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Q & A with Ernest Owens, University of St. Thomas Assistant Professor of Business

Janel Klein discusses a recent study about a four-day work week and how the environment in the workplace has been changing.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Janel Klein discussed a recent study about a four-day work week with Ernest Owens, a University of St. Thomas Assistant Professor of Business. Owens explained the study and all the changes happening at the workplace. Here is their discussion:

Q: One of the things we’re hearing a lot about is the extensive study done in Iceland about the four-day work week. What did you think of that study’s results?

A: The four-day workweek is fine if you can afford to work 10 hours a day, 12 hours a day. But then it’s about the work life balance again. Do you have children? Do you have other commitments? Does that make you more productive? I think productivity comes from you feeling a sense of achievement, from you feeling this is something you want to do, something you feel good about. I’m not so sure it’s about the number of days as it is how you feel about what you’re doing. It’s more a shift in where they do the work, not the amount of work.

Q: Do you think companies are responding to that where they’re saying I need to be more cognizant of people’s personal lives and that flexibility in order to retain and attract workers?

A: I think the whole idea of the work life balance is a discussion we were having for the last couple of decades. Companies have been looking at it differently and they have been looking at it for awhile: How do I keep good employees? How do I keep them motivated? What do I do to reward them? What do I do to give them empowerment, drive engagement, give them a sense of they’re more involved in the process?

Q: As you look at these trends worldwide, is the United States vastly different than other countries and, if so, how?

A: Yes, because our leadership style is different. So we’re seeing more of this idea that the employee should have more of a say. If you look at other parts of the world, in some places it’s very autocratic, in some places it’s a very cavalier, casual relationship. It depends on the culture you’re talking about.

Q: Where do you see us as a workforce and as a country with work trends in the next year, five years, ten years down the road?

A: I see more people because of COVID and work life balance who will create their own industry, their own corporations, and go for their own vision, mission and purpose. So you’ll find smaller firms cropping up, while larger firms will take on more technology. So you’ll find the craftsperson coming back. But I think people are going to put a lot more work forward because they have an ownership of it and they want something from it and they’re going to have more of a commitment. And I think some of those companies are in an interesting situation where we’re going to see more unionization.

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