Working in China Could Mean Four Day Work Week by 2030

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A Return to Traditional Chinese Values

Chinese will be working nine hours a day and four days a week by 2030, said a report from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

Before that, China should experiment with a four-day (36 hours) workweek in large and medium-sized State-owned enterprises in East China from 2020 to 2025, the newly released report said.

From 2025 onwards, a four-day (36 hours) workweek can be implemented in certain industries in the central and eastern regions of China.

And from 2030 onwards, Chinese people should be able to take three days of rest for every four working days.

Excluding work and sleep, the average daily leisure time of Chinese in 2017 was 2.27 hours, compared with 2.55 hours three years ago.

Residents of Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing have less spare time each day: 1.94, 2.04, 2.14 and 2.25 hours respectively, lower than the average.

Man Working in China

This is a large contrast to western countries where the average leisure time of those working in countries such as the US, Germany and the UK is about five hours a day, almost twice as much as in China, according to the report.

The document, titled Several Decisions on Further Promoting Tourism-related Investment and Consumption, is focused on attracting foreign talent by ensuring that work will not consume their life. This would distinguish the experience of working in China from other Asian countries like Japan or South Korea who have managed to remain competitive in recruiting foreign talent.

The People’s Response

What the document fails to accomplish is to distinguish which industries are going to have this this work week. Surely restaurants, delivery services, taxis, and any other part of our daily lives in China will not be closed on Friday. This could potentially increase the gap between the rich and the poor in China where income inequality is a hot topic. Would the push towards increasing tourism increase the prices in vacation spots around China or would it make the industry more sustainable in the times between Chinese holidays?

It’s also mentioned in the report that all those working in China should have paid leave by 2020 to 2025. As the paid vacation system has not been fully implemented, the leisure time of Chinese residents is neither balanced nor free.

State Council Regulations of Paid Annual Leave of Employees, which took effect in January 2008, stipulated that employees can opt out of their paid leave, and that employers must pay workers three times their daily salary for their unfulfilled vacation.

Work in China

The proposal sparked a heated discussion on the internet. “I’d like it to be carried out next week,” a supporter said on social media.

Similar experiments in other countries have tested the concept of reducing work hours as a way of improving individual productivity. In Sweden, a trial in the city of Gothenburg mandated a six-hour day, and officials found employees completed the same amount of work or even more. But when France mandated a 35-hour workweek in 2000, businesses complained of reduced competitiveness and increased hiring costs.

A New Zealand firm that let its employees work four days a week while being paid for five says the experiment was so successful that it hoped to make the change permanent.

The firm, Perpetual Guardian, which manages trusts, wills and estates, found the change actually boosted productivity among its 240 employees, who said they spent more time with their families, exercising, cooking, and working in their gardens.

The firm ran the experiment — which reduced the workweek to 32 hours from 40 — in March and April this year, and asked two researchers to study the effects on staff.

Jarrod Haar, a human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology, said employees reported a 24 percent improvement in work-life balance, and came back to work energized after their days off.

“Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks,” Mr. Haar said. “Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five.”

Similar experiments in other countries have tested the concept of reducing work hours as a way of improving individual productivity. In Sweden, a trial in the city of Gothenburg mandated a six-hour day, and officials found employees completed the same amount of work or even more. But when France mandated a 35-hour workweek in 2000, businesses complained of reduced competitiveness and increased hiring costs.

In Perpetual Guardian’s case, workers said the change motivated them to find ways of increasing their productivity while in the office. Meetings were reduced from two hours to 30 minutes, and employees created signals for their colleagues that they needed time to work without distraction.

Pushing Efficiency

“They worked out where they were wasting time and worked smarter, not harder,” Mr. Haar said.

Andrew Barnes, the company’s founder, said he believed his was the first business in the world to pay staff for 40 hours when working 32; other firms have allowed employees to work shorter weeks by compressing the standard 40 hours into fewer days, or allowed people to work part-time for a reduced salary.

Mr. Barnes said he came up with the idea for a four-day workweek after reading a report that suggested people spent less than three hours of their work day productively employed, and another that said distractions at work could have effects on staff akin to losing a night’s sleep.

He said the results of Perpetual Guardian’s trial showed that when hiring staff, supervisors should negotiate tasks to be performed, rather than basing contracts on hours new employees spent in the office.

“Otherwise you’re saying, ‘I’m too lazy to figure out what I want from you, so I’m just going to pay you for showing up,’” Mr. Barnes said. “A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity,” he added. “If you deliver that in less time, why should I cut your pay?”

He said working mothers stood to benefit most from the policy, since those returning to work from maternity leave often negotiated part-time hours, but performed the equivalent of full-time work.
Ms. Barker, a mother of two who lives in Auckland, said she spent her day off each week running personal errands, attending appointments and shopping for groceries, which allowed her to spend more time with her family on weekends.

Noting that the company had seen lower electricity bills with 20 percent less staff in the office each day, Mr. Barnes said the change in work hours could have wider implications if more companies adopted such a strategy.

“You’ve got 20 percent of cars off the road in rush hour; there are implications for urban design, such as smaller offices,” he said.

Do you think what worked in New Zealand would work here? Do you think Chinese firms would actually change or would we see a rise in those working from home? Let us know in the comments section.