The 42-hour week and work-life balance: The subject has been on my list of topics to write about for a long time. Ironically, I haven't had the time to tackle it yet. Now, due to the current debate around the shortage of qualified workers, part-time work, and the increase of gainful employment, it has popped up again. And I've been asking myself one question in particular: Has anyone done the math yet?
Working a 42-hour week, as it is the case in most of Switzerland today, means working 8.5 hours a day. If you start work at eight o'clock in the morning, you finish at five o'clock in the afternoon, including the legally required minimum half-hour break. If you commute between home and work, which eight out of ten people in Switzerland do, you leave home at 6:30 AM and are back home at 5:30 PM. On average, employees commute for 29 minutes per day.
This calculation does not include children yet. With child(ren) it looks different. And this much in advance: The calculation no longer works. In order to get to eight and a half hours of work per day, you have to leave the house earlier in the morning and come home later in the evening. The walk to the daycare center, getting changed, saying goodbye: All of this easily takes half an hour. Leaving the house at seven o’clock in the morning to drop off your kids at daycare. Picking up your kids from daycare in the evening, adding the journey home - at least another half hour. Arrival at home: six o’clock at night.
This scenario, by the way, is the absolute best case scenario in which the daycare center is close to home or work, there are no detours to make, the commute actually only takes 29 minutes each way, and the child takes part in both saying goodbye in the morning and getting dressed to go home in the evening without resistance. In real life, however, many things take more time, the distances are longer, and the resistance is stronger. I have not mentioned the effort required to leave the house with one or more children at seven in the morning. When you arrive home in the evening, no dinner has been prepared yet, and there is still a long way to go before we call it a day. But that's not the point now.
The point is that the existing 42-hour workweek is already a total compatibility killer - in my opinion, the number one killer. For many parents, the days when their children are cared for by others are the most stressful ones. If you are unable or unwilling to leave your children in the care of others for nearly eleven hours every day, you have no choice but working less hours on these days. The time lost from work must be made up at some point - if this flexibility exists at all. Those who work shifts or have set work hours, such as first response workers, the hospitality industry, or the retail industry, have no flexibility.
If you can't or don't want to make up for lost working time by giving up on free time you'll have to get creative. On the one hand, you can choose a variation that leaves some buffer, such as spreading a 50% workload over three full days. A luxury. After all, childcare fees are expensive, and not every family can afford an extra day at daycare. You can also arrange for someone to bring and pick up the children. An extra logistical effort. Another option is to look for a job where the demands on one's own performance are not too high, and maybe remain financially or professionally below one's own potential.
Regardless of which of these options you choose: It is incredibly difficult for parents to balance 42 hours of work and family life. Particularly for women. The majority of mothers still bend over backwards for the system. They work part-time and for a limited number of hours. They accept high wage losses. They spell their careers backwards. They stay in the home office, take care of the household in between calls and take the children to daycare. They perform a difficult balancing act and burn out in the process.
And now women are being asked to help alleviate the shortage of qualified workers. The economy is demanding to better exploit a mothers' economic potential. So up with the working hours! Less part-time work! That is, at least, the credo. And because that's not enough, the employers' association, among others, also wants to increase weekly working hours. This will make it even more challenging to balance family and career. Are you serious?
Anyone who truly wants women to work more should advocate for less hours at the office, on the construction site, or in the hospital. Only if we can all work fewer hours we will be able to truly balance work and family life. A look in other countries demonstrates that this is not harmful to the economy: Iceland has introduced the 35-hour week, and a large-scale trial of a four-day week in the UK was a success. Reports show, employees in both countries are happier, more motivated, more productive, and less likely to take sick leave.
Isn't that exactly what the economy needs right now: more motivated, more productive and healthier employees?