On a Monday morning usually given to the strangely soothing sounds of hammers crunching nails, saws biting wood and the indecipherable yet reassuring repartee of construction workers embarking on a day of labor, an almost eerie quiet lurked. This day was different; instead of hammers and saws, only the distant braying of dogs disturbed the morning’s uncanny calm.
That’s how I started a column back in 2019 exploring what I perceived as a cultural quirk of countries heavily influenced by Hispanic customs, as is the Philippines. I entitled the piece “Manana,” the Spanish word for tomorrow.
It was a trying time for us. After months of waiting, my family and I had finally moved onto the lower levels of the house we were building in Surigao City. But, as we soon discovered, the construction was far from complete. And so we hunkered down, crouching in the basement, anxiously waiting for the job to be done. Bottom line: what was supposed to take one year lasted almost five due, in part, to the penchant of Filipino construction workers for taking long unannounced vacations.
“It’s like this,” the crew’s foreman later explained. “In the Philippines, if you have a sack of rice, you stay home. Only when the sack is empty do you go to work.”
So you can imagine my consternation upon learning that the Philippine government is considering the implementation of a four-day workweek nationwide. “We should try conserving our energy,” Karl Chua, chief of the National Economic Development Authority, said last month at a public appearance by President Duterte.
While the federal government lacks authority to impose such scheduling restrictions on private companies, officials say, they very well may strongly recommend replacing the current five-day week with four 10-hour days.
Among other things, Chua said, that would allow employees—many of whom have worked from home through the COVID pandemic—to “save up because they won’t have to commute every day. This will help us manage the economy.”
To be fair, a four-day workweek offers certain benefits. Workers at companies that have tried it routinely report less stress, better home/work integration and more time for personal endeavors. Some firms have also claimed better employee engagement and increased productivity, though that experience is not universal.
I can vouch for some of those benefits myself; as a Los Angeles Times reporter in the late 1990’s, I spent several years working a four-day night shift that I still remember with fondness.
There is one area, though, with decidedly mixed results for shortened workweeks: customer satisfaction. While some companies claim to have solved that problem with radically re-jiggered and overlapping schedules, the customers of others have simply gone begging.
That certainly describes my status during the aforementioned construction of our house. Back then, I rationalized it as the product of a culture valuing life over work.
“Many Americans,” I wrote, “would argue that their Puritan work ethic vs. manana culture is one reason the USA has provided perhaps the highest standard of living for the greatest number of people in the history of the world while the Philippines is still, well, a developing country.”
But that’s not all bad, I hastened to add. “While surveys consistently rank Filipinos among the world’s happiest and friendliest people, Americans are better known for their high levels of stress and depression, disintegrating families, addiction to work, alienation from society and each other, mass violence, annoying outspokenness and impatient, demanding personalities. Bottom line: like most things in life, it’s complicated.”
But that was then. Now I find myself in a weird DeJa’Vu. Last year’s Typhoon Odette wreaked utter havoc on our still-shiny new home, blowing off its roof and destroying all windows, ceilings and doors. We have hired a crew to repair the damage, but their progress is, once again, achingly slow.
It pains me to say this, but the last thing they need is another day off.
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(David Haldane’s latest book is a shorty-story collection called “Jenny on the Street.” A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning author, journalist and radio broadcaster now dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.