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Do You Want a Shorter Working Week?

Today, there’s no single definition of a typical working day. Many will go to the office for eight hours, work irregular shifts or set up a laptop in their front room, spare bedroom or favourite coffee shop.

That has massively fuelled the debate about moving away from a traditional five-day working week, with many arguing that switching to a four-day week could improve people’s productivity and work-life balance.

A six-month trial of a four-day working week began in Scotland last month, which sees participating organisations across different sectors doing four days a week with no loss of pay, while committing to maintaining their productivity.

This real-world trial, organised by 4 Day Week Global, is running alongside similar schemes in other countries, including the US, Australia and the Republic of Ireland.

This means that in only a few months, we’ll have far more empirical evidence about the costs and benefits of switching to a four-day week, rather than promises, theories and speculations. And that could significantly fuel calls to more heavily embrace this way of working in the future.

The idea of a four-day working week certainly seems popular in Scotland, with research by IPPR Scotland showing that more than eight in ten working-age Scots would back adopting this approach with no loss of pay.

Some 80 per cent of those polled said they believe a four-day working week would improve their wellbeing, while 65 per cent think it would have a positive impact on Scotland’s productivity.

The debate about a four-day working week is raging in Wales as well. Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner and the thinktank Autonomy have prepared a report outlining how this approach could benefit the Welsh public sector, and it’s produced some interesting findings.

For example, estimates suggest a four-day week with no loss of pay would create 37,859 public sector jobs in Wales, including nearly 27,000 full-time positions.

Figures also showed that 62% of the Welsh public would choose to work a four-day week or less if they were given the option.

Will Stronge, co-director of Autonomy, said all the evidence suggests this approach would be a “win-win” for both workers and employers in Wales.

“Moving to a four-day week would boost productivity and workers’ wellbeing and create tens of thousands of new jobs in the Welsh public sector,” he commented. “The potential benefits are too large to ignore.”

Sophie Howe, Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner, has urged the Welsh government to pilot a four-day working week, as she believes this will lead to increased productivity and a happier, healthier workforce.

“The working week has not changed for more than 100 years, and now seems the perfect opportunity for the Welsh government to commit to a pioneering trial and build evidence for greater change across Wales,” she said.

While polls show that the Welsh and Scottish public are largely in favour of the idea of a four-day week, trials around the world will help to solidify the business case for making this change.

Higher productivity and reduced absenteeism are two obvious benefits, so it will be fascinating to see from the trials what effect a four-day week has had on the balance sheets of participating firms.

Sources
https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/wales-shorter-week-trial-would-create-thousands-of-jobs-report-finds/
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/wales-welsh-government-autonomy-government-manchester-b2014776.html
https://www.insider.co.uk/news/scottish-businesses-begin-four-day-25975624

Will the four day week become the new normal?

The effect the pandemic has had on people’s mental health has been well documented. Many people have been juggling work, a home, a family, a relationship, as well as elderly relatives they haven’t been able to see, or daren’t take the risk of seeing. 

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has changed attitudes to work and life, with millions of people now saying that they would accept a shorter working week – and less money – in exchange for a better work/life balance. 

But is that possible in the real world? Could people really move to a four day week? Or would that result in a loss of productivity and subsequent blow to the economy that would prove to be too much? 

An experiment has taken place in Iceland which suggests that a four day week may well be the way forward. The trial took place between 2015 and 2019 and was run by Reykjavik City Council and the national government – so comes with the caveat that it largely concerned public-sector workers. 

The trial covered 2,500 workers – around 1% of Iceland’s total workforce – and saw them move to a four day week with no loss of pay. The working week was reduced from 40 hours to, typically, 35-36 hours. The trial was hailed as an ‘overwhelming success’ with workers reporting less stress and burnout, better health and an improved work/life balance. 

Similar trials are now taking place in countries including Spain and New Zealand. Whether a four day week could be applied across all sectors of the economy remains a moot point. What is clear is that the pandemic has unquestionably changed working patterns and what people want from work. It seems clear that employers would like the majority of their staff back in the office: it seems equally clear that millions of people prefer working from home – spending more time with their family and less money on commuting – and want that to continue. 

A story published in mid-July suggested that staff may win the work from home battle. Zoom – which has become a staple of so many people’s lives over the past 16 months – has bet billions on hybrid working continuing, even as the Government urges us to return to the office. 

Zoom has struck a £10.7bn deal to buy cloud-based call-centre operator Five9. Zoom boss Eric Yuan says it will allow customers to “re-imagine the way they do business” as Zoom prioritises its cloud-calling product Zoom Phone and the conference-hosting Zoom Rooms. 

Whatever happens – and employers are going to find it very difficult to insist that people come back to the office – one thing is certain. The pandemic and the relentless march of technology has changed the face of work forever.

Sources
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57724779

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57893155