Four-Day Week: The Logical Solution to AI Job Displacement

Published on May 25, 2023

Two workplace culture trends that have dominated the news in the last few weeks are job displacement caused by artificial intelligence (AI) and the ongoing debate around implementing a four-day week. It’s high time we started connecting the dots.

Last week, Goldman Sachs released a Global Economics Analyst report predicting that generative AI, like ChatGBT, could potentially displace 300 million full-time jobs. In the same week, BT announced 55,000 jobs will be axed by 2030, with AI expected to replace 40 percent of them.

Coinciding with these stories, South Cambridgeshire Council in the UK announced the extension of their successful four-day working week trial beyond office workers to the bin crew. This decision follows the ‘resoundingly positive’ findings of a six-month four-day week trial conducted in the UK in 2022.

Historical figures such as Keynes, Marx, Mill, Shaw, Franklin, and Nixon have championed reduced working hours. Numerous countries, including Iceland, Gambia, New Zealand, Japan, the UK, Ireland, the US, and Canada, have experimented with the four-day working week, where employees work for four days while retaining the same salary and benefits as a five-day week. This approach is said to increase worker engagement and productivity. The South Cambridgeshire announcement is trailblazing as it marks the first time a four-day week trial has been conducted for blue-collar workers in the UK.

According to an International Labor Organization report published in 2022, over one-third of global workers work more than 48 hours per week. With the predicted loss of millions of full-time jobs due to generative AI, it is logical to begin redistributing the workload, allowing humans to work fewer hours. Introducing these working practices now would help manage and futureproof the workplace culture.

What are Some Alternatives to Worker Reduction?

Several recent suggestions have emerged about mitigating and managing AI job displacement.

  • Robot Tax: In 2017, Bill Gates advocated taxing AI and robotics if the technology replaced human employment. The idea was discussed and ultimately rejected by the European Parliament. South Korea adjusted tax deduction benefits for companies that replaced human workers with robots. This was widely interpreted as a form of robot tax. US Senator Bernie Sanders has reignited the idea of a robot tax by proposing it in his recent book: It’s OK To Be Angry About Capitalism.
  • Universal Basic Income (UBI): UBI is widely seen as a potential future solution to AI job displacement. Juliana Uhuru Bidadanure from Stanford University defines UBI as ‘a monthly cash grant given to all members of a community without means test, regardless of personal desert, with no strings attached, and, under most proposals, at a sufficiently high level to enable a life free from economic insecurity.’ It was trialed in Finland from January 2017 to December 2018, where it improved well-being but did not significantly impact job prospects. Other countries that have experimented with UBI include Canada, the United States, and Brazil, and a pilot is being conducted in Wales. Funding could come from taxation, incorporating the idea of a robot tax.
  • Hit the Pause Button: In March 2023, there was a renewed call from high-profile AI experts to pause AI experimentation. A few weeks ago, AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton quit Google, warning people against the dangers of AI.

The Way Forward

The development of generative AI and the evolving nature of workplace culture, which is receiving significant attention from news outlets, are undeniably intertwined. This topic is particularly intriguing as it exemplifies how emerging technologies directly influence and shape workplace culture.

Suspending future AI experimentation is unlikely because businesses are seeking a return on their substantial investments in AI. For instance, just last month, PwC US announced a $1 billion investment to expand and scale AI capabilities.

As the augmented workplace becomes a reality, we need to think creatively about how to resource the workplace of the future. Resourcing solutions, such as implementing a four-day week, contingency working, early retirement, and job sharing, are emerging as proactive measures to mitigate the impact of AI-induced job displacement and ensure future readiness. Adopting such workforce resourcing measures will prove to be a necessary evolutionary process that paves the way for a more collective resource allocation model within the augmented workplace of tomorrow.

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Ric Kelly is a Columnist at Grit Daily. He is the author of Constructing Leadership 4.0: Swarm Leadership and the Fourth Industrial Revolution  and has spent over 25 years developing some of the world’s most inspirational and successful leaders in both the public and private sectors. His new book The Nature of Business Transformation: A Swarm Intelligent Approch to Reinventing Organisations is out now.

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