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Rumours of a 4-day working week have been circulating social media for some time and seem to be increasing in capacity recently. Catalysed by the coronavirus pandemic, the way we work in the UK has been evolving. Flexible working and working from home have become an accepted necessity, which has led many to examine their priorities, more conversations about work-life balance, and a questioning of the typical working week.

What is the 4-day week?

The 4-day working week in question would involve reduced, rather than compressed hours, with employees working around 28 hours over four days, and having a three-day weekend.

While this idea initially sounds radical, working hours have gradually been reducing over the last hundred years or so. For example, in the US in the 1890s, the working week for manufacturers was an average of 100 hours. By the 1950s, manufacturers were working 40 hours a week. So, when viewed in a wider context, the reduction to 28 hours wouldn’t be anywhere near as radical as it first sounds, especially when we consider the evolution of modern technology, which has significantly reduced the time needed to complete many day-to-day tasks.

So, what would be gained by this?

The information on technology’s evolution already presents an argument in favour of less hours, but building on this, arguments are being made that current longer hours do not necessarily mean increased productivity.

This has been demonstrated across the globe, as countries such as Japan, Spain, and New Zealand have trialled a 4-day week to evaluate its impact. Microsoft found in its trial in Japan that the 4-day week led to happier workers, more efficient meetings, and boosted productivity by an astounding 40%. The trial in Iceland concluded similar results, as employees were monitored working reduced hours over a variety of public sector workplaces and found it a success, with 86% of the country’s workforce now on a shorter week at the same pay. Additionally, some of the world’s most productive companies work on average 27 hours per week in countries such as Norway, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands- the same hours proposed for a UK 4-day week.

The 4-day week also has potential to promote an equal workplace, as research on the Gender Pay Gap from the Government Equalities Office shows that two million British people are unemployed to care for children, with 89% of those individuals being woman. A 4-day week would promote an equal workplace, as employees would be able to spend more time with their families and better juggle care and work commitments.

What are the downsides?

However, the 4-day working week is not without cons. While a Utah study saw fantastic environmental results, as well as employer and employee benefits, it reported poorer customer satisfaction, as customers complained of not gaining access to services with offices closed on a Friday. Yet, it could be argued that this could be solved using technology, such as chatbots and AI-powered websites, which would allow customers an alternative avenue of support aside from relying on office-based staff members.

The model also would not suit every sector, as some professions require 24/7 presence, such as healthcare. Furthermore, some professions have tasks which simply take more time, which would lead to an increase in pay for overtime or drafting in further staff, leading to more expenses.

Overall, the call for a 4-day week is an attempt to establish the groundwork to transition and ensure that employees, not just employers, reap the benefits of increased modern technology. While the 4-day week would not be perfect for everyone, there are clear benefits in terms of increased productivity, well-being and work/life balance, with wider positive societal implications such as increased gender equality. Developing ideas and understanding of technology are leading in this direction, but only time will tell.

Posted 31/01/2022 By Sarah Beckett


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