemployable. In addition to that, there was a problem with looking after the children. Quebec is the only state who came up with a great solution. Till 1995, about 15% of Quebec ladies used to work.
The solution was interesting. The government started offering French tuition to people either a part-time course or a full-time course. Those attending the full-time course and who were required to keep their child in a creche were paid up to CAN $1100/ per month. The payment made to these ladies encouraged the ladies to attend courses. The number of ladies attending classes increased very fast. As they learnt French, they started becoming employable. But where is the win-win situation?
As the ladies started working, many of them got jobs; they started earning salaries. In Canada, there is a high income tax, and it starts from the base level; unlike in India, where the certain initial amount can be earned tax-free. With the French education scheme, now the % of ladies working has gone up to 80%. It indicates that including men and women, the number of people employed has gone up substantially. It also shows the business activity, and the economy size has also increased. Now the Win-Win situation. All this larger working population started paying income tax. What the government did was to spend money on people to make them employable, and the people are paying the money back to the government by way of income tax. It is now well documented that French tuition scheme has become a great success wherein both the government and people both are benefitted. The government gets back the money Canada spent by way of taxes, so almost nothing goes out of their pocket.
Another similar story I read recently about Microsoft, Japan. They wanted to implement a four-day week work for one month, and they declared that all employees would have five Friday’s off during that month with full pay. There were 2300 employees involved in this experiment under the name of “Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019”.
The shortened week led to more efficient meetings, happier workers and boosted productivity by a staggering 40%, the company concluded at the end of the trial. As part of the program, the company had also planned to subsidise family vacations for employees up to ¥100,000 or the US $920.
In addition to the increased productivity, employees took 25% less time off during the trial and electricity use was down 23% in the office with the additional day off per week. Employees printed 59% fewer pages of paper during the trial. The vast majority of employees – 92% – said they liked the shorter week.
In 2018, New Zealand trust management company Perpetual Guardian trialled a four-day workweek over two months for its 240 staff members. Employees reported experiencing better work–life balance and improved focus in the office. Staff stress levels decreased by 7%.
During the last 15 to 20 years, with the advent of computers and cell phone, the culture of “always-connected” started. Blackberry made it even more complicated by bringing the corporate email on their devices. During the night, it was essential to embrace Blackberry rather than your spouse! The global companies operated 24/7 and night time washroom break turned into one-hour email exchange session. In short, the work-life balance went for a toss. The importance of the person in the organisation was based on whether he or she had a Blackberry! The situation worsened when all smartphones could easily do what Blackberry did and more! Blackberry has now become history, but it established the culture of 24/7 into 365 days!
Are humans physically and mentally designed to work in such a culture? The answer is plain, no! Medical science says that humans need to sleep eight hours every day to work efficiently. But with global companies typically having offices in the US, in Europe, in India and China/Japan/Hongkong area, interdependent work is being done 24 hrs a day. So, on a conference call, people would be talking at 8 am, 5 pm or 1 am from different time zones. Such calls were routine during 2-3 days in a week. On weekends along with picnic hamper, battery-pack became an essential item!
Thank god the people have started understanding the effects of imbalance, though the progress in the right direction is slow. The result of such endless working, round the clock, throughout the year brought out a lot of family issues plus health issues. Sudden heart failures, stroke or nervous breakdowns were classic symptoms. Business and offices are to be run efficiently and for better profits. But was working 24/7, 365 days the solution?
The answer is no because the human body and mind cannot sustain such situations. The new life-style added travel requirements to increase. Now, people have the internet available on flights. Before this availability, people had at least some time to themselves away from the Internet!
The experiment in Microsoft Japan is a life-changing attempt to make life easy and less stressful for everybody. Every family has its things like quick picnics, getting repairs done at home, going to attend PTA’s (Parent-Teacher Association) in their children’s school. Maybe they want to go and see a game in which the child is taking part. Once a week you may wish to take your child for music class. Over the weekend you would like to meet your parents.
Living life is a mix of work, making money and many many other things. But if you do not get the time for anything else other than work, it is not worth it. Organisations have started realising this critical aspect of life. But global organisations have offices in all continents. So, there will be issues of synchronisation. But if there is a will, it is doable. Bajaj Auto has managed to do this synchronisation in their plants. All their plants are shut on Sundays!
Microsoft, Japan’s one-month experiment, has shown very encouraging results. If it is done in the long term across the company world over, the results may not be as good as they seem at one location. There could be contradictions; there could be difficulties!
But the feeling of having correct work-life is on the increase. I have been reading about millennials negotiate work from home facility, work hours to be put in weekly is also being discussed.
We can see that the Quebec system has helped people and state both in improving people’s life. New ways of doing work in businesses and offices are also being discussed. Such actions will lead to more happy people and happier world.
What will be the perfect method? There is nothing perfect in the world, but it is good that the discussions have started in the right directions. Let us hope that people and systems will begin thinking out of the box.
It is itself Win-Win situation as far as I am concerned.