There’s no denying that the work-life balance can be tricky to manage, especially in today’s fast-paced, professional world, but a gradual shift in business attitudes and mindsets could slowly be moving towards the idea of a four day working week. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has stated that advances in technology mean that a four day week should be a realistic goal for the majority of businesses by the end of the century.
General Secretary Frances O’Grady used the organisation’s 150th annual gathering to voice the opinion that evolving technology and sophisticated communication advancements should cut the number of hours that people spend at work. A report from the organisation detailed that postwar economists predicted the UK would be working a 15 hour week by this point in time, and that polls have shown that a four day week would be preferable to most working people. However, the same report also revealed that the majority of workers still expect managers, company owners and shareholders to experience the benefits of new technology before they do.
Why could it be beneficial?
With advances in technology, and in particular Artificial Intelligence (AI), many workers have very real concerns as to the impact of robots and automated software on their industries and jobs. Whilst many argue that these concerns are likely to be unfounded, experts are worried about a ‘big bang’ moment, where a large number of jobs are automated in a very short space of time. The industries most at risk include retail, transportation, manufacturing and wholesale. Moving workers, particularly those in these industries, to a four day week, whilst retaining or improving on their levels of pay, could be a great way to offset the effects of new technology.
How many hours are suggested?
A general consensus as to the number of hours required over a four day week has yet to be agreed, but many experts have floated the idea of 30 hours. Indeed, Germany’s biggest union IG Metall is calling for a 28 hour working week for all shift workers and those with caring responsibilities. Aiming for similar timescales for the UK could well be a realistic ambition – it is universally knowledged that many Britons work too much. The TUC reports that workers contributed 2.1billion in unpaid overtime in 2016, and with 12.5 million working days lost to stress, anxiety and depression, it is evident that overworking can be bad for your health.
How popular would it be?
Its highly likely that a move to a four day week would be extremely popular with the majority of workers, especially it rates of pay are kept the same or even improved upon as we begin to reap the benefits of technology. A YouGov poll showed that only 6 percent of UK employees are still working the traditional hours of 9 to 5, with over 70% favouring a flexible working arrangement. 48 percent also indicated that they would be willing to work a longer day in return for a shorter working week.
Working for four days instead of five could also be a way to improve the nation’s health, redistribute work and even rebalance family relationships. Overwork is a common cause of stress, and by working less, we could see a significant reduction in cases of stroke, heart attack, diabetes and even cancer. And, whilst many workers are putting in punishing hours at work, with potentially damaging consequences to family dynamics, there are up to 3.3 million ‘underemployed’ who would like to work more. A four-day week could well bring about a redistribution of these hours, to the benefit of everyone.
What about productivity?
UK productivity is likely to be unaffected, and if anything looks likely to improve from current levels if the working week is cut to four days. The German and Dutch economies are stronger than the UK’s, but their employees work significantly less hours than their UK counterparts. Evidence also suggests that if you work fewer hours, you are more likely to operate at higher productivity levels hour by hour, than if you were to work a normal day. A recent experiment with a six-hour working day at a Swedish nursing home produced promising results: higher productivity and fewer sick days. If those productivity gains are passed on to staff, and new working technology is exploited to its full capacity, working less hours does not necessarily result in a reduced output.
Have any high-profile businesses moved to a four day week?
No high-profile UK businesses seem to have permanently implemented a four day week as yet, but a New Zealand company did recently trial it, and reported impressive results. Their workers’ sense of a positive work-life balance went from 54 percent to 78 percent, their stress levels went down, and the missed hours didn’t affect job performance, which actually slightly improved. Job satisfaction levels, though fairly high before the experiment, ticked upwards, as did the employees’ sense of satisfaction with their lives in general. Their perception of workloads went down, and job stress levels declined from 45% to 38%.