China Might Beat the U.S. to a 3-Day Weekend

Security guard walk past the Chinese national flag - Source: China Photos/Getty Images

China Photos/Getty Images

How would it feel to know that roughly 1.4 billion people on the planet might soon be getting permanent, three-day weekends, and to know that you’re not among them? There’s a possibility of that happening, and the lucky individuals in question are the workers in China, the world’s most populous country.

According to a recent article from Global Times, a Chinese news source, a mere 20 years after China moved to a permanent five-day workweek, there are calls for reducing that to four days, which would institute a three-day weekend on a permanent basis for the country’s hundreds of millions of workers. The results of a survey that polled 50,000 Chinese revealed that a whopping 88% of those asked supported the idea, and the primary reasoning behind that support was “the need to improve their personal standard of living now that the country has realized significant social and economic gains,” or so writes Global Times’ Ni Dandan.

Not only does the public support the notion, but some members of China’s academic community do as well. Dandan says that professor Wang Qiyan of China’s Renmin University has been leading the charge in getting the discussion off the ground, citing evidence that shorter workweeks can actually help spur economic growth. Specifically, Qiyan has brought up examples from European countries — like Denmark and The Netherlands — to show that it can work.

Of course, the big difference between China and the nations that professor Qiyan is bringing into the conversation is not only cultural, but economic. China has become the world’s manufacturing epicenter, and has grown from a relatively simple, agrarian economy into one of the world’s most complex in a matter of decades. That shift was largely driven by the vast amount of laborers and manpower the Chinese have made available to foreign companies.

In essence, fast and cheap labor is what has spurred China to a world economic power. Would limiting that, with a shortened workweek, be the country’s undoing?

There’s really no telling if it could be, not at this point, anyway. The manufacturing that was pouring into China to utilize its numerous ports and armies of cheap labor is now starting to cascade into other Asian countries. China is getting more expensive, simply put, and workers are looking for more than a low wage and long hours. That may be another element adding to the discussion of shorter workweeks.

As for Qiyan’s arguments, they do have some merits. In fact, there’s been plenty of discussion about instituting a three or four-day workweek in the United States as well. While it doesn’t sound like a great idea from the perspective of a business executive, there is plenty of evidence that the change could bring on plenty of net positives.

Those potential gains include a happier workforce and increased output from each individual worker. And it’s important to mention that there actually isn’t any evidence that reducing the workweek leads to any economic harm.

If these positive gains were spread across an economy — and population — the size of China’s, the benefits could be massive.

But perhaps the biggest thing standing in the way for China’s workers is an immense cultural divide. That’s brought up by Global Times, which discusses that China’s affinity for hard work and long hours is more or less ingrained into the nation’s DNA. Until as recently as 1995, Chinese workers were expected to put in a full six days per week on the job, along with a mere five days of paid leave per year, on average. After pulling back and instituting two-day weekends, the Chinese government saw a spike in economic activity.

For that reason, there might be plenty of reason for Chinese officials to look at extending the weekend by an extra day — even if it’s only for the sake of experimentation.

In an effort to adopt both a three-day weekend and preserve the five-day work week simultaneously, Dandan makes a bold proposal: add an extra day to each week. “I hereby propose the following concession – the eight-day calendar week – which would preserve the government-mandated five-day work week while also appeasing the people’s need for a three-day weekend.”

“Considering that China’s seven-day week can historically be traced all the way back to the Jin Dynasty (265-420), it’s high time we modernize our outdated calendar system,” Dandan writes.

Whether or not that’s a serious proposal is anyone’s guess, but if China does institute a three-day weekend, things could definitely get interesting in the international economy.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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