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Reconsidering work and life

Editorial

While Covid-19 disruptions have been enormous and hugely costly in personal, business and inter-generational terms for this country — despite managing to avoid the coronavirus carnage roiling much of the rest of the world — they have also encouraged reassessment of the way things were.

Many people have and will lose their jobs, tipping lives into uncertainty and hardship. Countering that though are the stories all around us of people rethinking priorities in their lives over the enforced lockdown period, which often involve raising the weight of “life” in the balancing act with work.

Both employers and employees have also discovered in many cases that working from home is not only viable but can increase productivity, both among staff who respond well to the added freedom and clear head space, and in removing the daily commute in our cities.

Businesses, government agencies and other organisations have had to adapt to the challenges of first lockdown and now social distancing, and often done so successfully.

A good example is quick action from the Inland Revenue Department to come up with a work-from-home sweetener of $15 a week. By agreement, employers can pay this allowance for at-home costs then claim it back from IRD as a business expense. It puts traditional employers on a footing with the self-employed who do this by apportioning a share of household bills to the home office. The flat $15 option removes the calculations and evidence-gathering, and clarifies that this is an option for all empoyers. For now it is only available until September, but don’t be surprised if a similar policy is made permanent.

The Prime Minister is also now floating the idea of a four-day working week for businesses that could adopt this, as a way to boost domestic tourism and other spending in the economy as well as productivity and employment.

This is a global movement promoted pre-pandemic that has new legs and is worth considering on a case-by-case basis.

However, Jacinda Ardern’s earlier musing on the idea of extra public holidays, to support domestic tourism, will be anathema to swathes of business owners and managers struggling to rebuild after two months without revenues.

So sorry, as nice as more three-day weekends sound, don’t count on any unless you work for a business that could adopt a four-day working week and have bosses that support the idea. Expect renegotiation around daily hours and pay, though.