How about a two-for-one on Jobs?

Here is a solution for our current crisis. Make Job sharing compulsory till the situation has stabilised. And make most businesses work 2 or even the whole three shifts, if they can afford to. And with expanding governments, maybe the lead should be taken by government departments.

This is probably too simple a solution to appeal to the policy maker’s sense of bombast. But if you think about it, it is not too simplistic. It is true to the Keneysian policies that brought us out of the previous depression. It provides work to many, and enough leisure to spend the money they earn. If designed properly, it will neither be inflationary nor should productivity suffer. It will certainly hold off the recessionary boss for a while. (Now for a cheat that tells us where to deal the lethal blow to the big boss!)

Obama in his inauguration speech has already hinted at a cut in hours or wages to hold off job losses. This is a sacrifice that he expects workers to make, and this is something that has certainly been successful in the past. While this may have worked for individual businesses, will this necessarily work for the entire system?

I think the JOb share solution is neater, for all the stake-holders in our economic system. It works well at the micro and macro level for the economy, it works well at the personal level too. Businesses will moan, as they do for every change they have to go through – unless it makes more money for the big bosses. And yes, it will have its detractors too.

What will compulsory job sharing achieve? For the economy as a whole, it will certainly reduce the number of unemployed people – people who are currently in distress and worried about their next pay cheque. It will also stimulate demand for both goods and services. A larger number of employed people would logically drift towards more value added consumption. For example: sales of work clothing, ready meals, lipstick, ties, school pick up and drop off services etc. should improve. Since a large proportion of people would be working part time, the demand for leisure services should improve too.

On the supply side, I suggest that most businesses and governments be available to its customers, just like supermarkets – 24 hours a day. Or at least 16 hours a day. I understand that it is possible that many businesses cannot afford to do this, unless there is clear demand for out of hours services. I will wait for the day when ‘out of hours’ becomes a redundant term – for I believe that businesses will not shrink from more, if the demand beckons. Maybe government can start this one off. I would love to see my tax money go towards funding part time jobs for better, faster and always-on government services. At least it is better than giving it away as a hand-out to irresponsible bankers.

Job shares can only be good for better work life balance too. Everybody works a bit less, and has a bit more family time. Back to good old wholesome family time and away from the time when bribing family for time spent away had become the norm. Sure, everybody has a little less money, individually. But let us demolish the sexist bastion once and for all, and maybe have all adults in the family work for at least part of the time. Psychologists will point out the benefits of adults being engaged outside the house, especially if part time. Apart from bringing the indulgence cash home, it improves social life, keeps stress and depression at bay, improves self confidence and makes for happier families. you may rightly point out that having two people do sort-of-part-time jobs is not the same as having a main bread earner who is doing very well, thank you very much. True. But in times like these, nothing is the same as before.

What about businesses? Are they going to like this? Well, it might not be a bad idea to have a trained back up for each job, would it? It might not be a bad idea to have somebody take on the urgent jobs the day an employee pulls a sickie. It might not even be a bad idea to have two people thinking through the same work ideas and processes, competing with each other – or co-operating with each other. If done right, it may even reduce the stress levels at work. And, it would not even cost the business any more!

But what about those of us who think that we are indispensable at work? My job cannot be split by time, surely. Of course, I can be replaced, but you cannot really make this a job share! Well, you may be right. But most of you will not be. Many jobs are easily split – either as a time share, or as a sharing of tasks.  Think back to the industrial revolution – this is what built our modern booming economy. It is time to innovate and take it further. Many jobs are already on job-shares: factory workers on shifts, nurses, station staff, bus drivers, administrators. Many others can be split easily – teachers, doctors, lawyers (they work by the hour anyway!) etc. 

I hear howls of protest: teachers must have a relationship with the students! Consultants must know the clients! Advisors are always on the job – it cannot be divided! I work with a passion – you cannot split my job! True, some jobs will be difficult to split. I cannot see my MP doing a job-share (but am happy to be proved wrong here). Teachers – they are overloaded anyway, are’nt they. Would they not have an easier life doing a bit less? Well, they are not the best paid workers, so splitting this up, that too compulsorily, may be extremely challenging. Yet, there is an opportunity to think this one through and make it work. The year my son had two class teachers on a job share was the year everyone in that class excelled.

A large part of our crisis has occured because we have allowed inefficiencies to creep into our businesses. We run some businesses only because they already exist, not because they make business sense. I see this, now, as a time to rethink our processes, our productivity and our profitability. And therefore our viability. And forcing a discussion on job shares will do just that – make us think of what we do, why we do it, whether it can be done better/faster/cheaper. And we get a two-for-one, even for the discussion.

 Like  every big policy move, the devil is in the detail. There are a myriad opportunities to get this wrong. Of course, it cannot be made compulsory. But there are such strong positives to this – that I believe that we should make the discussion compulsory. Raise the potential!

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