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R13 opinion

Is a 4-day working week the way forward

I think it is safe to say that we would all like to work less and still get paid the same, but is a 4 day working week possible in the 21st century? Frances O’Grady general secretary of the Trades Union Congress seems to think so, as she pointed out in her speech at the TUC’s 150th Annual Gathering.

In her speech, she stated, "In the nineteenth century, unions campaigned for an eight-hour day. In the twentieth century, we won the right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays. So, for the twenty-first century, let’s lift our ambition again.

"I believe that in this century we can win a four-day working week, with decent pay for everyone. It’s time to share the wealth from new technology. Not allow those at the top to grab it for themselves."

This new style of working could be achievable through the development of new technology that allows us to perform our jobs more easily and increase productivity within organisations.

So, what are the benefits?

It can be argued that there are many benefits to having a four day work week including; increased job satisfaction, improved productivity, improvement in physical health, lower propensity towards depression and heaving drinking and reduced stress levels. A recent study even indicated

The benefits to the mental health of employees is incredibly significant because it can lead to a massive reduction in the amount of people taking time off work due to stress related illness and allow employees to take better care of themselves and their mental health.

There are also countless social benefits to working less, allowing people to spend more time with their families and friends, leading people to feel more satisfied in their lives and with their work-life balance. Flexibility when working is a massive benefit to workers and an extra day off a week allows employees to complete tasks on their to do list they may normally struggle to do, for example; going to the dentist, getting their car serviced and tidying the house. It also puts less pressure on parents who must source childcare. 

Additionally, there are potential environmental benefits, as some would suggest that countries with shorter working weeks are likely to have a reduced carbon footprint due to a decrease in traffic associated with work.  

Research published last year by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), suggests that working longer hours do not equate to being more productive, highlighting the idea that shorter hours and a shorter week is beneficial to productivity.

What are the downsides?

A four day working week is not a model that will work for every business. What could potentially work for some office employees, could not work for shop keeps, doctors or factory workers, raising issues with fairness across different professions.

Despite some evidence supporting the benefits of a four day week, there is also evidence to suggest that it could lead to a drop in productivity due to employees being more tired and draining from working four, more pressurised days. In order to sustain businesses, the work day would have to be extended to 10 hours across the four days, this could cause health and safety issues for employees and could lead to increased stress and anxiety as employees struggle with their long hours. Also, if an employee has a bad day, that drop in productivity will be felt more heavily than before.

"While the idea of a four-day week might sound appealing, the reality is that it’s not necessary if you run your business effectively," says Lee Biggins, Founder of job site CV-Library. Encouraging a strong work-life balance within your organisation would mean that employees would be able to effectively manage their lives out of work without the need for an extra day off.

Who is doing is already?

Many firms have already started implementing the four day week. A New Zealand based firm, Perpetual Guardian, trialled the idea over March and April this year and found unmitigated success with 78% of employers feeling that they were able to successfully manage their work-life balance, an improvement from 54% who felt this way in November 2017.  

Whilst a potentially ambitious thought, there a genuine possibility for a four-day working week to be a real thing of the future. There would be a long way to go in order to adapt this style of working to various professions, convince employers of the benefits and design a system of work that maintain productivity levels, but it could have a significant impact on improving the work-life balance of employees and increasing job satisfaction on the whole.

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