Friday. 21/1/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Genevieve Bates

Job lot

Working less for the same pay? Sounds great for employees and painful, possibly ruinous, for employers. Yet 30 UK companies started a six-month trial of a four-day work week yesterday. It follows ostensibly successful pilots involving public-sector workers in Iceland and by Microsoft Japan, which claims that productivity increased by 40 per cent when it followed suit for a period in 2019. Various studies also suggest that workers’ efficiency, focus and stress levels improve; they take fewer sick days and report greater job satisfaction. But what about these companies’ clients, partners and customers? Did anyone think to ask them?

No workplace is an island. While it’s fair that, barring emergencies, work should not be allowed to bleed into family and leisure time, fixed work hours should also be in sync with your commercial or professional environment. Just ask the UAE, which recently switched from its traditional Friday to Saturday off-days to a Western-style Saturday to Sunday weekend, to better do business with the non-Arab world. And this is where the dream of a four-day week falls short: maintaining external relationships and internal culture relies on a model whereby everyone works roughly the same days and hours. Disappearing for a fifth of the conventional week is infuriating for those outside your firm, while colleagues covering for each other would at best waste time doing handovers and at worst turn us all into interchangeable shift workers.

Having squeezed a full-time job into four days at one point in my career, I can testify that it made for four very long, stressful days and that the fifth day “off” was often interrupted by work. It’s also worth noting that the Monday to Friday working pattern itself was hard-won by unions in the early 20th century. So while retail, hospitality and emergency services still operate for all seven days, perhaps the rest of us should cherish the rhythm of a five-day week. Your clients will thank you too.

Image: Alamy

Elections / South Korea

Making a spectacle

South Korea’s presidential race is beginning to resemble one of its beloved K-dramas, led by two questionable candidates and a supporting cast of shady characters. It all stands in stark contrast to outgoing president Moon Jae-in’s clean cut, cardigan-and-slippers style of leadership. Both Lee Jae-myung (pictured) of the ruling Democratic Party and his main rival, Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party, have had to apologise in recent weeks for the actions of errant family members. Lee is involved in an ongoing corruption investigation and lost his lead in the polls after a whistleblowing lawyer was found dead in a hotel room last week ⎯⎯ the third death of someone linked to the allegations. Meanwhile, Yoon’s campaign chief was this week forced to deny the presence of a shaman on the election team, an allegation that brings back memories of the disgraced former president Park Geun-hye. Whoever wins the March election, South Korean politics could become a must-watch for all the wrong reasons.

Image: Stefan Giftthaler

Design / Italy

What price progress?

Hoping to improve Italy’s green credentials, legislators are promoting a tax incentive known as the “Superbonus 110%”, which helps citizens to make energy-efficiency improvements to buildings and safeguard them against earthquakes. However, the initiative is raising alarm among architects, who fear that hasty renovations could ruin culturally significant buildings. Among them is the modernist Palazzo Ina apartment block (pictured) in Milan, designed by rationalist Piero Bottoni and completed in 1958.

Campaigners argue that its form could be threatened by the addition of insulating cladding. “The experimental nature [of the building] is at risk of irreversible damage,” says Laura Montedoro, an associate professor in the department of architecture and urban studies at Milan’s Politecnico, speaking to The Monocle Minute. Improving the energy efficiency of our buildings is an admirable goal but jeopardising what made them important in doing so would be unforgivable.

Image: Getty Images

Travel / Australia

Return to Oz

Australia might have reopened its borders in December but young backpackers have so far been slow to return. Its government agreed this week to waive visa fees for international students and work-holiday travellers who arrive between now and 19 April. The move is as much about labour as it is about reviving tourism. Before the pandemic, Australia’s world-class universities, high wages and sun-soaked beaches attracted hundreds of thousands of foreign students and backpackers. The former often took part-time jobs as supermarket staff or waiters, while the latter provided seasonal farm labour. But it’s not just apple-pickers and banana-packers that the nation has been lacking. Like many countries, Australia has also been weathering a shortage of workers across industries such as health care, elderly care and hospitality. The fee waiver should be welcome news for students and graduates who have endured two years of online education and work-holiday hopefuls whose travel plans have been on hold since 2020.

Hospitality / São Paulo

Keys to the city

It has been a tough time for hotels but word doesn’t seem to have reached Brazil, where the Rosewood São Paulo (pictured) has been queue-strewn since opening this January. And that’s not just down to the jaw-dropping, tree-topped Jean Nouvel edifice, nor the 160 guestrooms, 100 suites, seven restaurants and bars. Rather, visitors are coming in their droves to view the contemporary art collection: 450 site-specific pieces were created by 57 Brazilian artists, overseen by artistic director Philippe Starck. Beyond the zhoosh, spangle and splendour, there’s substance to the development too. The project has helped to revive Cidade Matarazzo’s early 20th-century building, a former maternity hospital where some 500,000 Paulistanos were born, as well as the historic Santa Luzia chapel. The hotel is making the right noises about sustainability with its use of renewable energy and catering to the community as well as overnight guests. If the crowds are anything to go by, Rosewood’s South American debut shows that good new hotels can still create a stir.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk Explainer

What does Russia want with Ukraine?

As tensions between Russia and Ukraine tighten, Andrew Mueller reflects on their fickle friendship and speculates on what Putin really wants from the situation.

Monocle Films / Finland

Icebreakers: rescue know-how

Finland has obvious natural advantages that have helped it become an icebreaking powerhouse but the country’s dominance in the field is startling. We travel to the Bay of Bothnia to bear witness to the beginning of the icebreaking season.

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