Grabbing the chance for change


The covid19 narrative is all about how much the pandemic has changed the world, some say forever, yet the evidence does not support that optimism. The Black Lives Matter campaign is the singular important development that has, indeed, created a global shift in the status quo. The start of the cricket season in England on Wednesday with everyone on the West Indies and England teams taking a knee against racism and police violence would warm any just heart. Even the exclusive, oblivious world of Formula 1 car racing had to make a gesture as racing resumed, forced to do so by champion Lewis Hamilton. Turning these expressions of solidarity into lasting, tangible change is the challenge.

It’s encouraging that in so many parts of the world the campaign enabled people to examine themselves and the practices and mores they live by and the histories that inform them, but collectively this new awareness does not seem enough to reshape society, at least not yet and maybe only very gradually over a long period but, at least, the seed has been planted. The pushback from vested interest is enormous, a lot of it driven by fear of losing one’s advantage, which is understandable, so the fight for privilege will definitely persist. Some of this is because of people's lack of imagination and governments’ feet of clay. Politicians everywhere seem unable to capitalise on the general desire for a better world, which emerged during the last three months. Yet, we have a rare chance to break with the past and institute new ways of thinking, studying, working.

Education everywhere is problematic, only a few countries have changed the way schools function. Please let us in TT not return to the 19th century style classrooms and half-redundant curricula, unsuitable for the 21st century. And then let us not force those half-educated people into the workforce to follow on with the same deadbeat ideas of the early 1900s. We have swallowed the Victorian idea of work and study without examination and it has been brought to everyone’s attention. To lack the courage to change at this opportune moment would be unforgivable.

Debbie Jacob describes in her book Wishing for Wings how she got imprisoned young men interested in reading, writing and taking CSE exams by firstly letting them read what they were keen to know and once they were hooked on the pleasure of revelation and knowledge she could turn their attention to what they needed to learn. Learning to play a musical instrument is similar, first learn to play what you love and then practising the boring scales becomes less of a chore. Encouraging workers to be more productive needs equally different approaches. Why are we returning headlong into the unhealthy five-day week when it no longer makes total sense for all businesses?

A while ago the Economist ran an article about a study which showed that out of an eight-hour day general employees were productive for only 1.5 to two hours. The rest of the time they were distracted by social media and Internet browsing, engaged in non-business chats, personal calls, etc. I have been reading about one company’s experiment with a four-day week in exchange for higher productivity and the same pay. It yielded a rise in company revenue of six per cent and in profitability of 12.5 per cent.

Last year, Microsoft Japan ran a similar experiment and reported an incredible 40 per cent rise in productivity. The Henley Business School reported last year, too, that 250 UK companies had implemented a four-day week and were also getting good results. The experiments included three-day weekends, staggered weekday working and shorter workdays; an easily successful one being the experiment aimed at 80 per cent employee headcount in the office every weekday, which meant that people could self schedule. It requires employers to trust their workers in this worker-led process but Parkinson’s law that work expands to fit the time available to complete it hardly needs less proving.

It would be interesting to know how TT business fared with worker productivity during the pandemic lockdown. Homeworking became the norm and many people say they worked harder and with consequences, since digital technology means that work easily intrudes into home lives and can strain family relations. So, homeworking offers a formula that deserves consideration but we need to take into account also that it could easily deprive workers of some basic rights such as sick leave and even holiday allowances.

With that in mind, there’s no reason not to make it part of a new flexible working cycle made up of a four-day week with one day worked at home where appropriate. The benefits would be enormous especially in the realm of human well being because workers would save money on travelling to work, feel freer, and with less time would concentrate more, feel more engaged and be more content, making for a happier office. TT union leaders should lead this timely revolution and forsake 19th century battles.


"Grabbing the chance for change"

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